Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. T.J. Stephens:
That this council—
1. Recognises National Child Protection Week was held from 2 until 8 September;
2. Acknowledges that Child Protection Week is a wonderful opportunity for everyone in the community to think about how we can work together to keep all children safe; and
3. Acknowledges and thanks all individuals, organisations, agencies and service providers working in our community to support children and families impacted by child abuse.
(Continued from 19 September 2018.)
The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (17:16): National Child Protection Week is an opportunity for government, business and community to come together to promote the safety and wellbeing of children. By promoting the value of children and focusing attention on the issues of child abuse and neglect, we raise the profile of all issues connected with child protection, which include child abuse prevention, treatment, research, education, service provision and support for children, young people and families.
The enduring theme of 2018, Play Your Part, provided the sound message that protecting children is everyone’s business. It shined a light on children who may be frightened and vulnerable, who need compassionate and resilient adults in their lives to show them that they are important and valuable. Research tells us that strong community is important for children to thrive and be safe. It is important for all of us to work towards stronger communities, as often the little things we do every day can help create safer environments for children.
Today, I would like to take the opportunity to shine a light on the work of foster and kinship carers, which is so important, and thank each foster and kinship carer in South Australia for their tireless work and dedication to ensure that children feel safe and loved. You play an extremely important role in the lives of children and young people while they are in care. You are entrusted to ensure that a child’s developmental, health and emotional needs are met at a time when they are most vulnerable, and help children to become strong and resilient young people.
I would also like to acknowledge the staff in support organisations who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that the needs of foster and kinship carers, as well as young people—who have most likely experienced hardship and neglect—are met. Child Protection Week is an opportunity to focus on the framework, to recognise advances in the field, to contribute to better outcomes for all children and young people, especially those who have been harmed or are at risk of harm.
In the last two years of being in government, Labor invested more than $500 million in child protection. It was an extremely important and worthwhile investment, and the results will be seen for years to come. Labor also acted on the Nyland royal commission, and committed to establishing a dedicated learning and professional development unit within the department, improving the skills of all call centre staff, taking reports of suspected child abuse or neglect, improving early intervention when concerns are raised, and enhancing caring conditions for children in state-run homes. These commitments are important.
We must continue to invest in resources to support children in our community and should not take away or reduce funding to support foster and kinship carers. We need to see more, not less, funding for training for those who work in this area, and we need to see more, not less, funding to support foster and kinship carers who live in remote or regional areas.
There are more than 2,300 young people living in kinship placements across the state. We as a government have a responsibility to ensure they have adequate support in the community. We cannot see more children move into commercial care, nor can we afford to, with each child in commercial care costing up to $340,000 a year. I would like to assure all foster and kinship carers that I and my Labor colleagues will stand by you in the interests of developing strategies to improve the wellbeing of children in our community. We appreciate all the contributions you make to ensure a safer state for our children.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:20): I rise to support this motion and commend the mover for bringing it to this place, and associate myself with the remarks of both the Hon. Terry Stephens and the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos. National Child Protection Week is an incredibly important week, as the Hon. Terry Stephens noted, because, as Rosemary Sinclair, the founder of NAPCAN, has herself said, the abuse and neglect of children is often seen to be a taboo topic. We are talking about it in this place, in one of the most public places of our state, and that is rightly so, but for far too long the abuse of children, particularly the sexual abuse of children, has been silenced and shut down and those children who have sought support have had the reality of that sexual abuse denied.
I particularly note the work of the royal commission, established by then prime minister Julia Gillard. I think there is possibly no less that any prime minister could have done than to have established that particular royal commission into institutional child abuse. For that, I think Julia Gillard will be very kindly reflected in the history books.
The words of the children to that royal commission are profound. One particular respondent, Martina, told the commission of her rape by a priest. She noted that when she was nine and she left the confessional box with blood running down her leg, the nun saw her, called her over and gave her a rag and said, ‘Go there and clean yourself up,’ telling her, ‘Don’t be so disgusting and don’t come out of here until you’re cleaned up.’ She stated, ‘And I didn’t do that. He did,’ referring to the priest.
