Children Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017

Written on the 8 March 2018


8 March 2018

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

Document resumed from 22 February; motion of Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children).

 

 

Ms CROZIER 

I rise this morning to speak on the Children Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017. In doing so I want to acknowledge the work of a whole range of inquiries and individuals who have worked to enable better laws for the safety of children. This bill that we are debating today has come into this house after consideration in committee and in the Legislative Assembly, with various questions put to the government. I want to also acknowledge the department and individuals who have assisted in providing information on this very important bill, because what we are debating, as I have said, is legislation that is intended to improve the safety of those children at risk, but we do not want to have any unintended consequences as a result of passing this legislation. In the course of my contribution to the debate I want to speak about the various concerns I have with this bill in relation to a range of aspects that have been raised with me by a number of stakeholders and individuals, as well as look through this bill in great detail.

This bill is extremely complex, and there are technical aspects. As others have said, this bill is a consequence of the work of various inquiries that have been undertaken. The bill seeks to amend the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 and has two main provisions: the establishment of an information-sharing scheme for specified entities and the creation of a Child Link register. These aspects are for the promotion of the safety and wellbeing of children.

As I mentioned, the bill has come about because of various inquiries that have been undertaken. I know that when I chaired the Betrayal of Trust inquiry in the former Parliament the committee heard evidence in relation to children at risk, children who were abused and entities not understanding who that information, if it was known to them, should be shared with. Certainly that became evident in some of those hearings.

There have been numerous other reports and inquiries. The Auditor-General's report of May 2011 into early childhood development services had a number of findings in relation to universal enhanced maternal and child health services, for instance, and how they differ in the database systems they use to collect and record information on children and families. That, it was asserted, prevented the department from identifying how many vulnerable families failed to attend universal maternal and child health checks after the eight-week stage. That is one area that is very evident.

We have of course heard stories about some very sad cases that have come to light in relation to services not being clear about a child at risk and the subsequent death of that child, through either neglect or abuse, and how that played out. I am referring to a very sad case here in Victoria in 2012 in which a young child living in circumstances that were far from ideal in a squalid house cut his toe on what I think was a can of pet food, it became infected and he, sadly and tragically, died. Despite neighbours' concerns, nobody was alerted to the fact that this child was at risk. I certainly understand that.

In more recent times we heard a horrendous story out of the Northern Territory of a two-year-old who was raped, and that happened after multiple alerts to the particular department and services in that state. The fact that that two-year-old was raped is just completely abhorrent and horrific, and it should never have occurred. I hope that never occurs in this state.

Nevertheless, these are real stories, these are real issues as to why it is important to get information sharing right. As I said, the Victorian Auditor-General's Office (VAGO) in looking at early childhood development services wanted to address the inefficiencies of operating multiple databases to collect information on the same child. A report by the Auditor-General from September 2013 in relation to performance reporting systems and education also found that there was an inconsistent approach to managing information.

More recently, in a VAGO report from 2015 into education transitions again the findings were that the timing and accurate transfer of academic engagement information, personal information and student performance information was critical to the success of the transition. That I think is referring to a child's educational attainment. Far too often in this state children are not going to school and attending school when they really should be to get a proper education and to be able to then contribute later in society in a productive manner, if you like. Far too many children, particularly those in out-of-home care or under the child protection system, are falling through the gaps. I for the life of me cannot understand how we cannot better satisfy that very basic need for these children to be able to go to school and get that education that they require so they can actually have a much better understanding.

I was pleased to go to the Lighthouse Foundation only a couple of weeks ago and hear about what they do. They walk children to school and make sure that they actually do attend that school. While I am on my feet I want to commend the actions of the Lighthouse Foundation on doing that.

