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Human Services - Ashley Youth Detention Centre

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Child Abuse

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I want to talk about the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. Specifically the first question about the individual who was suspended in early November over historical allegations of rape. Can you confirm that the state government, the department, at the time, in 1996 or 1998, knew about the rape allegation? In 2003 information was passed on to government about this individual at Ashley. Twelve months ago, a member of staff at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre found records about the alleged rape in the mid 1990s, reported it to Communities Tasmania and was told there would be an investigation. Communities Tasmania was again made aware of this individual and the serious allegation of rape in late August and early September, but it wasn't until Camille Bianchi's podcast and the subsequent publicity that we understand this manager was suspended from Ashley Youth Detention Centre. Can you confirm those details?

Mr JAENSCH - The member, in her question, has raised a long list of claims.

Ms O'CONNOR - I haven't made any claims. I have actually laid out a time line. There is one allegation of rape. The pointy end of the question is that Communities Tasmania knew in this situation under your watch in late August or early September about this serious allegation of rape. It wasn't until after the podcast by Camille Bianchi that this person was suspended from having any responsibility for at-risk children at Ashley.

Mr JAENSCH - The state has been engaged in a number of processes providing redress for survivors of historical abuse. My advice is that the matters referred to in the member's question have been brought to the department's attention as a result of the redress scheme and claims brought forward there. They have been under thorough investigation by the department according to its process for so doing. That includes cross-checking other records that the department has regarding employees and other claims that may have been made through other schemes or through common law approaches over that time.

I understand that that investigation and cross-checking work was well under way prior to the podcast going live. I'd ask through the secretary, Ms Clarke, if she wishes to add any further detail in response to the question?

Ms CLARKE - No significant further information. In relation to historical claims what we have done, where information has come to hand through reporting to the department from one external party - the legal firm that we met with - we have engaged with cross-checking our records from a HR perspective with any available information that we are able to draw on to assist us in those inquiries.

Ms O'CONNOR - My understanding is that the matter, the historical allegation of rape, was first re-raised, if you like, by a staff member at Ashley prior to a legal firm approaching the commissioner for children and Communities Tasmania. It's about a year ago that a member of staff first raised a very serious concern, having looked at historical records about a person who was responsible for the care of at-risk young people at Ashley. A year ago the department was told by a staff member. Two months ago the department was again told by a legal firm, yet it took two months for you, your department, to suspend this person from Ashley Youth Detention Centre. A person accused of rape.

Mr JAENSCH - What is your question, Ms O'Connor?

Ms O'CONNOR - How do you explain that?

Mr JAENSCH - The advice is that in the cross-checking and searching of complaints or concerns raised previously there was a concern on the record but it did not relate to rape. I might ask again for -

Ms O'CONNOR - My understanding is that there's an incident report that relates specifically to rape. If that's not the case you need to make that really clear. The question is why it took two months after the late August, early September briefing to the department on this historical allegation, and 12 months after a staff member at Ashley reported the historical rape for you to act to remove this person from having the care of young people?

Mr JAENSCH - The department conducted its investigation of historical claims, any other reports, HR record -

Ms O'CONNOR - Why wasn't he suspended immediately?

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor. The minister is answering the question. I ask that you allow the minister to answer. The next call will be going to Mr Ellis. Minister, please respond.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is a matter of very significant public interest, Chair.

CHAIR - I know, but we have an hour and a half of this output so I ask that you allow the minister to respond.

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you, Chair. Ms O'Connor has laid out her time line chronology. I might ask the department to provide us with similar in regard to your assertion of what happened and in what order.

Ms O'CONNOR - Two months.

Mr JAENSCH - I would like the department to talk about their process leading up to the stepping down of those staff members.

Mr PERVAN - Thank you, Minister.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am sorry he has passed the buck to you, Mr Pervan.

Mr PERVAN - In relation to the briefing of the department, I am assuming you mean the meeting with the lawyer -

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes.

Mr PERVAN - who seeks to represent allegedly 100 former residents of Ashley. Mandy Clarke and a senior staff member from Justice did meet with that lawyer, you are correct. He provided a letter which made some very serious allegations but provided no details and did not name staff members or the alleged victims. We sought detail from him so we could pursue an immediate investigation. He would not provide that detail. All we were left with was a letter that you may or may not have seen that said some spectacularly horrific things, but nothing on which we could pursue an investigation of staff.

Ms O'CONNOR - No reference to the previous staff member's raising of the issue?

Mr PERVAN - No, there was not.

Ms O'CONNOR - That would have been on the record.

