Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 7 June 2018) . . Page.. 2183 ..
As the Chief Minister himself has acknowledged, the issue of how exactly to deal with the existing provision for confessional privilege is a complex issue that “goes beyond questions of how best to protect children,” one that ideally needs “a nationally consistent approach”. For this reason the scrutiny committee itself raised a concern that part 11 of this bill should be delayed until the necessary policy development and consultation have been concluded.
The Chief Minister has provided assurances that this government will engage in this consultation and policy development within the time frame provided in the bill. I sincerely hope that this will be the outcome. It certainly needs to be the outcome. I understand that no-one on either side of this chamber wishes for the inclusion of religious bodies into the reportable conduct scheme to be delayed for any reason. In my personal opinion, it must not be delayed.
At the same time I call upon this government to do literally everything in its power to work with other jurisdictions, including the commonwealth, to find the absolutely best way forward over the next several months. Our kids deserve nothing but the best protection that we can provide to them. I commend this bill to the Assembly.
MS LE COUTEUR (Murrumbidgee) (11.44): I rise today to speak in support of the bill presented by the Chief Minister. This amendment bill introduces an important expansion—indeed, a fundamental expansion—of the reportable conduct scheme to include religious organisations. I strongly called for this inclusion as soon as I became aware of the gap last year. As I stated in the Assembly last month, I am both pleased and relieved that the government is preparing to implement the expansion from 1 July this year. I again welcome the $615,000 that has been allocated for this to happen.
It is important that all organisations and institutions working with children are child safe and child friendly, and that any misconduct in relation to children can be reported appropriately and swiftly addressed. I hope the additional funds will improve the scheme’s capacity to do so.
One of the primary concerns identified by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was the lack of accountability and the staggering incidence of cover-ups of abuse of children and young people by organisations and institutions, often those whose very mandate was to protect and promote their wellbeing and welfare.
Any person who took note at all of the royal commission’s inquiry could not fail to note the disturbingly prevalent incidence of religious institutions, and the hierarchy within them, abusing their power over our most vulnerable citizens: children and young people. As I have said previously, abuse does not stem inherently from religion. Child abuse is ultimately an abuse of trust and power. Similarly, the inherent status of children and young people obligates us, as a community, as a society and as a parliament, to protect them.
As part of the royal commission’s investigations of some 7,000 survivors who described the types of institutions where they were abused, more than half—that is,