There are issues around education attainment and maternal and child health services and other services such as child protection. The Cummins inquiry, commissioned by the former minister, Mary Wooldridge, after the horrendous findings of the previous Brumby government on the multiple and systemic failures within child protection, highlighted the enormous issues within the child protection system. The stories that came out through the early 2000s were just extraordinary. We know about all of those Ombudsman's reports and the very clear, definite and scathing reports on the former minister, Lisa Neville, who was the minister at the time. We can look at this in the context of previous governments working on this issue, and certainly Cummins also found that government agencies are responsible for working together effectively. If I can quote from that report:

The information management systems supporting programs and services for vulnerable children are separate and disparate. Data quality is variable and in some cases systems have not kept up with modern business processes or government requirements.

The shortcomings of existing data systems and practices mean agencies may not identify all vulnerable children and young people who could benefit from early intervention or statutory services. In 2011 the Victorian Auditor-General found that the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development was unable to reliably identify all vulnerable children and families and, in 2007, that there was a need for a common statewide database system for early childhood services. This may mean that government is failing to provide all vulnerable children, young people and their families with the support that they need to decrease the risk of abuse and neglect.

I think that is very evident in relation to the findings.

I want to commend again the former minister, Mary Wooldridge, for really working extensively on this issue and putting in some very significant reforms and starting the process, if you like. Effectively Services Connect was looking at agencies and getting them to collectively look at those issues a bit like what the family violence hubs are trying to achieve and getting those services to really focus on the child at risk and on getting that child all of the services that they required no matter why the individual presented, whether for homelessness, whether for neglect or abuse or whether for drugs and alcohol. I want to place on record the extensive work that she did in identifying these issues. Of course we are finding that further work has been undertaken in relation to this both at a state and a national level.

I now refer, at a national level, to the royal commission into child sexual abuse. At the conclusion of that there were various recommendations made. Obviously there were a number of findings. That royal commission found that creating robust and clear information-sharing arrangements may be necessary to identify, prevent and respond to the incidence and risk of child sexual abuse. However, current systems in place in institutions have been shown to have a number of barriers to achieving the fullness of this scheme. The McClellan recommendations made through that royal commission report did recommend that a strong organisational and professional culture, complemented with strong governance and practice leadership, be in place.

Recommendation 8.6 speaks about having a nationally consistent legislative and administrative information exchange arrangement in each jurisdiction; about providing for prescribed bodies to share information related to children's safety and wellbeing, including information relevant to child sexual abuse; and about establishing an information exchange scheme to operate across Australian jurisdictions.

A further recommendation which is relevant to this debate is recommendation 8.7, which states that the information exchange arrangements should:

enable direct exchange of relevant information between a range of prescribed bodies

But they did not go in and stipulate what those prescribed bodies were. Of course that is what I want to explore, and I will be exploring more in terms of some of the bodies that have been highlighted to me through the information that I have received. I will tease this out a little bit more in the committee stage.

Recommendation 8.7 also recommends we:

  • require prescribed bodies to share relevant information on request from other prescribed bodies subject to limited exceptions

and

  • explicitly prioritise children's safety and wellbeing and override laws that might otherwise prohibit or restrict disclosure of information

This was a recommendation in McClellan's report, but again I would like to have a look at this issue in more detail in the committee stage, because there have been people that have spoken about how that might put families or children at risk the parental rights and responsibilities that are being overridden here. Clearly there is the question of, 'What is wellbeing and safety, how is that defined and how will that then be recognised further as this bill is implemented?'.

In saying all of that, I understand the intent of this bill. We do want to have faster and easier facilitation in relation to children so that they can have access to assistance, especially if they are vulnerable. Certainly not every child is vulnerable or at risk, but there are far too many who are. We have in excess of 3000 children on the latest figures or probably more by now in the out-of-home care system who have unallocated cases. They have not got the proper case management to be able to understand what is being undertaken: how their safety and wellbeing is managed, how they can be prevented from falling into that neglect and abuse that I spoke about and how they are going to be protected. These are not insignificant numbers, but there are a huge amount the vast majority, thankfully who are living happily, healthily and in stable relationships of one form or another. Those relationships can be in multiple forms. It can be a traditional family environment, it can be in single settings, it can be in same-sex settings as long as those children are safe and healthy and have an ability to lead productive and healthy lives. That is one area that I think we should be absolutely supporting in every way and where we should not be intruding on those people about how they are managing their children.

