Ministerial Statement 24 May

Jeremy Rockliff,Premier

***Check against delivery***

Mr Speaker,

I wish to provide an important update to the House regarding Tasmanian Government actions to keep children and young people safe.

This is of utmost importance to this Government, and indeed, every member of this House.

Every child and young person has a right to be safe, and children and young people’s safety is everyone’s responsibility.

The Tasmanian Government has a role to play in keeping children and young people safe, which is why we established the Commission of Inquiry to bring past, and any current failures, of government institutions to protect children to light, and to learn from them to ensure we can effectively safeguard children and young people into the future.

The evidence given to date in the Commission of Inquiry is confronting.

I would like to sincerely acknowledge, and thank, victim-survivors, their families and loved ones, for their bravery and courage in coming forward.

I acknowledge it is challenging and distressing for you to share your experiences.

It is so important, however, that your voices be heard, and lessons learned from your experiences, so we can make the future a safer place for children and young people in Tasmania.

I again offer this Government’s deepest and most heartfelt apology to all victims and survivors of abuse that occurred in government institutions.

To all victim-survivors who have come forward to the Commission:

We hear you. We believe you.

On behalf of governments past and present, we are sorry that we failed you.

Mr Speaker,

I also want to thank the State Servants who have come forward in an effort to make things better for children and young people in Tasmania.

I want to reiterate today that not only do all State Servants have my full support to come forward and shine a light on these matters, I emphatically encourage them to do so.

There is no more important task than helping us to ensure that our system protects our most vulnerable.

Mr Speaker,

To better support State Servants who have evidence to provide to the Commission, I can confirm today that the Government will provide two days of special leave – one day to enable the preparation of statements, and one day off to appear.

Departments will be providing details this week to all staff about how they can access this additional leave, and once again I want to stress there will be no reprisals from coming forward. It is absolutely the right thing to do, and you will be supported to do so.

Mr Speaker,

The National Principles for Child Safe Organisations identify the importance of leadership from the top as necessary to build a culture where children and young people are valued, and every person is committed to child safety and child wellbeing.

I want the Tasmanian community to be clear about the fact that keeping children and young people safe is an absolute priority for me and for my Government. This will be one of my personal priorities during my tenure as Premier.

When I was sworn in as Premier, I said that I wanted to lead a Government that is accountable, that listens and acts accordingly.

We will listen with empathy, we will act with kindness, we will provide caring, child‑centred and trauma‑informed support to victim-survivors both as children and as adults. We will act with integrity.

Most importantly we will be accountable for implementing changes to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in Tasmanian institutions.

Mr Speaker,

The President of the Commission, the Honourable Marcia Neave AO, noted the need for us to keep pace in her Statement during the Commission’s opening hearing.

She implored us to maintain momentum and commitment to implementing the National Royal Commission’s recommendations in parallel with those of the Inquiry.

She said: “Where Government has the tools to make Tasmanian children safer in Tasmanian institutions today, it should use them. It should not wait until the outcome of this Commission is known to take action which it already knows is necessary”

That is why today I will be announcing immediate actions in response to the two weeks of hearings, which have already occurred.

Mr Speaker,

Before outlining those actions, I wish to recognise the steps we have already taken to safeguard children and young people in Tasmania.

In August 2020, as Education Minister, I announced an independent inquiry into systems and practices within the Department of Education in response to allegations of child sexual abuse.

This was the prelude to a much broader Commission of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Government’s response to child sexual abuse in government institutions, announced by then Premier, Peter Gutwein, in November 2020.

As the then Premier said at that time: the vast majority of people who work or who have worked in our government agencies in positions of great trust do the right thing.

Unfortunately, there have been occasions where that trust was breached and allegations came to light regarding child sexual abuse in public institutions.

Mr Speaker,

We took decisive action to investigate these matters:

In 2020, Tasmania Police completed an internal review of the adequacy and appropriateness of Police actions in response to information received about child sexual abuse allegations and delivered the Griffin Outcomes Report.

