Child Abuse Reports | MOTION


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (12:13): I rise to support the member for Adelaide in her motion:

That this house condemns the Labor government’s record on child protection and in particular notes—

(a) the average waiting times on the Child Abuse Report Line having extended greater than one hour in 2016 compared to 10 minutes in 2012 and 20 minutes in 2015;

(b) that over 200 children and young people currently live in emergency care as compared to zero in 2002;

(c) that almost half of calls to the Child Abuse Report Line go unanswered and, of those answered, the majority are closed, with no action due to a lack of resourcing; and

(d) the number of children under the guardianship of the minister has reached a record high of 3,280, showing that more than needs to be done in the areas of prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation.

Let me say very clearly that the member for Adelaide’s motion right at the start says that she condemns the government’s record. There is nothing personal in the member for Adelaide’s motion. She condemns the government’s record. Sixteen years in government and I do not think there is a person in South Australia who thinks that the government is doing a good enough job in this area. We have had multiple inquiries over time looking into this issue, and the recommendations of previous inquiries have not been implemented.

There is probably no-one in the state who is not aware of the Debelle inquiry a little while ago, and the damning findings it brought out, but let me say again that the member for Adelaide has not, in her motion, tried to say anything about any individual government member or minister. I think it is entirely inappropriate for any government member to be making personal attacks on her. It really does show that the government wants to play the man and not the ball on this issue, and it is the issue that is important.

I know in my heart that every single member of this parliament, the other house included—Liberal, Labor, other parties and Independents—knows in their heart what an incredibly important issue this is. Protecting the most vulnerable people in our community must absolutely be one of the highest priorities of any government, whatever political persuasion they are. However, I say again, as per the member for Adelaide’s motion, that the government’s record makes it very clear that not nearly enough is being done.

This is an emotive topic as well, so it is not surprising that members of the government would have some low blows. It is inappropriate, but not surprising, that they have found this such an emotive issue that they have not been able to stick to the facts the way the member for Adelaide is trying to stick to the facts. If we are good enough to be elected, I know that the member for Adelaide will be an absolutely outstanding minister for child protection. She will be a champion for children in this state. They will receive care, protection, policy, support from her, support from cabinet and support from the Liberal government, which they have never had before and which would clearly improve upon the current government’s record in this area, which is just a matter of fact.

I know that Steven Marshall, Leader of the Opposition, is incredibly highly focused on this area. That is one of the reasons he created a shadow portfolio and will create a government portfolio specifically for this issue, so that a minister for child protection in a Marshall government will not be distracted by a range of other responsibilities. That person will be the member for Adelaide if we win the election and she would do an absolutely outstanding job, and she will be supported by all of us on this side.

Every member in this house knows that it was actually the Leader of the Opposition who called for a commissioner for child protection to be established. The government said it was not necessary, and it would not do it. Well, lo and behold, after they thought about it a little bit longer, a bit harder and a little bit more deeply they realised it actually was a good idea and they have taken up that suggestion.

There are many other very positive suggestions that a Liberal government will bring into place, not least of which is having a dedicated minister to deal with one of the most important issues in our community: looking after these children who, through zero fault of their own, find themselves in bad circumstances, all the way through to diabolical circumstances, which is completely unacceptable.

In my electorate of Stuart, as you might know, Deputy Speaker, we have over 30 towns and communities, and many people living in outlying areas outside those towns and communities as well. This is not just a metropolitan issue, this is a country and an outback issue as well. There are children all over our state who need more from the government and who deserve better from the government.

This complete deterioration in the amount of time even just to get a phone call answered on the CARL is completely unacceptable. I cannot imagine there would be a member in this place, even the most ardent Labor-supporting government member, who could honestly say that it was acceptable that someone should wait on hold for an hour before their call was answered. It is preposterous to think that any member of this house would think that was acceptable.

When I wrote to ministers with concerns about particular households, institutions or children, I used to receive letters back telling me to deal with it myself. I remember one time being advised that what I should do is call the CARL. I was told not to waste time writing to ministers seeking help for a particular household or a particular situation, but I should call the CARL and report it that way. I have to say that I get very good support in my electorate office from the education minister, the member for Port Adelaide, when I talk to her about these issues.

I respect the fact that many of these issues are confidential and I do not seek all the details that are going on. However, when I get a call or an email to my office with an allegation about some harm being done to a child or a child being in a completely inappropriate situation, and if I deem that advice to be worth following up—because there is an aspect of judgement in all our work—when I go to the education minister’s office I do not get that response anymore: ‘Call the CARL and chase it up yourself.’ I do get good support from the minister’s office in that regard.

The statistics across the state make it very clear that the results are still not good enough. It is completely unacceptable to have 200 children and young people currently living in emergency care, compared with none in 2002 when this government came into office, and to have 3,280 children under the guardianship of the minister. These are completely unacceptable outcomes.

The member for Fisher said in her contribution that she finds fault—I will not get this exactly right—overwhelmingly in the parents, the guardians and the people responsible for these children who end up in these bad situations, and I agree with her wholeheartedly. It is not the kids’ fault. It is overwhelmingly the fault of the adults who are responsible for those children. However, the reality is that the government needs to deal with that. The government must deal with it and the government is not dealing with it. The results that we have at the moment are completely unacceptable.

As the member for Unley said, for the government to say how much money they are spending in this area does not solve the problem. That is not an acceptable answer. It is the results that count and it is the record that counts. The member for Adelaide has been deliberately focused on the government’s record and she is deliberately focused on improving the welfare of the children.

Just to say how much money is being spent in this area is not good enough because it is not achieving the results. It does not matter whether no money is spent in this area or billions of dollars are spent in this area, all that counts are the outcomes for these children. That is the highest priority, that is the only thing that really matters and it is very clear that after 16 years of Labor government the results are not nearly good enough.

Sixteen years ago we had no children living in emergency care. That is the goal that we need to get back to. That is the target that we need to aspire to and that is the outcome the current government certainly has not achieved.