Speech Child Protection (Mandatory Reporting-Mason’s Law) Amendment Bill 2016 | 14 Sept 2016

Posted On: 15 Sep 2016

I rise to speak in support of the Child Protection (Mandatory Reporting—Mason’s Law) Amendment Bill 2016 and do so with a very, very heavy heart. While some work has been done to reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect by many dedicated and caring people, there is still a long, long way to go when it comes to the protection of society’s most vulnerable—our children.

Tonight we are embracing the passage of a piece of history in Mason’s law. On 7 March this year the then shadow minister for communities, child safety and disability services, the honourable member for Aspley, introduced this bill. The bill was duly referred to the Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee for consideration, with the requirement to report to the House by 8 June this year. The policy objectives of this bill are to implement recommendations made by the Queensland Law Reform Commission in its report titled Review of child protection mandatory reporting laws for the early childhood education and care sector tabled on 25 February 2016 recommending that mandatory reporting provisions in the Child Protection Act 1999 be expanded to apply to this sector.

In November 2014 the former attorney-general, the honourable member for Kawana, asked the Queensland Law Reform Commission to undertake a review into whether the ECEC sector should become mandatory reporters. The commission found an overwhelming majority of respondents and submissions supported extending the mandatory reporting obligation under the Child Protection Act 1999 to apply to the ECEC sector as the commission recognised the protective role of this sector in relation to children aged zero to five years of age.

Extensive consultation was undertaken during the commission’s review and the release of a discussion paper called for submissions along with consultation meetings with a number of key stakeholders, including government departments and representative bodies of the ECEC sector. A total of 29 written submissions were received by the commission. However, it was the tragic loss of a little boy’s life that triggered this private member’s bill. Grandparents Sue and John Sandeman, who, as we all know, have been with us tonight in the gallery—in fact, they have been here in the parliament all day—met with the honourable member for Aspley to discuss mandatory reporting laws after their 16-month-old grandson toddler, Mason Parker, was murdered by his mother’s partner in 2011 in Townsville.

Mason’s grandparents have been unswerving in their determination to prevent this type of tragedy by introducing mandatory reporting by child-care staff. The Sandemans have led two petitions that have been lodged with the Queensland parliament, requesting that Queensland child-care services and centres become mandatory reporters. I commend the courage and devotion of little Mason’s grandparents to advocate so fervently for change. I commend the former minister and shadow minister, the honourable member for Aspley, and the honourable member for Hinchinbrook, for acting upon their significant concerns. It is so easy to listen but not act. In this case, the actions are going to speak louder than any words that we hear in this House tonight.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the parliamentary committee agreed that the bill should be passed and the recommendations in the committee’s report reflect that. The committee agreed that the bill should be amended to commence on 1 July 2017 rather than 1 January of that year to enable the necessary changes to be made. This decision was made after a number of inquiry participants identified the importance of staff training and the updating of policies as part of the expanded mandatory reporting obligations as well as community awareness.

The 2008 New South Wales report mentioned in the QLRC review said that, overall, any criticisms of mandatory reporting laws related mainly to implementation issues, such as resourcing and training, rather than the requirement itself. I note that the committee was unable to agree on who in the ECEC sector should be mandated to report child protection concerns. The non-government members acknowledged the QLRC recommendation on this topic and expressed support for the bill in its current form. The government members of the committee acknowledged the Queensland government response to the report, noting that, given the diversity of service types in the ECEC sector, it is critical that individual professionals are appropriately captured under new legislative provisions.

All Australian states and territories have legislated mandatory reporting laws. Although most jurisdictions require nominated professionals to report child protection concerns, Queensland and Western Australia are the only two states that do not extend mandatory reporting to the ECEC sector. Currently, in Queensland, the Child Protection Act 1999 identifies mandatory reporters to be a doctor or a registered nurse, a teacher, a police officer who works in child protection, and a person engaged to perform a child advocate function under the Public Guardian Act. This bill will amend the Child Protection Act 1999 to include three additional categories of mandated reporters.

At the public briefing, the member for Aspley told the committee the following—The bill is quite straightforward. It is simply inserting a new cohort which is reflective of the ECEC sector. There are no other changes to the act; there no penalties. It aligns very neatly with the reporting obligations of every other mandatory reporter that appears in the Child Protection Act.

The member for Aspley stated further—there is already an assumption in the community that they—ECEC staff—are mandatory reporters and this will really reflect what the community believes anyway.

How important it was to pick up that gap and be able to fill it by introducing this legislation. As I said at the beginning of my contribution, it is with a heavy heart that I make this contribution. When I was elected as the member for Currumbin in 2004, the reason then premier Beattie gave for going to the polls early was child protection issues. As the Liberal shadow spokesperson at the time and a former paediatric nurse, I said that my heart wept for the atrocities and abuse inflicted upon children that was revealed in the Crime and Misconduct Commission report of January 2004 under the guidance of chairperson Brendan Butler CS titled Protecting children: an inquiry into abuse of children in foster care.

In the CMC annual report for 2003-04, Mr Butler noted that he had held public hearings over two weeks and received more than 228 written submissions. Further in the report he stated— What I was told during the public inquiry was alarming and led to the sad realisation that the state’s child protection system had for years failed Queensland children in many important respects.

Honourable members, here we are in 2016 and, regrettably, those same words could be echoed. My heart still weeps every single time another young and innocent life is lost. South Australia’s royal commission into its child protection system revealed some shocking statistics and cast a pall over the performance of Families South Australia.

Notifications from the ECEC sector alone will not save every child. More recently, the death in Caboolture of a 21-month-old toddler who had extensive and horrific injuries sustained over a prolonged period highlighted the gaps in the system that should never have been there. When the minister says that child safety is everyone’s business, it certainly is but, unfortunately, those words spill from our lips very easily. Let not every single one of us forget that we have both a moral and a social obligation to protect those who cannot do so themselves, our children. I am genuinely heartened by the provisions in this bill, which I have no doubt will save precious young lives. I add my deep respect for the Sandemans for enabling us to be here debating and passing this bill tonight.

 

Welcome from Jann

As the State Member for Currumbin since 2004 we have achieved much together to make the place we call home an even better and safer community.

It truly is an honour to serve the caring and connected residents of Currumbin.

Your thoughts and concerns matter to me and I look forward to continuing to be a strong voice on your behalf.

My electorate office staff and I are here to help you with state government issues.

Kind regards

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