The intrusion factor and the extent of how it may play out I think needs to be monitored carefully. I know there is a review in two years time in terms of how this will be implemented, but I do want to just say that a number of stakeholders have written to me, have spoken to me and have expressed their concerns. A number of peak bodies and various organisations have very clearly spelt out their concerns about how they feel this bill is going too far. Whilst I think we all agree that we want to have the best interest of the child, especially a vulnerable child at risk, at the heart of this, we do not want to be so overburdensome that we are actually infringing on other people's rights.

There are a number of people and I know there were various submissions who are strongly in support of this bill, and I have spoken to those individuals and some of those peak bodies who are very keen on getting this bill through today. I say to them that I understand their strong support of the bill and the reasons why they want this bill to be passed today, but there are others who equally have got concerns, and I think we owe it to those people and to all Victorians to actually get this right. It is far too important a bill to get wrong.

Liberty Victoria wrote to me on 5 March, and I am sure most members would have received their letter. They supported the bill in principle but wanted some qualifications around the definition of purpose:

The purpose for which information can be stored is currently very broad, which creates a risk

They refer to the objectively definable issue around confidential information:

'Promoting wellbeing' is a dangerously nebulous expression and professional minds can differ over its meaning.

I think that is a very fair point in relation to what 'wellbeing' actually means. Nowhere in the guidelines that I have been provided with and nowhere in the bill is that spelt out.

There are other areas around consent that they have concerns with:

Our second concern is the question of consent, and the displacement of information privacy principle

They go on to say that this conflicts with the rights of families:

respecting their culture, capacity and cohesion, and maintaining positive relationships between children/families and sharing entities.

 

Yes, I know that privacy concerns can override all other laws, but in relation to this issue it is somewhat concerning in relation to how far this bill was shared. It went to various stakeholders but did not go to all stakeholders that have a very vested interest in looking at it. It is certainly my opinion that that needs further exploration in relation to those people who were not consulted. I am sure the government will argue that there was wide consultation with various stakeholders assisting with the guidelines, but there are very many others who wanted to have some input into this, to understand and to not just have it introduced into the house without having further recognition.

I have digressed from Liberty Victoria's letter. If I can just go back to the final point that they make regarding Child Link. They say that they:

are concerned that the number of Child Link end users appears to be large, with many entities having the power to further delegate their functions. This leaves the system vulnerable to being improperly accessed.

I certainly have those concerns too. When you look at the schedule, when you look at the numbers of people on the delegation I will be asking the minister about this in the committee stage how many people are we talking about here in terms of the actual ability of delegation and how far can that reach? So I certainly concur with the concerns that have been raised by Liberty Victoria. There is that broad range of access, and I think that needs to be defined more succinctly. That can of course in the two years be broadened out if it is found to be restrictive, I would argue.

The Foster Care Association of Victoria had concerns about the regulation of information disclosure, greater flexibility with regard to information included in the register and the purposes of the bill, again, which they claim to be broad. The Caroline Chisholm Society expressed concern about children's rights in the information-sharing process. While we understand the intent of sharing the information, it is still very broad. The Victorian Council of Social Service also commented. I know a lot of these people have come back and clarified their positions, which again makes this very messy. Letters were given out with submissions from the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) I will get to that in a minute and then they have come back and clarified their position. So there is a lot of flip-flopping around here. Either there is a lot of misunderstanding throughout these very important stakeholders or, for whatever reason, they have changed their positions to come into line with others. I know there has been extensive lobbying. We all know that.

Ms Mikakos Maybe because they got more information they changed their positions.

