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Workplace Safety and Consumer Affairs – Working with Vulnerable People

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Monday, 6 June 2022

Tags: Working with Vulnerable People

Ms O'CONNOR - I listened with interest to your answer before on the working with vulnerable people registration system. It was always intended the registration system be extended beyond the initial cohort of vulnerability, which was children. I know this, because I introduced the legislation to the House in 2013 and it was passed. In the ACT, which in part our act was modelled on, which is why it is called Working with Vulnerable People, the registration system also applies to addiction services, prevention of crime, migrant services, mental health services, housing services, victims of crimes services, homelessness services and all disability services not just those that are captured by the NDIS.

Would you agree that the findings from various royal commissions, including those into disability and aged care as well as the recent review of the Public Trustee, make a strong case for introducing further trances of regulated activities beyond the ones you mentioned earlier, which I believed would extend the registration system to people potentially in aged care or did I mishear that?

Ms ARCHER - Well I know you and Ms O'Byrne were having a discussion and I did say that -

Ms O'CONNOR - I was listening.

Ms ARCHER - That is alright, you can walk and chew gum many women can at the same time. I was not making any other comment other than that I know you were having a discussion. Look, the focus of the current review is obviously older people and people with disabilities as well as reviewing services and activities where registration is required. We're always interested in extending that further in relation to other areas where there are vulnerable people. If the review reveals further vulnerable areas, whether or not we do it in this tranche or another tranche, because we need to ensure that we're doing all we can to enact these things as quickly as possible, then if Mr Graham identifies further areas, I imagine as you've pointed out there might be other areas that we can develop further. We're certainly open to considering that. I'm certainly not of the mind that there are no other categories at all, other than the two I've just mentioned.

Ms O'CONNOR - Before you do, Mr Graham, to save time at the table as we only have a few minutes left, would it be your intention to have a look at how very similar legislation operates in the ACT, where a suite of cohorts of vulnerability have been added? My recollection was that, when this bill was passed in 2013 there was a schedule on the act, or there was something in my second reading speech, that laid out these cohorts to whom it was, the then-government's intention that these registration protections be applied.

Mr GRAHAM - We definitely work closely with the other worker screening bodies in other jurisdictions. The last five years has been a particularly busy time. There was a huge amount of work in regard to the national standards for worker screening that came following the royal commission, then the integration of NDIS employees.

As far as a schedule, it well and truly pre-dates my time in the role when this was taken through the parliament. From memory, the second reading speech identified a range of cohorts that could be included in the future but didn't have a schedule for the time frames.

To give you a sense of the evolution of this scheme, 2014-2017 was the progressive adding of child-related services so that took two-and-a-half to three years. There were some transport services added in the following year to cover the field in that space.

The focus was then on adopting the national standards into the scheme, then the NDIS. So now we're at a position where we can consider those additional cohorts which might be identified as vulnerable and then mapping the services that they use where you want them to have a level of protection from people who otherwise -

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Graham. It was very clear when the Griffin matter was made public initially through a podcast called The Nurse by Camille Bianchi, that there were failings in the working with vulnerable people registration process and potentially follow-up. What changes has government made to make sure that it doesn't happen again?

Ms ARCHER - We did make changes. The changes that we made are those that Mr Graham just mentioned, and that I mentioned also in my response in relation to filling the gaps. At the moment, we're looking further at whether or not there are other gaps to fill. I think those national principles were post -

Mr GRAHAM - They were around the same time.

Ms ARCHER - They were around the same time and so those changes certainly address some of the matters.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can you explain how, what exactly has mechanically changed to prevent that from happening again?

Mr GRAHAM - The thing I would say that has dramatically strengthened the system is the work that has been done by organisations like Tasmania Police and other agencies to report behaviour. Whether by harm, abuse, or abuse or neglect it poses a risk to vulnerable people.

The Registrar is an assessment body, it doesn't have an investigative function. So if that information is not passed on people can be registered. Over the last year, the work that has come from the joint taskforce, from police, has dramatically increased the volume of reportable behaviour in the scheme. This is criminal intelligence information, other kind of information which can be used in a risk assessment.

To give you a sense of the system and how it operates, in 2020 we did 90 additional risk assessments of people registered under the scheme, based on information that came to hand. Last year we commenced 900. So that’s the thing that has really strengthened the scheme, that sharing of information and that ability for those assessments to be much richer and to draw conclusions to exclude people from environments where they otherwise might cause harm.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is very good news, thank you.

Ms ARCHER - So at least something positive has come out in terms of prevention.