Child Wellbeing and Safety Amendment (Oversight and Enforcement of Child Safe Standards) Bill 2016

Written on the 11 November 2016

10 November 2016

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB)

 

Resumed from 13 October; motion of Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture).

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) I am very pleased to be able to rise this morning and speak to the Child Wellbeing and Safety Amendment (Oversight and Enforcement of Child Safe Standards) Bill 2016, as this is an important piece of legislation that the house is debating. It builds on previous legislation that has been brought into the house as a consequence of the Betrayal of Trust report, which I had the great honour and privilege of tabling almost three years ago in fact it will be three years in just a couple of days in this very chamber. At the time when I was speaking to the report and acknowledging the work of the parliamentary inquiry that we did and we did an extensive inquiry, as members are well aware there were findings in the report and recommendations made, and this legislation is building on the recommendations that were made and the commitment of the coalition government of the day to implement those recommendations.

I want to make a couple of comments in relation to that. I know that the current Andrews government is working through those recommendations too, and I am looking forward to seeing the other recommendations being implemented, but as I said and as members are aware, this does build on the work of the previous government. There were a number of inquiries undertaken through the coalition's term to look at the very serious issue of child abuse. The Cummins inquiry identified a number of areas, and out of that the parliamentary inquiry was established. During that time recommendation 12.1 of the report commenced under the previous coalition government, and from August to October of 2014, just before the coalition lost government, various government departments together with the Commission for Children and Young People were working with various stakeholders, running consultation processes and sessions, speaking to relevant organisations, as I said, and government bodies about the proposed child safe standards and what needed to be done.

I go back to the report and look at what some of the findings were to come to those conclusions. In chapter 12, page 267, the report gives some background as to why this recommendation was made. It was concluded that:

A written child safe policy demonstrates an organisation's commitment to its duty to reasonably protect children from criminal child abuse while in their care. It may be long or short depending on an organisation's purpose, size or the activities it undertakes. Ideally it should contain a statement of zero tolerance of criminal child abuse

I think we would all agree with those sentiments

principles to guide decisions, procedures on the employment of new personnel, a risk management approach and processes for reporting allegations of criminal child abuse.

Out of that background, as I said, there were findings that concluded that many non-government organisations had given consideration to developing policies and procedures, but they were often very fragmented. They were sometimes quite basic in their outlook. Their intentions were very well considered there is no doubt about that but in relation to how they were put together, they varied across a number of organisations.

Lots of organisations came before us to really understand and work with us to get that process right. I put on record again the willingness of so many organisations that came before us to provide insight and information so that we could fully understand how policies and procedures were adhered to, or perhaps not adhered to, to the extent that they could have been. Indeed that led to some of the regulations that we made.

The recommendations that we made included that the Victorian government review its contractual and funding arrangements with education and community service organisations those that work with children and young people to ensure they have a minimum standard for ensuring a child safe environment, including the following principles. I want to just highlight these because I want to go to the federal royal commission in relation to the work that they are undertaking in this important area too. The principles that the committee recommended are a statement of zero tolerance of criminal child abuse; principles to guide decisions; procedures on the employment of new personnel; a risk management approach; processes for reporting and responding to allegations of criminal child abuse; and that the government consider that there is potential to extend a standard of child safe environment to other organisations or other sectors.

As I mentioned, we were talking about government organisations and those organisations that are funded by government or have regulation around them. They have an obligation obviously to families and children under their care, and it is also the government's responsibility to ensure that they are providing a safe framework and a safe place for children to be in. Obviously schools were a major consideration. But there are a whole lot of organisations that do not fall under that umbrella, and this bill looks at those organisations that potentially do not have funding or regulation around them. They are known as category 2-type organisations. They include entities like Life Saving Victoria, the scouts and other entities that do not have the funding.

I did mention that the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is still ongoing, and members will be well aware of a number of considerations that they have made along the course of that important royal commission.

They also, I think, highlighted many of the areas that were highlighted during our inquiry, so I am very pleased that the Victorian parliamentary inquiry really led the way on this. We have given some guidance perhaps to the royal commission in looking at those issues that we found, the concerns that the organisations and others put to the committee as well as the reasons we made the recommendations we did from those findings.