 

Ms CROZIER I think that is a problem, Ms Mikakos, because they got more at the very start in terms of what this bill meant. But clearly a significant number of people still have concerns, and that is why they are requesting some input into this. Some of those people might have received further information, but they should have had it at the start. Everybody should have been clear. I mean, was the privacy commissioner given a briefing on this bill? Were they given an exposure draft of this bill? There are other organisations that clearly have concerns about it, and I think that needs to be thoroughly explored. As I said, I will be going into more detail about that in committee.

I also want to say that I understand there are various jurisdictions that have an information-sharing component, and of course I refer particularly to New South Wales. I think the government has looked at that legislation. Chapter 16A in the New South Wales legislation has been in place for a number of years, but they do not have the register they do not have Child Link. They have the information-sharing component, but they do not have that register. This bill is quite a significant change from the New South Wales aspects of how they manage the information sharing, and as I said, that has been in place I think since around 2010 or thereabouts. Information about chapter 16A says it:

authorises agencies and NGOs to share information that helps deliver services and supports to promote the safety, welfare and wellbeing of a child or young person.

Prescribed bodies can exchange information relating to a child or young person's safety, welfare or wellbeing, whether or not the child or young person is known to community services. Chapter 16A allows for the exchange of information between prescribed bodies without any community services involvement.

They say obviously there is a real concern, and they also acknowledge that the child's welfare and wellbeing need to be taken into consideration.

If I can just go to the scope of the bill, the bill is complex and there is a lot of detail in it. Before I go into that, I did refer to a number of organisations that had raised concerns, including the LIV in its submission, which I spoke about, and Ms Mikakos said by interjection, 'Well, maybe they are all happy because they have had more information on it'. Can I say about that LIV submission that the entities that were involved in that submission were quite extensive. They really went through and detailed their concerns in the submission they provided to us and highlighted them very succinctly. Berry Street is one of those entities listed which then wrote and clarified its position, saying that, no, it was in support of it. But in the letter that they provided, that I have seen and I am sure others have seen, there were a number of organisations mentioned.

I think it is worth just putting on record those organisations that did raise concerns about this early on. If there are some that are quite satisfied with this, I think there are still some concerns among some of these organisations. Certainly I have been talking to a lot of them; I have done a lot of speaking with a lot of them. I want to say again to the department and to the minister's office in relation to providing me with the information: thank you. But in this submission the LIV shares many of the same concerns raised by Domestic Violence Victoria, Victoria Legal Aid, the Women's Legal Service of Victoria, No to Violence and the Men's Referral Service, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, Berry Street, the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria in their joint submission. They also had concerns around the breadth of the potential sharing of information under the reforms, the potential for information to be made available to perpetrators or people at risk of perpetrating family violence, the inconsistency between the proposed child information sharing reforms and the family violence information sharing reforms, and the lack of a consent-based model for the sharing of information about children, especially when they are victims of family violence. There are many others. I do not have the time, unfortunately, to go through those, otherwise I would run out of time, but my point is that a lot of individuals and organisations raised significant concerns. I know there are proposed house amendments for the family violence information sharing bill can I say that we received those amendments at, I think, 18 minutes past midnight last night again to look at how this can work.

This bill is meant to complement the family violence information sharing bill, and I have been informed that the family violence information sharing house amendments regarding this aspect will enable those entities within the hubs to be able to share information. I understand that, but again I think it just demonstrates the complexity of what we are speaking about today and how it has probably not been thought through in a timely manner.

I know the government is very keen to get this legislation up and running as soon as possible. The minister spoke to me and said, 'It's because of the training aspects; we have to be training them together', but I am concerned about the timing. I mean, this is not time-critical legislation that is going to start in the next few months, and extensive training will be undertaken for all of those involved. I will explore these issues more in committee as well, but my point is that this is not time sensitive. I am flagging my intention of referring this to a committee not only because of that aspect but also because of other concerns that have been raised about this bill.

I now turn to some of those concerns. They include the scope, the mechanism and the guiding principles of this bill. The bill does have the right intent, and its purposes are to establish a scheme to assist practitioners or others who are working in the best interests of children. However, there is a need to really clarify the scope for the guiding principles and the necessary mechanisms for the bill to be carried out in practical terms.