Mr PERVAN - If I could finish my answer -

Ms OGILVIE - Chair, there are a lot of questions.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is about at-risk kids.

CHAIR - This will be the last response, Mr Pervan, and then we will go to Mr Ellis.

Mr PERVAN - That is why we had to undertake a forensic analysis of all of our staffing records and the claims made through redress and through civil, to try to identify who the suspected staff members were and who the alleged victims were. That is also information that has been shared with police, who are unable in that particular case to pursue any criminal investigation because the victim's witnesses do not wish to participate.

We did ask for that detail so we could pursue it but it was not forthcoming from the lawyer. However we have noticed in the media in particular that he has continued to promote the class action he is apparently going to serve on the state and seeking people to come forward with those claims supporting the need for the class action, but still we have no detail.


Ms O'CONNOR - I want to go back to the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the senior staff member from Ashley on 10 November this year following Camille Bianchi's podcast. The first thing that I need to say is that in response to some information Mr Pervan laid on the record just to confirm that the lawyer in question is not undertaking a class action. He would have been in breach of his professional duties to name the victim of the alleged crime.

Minister, it is a fact that, about a year ago, a staff member at Ashley Youth Detention Centre found records about the rape allegations in the mid-1990s and reported it to Communities Tasmania a year ago -

CHAIR - Sorry to interrupt, Ms O'Connor, just for the committee, if there is going to be potential civil or criminal court action we need to be very careful about what we say here today. I don't think any of us want to unfairly affect any legal proceedings. I ask all members to be very conscious of what they ask if this is going to go to either civil or criminal court. I certainly don't want to be a chair of a committee that leads to justice not being done. I ask members to be very careful about what allegations are made here today.

Ms O'CONNOR - With respect, Chair, I've been in parliament for 12 years and I'm extremely mindful of the need to be careful in the way I phrase questions.

Minister, this report was made by a staff member at Ashley Youth Detention Centre about a year ago. That staff member was told there would be an investigation by Communities Tasmania into the alleged perpetrator about a year ago. Yet this person was not suspended from Ashley until after Camille Bianchi's podcast.

Can you explain what happened to the inquiry or the investigation that Communities Tasmania undertook following that staff member's report? Why no action was taken until after the podcast went to air?

Mr JAENSCH - I am advised that the staff concern that was raised or reported was investigated at the time but that it did not relate to a rape allegation. That's the advice that I have.

Ms O'CONNOR - What did it relate to?

CHAIR - We have to be careful about what is discussed in this Committee.

Ms O'CONNOR - We cannot allow this culture of cover-up about the treatment of children to continue.

CHAIR - It will come out during court proceedings.

Mr JAENSCH - We have a commission of inquiry. We have three independent investigators under way. There is, I think, a culture of getting to the bottom of this and turning every stone, as the Premier and other colleagues have said.

Ms O'CONNOR - The evidence suggests otherwise.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, I asked you to let the minister talk, please.

Mr JAENSCH - This is a week of intense interest and discussion about this and there has been a commitment made by this Government to stand up a commission of inquiry and the Premier has reiterated that that commission of inquiry will have the powers it requires to search and find the truth.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, we're looking for the truth from you here today at the Estimates table. You cannot hide behind a commission of inquiry because it hasn't been established.

Mr JAENSCH - I don't think anyone's ever been accused of hiding behind a commission of inquiry.

Ms O'CONNOR - There are serious allegations that have been made about a since-suspended staff member. That serious allegation was reported by another staff member at Ashley Youth Detention Centre about a year, was told there would be an investigation. What was the result of that investigation? Why did it take the department two months to suspend a person, two months after a meeting with a legal representative facilitated I might say, by the Commissioner for Children and Young People? Why did it take the department two months to suspend that person who was alleged to have historically raped a child?

Mr JAENSCH - Again, the member has been told that the report from the staff member that she is referring to was investigated and didn't involve the criminal activity that she's referring to. She has that answer from the department directly. Certainly there is a staff member who has been stood down. Three staff members were stood down on 9 November after the department, having undertaken its own internal investigations and cross-checking of reports and claims, including those arising from the redress scheme -

Ms O'CONNOR - It is irrelevant to redress.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, I do not want to have to give warnings. I ask you allow the minister to continue. Your dissatisfaction with the minister's responses are recorded on Hansard.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is not relevant. I don't care about the Hansard record, Chair, I care about the truth.

CHAIR - Yes, but let the minister respond, please.

