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The safety of children and young people should not be an expectation, but a fundamental human right.
Today I wish to update the House regarding the actions the Tasmanian Government is taking to ensure this right and keep children and young people safe.
Our Government established the Commission of Inquiry to bring to light the mistakes and failings which have occurred across multiple Governments of all colours and persuasions.
To ensure we hear, we learn and we act, so that we never repeat the mistakes of the past.
In May this year, I announced some immediate actions our Government would take in response to the first two weeks of the Commission of Inquiry hearings.
And while the Commission will hand its findings down in May next year, the mandate for change is clear and we are not wasting any time in bringing about change to keep Tasmanian children and young people safe, and to better support victim-survivors of abuse.
I apologise to all victims and survivors of abuse that occurred in government institutions.
I am deeply sorry for the past failings of our government institutions and I want to acknowledge the lasting, ongoing and negative impact that these failings have had on victims and survivors.
As I have previously said, there will be a formal apology made on behalf of parliament once the Commission concludes its proceedings.
I wholeheartedly express my gratitude to all victim-survivors who have come forward to the Commission, as well as those in the state service who have come forward to share their views on how things can improve still.
I know it has not been easy and I want to recognise your bravery and courage.
Please be assured I am listening, and our Government is listening.
We believe you. And, most importantly, we are acting.
There is no doubt that a culture of safety and wellbeing starts with leadership and accountability.
The National Principles for Child Safe Organisations identify the importance of leadership from the top as necessary to build a culture where children and young people are valued, and every person is committed to child safety and child wellbeing.
Our Keeping Children Safe priority, which I have previously announced, will guide Government activity via a coordinated whole-of-government approach and will provide clear responsibilities for agencies in delivering results.
It is important that we have systems and processes in place to drive progress on these actions and maintain accountability for delivering these changes.
A framework will be developed for regular reporting to keep Tasmanians informed about the Government’s progress towards targets.
For now, under the Keeping Children Safe priority, a new Performance Instrument has been developed and will be included in Heads of Agency Performance Agreements, to improve accountability and make sure child safety and wellbeing is embedded in organisational leadership, governance and culture across our government departments.
This Performance Instrument will be used to monitor our overarching performance against Keeping Children Safe priorities, including our progress against the interim response actions I refer to today and I have been meeting with secretaries to outline my expectations for shared responsibilities and accountability.
To ensure we have strong oversight and coordination on these actions and deliver on much needed reform, we have established the Keeping Children Safe Working Group, which reports to our Secretaries Board.
The Working Group comprises Deputy Secretary representation from across Government and plays an important role in not just overseeing this work but also providing authoritative advice to Government.
Today, together with the Attorney General, I am proud to release the Project Plan for developing and implementing a Child and Youth Safe Organisations Framework in Tasmania.
A key recommendation of the Royal Commission was the establishment of a legislative framework for complying with the child safe standards and a reportable conduct scheme.
This project plan accelerates the development of a comprehensive and integrated framework to support child safety for Tasmanian children and young people.
The Child and Youth Safe Organisations Framework will be overseen by a dedicated and independent oversight and regulation body and will strengthen the existing systemic response to all forms of child abuse in Tasmania.
A Framework such as this is large and complex.
The range of organisations, services, businesses, clubs and associations required to comply with the Framework will be wide-ranging and many organisations will not have been regulated in this way before.
Therefore, a comprehensive consultation strategy has been developed to ensure that all stakeholders and affected sectors have a voice in the development of the Framework, including Tasmanian Aboriginal Community organisations, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, groups and organisations that represent the vulnerable cohorts in our communities, children and young people themselves and people with lived experience of child sexual abuse in institutional settings and their advocates.
It is important we hear and listen to all voices, and that all parts of the community understand our commitment.
A Child and Youth Safe Organisations Bill, which outlines a framework for compliance with the child and youth safe standards, is due for public consultation in September ahead of tabling.
The project to develop and implement the Framework is expected to go for three years.
The indicative commencement date of the Framework is January 1 2024 and it is expected there will be phased implementation across the range of organisations required to comply.
