Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019
Victorian Parliament - August 29, 2019 Ms KEALY (Lowan) (11:45:20): Going back to the Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, I would like to pay credit to all of those victims who gave evidence during the Betrayal of Trust inquiry. I have spoken to a very good friend of mine, David O’Brien, former Nationals member and representative for Western Victoria, and I was really struck by the impact that that inquiry had on him personally, but that is really just a transmission of the impact that these sexual assaults and abuses that occurred over many years had had on the individuals who were prepared to share their stories and give evidence during that inquiry. I think that when we look at pieces of legislation such as the one that is before us today we really have to look back and consider the impact on so many people, so many children, who had no choice and often were not appropriately protected by those that should have protected them. For myself and for my electorate, this is something that means a lot. In Edenhope we had the relocation of someone who is now a known sex offender, who was placed within the Catholic Church in my community between 1976 and 1980. I know of people who were sexually abused by this man. I am not going to say his name because I do not think he deserves any further credit—he can burn in hell as far as I am concerned. He also had a placement in the late 1980s in Horsham. I also know of another priest who really abused his privileges as well in the Hamilton community, and I know that there are probably other offences which did occur across my electorate. I thank those constituents who have made the effort over the years to come and speak to me and to share their experiences, which were absolutely horrific. We need to make sure that we do whatever we can to ensure that those sorts of offences do not occur again in the future. I think that great steps have been made in providing those protections for younger people, and this bill will of course help to close out and provide another element of protection for children like those who were put in these situations that they never, ever should have been in. Of course another reason for me is that I have a darling, darling little boy who I do love to mention in Parliament in the hope that it will embarrass him sometime in the future or he will look back sometime and see what his mum did, so I do hope that this is a level of protection as well for little boys like my son, Harvey, who is so full of joy and happiness at six years of age. I can just see that he views life in such a positive way. To think that there are any people in this world that would try and destroy that for their own sexual gratification is absolutely disgusting, and those people certainly do not deserve a place on this earth in my opinion. I will go into the elements, the main provisions, of this bill, particularly in relation to mandatory reporting. This bill will amend section 182 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 to require persons in religious ministry through the course of their work to make mandatory reports to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services if they believe a child needs protection from abuse or harm. Mandatory reporters who fail to make a report to the secretary in a timely fashion are subject to a fine of 10 penalty units. Additionally, changes in law requiring religious ministers to make mandatory reports were considered by the Victorian Parliament’s Betrayal of Trust inquiry of 2013, which I referred to in my earlier contribution to the bill before question time, and they were recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of 2017. This is a significant change, and I know it is the one element of this bill on which there has been a level of contribution—I would not necessarily say debate; I would say contribution—by different sections of the community, because this change will bring religious ministers in Victoria in line with other professionals who deal with children, including teachers, doctors, nurses and police. It will also bring Victoria into line with South Australia and the Northern Territory, where religious ministers are already mandatory reporters. Of course this links back to changes to the religious confessional exemption, something that is very, very important to the Catholic faith in particular, and of course this bill, I guess, has dealt with that in a very sensible and sensitive way in narrowcasting the types of offences which must be reported to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in that adults must report information about the sexual abuse of a child under 16 to police. I think this is entirely appropriate. We need to make sure that we respect religious freedoms; however, we never want to be on the side of history where, whether deliberately or subconsciously or through other actions in looking at protections for Catholic or other religious elements, including the confessional, we ever sacrifice the protection of children in protecting those religious freedoms. There are things that we need to prioritise, and certainly the protection of children, particularly around known offenders or where there is an indication or a concern that somebody may offend into the future, is something that I know some members of the Catholic Church certainly prioritise. While this is a challenge to others, I think that they will accept that this is being done to try to stamp out any concerns at all and to protect our children but also that in a way this provides protection to our religious leaders as well in that they may themselves feel quite uncomfortable about working within the confessional when they know that there is someone who is causing grievous harm to younger people which will have an impact on them throughout their entire lives. So while I understand there are some different opinions around this, I do think largely that there is majority support for the change to the Children, Youth and Families Act that this makes, particularly given the narrowcasting—that not every element of the confessional is now reportable and that there is still that sanctity of disclosure and you can still disclose your sins to your priest as part of that confessional process. But there are elements which are of a criminal nature around sexual abuse of a child under 16. They should be reported to police, and this bill will deliver upon that. It is important to note that there is an element that is retrospective in terms of the application of this legislation, in that as part of the mandatory reporting if they believe that that person may be an offender now, then they still have a responsibility under this legislation to report that either to the police or to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. So for some people this will be an element of relief; if they feel like they have been in a position in the past where they were unable to share that information, they will be able to do so. I certainly encourage anybody, if they have got any doubt at all for the safety of children and for the protection of our children, to please speak up. Just in closing, I did again want to just acknowledge all of the victims: those known to have been sexually abused over the years by any adults that should not have done so, those that cannot tell their stories because the weight of this knowledge was too hard for them to bear, those who have had a distinct change in the direction of their lives which may have been for the worse—whether that has given them a lifetime of dealing with mental health issues; drug and alcohol abuse issues as their medication to deal with the harm caused to them early in life; or issues around homelessness, holding down a job or having a healthy relationship or relationships, not just with other people but also with their family members. I hope that this legislation, when it passes, will provide some deal of relief to them, once they know that there are steps being taken that will make sure that what happened to them will not happen again in the future.
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