Mr JAENSCH - The secretary has answered the question regarding the earlier staff matter raised, which was investigated and did not relate to a rape. You can keep asserting that but if the record shows that that is not the case then I think you are trying to conflate things to create a narrative that suits you.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am not. I am trying to get the truth out of you and find out why it took your department so long to suspend a person accused of a most heinous crime against children.


Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, our information is that the incident report from the mid 1990s that relates to the staff member who was suspended on 9 November certainly involves an allegation of sexual violence against a child. Are you able to cross-check that and note that it took your department two months to have this person suspended from their job?

Our information is that if a child safety worker loses their driver licence, for example, they are suspended within days. We have the other delayed suspension of the assistant manager, who was not actually suspended just transferred to manage the Silverdome, who is alleged to have forged documents in December last year but was not suspended until sometime later and transferred to another position in the State Service.

Minister, there is clearly something rotten at Ashley and the way it is being managed. Can you respond to the fresh information that I have put on the table in relation to the incident report? Can you explain the contradiction between assistant managers or managers, senior staff at Ashley, who are left in place after serious allegations are made against them and child safety workers who when they lose their drivers licence are suspended within days?

Mr JAENSCH - I believe the secretary has answered the first question regarding a complaint or a report about a staff member who has been stood down, a staff report that was investigated at the time. The investigation is complete but it did not relate to a rape. If you have different information about that or other concerns I urge you to provide all the information that you have to the department as soon as possible so that they can follow up the further information.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am doing it now.

Mr JAENSCH - No, you are in a committee of the parliament. If you have detailed information and evidence that can assist in any of these inquiries, Ms O'Connor, you should be giving it to the people whose job it is to undertake these investigations. I note when you say, 'we have information' you have been saying that for a week. Your information keeps changing and the individual parts of it -

Ms O'CONNOR - The problem is we can't trust you to be transparent.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, this is your first warning. I ask you to allow the minister to respond, please. Then you can ask one more question.

Mr JAENSCH - The pieces of information are starting to be strung together in a slightly different order to paint different pictures around people for whom, in these cases as I understand it, no official complaints have been made. There are redress matters. If you have evidence to the contrary please make it available to the people who are in power to investigate these matters.

Ms O'CONNOR - Don't put this on me in that way when this is about you. Your responses to serious allegations and your department, its slowness in responding to those allegations while at-risk children are in the 'care' of people accused of serious offences against children.

Mr JAENSCH - I have been listening very carefully to the commentary and the comments and the case claims that Ms O'Connor has been raising in relation to these issues because we want to be able to investigate fully.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can you answer the first question I asked?

Mr JAENSCH - I note that the information is incomplete but it is also changing and it is tending to create a narrative rather than provide evidence.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair.

CHAIR - Order, the minister is answering your question. I asked that you allow him to respond and you can have one more question, otherwise I will give the call to Mr Ellis. I ask that you allow the minister to respond.

Mr JAENSCH - I stress the most important thing in finding the truth and serving the best interest of everybody involved, if you have information please bring it to those conducting these investigations who have other information that it may be able to be joined with to establish a pattern of activity. Please do not use it to test you own theories about what you think has happened because that can be off the mark and it can have effects on the safe carriage of these investigations and potentially the lives of people who your comments reflect on.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have a question. It is unbelievable that you would try you spin this around and turn it back on me when it is you who is the minister responsible for the care of these children. The information I have been provided with is the information I am giving to you. It is not about me; it is about you. This is the Westminster system.

The information that we have from current staff members at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre is about a culture of abuse at Ashley. Staff who make complaints or raise things are bullied, abused themselves, or are talked out of going to police. Many workers are on workers compensation. They have been bullied and are experiencing mental ill health from their failure to protect children. Reports are going unheeded by senior staff, systematically ignoring allegations of abuse. Staff have been told by senior management that their concerns will be dealt with but the abuse continues and there is no apparent action. Can you respond to that concern from staff at Ashley now, conveyed to me, that there is a culture of abuse and cover-up at Ashley?

Mr JAENSCH - Ms O'Connor, I note that you have raised this in hearings over the last couple of days and consistent with the responses then, including from the deputy secretary -

Ms O'CONNOR - Just answer the question

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr JAENSCH - if you have further information regarding those claims, please bring it forward to the department so it can be looked at.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair, the minister is conducting himself in an untransparent and dishonest way. It is not about me. I'm giving him information at the table to respond to.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, your dissatisfaction with the minister's response is noted but the minister is answering your question. We cannot pre-empt what is about to come out or what he is about to say. I ask that you allow the minister to respond without interruption.