I commend the Attorney General and the project team for their hard work on developing this plan for significant regulatory reform for Tasmania that will ensure Tasmanian organisations are safe for children and young people.
Young Tasmanians in our of home care must be safe, secure and supported.
Today, together with the Minster for Education Children and Youth Roger Jaensch, I am releasing the Tasmanian Out of Home Care standards.
In addition, I am pleased to provide an update on our Government’s commitment to development of a Tasmanian Out of Home Care Accreditation Framework and Carers Register.
The Standards establish clear benchmarks and indicators of compliance for the standard of care expected to ensure children and young people are nurtured, feel loved, safe and have a strong sense of wellbeing.
The standards will apply to all government and non-government providers that deliver Out of Home Care services.
The release of these Standards is an important first step towards developing a Tasmanian Out of Home Care Accreditation Framework.
There are eight standards in total, with six standards relating to children and young people’s wellbeing that reflect the domains of our Tasmanian Child and Youth Wellbeing Framework.
The final two standards relate to both Out of Home Care provider organisations and the Child Safety Service being Child and Youth Safe Organisations.
Each standard includes indicators of compliance designed to describe measures that support quality service provision against the Standard.
To begin with, the Standards will be used as a guide for Out of Home Care providers, enabling them to become familiar with the requirements of the Tasmanian Accreditation Framework, build capacity and readiness and assess their current service delivery to identify areas of good practice and areas for improvement.
Once the Accreditation Framework is in place, all future contracts between providers and the Tasmanian Government will reference the Standards.
This is just the first step our Government is taking to improve Out of Home Care in Tasmania.
It is part of the Government’s broader commitment to a staged roll out of the Tasmanian Out of Home Care Accreditation Scheme and Carers Register.
Stage One, taking place now over 2022 to 2023, includes today’s release of the Standards, along with determining the appropriate oversight body for this work and reviewing the Children, Young People and their Families Act 1997.
Stage One will include comprehensive stakeholder consultation, including working closely with the sector to build readiness and capacity.
Stage Two will include introduction of the Tasmanian Out of Home Care Accreditation Framework and establishment of the oversight and regulatory function for this Framework.
This approach will strengthen the culture of child safety across the Tasmanian Government.
The establishment of the Office of Safeguarding Children and Young People in the new Department for Education, Children and Young People provides further opportunity to drive long term cultural change and continuous improvement across the Department and streamline safeguarding functions relating to children and young people.
I can also share that the drafting of regulations and orders to expand the scope of regulated activities under the Registration to Work with Vulnerable People Scheme is underway.
This will mean that for certain occupations and services, Registration to Work with Vulnerable People will become a mandatory requirement for employment, for example for all health practitioners.
These changes will be progressed alongside an expansion of the scheme to cover further categories of vulnerable adults, including older people, people with a disability and people subject to certain mental health or guardianship orders.
It is expected that draft regulations and orders to give effect to these changes will be released for community consultation by the last quarter of the year.
Progress is also being made on draft legislation to create a new crime of ‘failing to protect a child or young person’ for people in authority within an organisation who fail to safeguard a child from substantial risk of sexual abuse by an adult associated with that organisation.
We’re also making amendments to the Criminal Code to introduce a presumption that children under the age of 17 cannot consent to sexual intercourse when a person is in a position of authority over them.
Drafting of this legislation has commenced and both are on track to be introduced before the end of the years.
The State Service Management Office has commenced its review of Employment Directions administered under the State Service Act 2000, including Employment Direction No. 5, which relates to procedures for the investigation and determination of whether an employee has breached the code of conduct - referred to as an ‘ED5’.
This includes the adequacy of ED5 to deal with matters involving child abuse and neglect perpetrated by State Service employees.
To complement this review, we are also working on creating a shared capability for the investigation of serious Code of Conduct breaches across the State Service.
We have also committed to making trauma informed practice professional learning mandatory for investigators and other state servants involved in ED5 investigation processes and recruitment has commenced to bring people in to lead this work.