In response, Tasmania Police established a specialist team to lead work on improving procedures and processes for the investigation of child sexual abuse.The specialist team oversaw:

  • the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Child Safety Service and Tasmania Police, to enhance information sharing and ensure appropriate responses and actions are undertaken when either party receives information relating to child sexual abuse;
  • A review of thousands of records held across Government Agencies to assess any potential risk to children;
  • The development of Tasmania Police Guidelines for Investigating Child Sexual Abuse and changes to the Tasmania Police Manual, strengthening responses;
  • The development of the Keeping Children Safe Handbook to guide operation practice and joint responses between Children, Youth and Families and Tasmania Police; and
  • New protocols for information exchange between Police and the Registrar for working with vulnerable people checks, and education regarding the importance of sharing information.

Changes to the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1997 have also been made with amendments to clarify that information can now legally be provided from the Child Safety Service to the Police; and protocols around the exchange of information, including when and how information should be shared.

Mr Speaker,

When the report into the Tasmanian Department of Education’s Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was handed down by Professors McCormack and Smallbone in June 2021, the Government responded by accepting all 20 recommendations.

Central to this is the establishment of the Office of Safeguarding Children, which is now driving long-term cultural change and continuous improvement right across the Department – in Government schools, libraries and Child and Family Learning Centres – so that it can be an exemplary child safe organisation.

Mr Speaker,

We also became aware of historical allegations of abuse against current employees of the Ashley Youth Detention Centre via the National Redress Scheme for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse and/or through a common law negligence claim.

And we acted on these allegations.

In September 2021 we announced that it was time for a major systemic change in our youth justice system, with the need for a holistic approach that gives our young people a far better chance of gaining the supports they need so that they are in a better position to rehabilitate, and to live better and more productive lives.

We have committed that the Ashley Youth Detention Centre will close, and we will invest in new infrastructure and introduce a new service delivery model in its place, focused on early intervention, diversion strategies, and detention as a last resort measure.

Mr Speaker,

In February 2022, we announced our next important step: to bring services related to children under the responsibility of one new agency: the Department of Education, Children and Young People.

This change will place children and young people at the centre of co-ordinated education and supports to keep them safe and engaged in learning, by removing bureaucracy, administrative barriers and silos to allow a truly child-centred department to form.

Importantly, all parts of the new agency will benefit from the leadership and cultural change provided by the Office of Safeguarding Children.

The work of the new Department will also be informed by the Child and Student Wellbeing Strategy, which supports a universal approach to wellbeing, while recognising that some learners, such as those impacted by trauma, may need additional support to engage in learning.

The Department continues to build its system-wide capacity in trauma-informed and trauma-responsive practice.

Mr Speaker,

Tasmania has long recognised the need to make redress to those who have been abused in Tasmanian institutions.

In 2018, we began formal participation in the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

As at 31 March 2022, we had received 684 claims in relation to State Government institutions and 100 per cent of those claims have been returned to the scheme operator within the required statutory timeframes.

Earlier this year we progressed reforms to the regulatory framework that provides financial help and assistance to Tasmanian victim-survivors of crime under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1976.

The changes mean that from 1 July this year, victim-survivors will be able to seek greater financial support as a result of trauma or injuries, easing any financial burdens during an extremely difficult and vulnerable time in their lives.

Mr Speaker,

We have also established a Register for Approved Counselling and Psychological Care Providers to ensure that the provision of counselling and psychological care is conducted by appropriately qualified and trauma‑informed professionals for all victim-survivors who would like such support as part of their application for redress through the National Scheme.

The Department of Justice has additionally established a specialist unit to deliver Direct Personal Responses on behalf of the Tasmanian Government to victim-survivors participating in the Redress Scheme.

That specialist unit is staffed by expertly trained professionals and clinicians and provides extensive support to victim-survivors in identifying and delivering meaningful, trauma-informed apologies and engagements with people abused while in the care of Tasmanian Government institutions.

Mr Speaker,

On 17 November 2020, the Evidence (Children and Special Witnesses) Amendment Act 2020 commenced.