I think it is important to put that on record because there is so much acknowledgement of the work of the royal commission which is ongoing that could apply across the country, which is a very good thing. I do want to again say that a number of the recommendations that the royal commission has made, such as identifying the elements of a child safe institution, is in many parts exactly what we wrote in our report, and chapter 12 of the report actually goes to that.

The royal commission report, titled Creating Child Safe Institutions, says:

We have worked to identify specific elements that institutions should adopt in order to be child safe.

That included an extensive analysis of available research and evidence that they conducted through their processes, which included child safe organisation frameworks, guidelines and standards developed in Australia and internationally. They have gone abroad and looked at some of those standards as well as evaluating child safe organisations. Looking at our various case studies, I think that is all building on this very important work.

We do not want to be overly prescriptive with some of the organisations that this piece of legislation will affect, but we do need to ensure that children are safe and that those organisations have the necessary frameworks in place to guide their organisations. There is also capacity for those institutions to look at how they can evolve and work as times change. As we are in a technological age, I would particularly like to take note of how technology can have a really huge impact in some of these areas and the fact that organisations also need to be aware of how technology can be used in a non-constructive way, in fact a very dangerous way, in some of these child safe practices.

This bill, as I said, is the second part of legislation to improve child safety with which certain entities must comply. In 2015 the government, with the support of the coalition, introduced the Child Wellbeing and Safety Amendment (Child Safe Standards) Act 2015. As I said, that bill went to the heart of category 1 organisations. That bill came into effect on 1 January 2016, and those category 1 organisations such as schools and other government-funded organisations had to comply.

As I also mentioned, the stakeholder consultation has been ongoing for quite some time, and I think there have been many organisations that have been working towards their own organisation's compliance. They have done a huge amount of work in ensuring that to the best of their capacity they have been able to get what is expected of them by that piece of legislation. The organisations that this piece of legislation before the house will apply to are those category 2 organisations. With a start date of 1 January 2017, which is only in a few weeks time, those organisations are also expected to have the capacity to be able to comply.

To go to what the bill actually does, the purpose of the bill is to amend the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 to provide for the oversight and enforcement of compliance by relevant entities with standards in relation to child safety, to amend the review and reporting obligations under the Commission for Children and Young People Act 2012 and to amend the Children, Youth and Young Families Act 2005 to provide for the publication of certain information. As I said, I am not going to go through all of the clauses point by point, but I did want to just speak on some of the areas that have been highlighted and some of the areas on which I want some clarification.

I am sure that the minister and the government will be able to provide clarity during the committee stage on some of the questions I want to ask in relation to how the bill will actually apply in practice, given the diversity, size and breadth of some of these organisations across the state. I do not believe it is anyone's intention neither that of the government nor of the Commission for Children and Young People to have a lot of organisations caught up in unintended consequences of regulatory burden, but I think it is important that we have that clarity, so I will be asking a few questions of the government to clarify some of those points.

If I can just go to the clauses of the bill, clause 4 inserts a new subsection in section 1 of the principal act, which sets out the purposes of the act. The new subsection provides that the oversight and enforcement by the Commission for Children and Young People of compliance by certain entities with the standards in relation to child safety and wellbeing is one of the main purposes of the act. That is important because it gives the powers to the Commission for Children and Young People. As I said, I do want to understand how it will work in practical terms.

Clause 6 provides that the commission has the responsibility to educate and guide relevant authorities in promoting compliance by relevant entities with the child safe standards. That is to enable those entities to have some continuous improvement, as I understand it. There are some issues around how that might be applied in a practical sense, and I will certainly be wanting to understand how that could apply in relation to the many relevant entities. I know that during the course of the inquiry committee members took this particular area into consideration. How do you look at every single sporting club across the state? What is the responsibility of the peak bodies, and how are they to disseminate that information to each and every one of those sporting bodies so that they know they are complying with the legislation and that they are giving the organisations they represent the education and support that they need?

