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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 4 Hansard (17 April) . . Page.. 1022 ..

MR OSBORNE (continuing):

As other speakers before me have all stated, Mr Speaker, child abuse is an extremely serious issue and, as the elected members for the Territory, we need to treat it as such and come up with a serious solution. Child abuse is such a force of destruction that its effects, even when dealt with properly, usually take years to work through, and, tragically, many children do not ever recover. From personal observation and having spoken with a number of people who work in the field, I know that this insidious problem is widely spread across Canberra and, as has become apparent, throughout all levels of our community. As legislators, our response to this abuse must be to provide these innocent ones with the protection and the care that they need.

Mr Speaker, I have made no secret of my opinion that, in order to do this properly, we do need mandatory reporting - and we need it now. This question has been asked several times: We already have a high incidence of reporting now, compared to other cities in Australia, so why make it mandatory? This comparison may be true; but there are still kids in our city who need the protection that only mandatory reporting will give them. I do not share that view that our children will be worse off once it begins. The extra expense will be well worth it if we save the life of even one little child. Mr Speaker, as everyone here knows, I come from the part of Canberra that has the most children in it; so, I have been particularly keen for mandatory reporting to begin.

I am actually very pleased, Mr Speaker, that, for once, we are going to do something that is not a social experiment, since mandatory reporting has already been tried and tested around the world, as well as in other parts of Australia. I am also pleased that something is happening at long last and that the mandatory process is being done properly. However, I am disappointed that it is all a bit slow in happening. So, like some of the other speakers before me, I would like an assurance from the Minister that the Government is giving this whole issue the kind of priority it deserves.

Mr Speaker, if I have one criticism of the Minister's statement, it is that it seems a bit scant on detail in areas. I was hopeful that this statement would have shed some light on why the chosen process was, in fact, chosen. I must say that I was more in favour of the gradual mandating of professions, as this covered all of Canberra in some way; whereas, as it stands now, more than two-thirds of the children in Canberra will have to wait for a number of months yet before they are all covered. I did mention, during the budget debate, how suspicious I was that it just happened to be the relevant Minister's own electorate that was covered.

I would also like to hear from the Minister about what is happening at Family Services to speed up their processes so that they can cope with even their current workload. I understand that, for the last two or three years at least, there have not been anywhere near enough staff to cover the job of following up child abuse or neglect reports. So, I hope that something radical is happening in that area. I would also like to know, Minister, whether there is anything new being done in the way of preventive measures that would help families before they get into this kind of crisis. Mr Speaker, serious abuse and neglect are some of the worst things that can happen in a child's life. So, once again, I would like to encourage the Government to give this matter a greater deal of urgency and priority.

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