Dr WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Ms COURTNEY
Parents, former patients and staff at the Launceston General Hospital are still struggling to come to the terms with the news that six sick children were sexually abused for nearly two decades by a male nurse. My office has been contacted by deeply concerned current and former staff, worried a pervasive culture of blame-shifting is preventing uncovering how our health system failed young children and enabled this abuser's behaviour to continue.
Your independent investigation has limited terms of reference. It only examines THS systems and does not go to hospital culture or individual actions or cases, which does nothing to allay their concerns. This abuse being investigated occurred over 18 years at the LGH but the man in question was also employed at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre, on the Spirits of Tasmania and was a long-time volunteer for the Northern Tasmanian Netball Association.
There is evidence of prior complaints made about this individual that went nowhere. As Emily Shepherd from the ANMF said:
We have to get everything out in the opening. That is what is owed to those who may have suffered abuse or who have fears for those they love. We must make sure this can never happen again.
Will you listen to the ANMF and your staff at the LGH and establish a commission of inquiry?
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Franklin for her question on what is a very serious matter and I know that all members in the House share my absolute concern around this and particularly around the allegations that have been raised.
I want to be very clear that the safety of children in our care is our absolute priority. We have announced that an independent investigation will be commissioned and we are going to ensure that this occurs appropriately.
The charges laid and the allegations that have been made in various forums against the deceased former nurse are abhorrent and we have acknowledged the community's very serious concern about this matter. We have finalised and released the terms of reference for the independent investigation and the outcomes will be released to the public.
Maree Norton has been appointed to undertake this important work. She has strong experience across a range of legal areas and the Department of Justice will provide administrative support for the conduct of the investigation. The terms of reference are now available on the Department of Justice's website and details regarding how members of the public will be able to provide information to the investigation will be outlined shortly.
We know this is a very difficult time for many in our community and in the Launceston region in particular. We are committed to supporting anyone who comes forward with information and the Government will take any necessary action. I can assure the Tasmanian community and members of this parliament that the Government is committed to ensuring the independent investigation is fully empowered to examine all and any matters relating to this issue.
I have given my assurance to the ANMF that the terms of reference are designed to capture a broad scope of investigation. The terms specifically say the investigation will address any other matter relevant to the systems of Tasmanian government agencies deployed in responses to historical allegations of child sexual abuse and that the investigator identifies in the course of this investigation as warranting investigation and discussion.
These terms were developed in consultation with the secretary of DPAC and the secretary of Justice and included legal advice as well as engagement with the investigator. The investigation is being handled at arm's length from Government and the investigator will be empowered to conduct their investigation as they see fit. We are committed to getting this right and we are taking these matters extremely seriously. Importantly, the outcomes of this investigation will be released to the public.
The secretary of the Department of Health, the Premier and I have all been resolute in our commitment that these matters are brought to light. Anybody with information continues to be actively encouraged to come forward and people will be supported to provide information to the investigation. If there is any evidence of criminal behaviour uncovered during the course of the investigation, these will be referred to the police or any other body necessary. The independent investigation will be fully empowered to recommend any appropriate next steps.
In the question from the member she referred to comments made this morning by Ms Shepherd around the fact that we should never have this happen again and I think all members in this place will join me. I remain absolutely committed to this. I remain committed to the members of the Launceston community, the current staff, the current patients, the former staff and the former patients. I look forward to this inquiry being fully investigated so our community can have comfort about the safety of our children.