Furthermore, we have now established a central register of employees who have been terminated as a result of an ED5 investigation.
Agencies will check the register prior to employing people in the State Service as part of their due diligence in recruitment processes.
We are also working to introduce a centralised, consistent training provision to upskill Right to Information practitioners across Tasmanian State Service agencies.
The recruitment of a suitably qualified person to lead this project is underway.
This work will help to ensure practice across our departments will uphold our Government’s commitment to improving the openness and accountability of government decision-making.
We recognise that people who have experienced trauma have unique needs and understand that the way employees respond to someone who is disclosing current or historical child sexual abuse can have a significant impact on their experience.
It is critical that our state service employees can respond sensitively and appropriately to help victims-survivors feel safe and ensure their trauma is not compounded.
We have committed to making training on trauma-informed approaches and practice available across the State Service and I can share that the Tasmanian Training Consortium has commenced work in developing a detailed project scope which will determine the timelines associated with key milestones for rolling out this training.
Work is also underway to allocate the first tranche of funding to appoint a Safeguarding Officer in every Tasmanian Government school by the end of 2022.
This is being delivered in consultation and partnership with schools and Principals to ensure the model can operate effectively within the complexities of providing holistic and multi-faceted support to children and young people across a range of school environments.
We also announced our intention to add an additional four full-time equivalent senior support staff (two psychologists and two social workers) to increase support for children and young people affected by child sexual abuse, including harmful sexual behaviours, and an additional eight full time equivalent psychologists and eight full time equivalent social workers to further support student wellbeing and safety.
Advertising for these positions is expected to commence before the end of the year.
To support the transition of Children, Youth and Families to the new Department for Education, Children and Young People, discussions commenced with Professor Maria Harries in early July to consider the evidence provided during the “Out of Home Care” hearings of the Commission of Inquiry against the current policies and practices of both the Advice and Referral Line, and the Child Safety Service.
Professor Harries will provide advice on any immediate actions, as well as any additional actions or adjustments to existing reform plans, to improve the safety of children in Out of Home Care.
The reform journey for Youth Justice Services also continues, including ongoing implementation of “Reforming Tasmania’s Youth Justice System Implementation Plan” and the completion of the functional design brief for the facilities replacing Ashley Youth Detention Centre (AYDC).
Critical to progressing these high priority tasks is the recent commencement of Chris Simcock as Executive Director Youth Justice Reform, who holds substantial credentials in driving evidence-based practice in therapeutic youth justice.
Of similar importance is the new Independent Chair of the Youth Justice Reform Steering Committee – Ms Shan Tennant.
Her credentials, including her years as a Supreme Court judge and her passionate interest in youth justice, will greatly inform and strengthen the governance of youth justice reform in Tasmania over this critical period.
To support the broader transition of this function to the new Department, engagement has commenced with the Australian Childhood Foundation and the Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care, to provide an independent authoritative view on the safety for young people at AYDC and some guidance on any actions we could take now and during transition to improve the safety of the service for young people and staff.
The evidence given to the Commission of Inquiry in relation to the Launceston General Hospital was very confronting and highlighted the urgent need for a culture of accountable leadership in our hospitals.
We announced a Child Safe Governance Review of the Launceston General Hospital and its human resources department, which has a priority focus on the handling of serious misconduct such as institutional child sexual abuse.
The Review will make recommendations on matters including the Hospital’s organisational structure, management and leadership, and mandatory training including mandatory notifications and how to recognise grooming behaviour, with pilot training sessions already underway.
The Review continues to progress, with the appointment of additional highly credentialed experts, and staff and union representatives to an advisory panel to inform the Review.
This means the Panel is now complete and the co-chairs have commenced informal meetings, with the first official meeting to be held on the 23 August to formally commence the Review.
While the Commission of Inquiry is still in progress, the Review has been introduced to drive immediate change.
Experts in child trauma, governance and hospital administration have been appointed to the Governance Advisory Panel, which will inform the Review. I thank Professor Erwin Loh, Adjunct Professor Ann Maree Keenan, Robyn Burley and Adjunct Professor Maria Harries AM for taking on these very important roles.
