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Speech: Children And Young People (Safety) (Child And Young Person's Visitor) Amendment Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:58): I rise to speak briefly, given the hour, on behalf of the Greens in support of this bill. This bill is not only vital, it is a no-brainer. It is long past time that we had proper funding and resourcing for the Child and Young Person's Visitor in our state. We have known for a long time that the situation is dire.

I think this was clearly demonstrated by the former Child and Young Person's Visitor, Penny Wright, whom we thank for her hard work and dedication, who resigned from being the Child and Young Person's Visitor due to a lack of government funding under the previous government. It begs the question: why are we legislating to create these important roles and powers but then failing to resource them adequately?

It is a deeply concerning situation where we have had someone in the role who is eminently qualified, who wants to do the job properly but felt compelled to resign 'as a matter of good conscience and transparency' as she would not be able to meet the obligations of the role due to a lack of government funding and support. As Ms Wright said at the time, 'a role in name only, without resources, does not enable me to fulfil its functions even to a minimum standard'.

We have other legislation that establishes similar roles, and that legislation does stipulate that the role is adequately resourced. It hardly seems too much to ask. While this role was initially funded as a two-year trial, there have been ongoing calls since the end of 2019 to resource this role properly, particularly after the release of a damning report into the child protection department's handling of two sexual abuse cases involving 13-year-old girls in residential care.

At the time, the then shadow minister, now Minister Hildyard, from the opposition benches said that Penny Wright's resignation was 'devastating for South Australia's most vulnerable children and young people'. She also went on to say, 'Ms Wright has urged the minister to reinstate funding for the visitor scheme in her last annual report and the opposition has repeatedly called on the minister to do so.' I am wondering where that spirit and that sense of compassion is from the Malinauskas government right now.

We saw an announcement in April that the Malinauskas government would spend $450,000 each year to reinstate the role, but Penny Wright has previously stated that her office put forward a business case that found that the minimum amount of funding needed to carry out the role properly is $1.637 million a year.

The new Child and Young Person Visitor, Shona Reid, also has publicly stated that it is important that all legislation establishing independent oversight roles ensure a funding commitment clause and that, and I will quote her, 'It is unfortunate that this was missed in the initial drafting of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017.' That is our responsibility as legislators. We do have an opportunity now to address that oversight and ensure that this essential role is properly resourced to safeguard vulnerable children and young people in our state.

On that, I just want to say these are not criminals, these are children. For some reason, because they are placed in residential care, people seem to think that they have done something wrong. They have done nothing wrong. They have been let down in their personal lives. We should not be letting them down in this parliament.

One thing I remember is that a previous minister visited these children in front of staff and asked the children what they would like in their residential care to make it feel more like home. One of them asked for a Netflix account. Any teenager, any child, in this state who asked their parents for a Netflix account would not be seen as audacious or greedy and would not be told to pay for it out of their own pocket, as these children were told. Again, this goes to the fundamental core problem here that we are treating these children as if they have done something wrong, not as if they need a home with compassion and care and oversight.

We also know that the child protection workers who work in this very important area have been chronically underfunded themselves. Indeed, in 2021 the PSA did a survey over some six weeks. In those six weeks there were 150 shifts that were uncovered. That is 150 times in a shift that workers were called in and required to do overtime just to ensure the minimum staffing in those facilities.

We know what happens when people cannot turn up for work because there are not enough workers to do the work that is required, and that is that the children get let down again—the children miss out, the children are punished, the children are not supported. The parliament made an error in the drafting of the legislation that supported this, and we can fix that error now. We have done so with other positions, and I commend the Hon. Sarah Game for bringing this to this place. With that, the Greens strongly support the bill, and we will be supporting any divisions to affirm that support.

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