This Act fulfilled the Tasmanian Government’s commitment to establish a pilot Witness Intermediary Scheme.

The Scheme, which commenced on 1 March 2021, further strengthens Tasmania’s criminal justice system by introducing skilled communications experts who work alongside lawyers and judges to ensure that vulnerable witnesses, including children, participating in the criminal justice process are able to communicate to the best of their ability.

Mr Speaker,

Since the Tasmanian Government has released its response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, we have completed 206 of the 306 recommendations that relate to the Tasmanian Government.

Our Government commits to fast-tracking the remaining 100 recommendations, 92 of which have commenced, to improve the safety of children and young people in our system.

A key recommendation from the Royal Commission was the establishment of a legislative framework for complying with child safe standards and a reportable conduct scheme.

In response, we have committed to the development of a Child and Youth Safe Organisations Framework including comprehensive legislated child safe standards and the establishment of a reportable conduct scheme.

Mr Speaker,

The Framework will be overseen by a dedicated and independent oversight and regulation body.

The adoption of child safe standards will contribute to the prevention of abuse and harm to children, building a culture of child safety not just across Tasmanian Government institutions, but in the wider Tasmanian community.

Compliance with the child safety standards will be monitored and enforced to ensure that institutions, services, organisations, businesses, clubs, and associations have policies and procedures in place to prevent child sexual assault from occurring in the first instance.

Where abuse does occur, the reportable conduct scheme will act as a watch dog to ensure responses to incidents of child abuse are child‑centred, trauma‑informed, and cause no further harm.

Under this scheme, if an allegation of abuse is made, the independent oversight body will have the responsibility to monitor the organisation’s investigation and response and recommend changes to prevent abuse from occurring in the future.

Results of investigations will feed into systemic reviews of response policies and procedures as part of a continuous improvement approach to child safety.

Mr Speaker,

The Commission of Inquiry has already heard that a lack of information sharing is a barrier to keeping children safe from harm and may prohibit victim-survivors from receiving timely and transparent information about the investigation of matters raised.

We must abolish any bureaucracy and red tape that prevents the sharing of information, which could keep a child safe.

It is important to me that people with a lived experience of child sexual abuse in institutional settings are involved in the development and implementation of this Child and Youth Safe Organisations Framework.

That is why we will establish an advisory panel made up of adult victim-survivors of child sexual abuse in institutional settings and family or friends of victim-survivors.

I look forward to their contribution to this important work.

Mr Speaker,

Of course there is more we must do.

Today, we are announcing that in our ongoing support of the recommendations of Professors Smallbone and McCormack, we are committing additional funding to safeguard children and young people in our schools by:

  • Appointing a School Safeguarding Officer in every Government school;
  • Requiring mandatory professional development for all Department of Education staff – this requirement will remain in place when the agency transitions to the Department of Education, Children and Young People;
  • Adding an additional four full time equivalent senior support staff to increase support for children and young people affected by harmful sexual behaviours or child sexual abuse; and
  • eight full time equivalent psychologists and eight full time equivalent social workers to further support student well-being and safety.

In fact, there will be funding of $36.4 million over four years to support children and young people in Government schools in this year’s Budget.

Mr Speaker,

We have heard the voices of victim-survivors and state servants who have provided evidence to the Commission, and we are committed to making the changes needed to keep our children safe.

Other additional measures we will take across government, which will be funded in this year’s State Budget, include:

  • Supporting the timely investigation of complaints and disciplinary processes, with an additional $758,000 for the Teachers Registration Board for additional investigators;
  • A whole of Government response unit to deliver a coordinated Tasmanian Government response to the Commission of Inquiry, with $2.2 million to support this process;
  • Building shared capability for investigations related to serious Code of Conduct breaches across the State Service, with $240,000 allocated;
  • $2.5 million to establish a project team to design and implement the Child and Youth Safe Organisations Framework, legislated child safe standards and a reportable conduct scheme;
  • Supporting children and young people impacted by trauma, with a further $24 million over the budget and forward estimates;
  • Additional frontline workers for the Advice and Referral Line and Child Safety Services, as part of our continued investment, with an extra $5.4 million; and
  • $2.2 million to establish an Out of Home Care Accreditation Framework and the development of a Carer’s Register. The Out of Home Care Accreditation Framework will improve the standards for children and young people in out of home care.
  • To preserve forensic evidence longer for victim-survivors, the Budget will also include a $3.7 million investment for forensic science laboratories.
  • Also included in the Budget is $40 million for new youth justice facilities following the closure of the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. Importantly this will include holistic, therapeutic, trauma informed and child centred models of care with a focus on rehabilitation.