Martina found she could not tell her parents about the abuse because they were often drunk and abusive themselves. She certainly could not tell the nuns at school because they would call her dirty and disgusting. Martina believed policeman were like soldiers and could fix anything. Knowing what the priest was doing was wrong, she went to the policeman and tried to explain what was happening to her at that time. She stated:
He knelt down to my level, he looked right at me and he said to me, ‘You are a naughty, naughty little girl’. And I remember it, I’ll never forget it. I can see him now, the policeman. I wanted him to save me.
The policeman did not save her. The abuse continued until Martina left for high school. As a young adult, she became restless and unable to stay in the same job for very long, despite enjoying particular parts of her work. She had difficulty trusting people and she had problems with intimacy. She became an adult. At that time, she eventually received counselling, which she stated:
…makes you feel a bit better, especially you know someone believes you. And that’s so nice because no-one before believed you.
Her final quote was:
I’m getting believed. It’s such a relief.
Martina, should she have qualified for compensation, stated in her evidence that she did not want the money; she wanted the money to go to the children of here and now. What I do want to reflect on today is the adults who were once abused as children, because they are difficult cases. Another who spoke to the royal commission stated:
Glad I spoke to the Royal Commission but it has opened a Pandora’s box in my head, I feel dangerously angry it scares me a lot but I’m ok, you just ask me. Substance abuse is helping. What a lie to live with. Please don’t let this happen to others.
Adults need our support, too, when they have been abused as children. We must believe the children and we must believe the adults and provide them with the supports they need. We must see beyond the behaviours and the trauma that result from the abuse and provide those supports.
The royal commission was incredibly groundbreaking, and we have seen quite extraordinary scenes in this country where one of the highest ranking religious officials of this nation has now been found guilty of child sexual abuse but, even more extraordinarily, even after that conviction and that finding of guilt, former prime minister John Howard has written him a letter of recommendation because apparently he is a ‘good bloke’.
Andrew Bolt, to his shame, continues to campaign against the court’s finding. He continues not to believe those children. Those children who are now adults—one dead, one still alive—are blamed for their behaviours; not the perpetrator but the victims continue to be blamed for those behaviours.
In this place we often debate issues of drug and substance abuse, issues of bad behaviours, of antisocial behaviours, of mental illness, of trauma-related illness, so when we debate motions like these I think that they are a fine opportunity to reflect just where some of those behaviours have come from when we set up the systems that will ensure or deny these people justice. With those few words, I commend the motion.
The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:26): I rise also to echo the sentiments of my colleagues and to speak in support of the motion by the Hon. Terry Stephens, which recognises Child Protection Week held in the first week of September last year and every year, and I particularly acknowledge the work of all the agencies and individuals who work tirelessly to protect children from abuse and support the children and families impacted by abuse.
I want to start by saying that the issue of child protection should be ever present in our minds every day of the year. Child Protection Week is a timely reminder to parents and carers that they need to have age-appropriate conversations with children in their care about personal safety and, importantly, what to do if they find themselves in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
It is also a timely reminder that we should continue having these regular conversations with our children that are tailored to them growing up and becoming more independent and embracing things like social media. Child protection is everybody’s issue and requires a whole-of-community response because child abuse and child sexual abuse is widespread, insidious and has devastating and long-term impacts on the lives of all its victims.
The Nyland royal commission and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse are testament to the extent of child abuse in Australia in our institutions and the impact on survivors. We must be forever vigilant of those who seek to harm children because the figures are outrageous. I find them completely incomprehensible.
