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Speech: Social Workers Registration (Commencement) Amendment Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:00): I begin my remarks by acknowledging the extraordinary
and valuable work that the Australian Association of Social Workers and its members do each and
every day. It may surprise members of the community but it is no surprise to members of this council
that there is currently no form of legal professional registration for social workers in Australia, despite
many organisations, parties, reports and individuals calling for this reform for decades. 

I introduced my original bill in 2018 to ensure the registration of social workers in this state,
and it went to a joint committee that reported at the end of 2020. That joint committee unanimously
endorsed the report and presented back to the parliament a draft bill that came out of it. All members
in this council across all parties supported that piece of legislation. I would draw this council's
attention to these lines from the report of that 2020 joint committee. It states:
In the absence of a federal scheme, submissions to the inquiry overwhelmingly expressed support for a
state-based system of registration. The Committee notes that registration will not, in and of itself, automatically ensure
safe and effective social work practice. The recent coronial inquests, while calling for social work registration, have
been critical of, among other things, the child protection system's lack of understanding of, and compliance with, its
statutory obligations. Notwithstanding, the Committee is of the view that legislative reform is urgently needed. It
considers that the proposed legislation will provide a solid framework towards improving the accountability and
standards of the social work profession.
I repeat: that committee was of the view that legislative reform was urgently needed. We did the
groundwork across parties, consulted extensively through the committee process and created
through this parliament an act which can lead the nation in this reform.
The Australian Association of Social Workers has been pursuing registration of social
workers as a means of enforcing safe and competent practice, and it further protects the public from
practitioners who breach those ethical standards. Yet, the scheme has been met with a brick wall
when it comes to actually implementing it. It was assented to in December 2021. Our next state
election was in March 2022, and here we are in October 2023 still waiting.
The department has only just in September this year—last month—appointed the director.
There has been a quite unreasonable delay in getting the scheme in progress. We have a minister
who is also Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing juggling with Child Protection. She is juggling
two quite conflicting portfolios in terms of workload, and it seems to be here reflected in the ability for
her to actually meet her obligations.
While clients of child protection services are some of the most vulnerable in our society,
social workers practise in a diverse range of settings, including family violence, disability, mental
health, family support, education, drug and alcohol services, and housing, just to name a few. This
scheme would be better placed in Human Services or Health, who of course deal with this broader
range of issues. Given that the child protection portfolio has delivered us not an announcement, a
ministerial statement announcing the commencement of this act, but a request to the parliament for
more time to start the act, I think we have to be asking whether or not this act has been placed in the
correct portfolio.
The government is pushing the scheme back, not for the first time but, ideally, for the last
time. Hopefully, South Australia will lead the way. The Association of Social Workers has been calling
for this reform for literally decades. Social workers work with extremely vulnerable clients and, without
the registration of social workers, these people could be at risk of poor, unethical practice. That is on
our watch if we do not ensure safeguards. It is time that we just got on with it. Certainly, this is a
prelude to seeing social workers registered across Australia, and the profession given not only the
respect it deserves but the protections that are required.
I will be asking questions of the government as to what work they have done, not just in
implementing the scheme here, which clearly they are now asking us for an extension of time to do,
but at what levels they have raised this with their federal counterparts at ministerial councils. With
that, I do support the bill. As the person who initiated this debate in this parliament through a private
member's bill—it was a Greens bill that eventually passed the parliament under the last government,
from that report—we then expected the then minister, the previous Minister for Child Protection, the
then member for Adelaide, who is no longer in this parliament, to lead the debate.
I again thank the member for Hurtle Vale, now Minister for Human Services, who worked
with me to effect this change through the parliament. It was not an easy process, although when it
came down to it no-one could really argue against it, but it was delay after delay after delay, and
unfortunately we are seeing that here again now. This is incredibly disappointing.
I urge the Malinauskas government to take this issue more seriously and look forward to
potentially this act being under the administration of a different minister in the future, and for the

South Australian leadership to be properly and strongly advocated for at a federal level to ensure
that other states and territories right across this country follow our lead, reap the harvest of the hard
work that that joint committee did here in South Australia, taking submissions not just from South
Australia but from right around the country, and that we get on with the job of ensuring that people
are protected and that social workers are respected.

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