Ms O'CONNOR - With respect, Chair, he's gaslighting this committee.

Mr JAENSCH - Chair, I take this so seriously that if you have information I want it to be part of our investigation. I can't provide a commentary on your assertions when the advice from my department is that they have not had reports -

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you prepared to say there's no culture of cover-up at Ashley?

Mr JAENSCH - My department has advised you that they have not had concerns raised around the matters that you have asserted.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is untrue.

Mr JAENSCH - If you have other information then please provide it to my department.

Ms O'CONNOR - You know that's untrue.

Members interjecting.

CHAIR - Order.


Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, I do, Chair. Minister, can you confirm that the assistant manager who was transferred to Silverdome is alleged to have forged documents last December after that incident with young people on the roof of Ashley in order to conceal the extensive use of inappropriate isolation?

Mr JAENSCH - I will start by noting that on Monday the Premier responded to Ms O'Connor's assertions around particular people who used to work at Ashley who now work in other positions and associating them with a range of claims or historic matters -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair. The minister is again trying not to answer the question.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, how do you know that? He hasn't even started speaking. I ask you to allow the minister to finish his response, then if you are not satisfied you can ask one more question. Allow him to finish, please.

Mr JAENSCH - Creating a narrative around certain people who may be able to be identified and associating them with particular allegations in a couple of cases, including one the Premier made comment on on Monday that the assertion or the association claimed is not correct. It is not factual. It is not supported by the evidence that we have. If Ms O'Connor has other information or evidence she should bring it forward so it can be reinvestigated.

In relation to the specific allegations just made about falsifying records, I am unaware of any specific report or claim. I will refer that to my department to respond to. I also encourage you if you have any specific information to provide it to them so that they can -

Ms O'CONNOR - I just have.

Mr JAENSCH - so that they can follow that up. I ask Mr Pervan if he wants to add more detail.

Mr PERVAN - Regarding a staff member who has unfortunately been identified over the last couple of days, there are no allegations of fraud against that staff member. They are currently on a return-to-work as a result of a workers comp claim. That is why they are working at the Silverdome. It is part of a structured return to work. He is not suspended. That is also untrue.

Ms O'CONNOR - I said he was transferred.

Mr PERVAN - He was not transferred. He is on a return-to-work as part of a workers comp management process. There are no allegations of fraud. There are certainly no allegations of child abuse or forgery against him.

The incident you are referring to on 15 December is still under review. We would have completed that review but for the fact that a key member of staff who we need to talk to and involve in that process is not available because they are on workers comp.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have another question, Mr. Ellis.

CHAIR - Last question.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I just place on the record that you have failed to answer in any detail a single question I have put to you.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, that is not a question.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, it is. It is coming. You have avoided the issue of whether there is a culture of cover up and secrecy at Ashley. This is an allegation that has been put to us not only by lawyers but former staff or existing staff of Ashley. I place that on the record.

Minister, can you confirm that your political decision to keep the Ashley Youth Detention Centre open has ensured that a generation of young offenders will not have good outcomes? A generation of young offenders will be placed in an institution which is unsafe. You can try to put this back on other people, because it is always someone else's fault apparently, but the consequence of the political decision that your Government made to keep Ashley Youth Detention Centre open is placing already at-risk children at greater risk. Do you deny that?

Mr JAENSCH - I reject the assertion that a decision of the Government to keep operating our youth detention centre at Ashley is putting people at risk. We have made a commitment to redesign and upgrade the Ashley Youth Detention Centre to be a fit-for-purpose component of a statewide therapeutic youth justice system.

I have signed contracts for the redevelopment of the Ashley facility to be part of that as an infrastructure upgrade. This includes the development of step-down facilities within the Ashley complex that will be used to assist young people who are on their way out of the detention term that they have been given by a court to get life skills to prepare them for independent living, to link them with services that can assist them.

Ms O'CONNOR - You mean homelessness? They are dropped off at the gate into homelessness.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, this is your second warning. Can you please let the minister speak?

Mr JAENSCH - Yet again, Ms O'Connor chooses to characterise things with her own dramatic flair for a political purpose. Our commitment is to a therapeutic youth justice system. We are investing over $7 million in doing that. We are re designing our whole youth justice system to a therapeutic model. Ashley will be part of that. It will include the development of step down accommodation within Ashley so that young people who are ending there period of detention will be assisted in developing life skills with connections and access to the supports that they are going to need to live successfully outside of Ashley on their release. I am proud of the work that we are doing to remodel Ashley as part of our statewide service. I am pleased to have signed the contracts for that work to commence in coming weeks.