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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 7 Hansard (1 July) . . Page.. 3153..


Child protection

Discussion of matter of public importance

MR SPEAKER: I have received letters from Mrs Burke, Ms Dundas and Ms MacDonald proposing that matters of public importance be submitted to the Assembly. In accordance with standing order 79, I have determined that the matter proposed by Mrs Burke be submitted to the Assembly, namely:

Child protection services in the ACT.

MRS BURKE (3.41): Mr Speaker, let me state at the outset that this MPI into child protection services in the ACT is not a frivolous one; rather, while the government might like to argue consistently that it's time to move on, I am afraid to say that it is not that easy. This MPI goes to the heart of concerns relating to the protection of our children, albeit in kinship or substitute-care arrangements. It therefore goes to the heart of leadership and the ability of this government and the current minister to address what I see as one of the most important public policy functions carried out by any department in this territory.

Much has been made by the minister about moving on. The minister consistently tells us that, as a result of the Vardon report, everything is okay and is under control and concludes that, as an opposition, we are simply carping for political gain. This is a tragic position for the minister to take, a quite shallow and incongruous view, given the evidence that is available for all of us to see via the Vardon report.

It is obvious that the minister is in denial since the revelations made to her by her most senior bureaucrat that the department had not complied with its statutory obligations to report suspected cases of child abuse to the Office of the Community Advocate, as required under 162 (2) of the Children and Young People Act 1999. This must, of course, also bring into serious question the issue of other areas of delegation; for instance, compliance under 161 (1) of the act that requires the chief executive to compile reports in the first place. It is very clear from the Vardon report that the chief executive had many discussions with the Community Advocate as to what was a report and what was a consultation.

This debate ensued only after the chief executive and her department had been sprung on two separate occasions for non-compliance by the Community Advocate. I draw members' attention to page 62 of the Vardon report. I would have to say that this is a valiant attempt at a cover-up. This is my feeling and understanding when you look at the evidence before us. Again, to say it is under control and we are moving forward is a broad-brush statement and one, sadly, that many people currently having or trying to have dealings with the department are experiencing. The level of frustration amongst people calling my office is worrying and concerning. To not answer telephone calls or respond in a timely manner or reply to letters or emails-sometimes there is no response at all-is simply not acceptable.

While I respect greatly the minister, I do have grave concerns about the minister's ability to handle the portfolio. I watched in the recent estimates process the minister being virtually hung out to dry by a whole row of senior departmental officials. Indeed, the


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