You are here

Premier – Commission of Inquiry

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Monday, 5 June 2023

Tags: Commission of Inquiry, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Can we move on now to the commission of inquiry? This is specifically to DPAC.

As you are aware, we had an exchange of letters late last year where the Greens suggested that some money be allocated in this Budget prior to the handing down of the commission of inquiry's recommendations just to be sure you'd be ready to implement them as soon as the report is handed down at the end of August. We have the DPAC updated disclosure log as at Friday, which shows that now 43 state servants have been suspended over child sexual abuse allegations. Whether they are historical or contemporary is unclear.

There are four ED5 investigations that have found a breach of the code of conduct in relation to child sexual abuse allegations and there's been a sanction determined. Could you talk us through how it could be that so many state servants now have been suspended or faced a sanction as a result of the evidence put to the commission of enquiry?

Mr ROCKLIFF - I've spoken about the importance of the safety of our children and young people. Mr Young asked that question before. On 23 March this year, the secretary's board endorsed a new Keeping Children Safer government structure to facilitate the Government's commitment to implementation of immediate actions and respond to issues raised during the hearings of the Commission of Enquiry into the Tasmanian Government's Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings and to include the establishment of a child and youth safety and wellbeing subcommittee of the secretary's board, providing whole-of-government oversight of actions and facilitate strategic outcomes in response to the commission of inquiry’s final report.

What you're referring to is very important. We all, when we get the opportunity, should offer our deepest and heartfelt apologies to all victims and survivors of past child sexual abuse that occurred in relation to agencies across our state.

Ms O'CONNOR - Hear, hear.

Mr ROCKLIFF - It was an important moment when the parliament officially apologised to victims and survivors.

Ms O'CONNOR - Could you address the substance of the question in relation to the number of state servants who've either been suspended or sanctioned. That's a very high number of state servants who are part of the fallout of the commission of enquiry.

Mr ROCKLIFF - The latest disclosure, which was updated on 2 June and as I understand as of 3 June. Since October 2020, there have been 43 suspensions of state servants as a result of allegations of child sexual abuse, 22 related to historical allegations and 21 related to contemporary allegations. I'm advised 27 of the 43 cases are located in the north and 16 in the south. Of the 43 cases, all have been referred or are known to Tasmania Police. In 41 of the 43 cases, notifications have been made to the relevant regulatory body. The further two cases were matters involving an employee whose employment was not subject to any regulatory body.

Of the 43 employees, four have been found to have breached the code of conduct in relation to contemporary child sexual abuse allegations. Eleven investigation determinations have found no breach in relation to child sexual abuse and 10 of the 11 employees have returned to duty as the findings of the relevant investigation found it was appropriate for this to happen. The remaining employee has resigned.

Ms O'CONNOR - That sounds like quite an efficient system of dealing with potential historical or contemporary child sexual abuse in the State Service. What level of sanction is applied to the four state servants who were found to be in breach of the code of conduct under ED5 investigations? Are they all employed still in the State Service?

Mr ROCKLIFF - I can't provide individual circumstances around that.

Ms O'CONNOR - We're not looking for identifiers.

Mr ROCKLIFF – We have some information here. Do you mind if I hand over to our secretary, Ms Gale?

Ms GALE - Through you, Premier, there is a range of sanctions that heads of agencies can apply when somebody is found to have breached the code of conduct. They range from counselling through to termination, depending on the nature of the allegation and what has been found. So, it's a matter for each head of agency to make those determinations based on the particular circumstances of the case that they have been considering.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Ms Gale. One final question. Of the four ED5 investigations where a breach of the code was confirmed, without identifying individual state servants, are all four of those state servants still employed within the State Service or have some been suspended or their positions terminated?

Ms GALE - Through you, Premier, when there are only four there is a possibility that state servants could be identified by providing that kind of information. In relation to the routine disclosure you will see on the right-hand side of the table that there is information about the numbers of state servants who have returned to duty. The table currently shows that 10 have been returned to duty.

Ms O'CONNOR - Ten of the 43?