In addition, as we have already announced, $15 million to pilot two Multidisciplinary Centres to offer a best practice model of support and safety services to victim-survivors of sexual and family violence.

I am also pleased to confirm an uplift in funding in this year’s budget for family and sexual violence of $12.5 million for the first year of the next Action Plan, and that a key priority in the Plan will be increased recurrent core funding for Tasmania’s nine specialist family and sexual violence services, with five-year contracts to provide greater certainty and capacity to respond to demand.

Mr Speaker,

Too many children have been failed by Government institutions and are living with trauma after being betrayed by a person they should have been able to trust.

Today, I’m announcing legislation will be drafted this year to create a new crime of ‘failing to protect a child or young person’ for people in authority within an organisation who fail to safeguard a child from substantial risk of sexual abuse by an adult associated with that organisation.

The Attorney General has taken the lead on this work and I understand good progress is already being made.

There will be consultation on this important legislation, and I hope it will be passed by the end of this year.

Our Government also plans to amend the Criminal Code to introduce a presumption that children under the age of 17 cannot consent to sexual intercourse when a person is in a position of authority over them. These legislative changes will bring our criminal justice system into alignment with community expectations.

We will be exploring options to expand the scope of regulated activities under the Registration to Work with Vulnerable People legislation to ensure Tasmania’s worker screening scheme for people who work or volunteer with vulnerable people, including children, is the best it can be.

Mr Speaker,

We have heard from victim-survivors and their families that information does not flow between, and out of, our departments as easily as it should.

Reducing barriers to accessing information, and information-sharing between organisations, is important to reduce risk to children and to ensure Government can be more transparent when supporting victim-survivors seeking information.

We have heard that protecting personal information is important, but we need to look at where this might be getting in the way of child safety.

We will consider legislative solutions and other initiatives that will make it easier to share information about risks to children, including looking at whether issues of custom, practice and culture are creating unnecessary barriers.

Certainly, we will look at how to better educate employees regarding the circumstances where they can and should share information. It is our hope this will allow greater transparency with victim-survivors on the status of investigations.

You deserve to know when investigations are complete and the outcome of the investigations.

Mr Speaker,

The Review of the State Service conducted by Dr Ian Watt made recommendations relating to the Employment Direction 5 – or ED5 – which is the Employment Direction under which Code of Conduct Investigations are conducted – including investigations into child sexual abuse claims against public servants.

We have accepted Dr Watt’s recommendations around ED5s – which includes the ability to tailor the employment direction for investigations of an alleged breach of the code of conduct according to particular circumstances, and importantly that we create a shared capability for the investigation of serious Code of Conduct breaches.

Victim-survivors have told us the experience of existing ED5 processes can be distressing and retraumatising.

We have heard that parties to these investigations can feel vulnerable and exposed during the investigation process.

That is why it is important that interactions with victim-survivors are both trauma-informed and child-centred.

Mr Speaker,

Our Government will make trauma informed practice professional learning mandatory, for investigators and other state servants involved in ED5 investigation processes. We will also move to having investigation teams that are gender balanced.

We will ensure that ED5 processes are much more sensitive to the needs of victim-survivors. We will also look at ways to increase the pool of impartial investigators who can be called upon to investigate an ED5 related issue so investigations can be finalised as efficiently and effectively as possible.

It is our hope these changes will help minimise the distress of victim survivors engaging in an ED5 process.

We will also look at how all investigative material gathered for one process (for example an ED5) can be shared for the purposes of another (for example an investigation by the Teachers Registration Board) to ensure that witnesses only have to be reinterviewed where absolutely necessary.

