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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 8 Hansard (24 August) . . Page.. 2635..


MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

Throughout the Vardon inquiry I stood here and answered questions time after time, and some of them got a bit low at times, but never have I had someone ask a question without notice of me as minister and taken it on notice specifically so that I could have the exact figure so that we did not have alarm bells ringing and media releases being put out, so that I could put the answer in context, and found that, instead of waiting for that, four hours later there was a claim on TV, as there was by Mrs Burke that there had been nine deaths of children over the last 18 months and nothing has been done to protect them by the child protection authorities. That is absolutely incorrect on every front, Mrs Burke. I have worked with you for a number of years, but I have never seen anything like that. As I said, it is an absolute disgrace.

There have been five children pass away in the past two years who had at some time in their life been reported to or known to care and protection services. All of those deaths have been reported to the coroner and investigated by the police. The police have laid charges concerning the death of one child and the matter is currently before the courts. In relation to the other cases, no charges have been laid. I would ask Mrs Burke—in fact, I would beg Mrs Burke—to use this information carefully, to try to restrain herself from making the outrageous, disturbing and incorrect claims which she has in the media and which, no doubt, have caused enormous distress to the families involved.

MRS BURKE: I have a supplementary question. Minister, why aren't you regularly briefed on issues of great concern, such as the death of children who have been in contact with your department? You were unable to give a full answer on Tuesday. Why aren't you regularly briefed?

Mr Corbell: You can't give an answer if you are not here.

MS GALLAGHER: Yes, I was not here yesterday. I am surprised that Mrs Burke knows what I am briefed about. I am briefed extensively across all of my portfolios. The reason I took the question on notice was to stop precisely what you went ahead and did, Mrs Burke. I knew of a number of children. I had been briefed on a number of children. There are 400 deaths of children in the territory every year. The figure covers the ages 0 to 18. Many of those are not known to care and protection. In fact, the majority of them are not known to care and protection. I took a responsible decision, instead of sitting here and saying, "I don't know. Maybe there were one or two that I can recall in the last two years. Maybe there were a few more a few years back."

On such an important issue which causes such distress to families, I took the decision that I would take the question on notice, as I said at the time, so that I could come back and give you the exact information and be careful with that information. I said it in my answer. I reflected on it when I looked at Hansard earlier today. I was very clear about why I was doing that—to stop precisely what happened, which was an outrageous claim being made by Mrs Burke in the media four hours later that nine infants had died and nothing had been done to protect them by care and protection.

That was done so that I could come back and say to Mrs Burke that five children had died in very tragic circumstance, one of them relating to a case which is currently before the courts and which many of us know about, as we have read about it in the paper, concerning a young child who was travelling through the ACT when she was tragically


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