Ombudsman Amendment Bill 2018
Madam Speaker, I rise today to resume debate on the Ombudsman Amendment Bill 2018. In doing so, I wish to speak from a very personal space and, once again, make clear my absolute commitment to the protection of children.
I believe that my public record on this issue should be abundantly clear already. In March last year, I raised concerns in this chamber that the government’s Family and Personal Violence Amendment Bill did not adequately protect children because it forces the Magistrates Court to amend protection orders even in cases that could theoretically involve coercion or distress – realities that a number of stakeholders who spoke with me insisted they had seen too much of. These amendments were rejected by this government.
Then, just over one year ago, I moved a motion in this Assembly calling upon the ACT Government to recognise the importance of providing for external review of important child protection decisions, a recommendation made in the 2004 Vardon Report, endorsed by Legal Aid ACT, and raised again with this government in the 2016 Glanfield Inquiry. My motivation in doing so was because I am thoroughly dedicated to the protection of children, and external review has been identified as an important safeguard when it comes to the safety of young people who have been removed from their birth parents. After all, 36 per cent of survivors who contacted the Royal Commission reported having been abused whilst in various forms of out-of-home care – the single largest group of respondents.
In March this year, I moved another motion specifically calling upon the ACT Government to work with nationally recognised and accredited organisations in order to provide all first-time parents and other primary caregivers evaluated information packets that address child sexual abuse, including how to recognise offender tactics, potentially risky situations, and warning signs as well as how to helpfully respond to suspected abuse and actual discovery of abuse. I fully expect this government to keep its commitment to this motion as it was passed and look forward to an update on what is happening in this space.
Madam Speaker, by themselves, these actions should show my unwavering commitment to the protection of children and young people. To them I could add the concerns I have raised on numerous occasions, both in this chamber and in numerous hearings, about how some of our most vulnerable kids are treated in our youth detention centre, including experiencing and witnessing violence. I could also add the concerns I have raised about kids who spend too long in care, the quality of our residential care system, the lack of adequate foster carers, and so forth.
If this is all somehow not clear enough, let me clarify here and now: I have zero tolerance for the abuse of children, sexual or otherwise. And that means that I have zero tolerance for those who would in any way shelter or protect those who abuse children or who would allow such abuse to continue when they might be in a position to stop it. No exceptions.
This means, Madam Speaker, that I and the Canberra Liberals fully endorse the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and as the opposition, we will be supporting this bill today in its entirety, including the clauses that deal with religious confession.
At the same time, I feel obligated to acknowledge that there are right-minded people who harbour concerns about aspects of this proposed legislation. In making this acknowledgment, I put those opposite on notice: On this issue, concern with how a legislative instrument has been drafted does not imply in any way a lesser commitment to the protection of children, and any attempt to make such a point will correctly be seen by those both inside and outside this place as a reprehensible and inexcusable political move.
As the Chief Minister himself has acknowledged, the issue of how exactly to deal with the existing provision for confessional privilege is a complex issue that, and I quote, goes ‘beyond questions of how best to protect children’, one that ideally needs a ‘nationally consistent approach’. For this reason, the scrutiny committee members themselves raised a concern that Part 11 of this bill should be delayed until the necessary policy development and consultation have been concluded.
The Chief Minister has provided assurances that this government will engage in this consultation and policy development within the timeframe provided in the bill. I sincerely hope that this will be the outcome. It certainly needs to be the outcome.
I understand that no one on either side of this chamber wishes for the inclusion of religious bodies into the reportable conduct scheme to be delayed for any reason. In my personal opinion, it must not be delayed. At the same time, I call upon this government to do literally everything in its power to work with other jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth, to find the absolute best way forward over the next several months. Our kids deserve nothing but the best protection that we can provide them.
Madam Speaker, I commend this bill to the Assembly.