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Ministerial statement – Commission of Inquiry | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey


10 August 2023

Jeremy Rockliff,

Premier

In March 2021, our Government established the Commission of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Government’s Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings.

We took this action so that we learn from the past, ensure that our mistakes and failings are never repeated, and to better protect Tasmania’s children and young people into the future.

Today, as the Commission of Inquiry nears its conclusion, I rise to update the House on the processes that will take place once the Commission concludes its inquiry and hands down its Final Report.

I also want to outline how our Government will continue vital work to safeguard Tasmania’s children once the findings of the Commission are known.

On 8 November last year, our Government, together with the Parliament, apologised unreservedly to victim-survivors of child sexual abuse in Tasmanian Government institutions.

At that time, I stated that this Parliament will be defined by the actions we take to ensure that the injustices committed by Tasmanian Government institutions can never ever happen again.

Today I reiterate those statements, along with our Government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Commission’s Final Report once they are available.

I would like to outline the process relating to the Commission of Inquiry’s Final Report and the role of the Governor, the Parliament and the Government once it has been delivered.

The Commission is to deliver its report to Her Excellency on 31 August 2023. In accordance with Section 10 (2) of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, a copy of the report is then to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 10 sitting days after the day on which it is received by the Governor. That would mean the report would be tabled no later than 28 September 2023.

I appreciate that there are victim-survivors and their supporters who are waiting on these recommendations, and therefore I will table the Final Report in the House of Assembly on the next available sitting day once the Governor’s review is complete.

Acting on the advice of the Executive Council, the Governor may decide to omit part of the Report if the public interest in its disclosure is outweighed by another consideration including public security, privacy of personal or financial affairs or the right of any person to a fair trial.  Any omission will be clearly marked in the Report. This process is similar to processes for redacting sensitive information from reports of royal commissions and commissions of inquiry in other Australian jurisdictions.

The Report will also be publicly available and will be published on the Commission of Inquiry’s website.

The Government will provide an initial response to the recommendations. A more detailed Government response will however be released before the end of the year, including details on how we will implement, monitor and report to the public on the Commission’s recommendations.

Our Government is committed to being open, transparent, and accountable in the delivery of the response to the Commission of Inquiry.

The Government’s Response will include ensuring that we work with victim-survivors, and that there are appropriate independent and multipartisan arrangements for tracking and monitoring our commitments.

I want to acknowledge that the release of the Commission’s Final Report will evoke strong emotions, questions and concerns for many others in our community.

We are acutely aware of the need for a coordinated, trauma-informed and meaningful offer of support to individuals impacted by child sexual abuse in our institutions.

It is vital that victim-survivors, State Service employees and members of the Tasmanian community are supported, safe and able to report concerns following the release of the Final Report.

Over the course of the Commission of Inquiry, the Tasmanian Government has provided additional resources to local support services to support those affected.

We will ensure those services continue once the Commission concludes.

A dedicated team has been established to work across government agencies to ensure that appropriate supports are in place for impacted individuals and institutions, in the first instance when the Final Report is released.

For anyone requiring support now, a list of support services is available via the Commission of Inquiry’s website.

As we await the final recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, we remain steadfast in our commitment to keep our Tasmanian children and young people safe.

We are continuing to take strong action now to make our systems and services safer for our most vulnerable.

On 24 May last year, I made a Ministerial Statement outlining response actions our Government is taking now to keep children and young people safer.

Over the course of 2022, I announced a total of 30 interim actions.

I am pleased to say that 14 of these actions are now complete, and work is well underway on the remaining actions.

In terms of completed actions, we have strengthened the accountability of Heads of Agency through revised Performance Agreements as part of our commitment to make widespread cultural change across the Tasmanian State Service.

We are rolling out trauma-informed practice training across the State Service, starting with those in leadership positions, including Heads of Agency.

We have made significant amendments to legislation to improve the prosecution of sexual offences, to hold people to account for failing to protect children and to provide better access to justice for those affected by sexual violence.

Our Government has also taken significant steps to establish the Child and Youth Safe Organisations Framework to improve the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in institutional settings.

On 22 February this year, I announced the critical steps being taken to strengthen child safety in our hospitals and health settings.

Our Government continues to implement the recommendations from the Child Safe Governance Review of the Launceston General Hospital.

