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Ministerial Statement – Commission of Inquiry Interim Response

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Tags: Commission of Inquiry, Children and Young People

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, there is no reason that a connected island community like ours cannot be the safest place in Australia for children and young people. I am sure every member in this House wants it to be so.

This is a very significant statement from the Premier that wraps up a number of necessary and, in a number of cases, long overdue reforms. I note that some of the initiatives have very loose time frames around them and we will explore that more with the Premier in the days and weeks ahead.

Any person here who has paid attention to the evidence given to the commission of inquiry will understand there is an urgency about the measures that have detailed in the Premier's ministerial statement today. There has been a whole range of evidence which has been confronting, but perhaps the most shocking was what we heard a little over a month ago come out of the inquiry about the culture in the Launceston General Hospital that enabled a paedophile to keep working there and keep harming children for many long years. We saw through the commission of inquiry questioning and the response of witnesses, whether they currently work in government or previously worked at the LGH, that there was this culture of not taking responsibility, a culture of cover-up and secrecy. It was, I think, one of the most shameful episodes that has been revealed through the commission of inquiry.

I also acknowledge the strength and courage of victims/survivors and acknowledge that the commission of inquiry can be a retraumatising process and for some an empowering process because it is the first time in a formal setting that victims/survivors have been given an opportunity to tell their truth unvarnished for all of us to hear and respond to. I express the deepest gratitude to whistleblowers from within the State Service who have come forward knowing the potential consequences to them and their employment. But they have come forward because it is the right thing to do.

There are a number of initiatives in the ministerial statement that we will take some time to consider. What is needed now, which the Commission of Inquiry has made clear and which has not been in place, to the detriment of children and young people, is a whole-of-government response. The secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet should know, on a day to-day basis, what is happening with the implementation of the Child Safe Standards framework, what is happening with the Reportable Conduct Scheme, has a clear eye on the ED 5 process and how it is responding to whistle-blowers and to the safety of children and young people.

I note that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse made the recommendation for a child safe organisations framework and reportable conduct scheme in 2016. It is now six years since that recommendation was made and it is clear from the Premier's ministerial statement that that framework and Reportable Conduct Scheme will not be finalised for another three years. This is exactly the evidence that Communities Tasmania secretary Ginna Webster gave to the Commission of Inquiry. Not good enough. We encourage the Premier to take a direct and managerial interest in the implementation of this particular recommendation and make sure it happens sooner.

We are pleased to see that there is progress being made on draft legislation to create a new crime for people in authority failing to protect a child or young person. Perhaps a Commission of Inquiry would not have been needed if that crime had already been in place. It is clear from the evidence to the inquiry that there were members of the State Service who knew exactly what was going on at the LGH and who were complicit in cover up and enablement of a paedophile.

We are very pleased to see that there is going to be some improvements to the right to information process. I am currently in correspondence with the Premier about a right to information application we made to obtain public health advice on COVID 19 prevention strategies in health settings, education and other care settings. We were fobbed off by the RTI officer. I wrote back to the Premier: got a fob off letter. We asked for that information to be disclosed and it still has not been disclosed. The Department of Health is the worst offender on right to information.

We remember Safe Pathways. We remember that journalist Camille Bianchi, whose podcast, The Nurse, perhaps did more than any other journalism to make sure we had a Commission of Inquiry, her right to information application to the Department of Health took 22 months, and was only revealed after a Channel 7 news story. Not good enough.

We know that this Premier wants to be seen to lead a government of integrity and transparency. If you have right to information officers in your largest government agency who see it as their job to obstruct, it is going to be very difficult to achieve that necessary ambition.

We are very glad to see that victims/survivors will be part of an expert reference group as we move through a reform process. We are very impressed by the quality of the experts who will help to drive reform, and the quality of the people who have been appointed to make sure that the Launceston General Hospital is never again allowed to be a place that harbours those who harm children.