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Achievements Over the Last Year

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I wish to thank the Minister for the statement that she has read out regarding the past twelve months. I would also like to take this opportunity to briefly respond to some of what the Minister has said just now. Over the past year, it has been one of my duties to raise concerns in this chamber – in many cases to be the voice of those who are not heard – and unfortunately most of these concerns have not gone away. I think it is important therefore – and part of my responsibility – to help provide a fuller picture of the past twelve months.

For example, the Minister has mentioned that the Labor-Greens Government has in the latest budget ‘committed an additional $43.8 million over four years to support our child protection system’. As I have said before, if the need is there, I will certainly not be the one arguing against providing for some of the territory’s most vulnerable children.

But this need is itself troubling. The Minister’s statement admits that, quote, ‘we have seen a significant and sustained increase in demand over the past 24 months’. Professor Morag McArthur at the Institute of Child Protection Studies here in Canberra has called this growth in demand ‘distressing’. And as I have pointed out to the Assembly before, this increased demand has come despite the number of children entering out-of-home care each year remaining relatively stable over the past three years.

This means that children and young people are going into care but not leaving. And this raises serious concerns about the government’s Step Up for Our Kids strategy and its commitment to, quote, ‘reduce demand for out of home care places’ and, quoting again, ‘normalise children and young people’s lives by exiting as many children and young people from care into permanent alternative homes as soon as possible’. Clearly, neither of these outcomes is currently being realised, and so far I have not heard from the Minister or this government any satisfactory explanations why.

In addition, Madam Speaker, nearly 50 per cent of those providing out-of-home care in the territory are now kinship carers, and yet some of these good family members report that they feel inadequately supported. Many of them are older and less well off financially, and yet some note that they are receiving less financial assistance than they used to. Helen Watchirs, our Human Rights Commissioner, even told the ABC in a recent radio interview that she had spoken with a number of grandmothers looking after children in the government’s care who were not getting any financial assistance at all. This, Madam Speaker, is unacceptable.

In this same radio Interview, the Human Rights Commissioner also brought up the fact that a number of important care and protection decisions in the ACT are not reviewable, as they are in other jurisdictions. This, she said, makes these decisions difficult to defend and undercuts the Labor-Greens government’s supposed commitment to turning Canberra into a ‘restorative city’. I concur with Dr Watchirs. I note that some suggestions of progress have begun to appear on this issue in response to a motion that I moved earlier this year calling on the government to implement a system of external review for care and protection decisions in this territory, but much, much more clearly needs to be done.

Regarding the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre, the Minister seems to have limited her achievements to the introduction of a long-overdue charter of rights. Only time will tell if this piece of paper and any other measures taken by this government to create a truly safe space for both young people and workers will finally stop the outbreaks of violence that have plagued this territory’s youth detention centres for far too long. In the meantime, I note that youth workers who were stood down from Bimberi seventeen months ago are still in limbo, with the government’s investigation continuing to drag on for unexplained reasons. I simply cannot see how this situation could in any way be considered fair to these workers, and I worry that it may have taken a serious toll on their mental health.

The Minister also mentioned improving the experience of those involved in adoption, but the only improvement she noted was that ‘better information is now easily more available regarding the adoption process in the ACT’. I note that this is only two of the six recommendations that this Government earlier this year committed to, Madam Speaker, and arguably the easiest ones. Considering that ACT Together are currently advertising for additional foster carers who wish to adopt, I expect this government to make real progress in implementing the other four recommendations as soon as possible.

Madam Speaker, the Minister also addressed the formation of a review into the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in the child protection system. Considering the dismal numbers on this point, a review is much needed, but I remind this Assembly that until a few weeks ago, no Indigenous Australian had been recruited for this review. In addition, the government’s Child and Youth Protection Assurance and Improvement Committee still lacks any Indigenous members, and the Minister has admitted on radio that the government has not ‘tried hard enough’ to recruit any. I look forward to seeing improvement in this area also.

Lastly, I wish to remind this Assembly that despite the fact that youth unemployment in the ACT has increased to 10.5 per cent in May this year, this government has no specific initiatives that address youth unemployment and underemployment. As Rebecca Cuzzillo, policy director of the Youth Coalition of the ACT, told the Select Committee on Estimates earlier this year, she is disappointed by this fact, and so am I.

In concluding her statement, the Minister said that she looks forward to the next twelve months. So do I, Madam Speaker, and I sincerely hope that at this time next year, there will be far fewer concerns for me to raise in response to the Minister’s statement. Thank you.

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