Child Wellbeing and Safety (Child Safe Standards Compliance and Enforcement) Amendment Bill 2021 – Second Reading

Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (16:36): I rise to speak in support of the Child Wellbeing and Safety (Child Safe Standards Compliance and Enforcement) Amendment Bill 2021. We are introducing this significant legislation to protect children across Victoria from child abuse and improve compliance with child safety standards.

I am always very happy to follow in the footsteps of the member for Melton, who made another outstanding contribution, having read the bill and being across all the issues of what checks and balances we are actually introducing in this bill. It was really good to hear that level of technicality and interest in the legislative process; I was really pleased to hear that from the member for Melton. He is such a great member. He does his homework, he reads his bills and he makes sure that he is always ready to make a great contribution to debate. So I am really pleased about this.

This bill continues our commitment to implement all recommendations of the 2013 landmark Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations—Betrayal of Trust—which found serious incidents of child abuse in some of our most trusted and important institutions and organisations.

I thank the MPs and former MPs who undertook this inquiry for the work they did to shine a light on the issue of child abuse and give a voice and agency to those who have suffered so much. Sadly, child abuse is much more common than many people think, impacting children of all ages and from all cultural backgrounds, regardless of their socio-economic status, across Victoria and Australia. It is an issue that we cannot turn our backs on or close our eyes to.

The Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, was groomed and raped by her 58-year-old maths teacher when she was in year 10 and just 15 years old. This is abhorrent to me. I have taught year 10 students, and they are still so young and vulnerable. For a teacher to do this to a student is just disgusting, and it is a crime. And I am very pleased that her perpetrator was found guilty and sent to jail for these crimes.

Grace’s story is incredibly hard to read, but it cannot be ignored. Grace’s strong leadership and the Let Her Speak campaign have been pivotal in progressing the national conversation about child grooming. I thank Grace Tame for her outspoken advocacy for survivors of sexual assault, particularly those who were abused in institutional settings—she is a truly admirable and worthy Australian of the Year.

Child abuse is a scourge on our society, and the impact of abuse has destroyed many lives. For survivors there are very many long-term effects. They suffer from low self-esteem, ongoing learning problems, difficulty forming trust and positive relationships, a lack of self-respect, confusion over their role within a family, ongoing anger that cannot be resolved, self-destructive behaviour, guilt and depression.

With support and counselling the long-term effects of child abuse can be reduced, but more must be done to protect vulnerable Victorians from sexual predators. The harm caused is ongoing and not just for the individuals but for their families, friends and communities. Consequences for families include insecure housing, the need for financial support and legal implications. The cost of doing nothing is unacceptably high and the consequences severe and serious.

The reforms in this bill are important for keeping children safe, and the child safe standards are significant for protecting our youngest Victorians. This is broad-ranging legislation that covers child protection, health, mental health, education and industrial relations. I thank the Minister for Child Protection for the work that he is leading and his ministerial office and the department for working on this very important bill. The standards must be complied with by organisations that provide services or facilities for children. This means more than 50 000 Victorian organisations will be covered by the changes that we are making today—schools, hospitals, sports clubs, youth organisations, certain private sector businesses and religious bodies.

As I speak in support of this bill I do so with the community that I represent front of mind. Ballarat is known for its gold, its cold weather and child sex abuse by the clergy. Many people living in and around Ballarat have been affected by child sex abuse, and this is unacceptable.

My home town, where I grew up and was raised as a Catholic, was home to some of the Catholic Church’s and Australia’s most notorious paedophile priests. The abuse has been described as rampant. From the data from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, more than 20 priests and Christian Brothers have been identified as subject to one or more claims of child sexual abuse in the Ballarat diocese, which takes in western Victoria, including Warrnambool and all the way to Mildura. By the end of 2017, 140 people had made a claim of child abuse in relation to the Ballarat diocese, including 56 complainants against Christian Brothers alone.

Child sex abuse has devastated the lives of far too many in my community. According to local survivor groups, clergy abuse has contributed to more than 50 suicides, and the trauma continues for their families, friends and loved ones. Thank you to everyone for their bravery and strength in speaking out about the abuse they experienced and their calls to keep children safe in the future, including Phil Nagle, Peter Blenkiron, Andrew Collins and Stephen Woods. The systematic sexual abuse of children must never be allowed to happen again. I am sorry that more was not done to protect and support you, but we have learned lessons from the past and are acting to prevent other children from being harmed.

I wish to acknowledge the Loud Fence movement, which was started in Ballarat by Maureen Hatcher during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The idea behind putting brightly coloured ribbons on the fences of the former St Alipius boys school and St Patrick’s Cathedral was to let survivors know that the Ballarat community sees them, hears them and believes them. This incredible movement has since gone global. It now represents survivors of all sexual abuse.

And thank you to the many Ballarat organisations who have been on the front line of supporting survivors of clergy abuse, including Shireen Gunn and her team at the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault. Ballarat CASA continues to support many survivors of sexual assault who come forward to disclose having experienced child sexual abuse trauma in the past and many who continue to work to support people who have been sexually abused in my community.

I am proud to be part of a government that is continually working to improve the safety and wellbeing of children and young people and to prevent child abuse. As a community we cannot accept anything less. The reforms being introduced are in step with community values and expectations. As adults we have the great responsibility of protecting children from harm and nurturing and educating future generations.

Child safety and the best interests of the child must be of paramount importance to an organisation’s operations, and this is at the heart of this bill. The overarching objective of child safe standards is to support cultural change in organisations to prevent, respond to and report allegations of child abuse. This bill requires organisations to be safer for children by requiring them to implement policies and procedures to make improvements to embed child safety into everyday thinking, planning and practice. It ensures that Victoria’s regulatory framework for child safe standards is as strong as possible. I am proud to support the reforms, which will better protect children by strengthening the regulatory scheme.

We are introducing this bill because our government publicly committed to reviewing child safe standards and the regulatory framework in response to the publication of the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, established in 2013 by the Australian government. I really do want to thank Julia Gillard, the then Prime Minister, and then federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon for establishing this very important royal commission.

We will strengthen the effectiveness of the regulatory system, we will promote compliance, we will give the commissioner for children and young people additional statewide leadership and capacity-building functions, and we will make it easier for improved information sharing between regulators. These are important, strong protections that put children at the forefront of our decision-making, and I commend the bill to the house.


Click here to read more of my contributions in Parliament. To access further Hansard transcripts, head to the Parliament of Victoria website.