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Estimates Reply - Minister Shelton


Rosalie Woodruff MP

Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Tags: Police, Working with Vulnerable People, Bushfires, Commission of Inquiry

Dr WOODRUFF - I will speak to some of the questions that I raised during Estimates hearings for the Police, Fire and Emergency Management and Local Government portfolios.

The central issue which determined a lot of the questions the Greens asked of the minister for Police in Estimates hearings related to the role of the minister for Police and Tasmania Police in providing information to different departments about the child sex abuse that occurred at the LGH and the abuser, Mr Griffin. The information was known to police on 1 May 2019.

We learned from the Minister for Health that she only heard about this on 31 July, on the same day that the Working with Vulnerable People card was revoked for that man who had been a nurse at the LGH. He was stood down on the same day, 31 July.

However, the trail of evidence shows that Tasmania Police commenced an investigation in early May and during the Estimates scrutiny in the Legislative Council, Deputy Commissioner, Mr Higgins -

Mr Shelton - Acting.

Dr WOODRUFF - Acting Deputy Commissioner, Mr Higgins provided evidence to the committee indicating that during July, in his words, a certain CIB became aware that Mr James Griffin was working at the LGH, and then the matter was communicated by Tasmania Police to the Health minister and the LGH.

Although Tasmania Police had commenced an investigation, and it took almost three months for the Working with Vulnerable People card to be revoked, and for that man to be stood down from his position and removed from having access to children in the paediatric ward.

It is very concerning. I asked the minister a number of times about what he knew and when he had information in relation to this matter. I also asked what he had done, and what he would do now, to change the systems, policies and processes in place in Tasmania Police, to make sure the gap between a police investigation commencing and police finding material and subsequently charging a person with child sex abuses, could be reduced to - ideally - one day. On the day that a person is charged, that the investigation is commenced on child sex abuse, there must be a mechanism for making sure that the Working with Vulnerable People card is either suspended or revoked, depending on the circumstances.

It is a matter of deep concern. The evidence shows that the police minister is completely disinterested in taking responsibility for what happened. The minister announced today that there will be a review into police processes. That has happened after the Estimates hearing; and after the Greens and Labor Party members asked questions of the minister this week in parliament. After the blow torch was turned right up. That is exactly the problem with this minister: he does not act; he does not look; he is not interested in the overarching obligations of his role as a minister to protect, in the case of being the Police minister, to protect Tasmanian children, women and men from a whole range of issues; to keep them safe - especially Tasmanian children. He ought to have had an interest in investigating this matter from the very beginning, when he found out about it on 23 August 2019.

The first thing I would have said if I was the Police minister is, who knows about this? Where was that person employed? Did that person have a Working with Vulnerable People card? Have actions been taken to inform the relevant employment agencies?

Mr Shelton - At that point he had already lost his card and had been stood down.

Dr WOODRUFF - The fact is that the minister showed no interest in looking at the processes. The point, minister, is the Netball Association of northern Tasmania did not find out about it until this year in May. He did not find out about it, despite the fact that the first person who made a complaint was from the Northern Tasmanian Netball Association in May the preceding year. It is really distressing and disturbing that the Police minister still does not get that there is a possibility - an obligation - for a Police minister to get involved in policies and process to keep people safe. It is not about operational manners. It is about the policies and processes to keep people safe, and that is normal operating work for a minister.

The minister continued repeatedly to say, 'I will not contribute, I will not say anything because there is a commission of inquiry'. We know from the experience of these things that they will not just be wrapped up in a year. I do not believe it. It would be great if that were the case, but it is much too optimistic to imagine that the scale of what we are coming to understand can be fully and forensically investigated as it has to be in a year.

The Police minister must act, must do everything he can, to change the policies and processes to make sure that appropriate ministers are informed and do have that information. He cannot just wash his hands and say, 'These are operational matters.'. It is not good enough. That huge gulf in time between when the Minister for Health knew and when all the other ministers knew - it is not just the Minister for Health: she was the first, the rest had to find out because of the hard work of a journalist who did that background work and the podcast that came out subsequent to that.

The minister also put on the record that he has absolutely no commitment, will not be doing anything in any time at all, and has no budget commitment following the recommendations made in the firearms inquiry report that came down in July last year. The minister has not even referred it to Cabinet; he has not had a conversation with anyone about it - he says, 'Oh well, COVID-19 has been around, it has been so busy'. Despite the fact this was about improving situations and processes to make sure that women and children and partners in domestic violent situations are kept safer by having appropriate mental health background checks, by having engagement between the Tasmania Police and a formal review with the Health community - work recommended in the firearms inquiry - the minister is not even interested in looking at it.

Shame on you, minister, because that work has to happen, and it is not up to you as a minister to decide you are not going to further this project. If you are not going to do it, we will keep raising it and we will keep talking to all - it is not just the medical professionals and the Health community which wants this to happen.

The other recommendation the minister is not interested in furthering is putting some funding into Tasmania Police Firearms Services so that firearm owners can have licences given to them in an appropriate time, so we will keep following that matter.