Ms GALE - That is correct.

Ms O'CONNOR - My final question on this round of questions. So, $30 million is allocated in this year's state Budget to implement the recommendations of the commission of inquiry but the Budget shows that there has been $1.3 million for child safety that was expected in this Budget which has been pushed out to 2026-27. Also delayed funding of nearly $3 million to the Transition to Independence program, which supports young people exiting care and delayed funding for the school support package including the north-west support school of $20 million a year. That adds up to almost to $30 million. Is the $30 million allocated to the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations coming from other parts of the Budget that relate to children and young people?

Mr ROCKLIFF - The $30 million is for, as I outlined today in Mr Young's question, the areas that we are already actioning, around 30 recommendations. I want to make sure I have this right. Then the commission of inquiry recommendations will come out and those funds can then also support immediate actions. Responsible agencies can immediately draw on those funds. We expect towards the end of the year that the true investment required to support the roll out of the recommendations of the commission of inquiry will be brought to parliament. That would reflect a forward Estimates figure where that investment will be applied.

What was important in the $30 million is that agencies can immediately implement some of the recommendations and some of the 30 that we have already highlighted over the course of the last year.

Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, back to the commission of inquiry. Obviously we can't be sure what recommendations the inquiry will be handing down, but there's some areas of specific inquiry that might point you as Premier to places that need reform.

Mr ROCKLIFF - And have done.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, I accept that. One of the issues that has come up through the commission of inquiry is the lack of robust protections for whistleblowers who might report child abuse or inappropriate behaviour with children amongst state servants. If the commission of inquiry recommends changes to the whistleblower act, will your Government be moving on that?

Mr ROCKLIFF - I anticipate we will if it's recommended. I'll be very interested in the recommendations of the commission of inquiry and if there's a recommendation to do that, absolutely.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you think the whistleblower protections we have in place now are adequate?

Mr ROCKLIFF - I have no doubt that ensuring we have the most robust whisleblower protections possible is a good idea and if there is a way to improve them, we will.

Ms O'CONNOR - Another area of legislative reform that may be required is to the State Service Act, potentially the process around ED5s. Should the commission of inquiry find there are deficiencies in the State Service Act and the process of ED5s, will you commit to amending that act and strengthening it to protect children and young people?

Mr ROCKLIFF - My understanding is that we've done some work in this area. It is one of the interim actions of the 30 recommendations and employment direction 5 is currently being reviewed initially. This was with consideration of the recommendations from the 2021 independent review of the Tasmanian State Service, so from my memory there were 77 recommendations from that and we are acting on the first stage of that, which is around 29 recommendations from memory, and this was part of that. I stand to be corrected on that but that's my memory.

It was then expedited to support the Keep Children Safer priority actions as part of the Government's interim response to the commission of inquiry made in February this year, noting reference 8 of Keeping Children Safer is to review and rewrite employment direction 5. State Service review recommendations 55 and 56 are directed specifically at making improvements to ED5 and the management of code of conduct processes within the agencies. As part of the review, all the employment directions are subject to revision and ED5 was specifically expedited for review as part of the Keeping Children Safer response. The ED5s will be revised as part of this response initially and continue to be updated as part of the State Service review implementation and the process for managing conduct and behaviour in the State Service.

I have some further information which may well be helpful. I am pleased to report that we are well on the way to realising these proposed changes subject to further stakeholder consultation, including with the unions. The draft ED5 for consultation with the stakeholders is being developed with input from agencies and further stakeholder discussions are continuing. After consultation and final review, I intend to issue a revised ED5 to meet the Government's commitments to undertake this work, noting the response to the Keeping Children Safer commitment has been extended until October 2023 to ensure that all recommendations from the commission of inquiry can be considered where relevant.

The key changes to the proposed draft ED 5 include greater flexibility. This follows recommendations from the Independent Review of the Tasmanian State Service that head agencies should be able to tailor an investigative process based on the circumstances surrounding an alleged breach by changing the 'must appoint an investigator' to 'may commence a process consistent with the ED and may appoint an investigator'.