The Government has already made significant progress towards the creation of a central register of employees who have been terminated as a result of an ED5 investigation.

The administration of the central register will make it easier to identify where an employee has been terminated as a result of a breach of the code of conduct, to ensure an appropriate assessment can be made if they apply for a different government job.

Mr Speaker,

We have heard that the way employees respond to someone who is disclosing current or historical child sexual abuse can have a significant impact on their experience of trauma.

It is critical that state service employees can respond effectively to help make victim survivors feel safe and ensure their trauma is not compounded.

Government employees also need to be able to recognise when a child or young person is demonstrating signs of trauma as this might lead to that employee raising concerns, which could ultimately lead to ensuring that child’s safety.

The Government will investigate rolling out trauma-informed training across the State Service starting with those in leadership positions, including Heads of Agency.

Mr Speaker,

We have heard from victim-survivors and their families that it can be challenging to access government held information necessary for redress, or to pursue civil litigation claims, particularly in instances where they must seek information from multiple departments.

Victim-survivors have told us that responses from our departments can be inconsistent, including variation in response times and the type and amount of information released.

We must break away from the siloed approach of our departmental structures to facilitate improved information sharing and deliver better outcomes for victim-survivors.

Throughout the COVID pandemic we have seen unprecedented levels of collaboration within Government.

It is my intention to evoke that same spirit of collaboration to provide timely and consistent responses to victim-survivors and to be more forthcoming with information through Right to Information application processes.

We commit to improving the RTI process, including providing training across the state service to ensure more consistent responses.

Mr Speaker,

We have listened to what victim-survivors and others have said about their experiences engaging with the Government’s current civil litigation processes.

The civil claims process should not, and must not, make victim-survivors feel that their experience of abuse has been dismissed or minimised. To do so is simply not acceptable.

We will review the structure and processes across civil litigation to ensure our approach is trauma informed and that all our legal practitioners recognise evidence-based understandings of the nature and impact of child sexual abuse.

It is my expectation that the Government’s new approach will ensure victim-survivors feel listened to, understood, informed and supported throughout the civil litigation process.

I will also make arrangements in Heads of Agency Performance Agreements to clarify expectations and improve accountability, making sure child safety and wellbeing is embedded in organisational leadership, governance and culture.

Mr Speaker,

The Tasmanian Government and many of our Agency Heads have provided apologies, written and verbal, to victim-survivors of child sexual abuse, which spans successive governments of all colours.

I have reached out to the Leaders of the Opposition Parties about my intention to move a formal Apology on behalf of the Tasmanian Parliament, to all those who have been failed by Government institutions, not just those participating in the Commission of Inquiry.

These failings have occurred under successive Governments, so it is appropriate that an apology is tri-partisan.

I would expect a formal apology to be delivered at the completion of the Commission’s public proceedings, when more victim-survivors have had the opportunity to come forward to the Inquiry and share their experience.

And I continue to encourage all survivors of child sexual abuse to come forward, as well as anyone who has something to say that could make children safer.

There are a range of avenues available to help you speak up in a supported way. The Commission provides counselling before and after hearing appearances, so you don’t have to go it alone.

Mr Speaker,

In providing information to the Commission, participants have rights and protections under the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1995, including that:

  • your employer cannot prejudice or dismiss you;
  • others cannot try to prevent you from providing information to the Commission; and
  • others cannot punish you or cause you damage, loss or disadvantage because you provide information to the Commission.

If anyone has information about their experiences, which they want to provide to the Commission, but are worried about providing it, please – contact the Commission directly to discuss your options and protections.

Only when we have a shared culture of speaking up will we ensure children are protected and safe.

Mr Speaker,

As I said when I began, the Government will continue to respond to what we hear through the Commission, and to its recommendations in due course with heart and humanity. With empathy, with kindness and with care.

I want all Tasmanians to know this Government is listening – but more important than that, and for the sake of children today and the children born tomorrow – this Government is acting.

/Public Release. View in full here.