Child Wellbeing and Safety Amendment (Oversight and Enforcement of Child Safe Standards) Bill 2016

12 October 2016

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children’, said Nelson Mandela. How true is that? Our children are our responsibility. As the member for Essendon so often reminds us in his very erudite and thoughtful way, it is our responsibility not just as politicians and decision-makers but also as legislators to make sure that children, especially vulnerable children, in our state of Victoria and elsewhere are always protected by the laws that we make.

The impact that we have on lawmaking in this Parliament is profound. Our capacity to protect vulnerable children has taken some time to evolve. With the Child Wellbeing and Safety Amendment (Oversight and Enforcement of Child Safe Standards) Bill 2016 we have another opportunity to put in place some strict monitoring and compliance regulations that will, I hope, make it so much more difficult for our young children to be violently used and abused.

I think that this is a responsibility that the Parliament is taking on. I concur with the member for Thomastown, who said that it is a shame that there are not more opposition people in the chamber to partake in this debate, because it is the responsibility of all of us. It is certainly something that the Andrews Labor government treats very, very importantly as one of its chief responsibilities, because we have all heard about the Betrayal of Trust report. To give credit where it is due, that did happen under the former government. We all got to read the report. I would like to commend the members of Parliament who took part in those lengthy deliberations and hearings, where they sat through some of the hardest experiences of their lives, I suspect, to hear about how some of our institutions, whether it be a Catholic church, a Jewish school or the Salvation Army — whatever form of institution that it was, whatever denomination it was or whatever background or whatever reason they have for their existence — were disgustingly involved in abusing children.

What this bill does is actually put in place opportunities for monitoring and compliance, but it also — and this is very, very important — stops the capacity, or tries to stop or cuts down the capacity, of people to cover up in the future. I think what was most disconcerting about the hearings that led to the Betrayal of Trust report was the failure of people to take responsibility for what they saw; that when children were being abused the institutional power of an organisation and the desire to protect that institution took precedence over the lives, the wellbeing, the health and the future of young children. I think that was the really despicable thing that came out of those hearings.

I do want to put on the record again my incredible thanks to those victims, those survivors — that is a much better word — who actually got up and told their story and revealed to us all what was actually happening in some of these institutions. For many of us it was shocking; we could not believe it. But it was true, and it took them incredible courage to come out and speak about these heinous crimes. This is continuing. The member for Wendouree has been talking again about what is happening now in front of the commission that is happening under the federal government. We are seeing, as I saw the other night in a 7.30 report, people for the first time putting their hands up — finally having the courage, finally having the trust in government to put their hands up and say, ‘I want to tell you about my experiences, how my life has been ruined in many respects by the activities of institutional abuse’.

But I do want to return to parts of the bill that talk about the child safe standards. I do this because I was recently at a kindergarten conference where they were talking about how important it is to have these child safe standards in their kindergarten. I was very pleased to see that the governing body had undertaken to train staff, to train leaders in the kindergarten industry, about just how these new standards are going to have an impact. Because when we think about it, it is a really beautiful experience for a child to have a good year or a good couple of years at kindergarten, so it is very important that these child safe standards will really embed a culture of child safety in the organisations and help prevent child abuse and also give people who work in kindergartens better skills to respond to allegations of abuse in their organisations. It is very hard sometimes to be the whistleblower or to really work out what could be going on and who you go to.

The standards cover effective leadership and governance arrangements and require a child safe policy — and I know they have been working on those in kinders — and a code of conduct that covers child safety; effective human resources practices such as recruitment, screening, training and supervision; a risk management approach; reporting procedures; and strategies to promote the participation and empowerment of children. It must be pretty hard for a young kid to put their hand up and say that they have something to report to somebody, but we need to make sure that kids from a very early age know about respectful relationships.

To that end, the government is committed to introducing a respectful relationships education program throughout the education sector. I truly hope that the non-government schools get into the space as well — because it is not isolated to people who go to government institutions; it happens to non-government schools and institutions as well — and that we really do make sure that every child is safe, from kindergarten to wherever they may be.

I would like to finish my contribution by saying that yesterday was the International Day of the Girl Child. There is some terrific material out there about why it is important to have an International Day of the Girl Child. I think one of the reasons that I particularly want to focus on it is that over recent months I have been highlighting in this place a practice that I really find abhorrent, and that is the practice of forced marriages. Yesterday both the Red Cross and the UN were highlighting just how abhorrent this practice of forced marriages is. We like to think it happens in other parts of the world — whether it be in Africa or Asia, somewhere else this is happening — but actually it is happening in our own backyard. Indeed the Red Cross are working in this area. They are providing support to young girls who for all sorts of reasons are finding themselves in a very difficult conversation, a very uncomfortable situation, often with their own families and their own community leaders because they dearly do not want to get married to a person that they do not know, often in another country.

I would like to commend the work of the Red Cross and other organisations out there that are supporting this work, like Good Shepherd, especially in our local area, and also some of the migrant resource organisations that are actually saying that the human right exists to say no or to say yes to who you want to marry. Some young girls want to go on and be a doctor rather than get married at a young age. That is often the case with young girls I meet at schools. They have strong aspirations for being fully capable young women in charge of their lives and not subjugated to a marriage that is not of their choosing.

So yes, this is an important bill we have before the house. As I said, looking after children irrespective of their postcode, their circumstance or their background is a very important role we have as legislators, so I fully and warmly commend this bill to the house.