I am just wondering how the commission plans to do that because we know that there are tens of thousands of sporting groups across the state. To try to get this out is going to be quite challenging. In saying that, I think the community is well aware of the expectations of government because of the work done in the Victorian parliamentary committee inquiry and also what is happening at a national level with the royal commission.

Clause 8 speaks about the powers of the commission to investigate whether a relevant entity is complying with the child safe standards. It goes on to address various other aspects of how the commission will be able to exercise its oversight and enforcement powers and provides for how it will then consult with the relevant authorities. It also sets out that the commission may apply to the Magistrates Court for a declaration that any relevant entity has failed to comply and for an order that the relevant entity pay a pecuniary penalty. This is another area that I do want to get some clarification on. I understand that that money will go into the Consolidated Fund, but how that new section will be actually administered and how such an application will be made and on what grounds, or how it will play out in reality, is what I am trying to understand. That is also something on which I will get some clarity or the minister might be able to provide some clarity in her summing up.

New sections 41D and 41E relate to relevant persons disclosing information to various entities such as the Ombudsman and the Chief Commissioner of Police. This provision is intended so that the commission can share relevant information with those authorities, and it is actually designed to improve child safety in organisations and look at facilitation of the coordination, expedition of oversight and enforcement of those various activities. Obviously if there are any allegations of child abuse, then it is an obligation that those allegations be referred straight to the police. These are criminal actions, and the police should be a first port of call and always included in any allegations of child abuse.

Part 3 of the bill relates to the amendment of the Commission for Children and Young People Act, and it speaks about the delegation of powers or function of the commission. It authorises any person to assist the commission in performing its functions other than in issuing a notice to comply, and it requires that the commission conduct a review of the administration of the Working with Children Act 2005 every three years. This is an area, as explained to me in the briefing, that intends to not bog down organisations with that compliance, and it is identified as an efficiency move. In relation to how that will be conducted, again it is another function of the Commission for Children and Young People, which I think is going to have to extend its ability to manage a whole range of roles that it is undertaking currently with the added not a burden responsibility of what this bill is actually asking the commission to do. So I do want to actually get some clarity about how the commission will be able to manage what I think is a very extensive additional role that it will have to conduct.

Part 4 of the bill goes to amending the Children, Youth and Families Act. It inserts into that act a requirement that the secretary of the department publish on the department's internet site every quarter adverse events relating to children in out-of-home care and the number of adverse events relating to individuals detained in various other facilities such as youth justice facilities and residential care. We know that that has come into force since 1 January this year in relation to that quarterly data reporting. That is a good thing, because that gives an understanding and the community can understand what is happening in relation to these areas of government responsibility when the government is assisting and caring for some of the most vulnerable children or individuals some of the most vulnerable Victorians, children which is an incredibly important role that I think all within the chamber agree with.

There are some areas around that in relation to what I would like to speak to too, but as I said at the outset this is a continuation of the work that has been conducted by previous governments. It is ongoing. I think all governments do want to ensure that child safe standards are continuously improved and looked at and that we can maintain child safe standards and keep those most vulnerable Victorians, meaning children it does not matter who they are all across the state as safe as possible. We know that that cannot always be the case, but it is the responsibility of government to provide those frameworks and provide that guidance to ensure that organisations do understand their responsibility in what they should have to do in regard to this.

I do not want to say too much more in relation to this bill, apart from the fact that a couple of organisations have contacted me in relation to their understanding of how this bill will apply. I note that the scouts organisation in Victoria does a wonderful job in providing so many skills and guidance. It does a huge amount for so many children and has done so for many, many decades. Scouts Victoria and Girl Guides Victoria are fabulous organisations that have a lot of children involved under their care. They have a lot of adult volunteers who are involved in conducting the work that they do.

Scouts is, I think, a very good example of one of the organisations that is going to have a degree of difficulty in trying to do everything that this bill might require. I say that because they have got around, it is my understanding, 18 500-odd members. They have been looking at compliance and safety standards for a long time. In fact the scouts movement came before the Victorian parliamentary inquiry and spoke to us in full. They made the point that they have a very strong determination that the children they have in their charge are kept safe at all times.

