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Speech: Social Work Registration Needs To Finally Happen

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (21:44): I would like to thank all the members who have made a contribution to this bill not just today but the first time round back in 2018 and thank you to all those who were on the joint committee with me as we worked together to come up with the best model that we could for the registration of social workers in South Australia, which is the bill before us now today. I would reflect again on the length of time it has taken us to get here—several years—and here we are again still waiting for action but now considering this particular legislation that came from that joint committee process.

I would also like to reflect on the words of the now Minister for Child Protection, the member for Adelaide, Rachel Sanderson, back in 2016 when she was the shadow minister, recognising the importance and the then urgency of the registration of social workers in South Australia. I quote her:

The longer this important reform is delayed, the greater the risk to vulnerable children in South Australia's completely dysfunctional and chaotic child protection system.

The now minister then went on to say:

If a Weatherill government again fails to advance this issue, I propose to draft a bill providing for the registration and regulation of social workers within South Australia.

That is the member for Adelaide in 2016. They are her words from her press release. I remind members that these things are kept by the library, so even if you take them off the website we can actually track them.

Minister Sanderson has now been in government since the beginning of 2018, yet we have not seen her take active steps to pursue this legislation, despite being on that joint committee that inquired into this bill, the bill that I brought to the parliament back in 2018, despite having sat in the room and endorsed the recommendations that the legislation before us today be passed with some urgency.

I have to say that, despite her having said in 2016 that it would be amongst her 'highest priorities', to quote her, we are still waiting. Indeed, we are waiting for this promise of the then Marshall opposition to be delivered. Yes, there was reference to a national scheme, but I will read word for word the 'Strong Plan for Real Change' Marshall opposition promise for registration of South Australian social workers, on page 3, which is the first page with actual text on it, 'What we will do'. It states:

If elected in March 2018, a Marshall Liberal government will ensure a system of registration for social workers is introduced. This could involve the inclusion of social workers under the national registration accreditation scheme, the government scheme overseeing the regulation of qualification standards and practices for health practitioners in Australia. A state Liberal government will draft legislation to require the registration of social workers in South Australia to lobby to have social workers included under the national registration accreditation scheme with oversight from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

Indeed, it goes on to wax lyrical about how great it is to have the registration of social workers and I fully agree with that and I fully agree with the then Marshall opposition election promise to register social workers in South Australia. We would all prefer a national system. We are well into two decades of campaigning for a national system. Unless a jurisdiction leads, this may never happen.

I have to say that it is really disappointing to be here having to put this up as a private member's piece of legislation. Post acceptance of the report, I had been informed that the Marshall government and, I believed, Minister Sanderson would be bringing forth a piece of legislation. I got tired of waiting for that to happen, and as the sitting weeks grew fewer and fewer, I introduced the legislation that we believed had been agreed to be introduced to this place.

Here we are, in what is the last non-optional sitting week of the year, although we now know that we will likely be sitting at least the next optional sitting week, and we are finally seeing that Marshall opposition 2016 election pledge brought into practice.

In 2016, the minister also said, 'Multiple different groups have lobbied for this,' and, 'It shouldn't take the death of a child to get action.' I am astounded that in the lead-up to the last state election, the member for Adelaide was so strong and certain about this reform yet has so utterly failed to deliver. Perhaps the minister has girlbossed too close to the sun in making all of those promises and pronouncements.

Maybe things got too hard, too complicated, or maybe the Liberal Party simply did not wish to pursue this legislation anymore. Certainly, any hint of their past promises on the registration of social workers has been currently cleared from the websites. Too bad they have the Wayback Machine, and I have an excellent staffer in Malwina Wyra, who has found those promises, but, as I say, the library keeps all of the press releases.

This is a devastating broken promise to the South Australian community. It is deeply disappointing that after having a clear blueprint for legislation and a way forward the minister still has failed to act. While I am pleased that we have the government's support today, I would hope that they are not going to break yet another promise. I do want to note the clear disappointment, felt not just by the Greens but by so many, that the government promised that they would not act this way when they were in government.

