Tuesday 02 June, 2015

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (16:12): I reiterate the points made by the members for Bragg and Adelaide. It is a shame for the good children and families of South Australia that, unfortunately, this government has only taken the issue of child protection seriously when it hurt the government politically and not before that point. The state government can have a different minister in this area, the state government can have a different name for the area, but deep down, below all of that, there are fundamental problems and this government has failed the people of South Australia with regard to this area for far too long.

As we have heard, the bill was introduced in this place by the Attorney on 6 May and in February the Premier appointed a different minister as Minister for Child Protection Reform. The bill implements recommendations from the state Coroner in his recent report of 9 April 2015. We all know that he investigated the shocking case of the death of Chloe Valentine, who died whilst in the care of her mother on 20 January 2012. As the member for Bragg alluded to, these injuries were shocking. Young Chloe died from head injuries accumulated over a period of time of abusive acts and, quite frankly, gross neglect. The Coroner was especially damning of the failure of Families SA to protect the child.

We have also been told today that Ashlee Polkinghorne was sentenced to eight years, with a nonparole period of four years and nine months, for manslaughter by criminal neglect. There were 21 recommendations in the Coroner's report. I understand the government has resolved to support 19 of these recommendations, with in principle support for recommendation 22.13, to consider adoption as an alternate placement option, and also recommendation 22.9, which would be the subject of further investigation.

The government reported to parliament on 5 May, identifying its position on the recommendations, and it established a working group which comprised the chief executive of DECD and representatives of AGD, DPC and the Crown Solicitor's Office. The government was clearly desperate, in my opinion, to present this front to the public that, all of a sudden, they took this matter seriously and, all of a sudden, they want to be seen to be acting with responsibility and with urgency. Quite frankly, though, the government has failed the people of South Australia for far too long in this regard and it is absolutely shameful that it only takes these concerns seriously when it thinks it hurts them politically.

The bill proposes a number of amendments pursuant to recommendation 22.12, that the objects of the act be made plain and that paramount consideration in the administration of the act was to keep children safe from harm, and the bill amends the act accordingly but it also removes the fundamental principles as set out in section 5, which I will speak to in just a second.

Further, pursuant to recommendation 22.11, the act is amended to cumulative harm as a relevant factor in making decisions about the care of a child—that is, not one abusive act of gross neglect, but where children or a child's circumstance suggests a history that the child's care is wanting. I note that this issue has been referred to in a number of other reports, including the Child Death and Serious Injury Review Committee Annual Report 2012-13, when it considered the gross neglect and abuse in cases such as the 'house of horrors'—which the member for Bragg has also mentioned.

Pursuant to recommendation 22.2, the act is amended to include a provision that a child born to a person who has a conviction in respect of a child previously born to them for manslaughter by criminal neglect, manslaughter or murder will, by force of the act, be placed from birth under the custody of the minister, and the minister will have power to impose conditions on a convicted parent's dealings with the child.

Notably, this proposal is unique in Australia and I would say that the government's capacity or capability to instigate it, to implement it, particularly identifying the children to whom it will or will not apply, remains to be seen and remains unsolved. I thank the government for enabling us to be briefed on this issue and I also note that it has put out the bill for consultation.

I want to particularly speak of the Law Society of South Australia's comments in regard to the bill which I found most helpful. The Law Society of South Australia has raised its objection to the repeal of section 4 of the Children's Protection Act. They claim it to be actually removing the principles set out in one of the conventions that Australia has signed up to: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child. I note that Australia is a signatory to that convention.

Section 4 reflects those principles, including the best interests of the child and, not only that, but that those interests should be a primary consideration. Further, it says that the state must afford children who are capable of forming their own views the right to express those and be given the opportunity to be heard in judicial or administrative matters affecting them. They also consider that the bill should be presented for public consultation.

With regard to section 4, they have pointed out that it sets out the fundamental principles underlying the act. These are in addition to the objects of the act which are set out in section 3. The society does not agree that it is necessary to remove the fundamental principles in section 4 to achieve the aims of the bill. I note that only today we were, in the current Attorney-General's typical fashion, slipped his latest amendments to a bill. He has had years and years to consider these things, yet we are given these amendments at the eleventh hour, right before debate today.

It is simply not good enough. I really wish that the government had put out this bill to the public for consideration. This is an issue that is quite serious. There is not much that is more serious than child protection issues. The government should put this out for public debate. They should consider the submissions of the learned groups who have commented on it. I believe that the bill should be amended to retain section 4 of the Children's Protection Act. I commend it to the house.