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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2019 Week 11 Hansard (Tuesday, 24 September 2019) . . Page.. 3791 ..

There are also changes in relation to mandatory reporters. Mandatory reporters are groups of professionals who, because of their work, have unique access to children and have expertise to identify abuse more readily than the general community. These groups are mandated under law to report their concerns regarding physical or sexual abuse when they come across it in their day-to-day business. Mandatory reporters must report if they believe on reasonable grounds that a child or young person is being sexually abused or is experiencing or has experienced physical abuse.

These new laws now include religious organisations. Information disclosed in religious confession will be subject to reporting obligations. Ministers of religious, religious leaders or members of the clergy of a church or religious denomination will be mandatory reporters. This was an important recommendation out of the royal commission. It was frequently reported that paedophile priests reported their crimes in confession. This will prevent the seal of confession being used as an excuse to not report child abuse.

Religious freedom is no excuse for failing children and, as the royal commission showed us, religious institutions have repeatedly failed to protect children and report perpetrators. It is clear that this special exception for religious organisations leads to further harm of children.

The government has also made changes in the education sector as teachers play an important role in preventing and reporting child abuse. Under the 2019 changes to the Teacher Quality Institute Act greater obligations have been placed on employers of teachers to share information with the Teacher Quality Institute regarding allegations of misconduct and results of investigations into alleged misconduct. Changes to the Ombudsman Act give the Ombudsman authority to disclose information relevant to child safety through the Teacher Quality Institute. All teachers in all Australian schools must be registered with the relevant state or territory authority. As part of the registration process all teachers must undertake and maintain a working with vulnerable people check.

The Education Directorate is currently in the process of finalising a reportable conduct policy and procedures—a revised code of conduct for teachers, school leaders and principals—and a new code of conduct for school-based employees. The Education Directorate has consulted extensively with internal and external stakeholders, including regular meetings with the ACT Ombudsman’s office in the development of the policy procedures and the codes of conduct. Mandatory training for all teachers and staff on the new reporting scheme, and their obligations, has been rolled out.

Education resources for students are also available. There is also a focus on e-safety, which is explicitly taught within the curriculum. Resources are available so that schools are properly able to teach e-safety to both children and parents. These resources are age appropriate and highlight risks and responsibilities. ACT Education is also working proactively to enhance community awareness and education around matters of e-safety through promoting teacher professional learning offered through the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, facilitating parent town hall presentations

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