Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 07, 2022


Child Protection

The Hon. L.A. CURRAN (15:42): I rise today to call upon the government to appoint a dedicated child protection minister to better protect vulnerable children in our state. I take an interest in the space of child protection as the shadow parliamentary secretary to the shadow attorney-general, responsible for child protection and the prevention of family and domestic violence.

The Malinauskas government is currently in the middle of a child protection crisis. Recent media reports detail harrowing accounts of abuse and neglect of our state's most vulnerable citizens, citizens the government has an obligation to keep safe. Recently, the Adelaide Advertiser has launched a Save Our Kids campaign, which calls upon the Malinauskas government to take immediate action.

The opposition has called on Premier Malinauskas to dedicate a standalone child protection minister to protect vulnerable South Australian children with the sole priority of overseeing the Department for Child Protection. The opposition calls upon Premier Malinauskas to urgently reshuffle the portfolios of his 15 ministers, following tragic and distressing incidents involving children who, reports say, were known to the department.

The former Marshall Liberal government had one less person in its cabinet but still had a minister dedicated to working exclusively with the Department for Child Protection. As current Minister for Child Protection, the Hon. Katrine Hildyard, grapples with two additional portfolios, which means the focus is taken away from child protection and away from our state's most vulnerable, after a spate of horrifying incidents in recent months involving vulnerable children, South Australia finds itself confronted with a child protection system that is losing the battle to keep our children safe.

A dedicated child protection minister is needed right now without delay. The current system is not working and urgent action is necessary to protect our children while current reviews are underway. These reviews will likely take months and any recommendations could be years away from being fully implemented. How many reviews must be conducted before we see action and change?

Former police commissioner Mal Hyde is now leading a review of multiple government agencies. In 2014, Mr Hyde conducted a major review into carers working with vulnerable children, but that report was never made public because the former Labor government chose to keep it secret by making it a cabinet document.

The 2014 Hyde review no doubt makes for uncomfortable reading, but not releasing this report fails to assist in any way the protection of vulnerable South Australian children. Learning from the problems of the past will allow us to achieve better policy development in child protection in the future and will ensure that no child is let down or left behind by a system that is at breaking point.

If the current Hyde review is made public, as it should be, it makes little sense why the 2014 report was made a cabinet document and not released. We need the original contents of the Hyde report to be released as a reference point so we can be sure its recommendations have resulted in meaningful changes for vulnerable children. To not do so further shrouds this critical issue in unwarranted secrecy.

We call upon Premier Malinauskas to appoint a dedicated Minister for Child Protection to investigate all notifications made to the department. We no longer want to see files closed without probing reports of potential harm to children. We cannot have a situation where around one-third of reports deemed by the department to require investigation are closed, often due to a lack of resources.

The state Coroner has previously recommended tougher reporting requirements around truancy and holding parents to account for persistently not sending their children to school. We need to better recognise cases where reunification with parents is unrealistic, making long-term guardianship of a child easier to obtain. The 2016 Child Protection Systems Royal Commission made several recommendations. It is time for a dedicated child protection minister to urgently consider them and to enact some positive change.