The Department of Health has completed over 30 of the 92 recommendations, with strong progress being made on the remaining recommendations, including

  • the delivery of mandatory child safety training to more than 15,500 people,
  • the recruitment of Child Safeguarding Officers for each region of the State and
  • the implementation of a new State-wide Complaints Management Framework to ensure a consistent approach to complaints management.

Through the Commission of Inquiry, victim-survivors have highlighted the complexities around seeking their own information from Government institutions, in particular, a lack of consistency in process and decision-making.

Our Government is undertaking reform to improve our Right to Information capability and practice.

Public consultation is now open, and feedback being sought via the DPAC website on applicants’ experiences with applying for government information.

We are also investigating any barriers to timely and appropriate information sharing for the purposes of protecting children in Tasmania.

Our schools play a vital part in keeping our children safe and well. They are a cornerstone in our commitment to safeguard the rights of children and young people to have an education, to have a voice and be heard, and to be kept safe from harm.

We have increased professional support staff in our government schools to increase support for children and young people affected by harmful sexual behaviours or child sexual abuse.

Compulsory mandatory reporting training has been rolled out to all staff, and training in understanding, preventing and responding to child sexual abuse will commence for all departmental staff in the second half of 2023.

From the beginning of the 2023 school year, there is a Safeguarding Lead in every State Government school.

Safeguarding Leads act as champions and contacts in relation to all school safeguarding matters, to foster a child-centred culture where safeguarding our children is everyone’s responsibility.

Our Government is committed to being open, transparent and accountable in the delivery of the interim response to the Commission of Inquiry.

Progress against these interim response actions is publicly reported on the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s website.

Our Government is also acutely aware of the need to ensure there is adequate resourcing to support the reforms that will be required.

Responding to the Commission’s Final Report will require widespread and fundamental changes across Government agencies and systems.

We have not waited to ensure agencies have the funding they need to ensure current systems and processes are safe.

The 2023-24 Budget provided an initial $30 million to fund priority action areas to keep children safer, with further funding allocations to be made once the Commission’s final recommendations are known.

A first round of funding has allocated $20 million to areas of greatest need across the State Service.

$1.5 million will be allocated for immediate supports to victim-survivors and others affected by the release of the Final Report, as part of the transition from the supports that were previously provided through the Commission of Inquiry.

$11.2 million is being provided to the Department for Education, Children and Young People.

The funds will be used to employ additional Child Safety Officers and increased funding to the Child Advocate Service to enhance protections for children and young people under guardianship or in custody.

We will increase funding to the Intensive Restoration Service to support children in out of home care to be safely returned to their families.

Youth Justice Reform will also receive increased funding, which will see improved clinical services, diversion and support programs and initiatives under the Keeping Kids Safe Plan.

We will continue to build a shared capability for responding to serious breaches of the Tasmanian State Service Code of Conduct, by establishing a dedicated team in our State Service Management Office to manage serious Code of Conduct allegations likely to lead to termination.

We will appoint an Independent Regulator with oversight of the Child and Youth Safe Organisations Framework to create an environment of accountability.

Additional child safeguarding training and resources will be created, and additional multidisciplinary resourcing in the North-West will ensure enhanced child-safe facilities are available in our regional areas.

The Department of Health will also receive approximately $2.6 million in funding to strengthen child safeguarding across our health institutions.

We will increase resourcing of child safety governance and models of care in our health settings, to oversee, monitor and investigate child safeguarding concerns; and support shared understanding of child safety and ensure children’s voices are heard.

Key learnings and agreed principles will be developed and shared across the Tasmanian State Service for our agencies to tailor and operationalise appropriately.

A second funding round will be conducted once the Commission’s final recommendations are known. If further funding is needed this financial year, beyond the allocation in the 2023-24 State Budget, we will look to introduce a Supplementary Appropriation Bill no later than the end of October.

Ongoing funding requirements will then be considered through future Budget processes.

I want to conclude by acknowledging all those whose lives have been significantly affected by sexual abuse in Tasmanian institutions.

Through the Commission, we have heard harrowing stories, but also stories of strength and resilience in the face of immeasurable suffering and adversity.

I want all Tasmanians to know this Government is listening and acting.

We will leave no stone unturned to ensure our children and young people are safe and protected now and into the future.

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