I turn to the bill and refer to the definition of 'confidential information', which means:

(a)    health information; or

(b)   personal information; or

(c)    sensitive information within the meaning set out in Schedule 1 to the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014

In the draft guidelines that I was provided with I realise that they are draft guidelines 'health information' refers to the Health Records Act 2001. If I can just read from that act:

health information means

(a)    information or an opinion about

(i)    the physical, mental or psychological health (at any time) of an individual; or

(ii)   a disability (at any time) of an individual; or

(iii)  an individual's expressed wishes about the future provision of health services to him or her; or

(iv)  a health service provided, or to be provided, to an individual

that is also personal information; or

(b)   other personal information collected to provide, or in providing, a health service

There are some other personal information definitions, but I am not going to read those out. I just wanted to say that the personal information, which is also in the guidelines, relates to information or an opinion, as I have just said, including information or an opinion forming part of a database that is recorded in any form, whether true or not whether true or not; that is really significant because it could have some major implications in this bill about an individual whose identity is apparent or can reasonably be ascertained from the information or opinion, but does not include information of a kind to which the Health Records Act 2001 applies.

If I look at the confidential information that this pertains to, the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 says:

sensitive information means information or an opinion about an individual's

(a)    racial or ethnic origin; or

(b)   political opinions; or

(c)    membership of a political association; or

(d)   religious beliefs or affiliations; or

(e)    philosophical beliefs; or

(f)    membership of a professional or trade association; or

(g)   membership of a trade union; or

(h)   sexual preferences or practices; or

(i)    criminal record

That is sensitive information, and it is going to be incorporated in this bill. That is a major concern to me because it is defined in the confidential information that is actually relevant to what we are talking about. I know that I have concerns about wellbeing, but for me that is absolutely unnecessary.

We do not need all those elements pertaining to the information that could be shared. It is specified in this confidential information because it cites the Privacy and Data Protection Act. For me that is very concerning. That act says you cannot share sensitive information without consent, but this bill overrides all of that. I think that needs more teasing out. That is one of the areas that I want to explore, and I do not believe the committee stage will be able to do that. That is why that needs to be teased out further in a proper committee process where this legislation can be explored in more detail.

The guidelines also talk about the meaning of an information-sharing entity in a bit of detail. I know that this is a draft, but the prescribed entities are nowhere in the bill. I cannot see anywhere where it says who the prescribed entities are. That is my concern with some of the elements and how broad this can go, because I think it is open-ended and needs to be narrowed.

I need to further understand the case of an unborn child. I cannot for the life of me understand why an unborn child should be registered. The unborn child is included in this bill, so it is going to be registered, but that does not make any sense. The child is not born. But this bill actually states that. I refer to what the minister said when questioned about this element during the consideration-in-detail stage in the Legislative Assembly. He said:

In terms of the first issue raised by the honourable member, I am more than happy for the government to provide that further information that the member sought in regards to the flag for the family, as opposed to the unborn child, and particularly the mother in that regard. I will certainly undertake to do that.

That is a very confusing issue. An unborn child cannot be registered, for heaven's sake. If there is concern about that, this bill actually does talk about it. If you look at the meaning under 'Information sharing', the 'Definitions', a 'child' means:

(a)    a person who is under the age of 18 years; and

(b)   an unborn child that is the subject of a report made under section 29 of the Children, Youth and Families Act

If the woman is at risk she is in an antenatal clinic and there are some concerns about her safety and welfare or the safety and welfare of the unborn child surely she should be included in that element, not this unborn child being linked to this act, where it will be registered.

There are provisions around guidelines, voluntary disclosure and recording requirements in new sections 41ZA, ZB and ZC. The bill permits the sharing of information despite specified provisions. If I can just go to this point, information-sharing entities and restricted information-sharing entities will be authorised to disclose confidential information despite specified provisions. That does go to a number of areas. This is almost a blanket policy, if you like, in terms of what this information-sharing component is supposed to be doing.

