Child Protection (Working With Children) and Other Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

I speak to the Child Protection (Working With Children) and Other Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill 2016. I thank the shadow Minister for her contribution to this particular debate. The bill contains a package of amendments to legislation relating to child protection, employment and education proposed by the Office of the Children's Guardian, which was established by the Carr Government in 1998 with the passage of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act.

The most recent changes to child protection legislation were made in June last year after a concerted campaign by the New South Wales Opposition to highlight examples of clearances which had been granted on appeal to individuals who had committed serious crimes against children. Those changes ensure that people convicted and imprisoned for murder, indecent or sexual assault of a child, child pornography or incest with a child victim will never be able to appeal to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal [NCAT] to overturn a ban on them working with children. Other changes included the introduction of a reasonable person test to be applied by the Children's Guardian and NCAT and the establishment of an expert advisory panel to provide general advice to the Children's Guardian in relation to risk assessments. As yet the Children's Guardian Expert Advisory Panel is not functioning, with 10 applications received and only three approved. It is appalling that the panel has not been established to date.

The intent of this bill is to stop children in institutional settings from being subjected to abuse by people who are employed to provide their care and protection. Successive governments have failed to adequately protect children from all the threats they may face in institutional settings. In my role as shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault I have noticed a general siloing of child protection. It can appear that sexual assault in a school is different from sexual assault in a church setting, or sexual assault of young people at university is different from sexual assault at a youth camp. A royal commission major investigation is underway into appalling cases of abuse over many years in churches and other institutions. At their heart, these matters all concern the same issue: the non-consensual attempt to sexually or indecently assault a child. Of course, a child can never consent to any type of sexual activity.

In our approach we need to go further than what is contained in this bill and provide a whole‑of‑government response to sexual assault. That is why I am concerned that we do not have a sexual assault strategy, which the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault promised last year. We also need to build resilience in children and make them aware of the threats that may exist. I remember being taught about stranger danger as a child. I know that children are often told not to accept lifts from strangers or place themselves in any situation in which they may be at risk. I note the contribution of the member for Riverstone regarding the real and present risk children face from domestic abuse and sexual assault in their homes. However, this bill has not taken all the steps required to protect children in educational institutions and other workplaces.

The amendment the shadow Minister proposed is important to ensure that a charged person who is placed on alternative non child related work cannot be on a school site. It otherwise makes a mockery of the Working With Children Check, which at its heart is designed to protect children from people whom they may know. Children may have met those people because they are employed in institutions at which the children are present, and that places them in danger. Although a person may not be directly employed to look after a child or interact with them, there is a risk to a child if that person is located at the same site.

The point I particularly wanted to make in this debate is about the siloing of our responses to sexual assault. Sexual assault is a heinous crime that affects individual children's self-esteem and their development as they get older. It has terrible consequences for children. We need to ensure that we respond holistically. When we put forward legislation we must think of all the implications. To ensure that we protect children we must not only discuss the issues for the perpetrators but also help to build resilience and understanding in children.

That is why programs such as Respectful Relationships—an evidence‑based program in Victoria, which has been rolled out to children at an early age—are such important tools for us. As parents and as citizens, we cannot ensure that our children are safe in every place so we need to ensure that they have the skills to recognise grooming behaviour, whether it comes from a stranger who pulls up beside them on a highway or someone working at an institution who happens to bump into them. Part of the solution is in restricting the access that convicted persons have to children, but, most importantly, another part is in protecting the children by empowering them to understand those behaviours and to reject them so that they can help themselves in dangerous situations. The next stage is for children to have the appropriate mechanism to make complaints if those kinds of behaviours are perpetrated against them. I commend the bill to the House with the amendment.

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