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Safety of Children

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 19 November 2020

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Child Safety

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Madam Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: Safety of Children.

I believe there is something both rotten and wrong with the way at-risk children and young people are dealt with in Tasmania. This morning we had it confirmed by the minister that a senior staff member at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre has been stood down, their Working with Vulnerable People card taken away from them and that there are hundreds of allegations made against this person, including one of rape.

We also have information that other staff at Ashley have been stood down. Perhaps in his response on the matter of public importance debate, the minister, Mr Jaensch, could provide more details to the House about how many staff are potentially implicated, how many staff have been stood down, how many staff have had their Working with Vulnerable People registration cancelled, and whether or not there are still staff at Ashley working today who have serious allegations pending against them? Our information is that the senior is not the only staff member at Ashley who has been stood down and that other staff may also have been stood down but there may be staff still working at Ashley today who have had allegations of a serious nature made against them.

We are talking about Tasmania's most at-risk young people, voiceless young people who have been detained inside the Ashley Youth Detention Centre, a manifestly failed model that is failing young people in Tasmania and failing to keep our community safer. When we are talking about children and young people in the care of the state, while we understand the need to protect the identity of these children and young people, maximum transparency is required. Maximum transparency from the minister on this matter in this debate today is also required.

I do not doubt for a second that Mr Jaensch cares deeply about the welfare of children and young people, but we are also dealing with a child safety system and juvenile justice system which has been politicised. The decision to keep open the Ashley Youth Detention Centre was made on a political basis.

We need to hear from the minister today exactly what is happening at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. Tasmanians need reassurance that those children and young people are safe. Members of this House will recall that last year the Custodial Inspector released a report into Ashley which was heavily but unsuccessfully redacted. The youth justice Custodial Inspector's reports were tabled in parliament a bit over a year ago. There was an attempt to redact those reports which failed and the minister never adequately answered questions we asked about who tried to cover up what was happening at Ashley by so heavily redacting the Custodial Inspector's report.

The report showed that children and young people in Ashley Youth Detention Centre are not safe. There are abject failures to have systems in place to protect them, to prevent bullying and intimidation of young detainees, or to prevent the potential for abuse, with contractors who come onto the site not subject to searches or background checks. I remind the House that was a section of the youth justice Custodial Inspector's report that the Government tried to hide through an unsuccessful attempt at redaction.

One of the most concerning findings of the report is that witness reports to incidents involving the use of force or isolation are copied and pasted by staff, meaning they are not genuine witness reports to these events. Monthly assessments on the use of force and isolation are not conducted despite there being a requirement for this to occur. Perhaps in his contribution on this debate the minister could update the House on what measures have been taken to address those very serious issues that were raised and attempted to be concealed in the Custodial Inspector's report.

The options presented to Government in 2016 were very clear. A number of options were put forward in the Noetic report and the Government took the least-favoured option and the one least likely to lead to beneficial outcomes for young people who end up in the youth justice system.

There is absolutely no question in my mind, or in Dr Woodruff's mind, that the decision to keep the Ashley Youth Detention Centre was made because the March 2018 state election was looming. The only reason you would keep open a centre which is so clearly failing young people at such a massive annual cost of around $10 million would be in order to placate a constituency in and around Deloraine.

We know there are far, far better options than the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. The evidence from interstate and overseas is clear, and in fact Noetic made the same recommendation, which is Greens policy, that we close the Ashley Youth Detention Centre, construct two smaller therapeutic facilities in the north and south, and make sure that when those young people leave the youth justice system they are much better equipped for a good life and are much more able to avoid entering a life of crime and therefore the Risdon Prison system. The minister has some very serious questions again to answer in this debate.