If I look at the various aspects of various acts that are caught up in this bill, there are a number: section 207(2) of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, section 55 of the Commission for Children and Young People Act 2012, section 140 of the Confiscation Act 1997, sections 36 and 39 of the Disability Act 2006, sections 5.3A.10 and 5.3A.14 of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006, section 181 of the Firearms Act 1996, section 23 of the Human Services (Complex Needs) Act 2009 and section 164 of the Infringements Act 2006 and I will come back to that. There are just so many aspects of so many acts that actually apply to the broad components of this bill.

If I look at new section 46J of the bill, 'No consent required', for Child Link there is no consent required. Can I just say that many people have raised with me their concerns about this. Many people do understand that vulnerable children and children at risk should be on some database where information is shared with the appropriate departments to deal with whether they are not turning up to maternal and child health checks, whether they are not turning up to school or whether they present with significant issues that a practitioner may decide warrant further investigation and careful monitoring by all agencies. I think that is very clear, but the provision extends to all families and all children across the state. There is no consent required, and yet there is an open-ended ability for people to be accessing information. All the sensitive information that is included in this bill all of those issues will potentially be on that link; otherwise, why would it be in the bill? Why is that sensitive information, with your political affiliations, your trade union affiliation information or your sexual preferences, included in this bill? It has got nothing to do with keeping children safe or issues around welfare and wellbeing. I make that point because again this provision is very, very broad. New section 46J(1) states:

The Secretary may collect, use or disclose confidential information about a child under section 46G, 46H or 46I without the consent of the child or a person with parental responsibility for, or day-to-day care of, the child.

That does pertain to everyone, but as I said, all that other information is included, and really there needs to be some limitation on who is going to access this information and how it will be made available to any individual who is accessing this information or inputting it.

When is the information going to be shared? What constitutes a need to share that information? Again I understand the reasons; I have just highlighted them. But that does not necessarily mean that everybody's information needs to be shared. What procedures are currently in place to assist in this effective implementation? Of course we have had, as I said at the outset, numerous inquiries that have spoken about the need for that sharing of information. But how does this balance the everyday needs of children, their families and those with parental responsibility, who are just living their lives in a very normal, healthy and fulfilling environment, as opposed to having this heavy-handed approach, where there is access by a lot of people potential access and potential sharing of information? I am not sure that the system is ready to cope with that broad access and ability. That again is my concern, and I want to be able to tease this out. I think these are questions that we need to tease out. The privacy implications again are very, very concerning in relation to how that can occur.

I say that because there have been breaches of information sharing very recently, and I have raised it in this place in relation to the foster care privacy breaches, which have gone on for more than a decade according to one report of 2016. That report said there had been major security breaches out of the Department of Health and Human Services, with an investigation finding that the protected addresses of at-risk children had recently been given to dangerous parents on numerous occasions. That should never occur. How is this information going to be shared? Will it be shared through documents, papers, IT or phone? How is it going to be recorded? How is that sort of human error going to be prevented? We know that human error can occur; of course it can occur. There are concerns about the number of people who can potentially, as I said, get into these systems and breach privacy. At the time the commissioner involved in that investigation had major concerns, and they should have been very concerned about those breaches and the significant privacy concerns.

I know we had the departmental response into the findings of the review of privacy incidents in the child protection program managed by the department following those issues that I spoke about. There were 64 reports where a privacy breach had occurred and a risk of harm to a carer or child was possible, so we are not just talking about one or two breaches; we are talking about dozens of breaches that have occurred. I am not convinced that this system is robust enough to enable that system readiness, if you like. It goes to the point that the minister has spoken to me about the training of the personnel so that the system is ready to have that information shared. Again that has massive implications in relation to how that will be undertaken, who will be doing that training, how long that will take, who will be eligible to undertake that training and how it will be undertaken. That is a primary concern of mine. As I said, will that information be shared by phone, in writing or through an IT system, and how will that be undertaken?

