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Ministerial Statement – Response to Commission of Inquiry

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Tags: Commission of Inquiry, Child Safety

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, this parliament has just heard one of the most important statements ever from a Tasmanian Premier. The statement made by Premier Rockliff is exactly what victims/survivors of child sexual abuse in Tasmania needed to hear. It is what the parents of children and young people needed to hear. They need to know that action to keep children and young people safe now and into the future is well and truly underway. They need to know that an historic and contemporary culture of cover-up is being addressed. They need to know that we will work together to make sure Tasmania is the safest place in Australia for children and young people.

I have to give credit where it is due, Mr Speaker. We would not be here having this conversation if not for the relentless advocacy of victims/survivors. Politically, there was a lot of pressure on the previous premier, but Peter Gutwein initiated the commission of inquiry and it is perhaps his greatest legacy. He told us it would be painful, and for those who have come before the inquiry, it most certainly has been that. For victims/survivors who have been watching and listening to the hearings it has been profoundly traumatising.

The Sunday before last, a number of members of this place from across the parties and the crossbench gathered in the sunshine on the lawns of Parliament House for the SOS picnic. That was a day for survivors, their families and friends, for those who have suffered so terribly, people who have been betrayed by the state and by adults they should have been able to trust, and those we know who as a result of that suffering and betrayal are no longer with us.

We shared stories of the anger of survivors, their lack of trust in government and indeed in adults generally, their deep pain and trauma, but there is also a slowly growing and fragile hope that, as a result of the commission of inquiry, this island, which has such a terrible history of failing children, will change. There is this fragile hope that change will finally happen as a result of the advocacy of victims/survivors and the work of the commission of inquiry.

I particularly acknowledge the advocacy of my friend, Tiffany Skeggs, who spoke up because she does not want any other child to go through what she went through, repeated failures of this state and its systems, its agencies, Tasmania Police, to see her and protect her. I also want to acknowledge the advocacy of Alysha, who worked at Ashley Youth Detention Centre, herself a survivor, and as a result of her advocacy we now know much better what was happening to children inside Ashley Youth Detention Centre. It is a sign of how far we are coming that Ashley will close and there will be a more therapeutic approach to children and young people in the youth justice system. It takes great courage for people like Tiffany and Alysha to step up and identify themselves as survivors and go through that trauma day after day, and I can tell you they are indeed traumatised.

Like anyone in this place who has followed the testimony that has come before the commission of inquiry, it has been very confronting to understand how deep those systemic failures are, how enduring the culture of cover-up has been, how opaque the processes are for victims to be protected, to get justice, and what huge gaps there are in the system.

We saw, for example, the Ombudsman, the Commissioner for Children and Young People and the head of the Integrity Commission in a panel before the inquiry, and it became depressingly clear that there are deficiencies in their overarching acts, but there is also again some resistance from those integrity bodies. For example, at the time it became clear that there had been a cover-up at the LGH over former nurse James Griffin, why did the Integrity Commission not investigate at that point? Why hasn't the Integrity Commission, in 13 years of operation, held a public hearing? Why is it apparently impossible for the Commissioner for Children and Young People to advocate for an individual child or young person? Why does it often take years for anything to be dealt with by the Ombudsman, who also is the Youth Custodial Inspector?

We also heard evidence that came before the commission about delays in implementing key royal commission recommendations to deliver child-safe standards in organisations and a reportable conduct scheme. We heard that draft legislation was put out for consultation at the end of 2020 and we still have not seen another draft of the bill. The commission was told that framework may well be three years away. That is not anywhere near good enough.

I thank Professors Smallbone and McCormack who undertook their inquiry into the Department of Education, because the work that they did was extremely important.

Time expired.