According to the most up-to-date statistics maintained by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, of the total number of child abuse notifications, over 355,000 across Australia in 2015-16, 164,987 cases involving 115,024 children of child abuse were investigated or were in the process of being investigated. Of these, 133,329 (96 per cent) were finalised by 31 August 2016 and 60,989 were substantiated. In South Australia, 1,857 cases were substantiated, but there are so many more that never see the light of day, that remain hidden from view. It is for that reason that the education of children, parents and, of course, the broader community about child abuse and its prevention is crucial to tackling the devastating numbers of victims.
To that end, I want to again highlight the work of the Carly Ryan Foundation and its CEO and founder, Sonya Ryan, who has campaigned tirelessly since the murder of her daughter Carly for stronger laws to protect young people online. It is to her we owe the most gratitude for never giving up. Sonya is the reason this parliament passed the Criminal Law Consolidation (Dishonest Communication with Children) Amendment Act 2018. That legislation provides an additional and crucial line of defence in combating online predatory behaviour by creating two new offences, where an adult communicates with a child and lies about their age or identity, seeking to meet with the child or with the intent to commit an offence against the child.
The legislation is a testament to Sonya’s courage and tenacity to want to protect children. Sonya has displayed extraordinary strength and dedication to ensure the safety of our children in the online space. Predators will go to extreme lengths to manipulate children during their grooming process. What happened to Carly should not have happened but can happen to any child. We must be forever vigilant regarding the safety of our children. The education sessions Sonya provides through the Carly Ryan Foundation are compelling and are a must for all children and parents to stay ahead of the risks and stay safe online. SA-Best believes these sessions should be provided for free, be funded by the government during Child Protection Week and be open to the public.
I want to say some final words about the Redress Scheme implemented by the Coalition government. My colleague the Hon. Frank Pangallo and I have spoken in this place on the Redress Scheme and its limitations several times. In the latest statistics, as at 22 March 2019, the Redress Scheme has received over 3,300 applications, but only 115 redress payments have been made to date. The average redress payment is around $81,346, well below the $150,000 maximum cap and well below, again, the cap recommended by the royal commission. Hundreds of named institutions are yet to join the scheme and applications relating to such institutions cannot be progressed until those institutions finally and formally opt into the scheme.
I have spoken about the difficulty for survivors to obtain the maximum cap because of the assessment framework developed by the Coalition government, which is not in line with the recommendations made by the royal commission. Payments are halved for contact abuse, regardless of its duration, and does not take into account the impact on survivors. The type and severity of abuse does not determine its impact on survivors. Last month, as many obsessed over the federal budget, a federal parliamentary report was tabled in parliament, making 29 recommendations calling for major reforms to the scheme, offering redress to victims of institutional sexual abuse. The report found that the Redress Scheme in its current form is at risk of failing to deliver justice to survivors. Now that the federal parliament has been prorogued, my concern remains that the report will be swept under the carpet.
SA-Best supports the federal committee’s call for a major revision of the Redress Scheme, given the large disparity between the Redress Scheme and what was recommended by the royal commission. The survivors of institutional abuse have been traumatised enough, as the Hon. Tammy Franks has just highlighted. We must implement the recommendations of the royal commission, and we must do so quickly. The task is not insurmountable. It requires all the states to work constructively together, and I call on them to do so. With those words, I thank again the member for bringing the motion to the house and I commend its passage.
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS (17:33): Can I start by thanking the Hons Irene Pnevmatikos, Tammy Franks and Connie Bonaros for their remarks and their indication of support for the motion. I do believe in my heart that every member of this chamber is fully in support of the motion. I will be reasonably brief, Mr President, because this is ongoing. We need to be eternally vigilant, we need to improve what we do and we need to continually work to keep children safe. The travesties of the past should not be forgotten and the perpetrators of violence and abuse should be hunted and chased down. I for one will constantly, wherever I can, ensure that this is at the forefront of the minds of members of parliament.
I really thank those honourable members for their contributions, I thank the chamber for its support of the motion, and I encourage everyone to be continually vigilant with regard to this extremely distressing and sensitive topic. I commend the motion to the council.