I need to move to the issue of safeguards in relation to this legislation. I note that safeguards have been spoken about, but I have concerns about the commissioner for privacy and data protection and their role in this their oversight of the drafting of the bill so that we can be absolutely sure about those safeguards. Are we absolutely sure that we have the right safeguards? We have had numerous debates in this house for many, many hours about safeguards. I cannot see, in terms of the information that could potentially be shared, that we have got those safeguards absolutely spot-on and in place.

I have mentioned my concerns around potentially broad access to this very sensitive information. New part 7A, which is headed 'Child Link Register' and is inserted by the bill, sets out those bodies or agencies, if you like, that are going to be able to access this information. The bill outlines the 26 or so bodies that will be provided access to administer the Child Link information scheme which seeks to monitor the development of children through the automatic registration of all children in Victoria. That is an automatic registration of all children. I know that when a child is born their information is sent off to the local council so that a maternal and child health nurse can attend to that child and make sure that they are healthy and growing, and I understand why that information is shared at that point.

However, given all children are to be automatically registered under a system that is monitored and controlled by the state for the period of time until they are 18 but if they are 18 and still at school, there are still issues about who has ownership of that information, and again that is another area that I will be seeking to get some clarification on from the minister I for one am worried about the wide range of stakeholders and practitioners who will be able to access this information, because if you look at new schedule 6, it sets out a number of people who can be delegated authority. I need to have some understanding and some confirmation, some clarification, about that number because essentially it seems to me that there is the ability for a large range of delegates in terms of that particular schedule.

I am very conscious of my remaining time, and there are still some questions that I have. New part 7A also allows access without parental consent. This issue of consent has been raised with me, and after looking through the bill I have some concerns about it. It comes back to the point that it is problematic to me, because it is clear from the Child Wellbeing And Safety Act 2005 that parents are given the primary responsibility to take care of and raise a child. In part 2 of that act, section 5(1)(d) says:

parents are the primary nurturers of a child and Government intervention into family life should be limited to that necessary to secure the child's safety and wellbeing, however, it is the responsibility of Government to meet the needs of the child when the child's family is unable to provide adequate care and protection

I think that is well understood. Of course that is why we have the department and the agencies that can step in and take care of a child when there is neglect or abuse. As I said, far too many children in the system do not have an allocated caseworker; thousands of them do not have a caseworker and are not being properly monitored. This is a very serious concern to me. This issue of the sharing of information about any child without parental input, understanding or consent goes to the heart of those concerns about privacy breaches that I spoke about.

As I said, there are specified entities in here that are very broad, but new part 6A on the other hand does not actually indicate those specified entities. Who will be providing that groundwork for the sharing of information? This needs to be carefully laid out. I have spoken about that confidential information the health information, the personal information and the sensitive information. Also in that part of the bill it goes on to talk about the unique identifiers or identifiers within the meaning of the Health Records Act. So again all of this is very open-ended. I am labouring this point because I think it is important. It is very broad. There is so much information that can be collected in terms of what this bill is actually doing. If it is not, then why is that sensitive information included?

Again that 'wellbeing' definition if I can just return to that information that is shared about wellbeing. We do not know the thresholds or the principles of what wellbeing means. What does that mean? Welfare, wellbeing, safety they are open-ended terms. I think we understand the intent, but what I might think is a wellbeing initiative somebody else might interpret completely differently. I certainly asked this of the minister the previous time she was in committee about vaccinations for children. Part of my reason for the questioning at that point was: if they are not vaccinating a child, does that become a wellbeing issue? At the time the minister rebutted me and said, 'No, you're on the wrong bill', but I was trying to say and I know she is looking at me 'How broad do we go? Is that a wellbeing issue? Does that get included?'. And thank you, Minister, I have had the response from your office saying, 'No, vaccinations would not be included in this wellbeing meaning under this act'. But again the interpretation of what wellbeing is for one person might be different for someone else. Someone else might say, 'The child hasn't been vaccinated; I'd better note that', and that then becomes part of that information and then it trickles down. So I think there is that issue about wellbeing and how that can be played out.

