Page 2521 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 1 July 2008
Women) (5.56): The government will not be agreeing with this amendment. I think the concerns that Mr Mulcahy has raised are important but I do not think that they cannot be dealt with by the government’s amendment. Under proposed new subclauses (2) (a) and (b) “unreasonable discipline” is specified as physical punishment or any behaviour management strategy likely to cause emotional or physical harm to a child. Yelling is given as an example of activity that would cause physical or emotional harm to a child.
Mr Mulcahy’s amendment raises the threshold fairly high and includes words such as “significant emotional harm”. If the Assembly accepts this amendment today, we are saying it is okay to yell and it is okay to smack if it does not cause significant emotional or physical harm to a child. I cannot stand here and support that because I can tell you that if someone did that to my child in day care and forced them to cry I would be very unhappy with the quality of day-care services being provided.
These are trained professionals. Parents pay extraordinary amounts of money to have their children cared for and educated in a warm, friendly and safe environment, and if we accept this amendment today we, the Assembly, are saying that it is okay to engage in a whole range of behaviours if they do not significantly harm the child. My test is a lot lower. It specifies “any behaviour management strategy likely to cause emotional or physical harm to a child”. It is still causing harm, but Mr Mulcahy says it is okay if you do not cause significant harm.
That is a pretty high threshold and one that I imagine courts would have to look at pretty closely. What constitutes significant harm? What constitutes abusive or excessive yelling? You are not allowed to yell in day care. There are standards in the provision of childcare. You are not allowed to smack in day care. You are not allowed to use seriously threatening or humiliating language. I would be very worried if this Assembly decides today that it is okay to engage in behaviour management strategies up to a point at which they cause significant damage to a child. That is what we would be doing if we agreed to Mr Mulcahy’s amendment today. I am shocked that Dr Foskey would consider supporting Mr Mulcahy’s amendment.
MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (5.59): This is an interesting debate. I take the point that Mr Mulcahy is making about not making provisions which are too draconian, but I also take the minister’s point about what is significant and what is insignificant. I think the point that Mr Mulcahy is trying to make is that if a childcare worker shouts out in a loud voice it could be something like, “Don’t touch the stove, Mary Jo.”
At 6.00 pm, in accordance with standing order 34, the debate was interrupted. The motion for the adjournment of the Assembly having been put and negatived, the debate was resumed.
MRS DUNNE: I hope my comments would be a guide to a court if they actually came to make some decisions on this. Although I am sympathetic to Mr Mulcahy’s proposal I have the same problems with the wording as the minister does. I would like to put some context around that for the edification of any court that might have to make some decisions on this.