The current requirement to always appoint an investigator can be disproportionate to the circumstances. For instance, where an employee admits to certain behaviour, an investigator may not be warranted. This may accelerate dealing with the matter and consideration to improving the timeliness of matters being dealt with. Is there anything further to raise, Ms Gale?

Ms O'CONNOR - Just on that - and you, Ms Gale, may have something to contribute to this - what became really tragically apparent during the evidence to the commission of inquiry was that there has been a culture within the State Service, a culture, for example, at places like Ashley Youth Detention Centre, of not taking seriously enough allegations of the mistreatment or sexual abuse of children. Or, in the circumstances surrounding the Launceston General Hospital, of cover-up internally within management of manifest problems and harm to children. Are you confident that these changes that you have committed to making will deal with that culture which is residual and damaging to children? It is a culture of cover up.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I am confident but also it has to change. I am confident it will. But can I say, in that sense, it is not enough. It just has to change.

Ms O'CONNOR - How do you make absolutely sure of that?

Mr ROCKLIFF - We are doing all we can in terms of - you mentioned the LGH. In February this year - I can throw to others who have some more information - we announced the critical steps being taken to strengthen child safety in our hospitals and our health settings, as our Government implements the recommendations from the Child Safe Governance Review. Following the release of the report of the Child Safe Governance Review, the governance advisory panel, our Government has committed to all 92 recommendations in full. Over 30 recommendations have already been completed and strong progress is being made across a number of other recommendations.

Customised and mandatory training is being rolled out to all staff, focusing on mandatory reporting, professional boundaries and identifying signs of grooming as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - Within Health or just at the Launceston General Hospital?

Mr ROCKLIFF - The Department of Health in its entirety. The Department of Health is progressing a complaints management project. I know we can probably talk about this during our Health Estimates. But I am advised that phase 1 has been completed, which includes the establishment of the new independent and centralised statewide complaints oversight unit to review the current state of complaints management and design the future of complaints management in the department.

We were also working on Item 6, in terms of the interim response the Commission of Inquiry - encourage and support staff to raise child safety concerns. That is underway. The Keeping Children Safer working group has commenced mapping of agency staff child safety educational resources so they may be shared and tailored to departmental needs to support the wider cultural change and staff training across the service.

If I can talk to schools, Ms O'Connor, as well, it is extremely important. The Safeguarding in Schools model was approved by the Minister for Education, Children and Youth in October last year. The Office of Safeguarding Children and Young People has been established to drive long-term cultural change and continuous improvement across the Department for Education, Children and Young People.

I am pleased to say that safeguarding leads commenced their roles in all state government schools at the beginning of the 2023 school year. These leads will help plan and implement strategies to support the wellbeing of students at each government school to foster a child centred culture where safeguarding our children is everyone's responsibility.

Compulsory mandatory reporting training has been rolled out to all staff at the Department for Education, Children and Young People. A range of mandatory professional development is also provided to all staff working in the areas of Children and Families, and Youth Justice.

Initial compulsory training is understanding, preventing and responding to child sexual abuse. It was developed and undertaken with the school principals and safeguarding leads towards the end of last year. Similar compulsory training for all departmental staff has commenced.

CHAIR - Do you want to add more to the answer?

Ms GALE - I was just going to add a bit more information in relation to the ED5 dates and where that's going. One of the really important learnings out of the Commission of Inquiry was that a lot of the practice in agencies wasn't trauma-informed. Therefore, that's an important part of updating the ED5 in these first steps. In relation to that, we are rolling out trauma-informed training across the State Service, starting with senior officers. The whole-of-government panel for ED5 investigators' tender documents also requires investigators to be trauma-informed.

The other part that I think is worth mentioning today is that the ED5, as was explained through the hearings, is part of an employment framework. The other big learning was that the processes really looked at things from the employee's perspective in terms of natural justice, procedural fairness and so on. It didn't give much guidance at all on keeping complainants informed about the process. So, that is another important step that we are taking in relation to making those changes for the process prior to the final report being provided.