Page 2519 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 1 July 2008

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More broadly, the government’s amendment defines unreasonable discipline to include not only physical punishment but any behaviour management strategy that is likely to cause emotional harm to a child. There is no threshold for this emotional harm. According to the clause any likelihood of any emotional harm will do. There is no requirement for this emotional harm to be substantial, long lasting or serious. In other words, any likelihood of any emotional harm, no matter how immediate, insubstantial or transient, is treated as sufficient to warrant prosecution and potential imprisonment of a childcare worker.

As anyone who has ever dealt with young children is aware, it does not take a great deal to tip the emotions of a small child. It does not take much or even anything to have a child burst into tears. To make matters completely clear, the government’s example of unreasonable discipline specifically includes yelling as being a practice that causes emotional harm. Again, no limitation is placed on this example so that apparently any yelling at a child is grounds for imprisonment. This is quite unbelievable. The government’s amendment would literally mean that a childcare worker who yells at a child causing them even the most immediate and cursory emotion harm could be imprisoned as a common criminal.

Dr Foskey also picked up on this and mentioned in her speech that she regards the inclusion of yelling in this section as being “a bit extreme”. This appears to be part of the government’s effort to forcibly impose its own vision of a nurturing environment on childcare centres. In its wield of power, the government has no room for the frustrations and difficulties of childcare workers. If any of them lose their cool, even for a moment, and yell at a child, then they are to be branded as criminals under this bill and can potentially be thrown into prison.

To be perfectly clear here, the issue is not whether yelling at children is good behaviour management strategy. Probably it is not, although I do not believe that there are never circumstances when a raised voice might not be warranted. The issue is whether hard working childcare workers are to expose themselves to criminal punishment and possible imprisonment for even the most minor loss of patience with children. For a government that pretends to care about the plight of people with difficult and often frustrating jobs this really is something bordering on an insult.

Some may imagine that I am over-reacting and that the offence provisions would never be applied in such a way as to punish childcare workers for minor incidents of yelling. But this argument is untenable as the government’s amendment makes it perfectly clear that yelling is an example of unreasonable discipline. There is no qualification on this example. Even if we are to rely on prosecutorial discretion this is a dangerous road to go down. It is a recipe for increasing irresponsible government power to define excessively wider offence provisions and then rely on the discretion of government agents to prevent abuse. This kind of practice gives no certainty to childcare workers other than the certainty that they are at the mercy of their government.

In order to rectify this situation I have moved an amendment to the definition of “unreasonable discipline” to qualify the general principles and examples listed in the

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