Professor Loh is national Chief Medical Officer and Group General Manager Clinical Governance for St Vincent’s Health Australia, the country’s largest not-for-profit health and aged care provider. Prior to that, he was the Chief Medical Officer of Monash Health – Victoria’s largest health service – and is qualified in both medicine and law with general and specialist registration as a medical practitioner.
Adjunct Professor Keenan is a highly respected health leader who has led significant healthcare reforms, workforce development changes, quality and safety review and statewide improvement initiatives. She held the position of Chief Nurse and Midwifery Officer and Deputy CEO at Safer Care Victoria for six years until July 2022.
Robyn Burley has had an extensive professional career in health workforce policy, strategy and education, including leading significant changes and improvements for the workforce in NSW Health for more than 15 years. She has experience in delivering strategies to address workforce shortages and cultural change initiatives.
Adjunct Professor Harries is a nationally and internationally recognised social work practitioner, researcher and scholar who has worked in the areas of child and family wellbeing, child protection, family violence and mental health in a career spanning 50 years.
The experts will be joined by Tasmania’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Tony Lawler, who has also been appointed to the Panel.
It is critical that staff have meaningful input into this Review, and I can announce the appointment of eight current staff with wide-ranging and significant experience. Catherine Graham (Clinical Nurse Consultant), Dr Lucy Reed (Director of Emergency Medicine), Ashleigh Miller (Assistant Director of Nursing N/NW), Paul Eager (Chaplain, THS-LGH), Dr Emma-Jane McCrum (Senior Psychologist), Amanda Duncan (Registered Nurse), Sam Beattie (Nurse Unit Manager) and William Gordon (Registered Nurse) have been appointed to the Panel.
I thank them for coming forward to nominate to serve in these very important roles on the Panel.
Union representatives on the Panel have also been finalised with Dr Helen McArdle (Australian Medical Association), Emily Shepherd (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation), Tim Jacobson (Health and Community Services Union) and Thirza White (Community and Public Sector Union) appointed, and I also thank them for their time and their input into the Review.
This follows the recent appointment of Professor Debora Picone AO and Adjunct Professor Karen Crawshaw PSM as independent Co-Chairs of the Panel. Both bring a wealth of important experience to their role as Co-Chairs.
It is very important that the experiences of victim-survivors are a key part of this Review, to ensure their voice is heard and to ensure they are given the opportunity to provide their valuable input.
That’s why we have created an Expert Reference Group, which victim-survivors will be invited to participate in and provide advice to the Review.
The Child Safe Governance Review will report its recommendations to the Secretary by November 2022, with a commitment they will be implemented across the entire Department of Health.
Additionally, I am pleased to share that staff are now able to report matters relating to child sexual abuse to a centralised Complaints Management Unit that has been established within the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Health.
This unit will ensure concerns do not need to be raised with immediate supervisors or local management in order to be progressed.
Furthermore, the Department is finalising a child safety and wellbeing framework, which sets out the definition of child safeguarding and children’s rights and establishes the governance for ongoing management of the National Principles.
The Framework has been through a consultation process, and the Department expects to finalise it in early September.
The updates I have outlined today provide a snapshot of a small number of the actions we have committed to implementing ahead of the Commission of Inquiry recommendations.
This is important work and while the need for change is urgent, it’s essential these matters are given due time for careful planning and consultation so that we get this right.
Some of the actions we have committed to involve significant reform; however, we are staunchly committed to this work and we are progressing implementation as a priority.
It is my vision to see real structural change that heralds a new era for Tasmania.
Where the community has complete confidence in our commitment and ability to keep children safe when in the care of our institutions.
I look forward to providing further updates on our progress towards these actions in due course.
In closing, I want to once again thank victims and survivors for having the courage to share their experiences, along with State Servants who have come forward in an effort to make things better for children and young people in Tasmania.
I want to again reiterate today that all State Servants have my full support to come forward and shine a light on these matters.
There is no more important task than helping us to ensure that our system protects our most vulnerable