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Estimates Reply – Minister Courtney

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Tags: Children and Young People, Ashley Youth Detention Centre, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Chair, I am going to focus on the Children and Youth section of the Estimates with Ms Courtney and make the observation that this portfolio was dedicated one hour of scrutiny. As there were so many Dorothy Dix questions, 12 minutes at a minimum of the time devoted to the scrutiny of the Children and Youth portfolio went to Liberal backbencher question to the minister to the extent that, at one point, Ms Ogilvie asked the same question she had previously asked -

Ms OGILVIE - Point of order, Chair.

Ms O'Connor - I am making a statement of fact.

Ms OGILVIE - Making a statement of fact, I started to ask a question that I realised I had already read out and then I stopped. Was that your point?

Ms O'Connor - No, you stopped because I said you had just asked that question.

CHAIR - It is not a point of order, Ms Ogilvie.

Ms Ogilvie - Sorry, I was just making a point.

Ms O'CONNOR - Chair, I do not usually tell personal stories in here, I try to avoid it. However, I was devastated when I got home from scrutiny of the Children and Youth portfolio because it was 48 minutes dedicated to this portfolio and we had question after question from a Liberal backbencher to the Liberal minister to the point that I negotiated a question for Ms Johnston. The Chair at the time said she could ask that question, then the second to last question of the day went to a Liberal backbencher in the children's portfolio. It was shameful.

The issues raised in what was the most tone deaf and disrespectful Estimates I have been part of for some time related to two key issues. One was the way the Department of Communities Tasmania responded to a sexual harassment complaint lodged some 22 months ago by a clinical practice consultant, Alysha, who worked with young people at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. We found out in the Premier's Estimates on Monday, because the secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet had let out of the bag, that after all this time that Alysha had not heard a word about her complaint, suddenly, across the Estimates table, everyone was being told - including Alysha - that no breach was found.

We asked a series of questions of the minister about where the original complaint was. It was our understanding, and this was confirmed by the ducking and weaving at the table, that the original complaint could not be located by the department. How can you make a finding that there has been no breach, no code of conduct breach, and no sexual harassment if you do not have the original complaint?

I acknowledge, as Ms White did, the guts and the clarity of Alysha who, in speaking up and coming forward at the time she did, was the catalyst for change at Ashley Youth Detention Centre after a century of horrors. It took a lot of guts, when you have lodged a complaint about alleged sexual harassment and been treated in a way by the agency which I regard as dismissive, to then step forward, speak up for herself, for women, and speak up for children and young people and tell the truth about what has been happening at Ashley Youth Detention Centre, and that was the catalyst for change.

Every member in this place knows the Greens have been fighting to have Ashley closed since I became leader in 2015. It is our policy to have Ashley closed and have two therapeutic facilities built north and south. I received the most moving email on Saturday morning from a person who had been put into Ashley at the age of 12. He is 45 now. He wanted to say thank you to us and to everyone who has been advocating for the closure of Ashley. It was a decision that was made when he was 12 years old because of family breakdown to stick him into Ashley that sent his life into a tailspin. At 45 years of age, he is still bearing the trauma.

The trauma ripple effect from the Ashley Youth Detention Centre spans across generations. That is why it is so good that we finally have a decision to close Ashley. It will save generations of young people from harm.

I thank the Premier for finally making that decision. I thank Alysha for stepping up. I want to thank journalist, after journalist, many of them women, who followed this story, who persisted to get to the bottom of what is happening at Ashley, for their work and for their advocacy, their courage. I thank lawyer, Sebastian Buscemi, for stepping up on behalf of the children and young people of Ashley and on behalf of Alysha.

We asked questions about what is different at Ashley Youth Detention Centre when we have been assured that the children were safe by the previous minister, Mr Jaensch. I asked what has changed at the Franklin unit, which is a notorious unit where there is substantial evidence that younger children are threatened with being sent there, or are sent there, and therefore where there are older boys who are much more damaged, and those children are coming out the other side deeply and profoundly damaged and therefore carrying lifelong trauma.

Mr Chair, we did not get satisfactory answers out of the agency at the time about where the complaint was that Alysha had lodged. We had ducking and weaving at that table. We did not get satisfactory answers about what is different at the Franklin unit other than some, what I regard, as bland assurances which were not particularly reassuring.

It is a very good day that Ashley is being closed. I would like to know, and I am sure other members of this place would like to know, what that means for the $7.3 million that was foolishly advocated for a refurbishment of Ashley after the 2018 state election. We know that Ashley was kept open because the Liberals did not want to lose votes in Lyons. Hopefully, that $7.3 million will be repurposed towards the therapeutic facilities.

I also want to make it really clear that the Greens have an expectation, given the Premier's assurance about the safety of children at Ashley, that every possible resource and all necessary attention will be paid to what is happening to children and young people at Ashley over the next two to three years before it is closed. We need to make sure that there is independent monitoring and oversight. We need the Commissioner for Children and Young People to be keeping a very close eye on Ashley. Let us not forget, there are still children there now. There are children like that 12 year old, who wrote to me as a 45 year old, who are being damaged as a result of being sent to Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

I also want to talk a bit about queries that we had about how TasTAFE staff may be treated as the Government moves towards a different model for the delivery of vocational training through our TAFE. The Greens are not persuaded by the move to - you might not call it privatised, but you are definitely corporatising TasTAFE. We have concerns about whether dedicated people who are working at TasTAFE will be under the State Services Act under state law, state legislation or whether they will be under the Fair Work Act. I recognise that the minister said a decision has not been made yet but those staff who give their working lives to improving the skills, training, and confidence of people who go into TasTAFE need some certainty.

All we have had to date has been that narrow mention in the PESRAC report which we are all sure came from Don Challen. There has been no sound argument put yet for why you would so dramatically change TasTAFE from what it is now.

We are very concerned about the loss of diversity of courses. It will be about making money and breaking even. We are very worried that some of that rich diversity of courses which is available at TasTAFE will no longer be available because they will not be industry led or money making ventures.

Mr Chair, I am going to get up in the adjournment shortly and deal with Mr Ellis's incredibly insulting statement about children and young people. Mr Ellis seems to take the view that children are ignorant, they lack capacity for independent thought. That is what he was saying before when he stood up, when he was accusing the Greens of frightening children and feeding them false information, when he is accusing scientists like the 11 000 who signed onto a climate emergency declaration, of scaring children. What scares children is people like Mr Ellis.