I really think that in understanding the intent of this bill we want to make sure that all parents are confident and that they can have faith in what we are doing in here with this legislation that they are not going to have their rights or their privacy unnecessarily intruded upon. We need to give them confidence so that they can say, 'Yes, we understand this bill. We need to keep children safe, but we don't want our rights intruded on and we don't want our children who don't have any issues having their information unnecessarily accessed and shared'.

There are many aspects in this, as I have raised throughout the course of my argument. I think we do need to strike the balance, and I am concerned that the balance is weighted towards a very broad prescription of entities and individuals that can access and share this information. Even though we have got the draft guidelines as an indicator, there is nowhere in here that gives a thorough explanation of what wellbeing is or how record keeping will be administered. The case of the unborn child is very problematic for me. It is unclear whether that really is to be included or not included in this bill or whether it is an intended consequence, and it is unclear who the specified entities will be.

As all speakers have said, we do take great interest in the wellbeing of children. It is our responsibility to do that. All governments need to keep our communities safe, but we have an obligation to our most vulnerable and that includes children to also keep them safe. I am very conscious of that. I very much understand the intent of what we are trying to achieve here and I am very much in support of that because, as I said, of my previous understanding of how information was not passed on and the ultimate terrible and tragic circumstances and the demise of some children who then had ongoing implications later in their lives.

Whilst this bill is important, it is very important to get it right. I do propose to move some amendments so that we have got some clarity. I thank parliamentary counsel for assisting me in that process. I know that I will be talking those through with the government, and the minister may be able to clarify some of those points for me. I do believe that we need to have some stricter guidelines in relation to those entities and the bodies that need to be sharing this information to ensure that that can be confined and that it can be reviewed. We have got a two-year review process, so it can always be reviewed if that needs to be extended. I would rather start smaller than larger and know that we have got a free-for-all. We really need to get this right.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) Ms Crozier, can I just ask: would you like your amendments to be circulated while you are on your feet, given you have got 4 minutes left?

 

Opposition amendments circulated by Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) pursuant to standing orders.

Ms CROZIER I am fast running out of time. I was concentrating on that aspect in terms of the intent of this bill and what we need to do, but the reason for those amendments and I will speak to those obviously in the committee stage is to enable some of these safety provisions and privacy components so that we are absolutely clear on who can have that information shared, so that we are not infringing unnecessarily on parents' rights and so that we can have a look at some of the security issues around how this information is going to be stored and recorded.

I know that we have talked about this and, as I said, there are elements to this we had the government's amendments come through last night that I think need more consideration. I am not proposing that we need a long, drawn-out process, but I think there are too many questions that still remain unanswered in relation to many of these aspects. I think that in a short committee stage this afternoon I know following the second reading we will be adjourning this it needs proper investigation so that we can all be clear and we can all understand that we are actually getting this very important legislation right, that there are no unintended consequences that might play out, that we have got these aspects in place that are going to keep our children safe and that the practitioners have got the ability to share the information where appropriate but also importantly that parents and other Victorians have confidence in this system and in this legislation that we are debating and potentially passing today.

I look forward to hearing others in the debate. I hope they will consider my request to refer this to a committee for further consideration because of the aspects I have outlined in my debate. I think if we do that, we will get a much stronger and better process that will have those issues ironed out rather than making amendments on the fly. We have seen amendments coming in in the middle of the night regarding family violence information sharing and other issues. I am going to be flagging issues with this bill, and I am sure it will need more amendments in terms of what will apply. There are lots of consequential amendments in that. I am sure, as I said, the minister may be able to clarify some of those. This is a very important bill. The opposition will obviously not be opposing the bill, but we need to make sure that we get it right. It is too important to get wrong.

 


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