Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (27 May) . . Page.. 614 ..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
ACT education and training agencies are consistent in their approach to this. I am also advised that the CIT does charge students who are undertaking training in child care a police check fee before they begin practical experience there. In the ACT there are several other employment agencies that require character checks and they charge their applicants a similar fee. They include Aerial Taxis and the Real Estate Agents Board. Mr Berry, you might like to take note of that. There is nothing out of the ordinary in the department passing on these costs. In fact, for education departments, with the exception of the Queensland department, it is standard practice.
Despite his rhetoric, Mr Berry knows that the bottom line of this issue is plainly and clearly about the protection and safety of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, our young people. In an attempt to eliminate any inappropriate behaviour towards young people in its care, the department has required all those successful in gaining employment to undergo a character reference check carried out by the police. That has been so since July 1995. That is an important point. Mr Berry is bringing up this motion now, in May 1998, nearly three years after this was introduced. If it was such a huge issue and such a great concern to people, it should have been brought up within months of it occurring. The fact is that it is not.
Mr Berry: It has been kept pretty quiet, Bill - for me, anyway.
MR STEFANIAK: You cannot keep anything quiet in this place, Mr Berry. You should know that for sure. I will get to that, Mr Berry. There is no great concern in the community about this. This is hardly a secretly levied fee. There is nothing secret about it. You saw it in an ad in the paper. I am not really amazed that you have not seen it before. Quite frankly, there has been very little complaint about this. I will come to that later.
The department's insistence on character references for its staff is consistent with what applies in other States and Territories. This was agreed, Mr Speaker, by the MCEETYA meetings as one of a range of child protection measures adopted nationally. The department is unique amongst ACT Public Service agencies in that the vast majority of its staff - janitors included - work closely with children. That makes education departments different from other government departments, and that is a very relevant factor not only here but also throughout the rest of Australia. I ask members to bear that in mind. Only Queensland does not pass this on. Everyone else, where there is a fee, passes it on.
Teachers, janitors, child protection workers and preschool assistants all have daily contact with children, whose safety is of prime importance to parents and carers, government and the community. It is clear that we have a vital duty of care and the prime responsibility to try to ensure that all prospective staff are fit and proper people to work in positions with children and young people. Most other agencies, Mr Speaker, just do not have the special duty of care to their clients, and they do not require or insist on police checks for casual or temporary staff.