Page 2382 - Week 08 - Thursday, 6 June 2013
As I am sure most members are aware of the history of this bill, I will just briefly touch upon it.
A report by the Public Advocate in 2011 found that the Community Services Directorate had breached the Children and Young People Act 2008 on 24 occasions by placing children into emergency care with a service provider that was not accredited. Amongst the reports of failures in communication, procedure and administration, one of the most serious findings reported by the Public Advocate was that children were cared for in a property that “was found to be totally inappropriate, with stained mattresses, no beds or bedding, no reliable heating or hot water, and a broken window”. These are conditions that should not be acceptable by any standard, and certainly not for children in the government’s care.
Subsequent to the release of the report, the government tabled Solicitor-General advice stating that the requirements on the director-general were not mandatory and that the Public Advocate had misinterpreted the act. The Canberra Liberals were at the time, and are still, of the view that this is a very creative interpretation of the law. The advice, in our view, sets a very dangerous precedent where legally the government can allow standards of care to drop to the poor level experienced by these children without being held accountable. It is also our view that the advice justified and excused the government’s action in a way that fundamentally goes against the intent of the Children and Young People Act, which is to protect and act in the best interest of the child.
The bill we are debating today seeks to address this issue and provides that the requirements placed on the director-general when providing care are mandatory and must be followed. This will help in ensuring that service standards are upheld and that, should a similar incident occur again, the minister and directorate will be held responsible.
Most importantly, the bill enables the Children and Young People Act to operate as it should.
While this bill does rectify a legislative issue in the care and protection system, a recent Auditor-General’s report highlights that there are still systemic failures in the directorate, including not having up-to-date details of where children in care are. Nine years after the Vardon report, this is disappointing, and it is disappointing that this bill has to come from the Greens member, not the government.
As stated previously, the Canberra Liberals will be supporting this bill.
MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (11.46), in reply: Firstly, I would like to thank members for their support of the bill today. I am confident that in clarifying the operation of the act we will have put in place better protections and a clearer framework to ensure that the children and young people who come into the care of the territory are looked after as well as possible.