Page 4919 - Week 13 - Thursday, 2 November 2017

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Title read by Clerk.

MR BARR (Kurrajong—Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development and Minister for Tourism and Major Events) (2.48): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

The government has put in place a reportable conduct scheme for the ACT which is actively improving oversight of investigations of employee misconduct involving children. This ensures that allegations of abuse, neglect or sexual misconduct are properly reported and investigated and appropriate action is taken. This scheme, which commenced on 1 July 2017 after receiving unanimous support in this place, has expanded the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman to include matters of child protection and allows for scrutiny of the way employers investigate misconduct involving children. Fundamentally it ensures that the Ombudsman is aware of every allegation of certain types of employee misconduct involving children. The scheme’s value is already apparent in a relatively short period of time. I can advise the Assembly that the Ombudsman has already received a number of reports, along with a number of organisations that made inquiries as to how to make their organisations more child safe.

When I presented the bill to the Assembly in 2016 establishing the scheme, I noted in my introductory speech that it is critical that information about protecting children from abuse is shared more effectively than it is at present. The ACT is not alone in this, and information regarding allegations of reportable conduct, by its very nature, is likely to be protected or sensitive. We have already made a number of changes that mean a greater number of people are able to access particular pieces of sensitive information. However, there are still a number of substantial restrictions on the circumstances in which this information may be requested and provided.

Improving information sharing for child protection was a recommendation of the Report of the Inquiry: Review into the system level responses to family violence in the ACT—or the Glanfield report as it is otherwise known—which proposed wide information-sharing powers similar to those available in New South Wales under chapter 16A of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. Implementing the reportable conduct scheme represented an important step in addressing this recommendation. But we need to keep pushing the envelope to ensure that information on the welfare and safety of children is available to the child protection, law enforcement and oversight bodies that need it.

This bill will amend the Ombudsman Act 1989 to ensure that the Ombudsman is empowered to disclose any reportable conduct information it receives and is reasonably satisfied that it relates to the health, welfare and safety of a child or class of child under any section or function of the act to the Chief Police Officer, a law enforcement agency, the Commissioner for Fair Trading, the Human Rights Commission, the directors-general of the Community Services Directorate and the Education Directorate; and the Chief Executive Officer of the ACT Teacher Quality Institute.

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