I would also like to put on record my disappointment, and frankly disbelief, that the government has put forward amendments to this bill and only circulated them for the first time on Monday afternoon. It was not the government that told the Australian Association of Social Workers about their amendments; it was the Greens, and it was on the person's day off, on a Monday. These amendments were not consulted on. There is in fact one key stakeholder and they had not gone to that stakeholder first. It is not that hard.

Also, nor were they asked for. I will note that even the AASW had no idea that these amendments were forthcoming, or indeed about to be lodged on this parliament, even though they finally met with the minister, after months of requests, just two weeks ago. The minister, who has asked the Minister for Human Services to move on her behalf these amendments to this bill, was charged and understood by the committee to be the one who would lead progress of this bill through the parliament.

She was also a member of the joint committee into the original version of this bill. She worked with myself and all the other members of that joint house committee on the recommendations that informed it, and she had almost two years in those committee meetings, hearing evidence, deliberating, in which to raise any further amendments, and indeed another year since the committee reported with the amendments to consult on them appropriately. This has not been done.

The other bizarre thing with these amendments is that when I met with the minister and her office, there were lots of references, in explaining these amendments, to the 'national scheme' or 'bringing the bill into line with the national scheme'. There is no national scheme, and I think everyone has reflected on that during this debate. We would love there to be a national scheme, but there is not and so South Australia is, of course, striking out on its own.

I am not sure why we are chopping and changing parts of the bill to fit with a scheme that does not exist. Certainly, at another briefing we were told that this was to make the bill more consistent with the way federal legislation is written, which still makes no sense, because some of these amendments are not in keeping with the recommendations of the joint committee, nor are they in keeping with the intent of the bill. I am baffled that the minister would suggest amendments that go against the main purpose of the bill, such as the original amendments for limited registration.

Now I note that it appears, although it is not entirely clear, that the government will not be going ahead with some of their first set of amendments, which were only of course mooted for the first time on Monday, but I think it is important to note those amendments either way. The committee report was quite clear on that matter. I am beginning to wonder if the minister even read the report she endorsed. Perhaps this is why it is typically considered bad practice to cobble together eight pages of amendments just two days before a matter is voted on. Perhaps this is why there was a joint committee process that stretched over some two years to ensure the changes made to the original bill back in 2018 were well thought through and consulted on appropriately.

To add to how ridiculous this entire experience has been, the minister has now tabled new amendments at 4.44pm today. I will note that the members in this place were not actually contacted about these amendments until 5.54pm today, when we received an email. My office only got a call about them at 6.30pm. This is a joke. You cannot work on a serious piece of legislation in this manner.

I note that while the minister's adviser has noted in her email to members that the Australian Association of Social Workers is fine with these amendments that is not entirely accurate. It is my understanding that, under pressure and with limited time and understanding, the AASW ceded some points in discussions because they were worried about this bill passing.

I note that my information is that the AASW was completely happy with this bill without amendment. I note that that was particularly because this version of the bill was the one that was properly consulted and considered. I am deeply concerned to learn that the minister has only instructed for consideration to be put together towards the amendments that the government will be putting to the council tonight on Thursday or Friday last week. It seems the minister did not think of this legislation and prioritise it prior to that time.

It is deeply disappointing that we find ourselves here. It is now after 9.30 on a Wednesday night, with two sets of government amendments to a bill they have had three years to bring forth themselves, that they have had for over a year a report that was well consulted on to take leadership on, yet here we are with these two sets of amendments. I will have more to say on some of those amendments in committee. I have to say that the vast majority of the very first set are unworkable. We can work with some of the second set, but it is far from what everyone would prefer.

We know that this legislation has had broad support from all parties in this parliament. We know that this legislation is necessary. We also know that leadership in this area will be the only thing that breaks the nexus and gets us to that national scheme that we all want so much. We have known for a very long time that reform is necessary. That 2017 speech in which the member for Adelaide noted that the PSA first made the request for the registration of social workers in 1988—she has known this for some time as well. The AASW, the Australian Association of Social Workers, have been fighting and waiting for this reform for decades.

I look forward to the speedy passage of this bill here, and hopefully soon through the other place as well, where I trust, given that it has not been given a government bill, at least the government will give it government time to get it done.

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