Page 1549 - Week 06 - Thursday, 2 July 2020

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MRS KIKKERT (Ginninderra) (5.09): The Canberra Liberals will be supporting this bill today, just as we supported last year’s amendments to the Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking) Act. Most of those amendments were designed to align ACT law with principles found in the intergovernmental agreement on nationally consistent worker screening for the national disability insurance scheme. The passage of the 2019 bill essentially created two different approaches to registration—one for NDIS workers and one for everyone else. This bill will fix that disparity by providing a consistent and unified approach to registration regardless of which class of vulnerable people a person may work with.

I note that changes to the act that were approved by this Assembly last year have not yet come into effect. Earlier this year, commencement of the previous amendment bill was pushed back, by further amendment, to 1 November 2020 because of COVID-19. I have been told by way of a briefing that it may now be March 2021 before either bill is implemented. In practice this may eliminate any of the disparity that would have resulted from introducing NDIS-specific changes first.

The changes in this bill are based on the new national standards for working with children checks which were endorsed by all states and territories on 12 November last year. The Canberra Liberals, of course, fully support efforts to protect children, and this includes reducing the potential for service providers to employ or engage individuals who pose an unacceptable risk of harm to children or other vulnerable people because of past criminal behaviour. We on this side of the chamber will therefore be supporting this bill as drafted.

At the same time, I wish to raise a small number of issues relating to this bill. First, this bill significantly increases the number of disqualifying offences. As the minister noted in her tabling speech, this means some workers who are compliant with the current legislation will be deregistered under the new requirements. In short, this means that some Canberrans will lose their jobs. I understand and accept the reasoning behind this, of course, but this is not a great time for anyone to lose employment. When I asked for an estimate of how many workers might be affected, I was told “a very small number”. What is clear is that no-one actually knows.

I was informed earlier this week that Access Canberra is undertaking a manual process of assessing people affected by this change, so data is not available at this time. What I do know is that this matter needs to be handled very carefully. The minister stated that this manual review will be completed prior to commencement and that those affected will be contacted. I call upon the current ACT government to make this process as compassionate and fair as possible, and to complete it as quickly as possible in order to give any affected workers the best chance of moving forward. I would also be interested in hearing from the minister what specific kinds of support or assistance the government will be providing to workers who lose their livelihoods as a consequence of this process.

Secondly, this bill introduces the automatic cancellation of registration for anyone who is charged with or convicted of a class A offence—the most serious type. This happens, according to the proposed change, as soon as the commissioner becomes

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