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Reportable Conduct and Information Sharing Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to resume the debate on this important legislation, which the Canberra Liberals will be supporting. The Reportable Conduct Scheme for the ACT, which commenced on 1 July 2017, received unanimous support when it was introduced. There can be no doubt that every single member of this Assembly views the safety and protection of our children and young people as of great importance.

This bill seeks to amend the Children and Young People Act and the Ombudsman Act. Its primary purpose is to improve information sharing for child protection. This was one of the core recommendations in the Glanfield Inquiry that was tabled in May last year in response to the tragic death of Bradyn Dillon three months earlier. Mr Glanfield specifically recommended, and I quote, that ‘legislative provision should be made in the ACT similar to Chapter 16A of the NSW [New South Wales] Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act … to clearly authorise information sharing and to foster a culture of appropriate information sharing and collaboration’ (p. 93).

The bill expands the range of entities that may request and disclose child safety information, and, importantly, it specifically authorises the heads of such entities to share child safety information on their own initiative, if deemed necessary, without a request. I and the Canberra Liberals support these enhancements to information sharing.

The Glanfield Inquiry notes that ‘sharing information between and across a range of agencies is critical to protecting women and children, experiencing or at risk of family violence, and to ensure they receive the assistance they acquire’ (p. 79). Concern over the lack of information sharing in the ACT is not new. The ACT Community Law Council identified this as a problem in 1995, and it has been raised by a number of bodies and in a number of reports in the years since.

Mr Glanfield concluded that avenues for sharing child protection information in fact already operated in the ACT (p. 81), there being ‘no absolute legislative impediment’ to this (p. 87). But he also found ‘considerable reluctance to do so’, with legal constraints (p. 81) and a ‘great emphasis on privacy issues’ as the apparent reasons (p. 87). He also identified as factors both distrust and ‘a fear of breaching privacy due to the complex and confusing model operating in the territory’ (p. 87). For this reason, he strongly recommended specific legislation that would help shift the ‘information sharing culture’ in the ACT (p. 87).

It remains to be seen if this and the original legislation that was passed last year will be what is desperately needed to shift the information sharing culture in this territory, but similar legislation seems to be helping in New South Wales, and we can all hope that it will do the same here. I here note that the Glanfield Inquiry likewise recommends that ‘any legislative amendments should also be accompanied by an awareness campaign and guideline material about how information can be shared’, and I fully expect the Government to report back to the Assembly on what specific steps it is taking to follow this recommendation in conjunction with this legislation.

This bill also seeks to amend current legislation in order to remove private health facilities – other than hospitals and ambulance services – from the Reportable Conduct Scheme. This provision is informed by data from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, but, more importantly, it is a measure designed to allow the Ombudsman to appropriately focus its resourcing, monitoring and oversight on the most vulnerable children and young people.

This is an important amendment, Madam Speaker. As examples in New South Wales have shown, when those agencies tasked with overseeing child protection are swamped by notifications that do not actually result in statutory intervention, the diversion of valuable resources results in many other children and their families not receiving the support that they need.

This is something that we must be mindful of in this territory. As data from the AIHW reports reveal, in the two years between 2013–14 and 2015–16, the number of child protection notifications received in the ACT swelled 40 per cent, and this resulted in a 76 per cent increase in child protection investigations. Naturally, we all want every credible report of possible child abuse to be investigated thoroughly, but the latest figures show the ACT having the lowest rate of substantiated investigations in the nation, at 30 per cent.

As the AIHW has made clear, having too many substantiated investigations implies that children are probably being missed by the system. At the same time, a very low rate of substantiations suggests that important resources are being drained away from the most vulnerable. It is difficult to know where the perfect balance between these two extremes lies, but it is important that our child protection system not be overwhelmed with reporting that is statistically unlikely to increase the number of children and young people who are kept safe. Such reporting may in fact reduce that number.

Madam Speaker, I commend this bill to the Assembly. Thank you.

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