They have understood some of the happenings of the past, which have been extremely detrimental to some of the children that have been in their care and under their watch. They have expressed to me that they understand that there has got to be a consistency of approach for organisations across the state in relation to this important legislation, and they have also noted that they have had a policy regarding what they refer to as the 'moral character of adults' since around 1938 and a requirement that criminal offences be reported to police since 1947. That is what they told the Victorian parliamentary inquiry.

We do know that there were issues within this organisation, as there were within many, many schools, religious organisations and other organisations, so I am not sounding out the scouts in particular in relation to some of the abuse that might have happened within that organisation. I am just using the scout movement as a very good example by referring to the number of children that they care for and the number of adults that are working within that organisation who have working with children checks and police checks. That is the responsibility that they take.

But they have some concerns about how the new standards will impact them and how that will flow on and have a cost to the organisation. They also want certainty about the costs that will be involved for those volunteer leaders the compliance costs that this might include and how that will be paid for. They do not want to be putting any more costs onto a child who wants to be involved in the scout movement. They want as many children as possible to be involved. They want many vulnerable children to be involved, because they believe this gives those vulnerable children great skills and great experience that helps them cope with adversity, and it also gives them leadership skills. We know of many instances where people have come through the scout movement and developed those leadership skills. It has been very beneficial to them in later life to have those leadership skills, and they have used them in work situations.

An organisation of this size is different from an organisation in, say, a small country town, such as an Auskick group. Obviously they have a peak body, so it will be up to the peak body how that is managed, but there are many other organisations that have small memberships, and those small membership groups will also have to comply with the legislation. It concerns them how this piece of legislation will impact the various types of organisations. That was something that we identified in the Victorian parliamentary inquiry. I will quote from page 268 for the purposes of Hansard:

The committee acknowledges that policies will differ from organisation to organisation in view of the variability in their size, purpose and the activities they undertake.

That is one of the challenges with this piece of legislation. I know that it is expected to commence on 1 January, but I think the commission or whoever is responsible for giving this information to organisations is going to have to provide some certainty and allay those fears, because if all organisations are to be presented with the same standards, that could be problematic in a practical sense of how they will apply. I just wanted to get on record that the scout movement have highlighted their concerns to me. I know that they did write to the minister with their concerns as well. I am hoping the minister may be able to clarify, during the course of the committee stage or in her summing up, some of the points that the scouts have raised.

As I said, there is more work to be done. I think the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have made some recent recommendations in relation to redress, and they are making other comments and recommendations along the way. I think there is a huge expectation from many people about what will happen once the royal commission does conclude, and there was the same big expectation about the Victorian parliamentary inquiry. But I am very pleased that the government is continuing to work on the implementation of the recommendations in this very important area, which was commenced under the coalition government.

There are many, many people, including many fine Victorians, who have done significant amounts of work to ensure that this legislation is right. They want it to be right. They do want it to work, and they understand that there is a need to have those child safe standards. There is a need for organisations to comply. There is a need for the community to have a responsibility that child abuse cannot be condoned in any shape or form that it should be, as it is, a criminal offence and that it should be dealt with through the proper processes of the law.

As I said, I am very pleased that this legislation is being developed. I do hope that those organisations are assisted so that they are able to comply with the time frames of that 1 January start date. I know that there were a number of organisations that the government did consult with. That information was provided to me, but there were a range of organisations and peak bodies that the government did consult with.

They included victim survivor and advocacy support groups; community, family and children's services; education providers; early childhood services; hospital and health services; religious and faith-based organisations; sporting clubs and recreation groups; and Aboriginal and community-controlled organisations. I know a range of others were also consulted. I hope those organisations feel that they have had the consultation required and that they are clear about what the expectation is.

Can I say again that the opposition will be supporting the legislation. I await the opportunity to ask some questions of the minister in the committee stage to get some clarity on some of the points I might have, or she might be able to provide clarification in her summing up.

 

 


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