Child Protection

06 May 2015

Extract from my speech on the 2015 Supply Bill.

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 12:17: ): Another issue that I want to touch on briefly, an area where perhaps we are not directing enough funding from the money that is being appropriated through the Supply Bill, is child protection. During our time away from parliament, there has been the handing down of the Coroner's report into the death of Chloe Valentine. I took some time to read that and to look at the various contributions in our state's media about that. I can really say from the bottom of my heart that I was deeply affected by what I read in the Coroner's report and what I read in the media about what happened to Chloe Valentine.

In my view, it is an entire failure of government if you cannot keep the most vulnerable people in society safe from the sort of abuse that that young girl suffered. It is an absolute tragedy that that occurred under the watch of Families SA and there is no doubt—and this is not my opinion; this is the opinion of our state's Coroner—that there are huge failings within the child protection bureaucracy.

I find it quite startling that Tony Harrison has remained in his position as chief executive of that agency, and I am deeply troubled about his ability to drive culture change when the Coroner's report has said quite clearly that he was sucked into the bad culture present in Families SA rather than being a change for good in that culture. I find that devastating; I think the Coroner's views were devastating, and there is no doubt that this government must see it as a state crisis and look to take immediate action.

I am pleased that legislation will be brought before the house in the coming days to ramp up some of the legislative responses around this, but while that will help, the heart of this problem is a deeply broken culture within Families SA, and our child protection system in this state is woeful, to say the least. It is heartbreaking, and anyone in an elected position within South Australia needs to think deeply about what our role is in terms of keeping the most vulnerable people in the society safe.

There are many people working within Families SA who are trying their very best. It is an incredibly challenging environment. I have had a child protection issue presented to my electorate office in the last couple of weeks and the situation that has unfolded in this young person's life is such a tragedy. You are left asking yourself how there could be such brokenness in our world that results not only in young people becoming the victims of sexual abuse but actually their lives being pulled into the most awful uncontrolled circumstances. These people are just children—12, 13, 14 year olds—involved in the most depraved sexual actions. I was reading through this scenario that was brought to my electorate office, and again it was just heartbreaking.

I have recently been speaking to a couple of friends who work within the child protection system and they told me firsthand stories that not only is what occurred with Chloe Valentine a daily part of their lives and a daily challenge that they face, but it is also getting worse, not better. Their view was that one of the reasons it is getting worse is because of the epidemic of drug addiction, particularly ice, gripping the most vulnerable elements of our community and the desperation that is associated with the need for that drug leading young people (these are children) into doing pretty horrific things.

During the break, the member for Hartley had an article published in support of the federal government's taskforce looking at the ice epidemic in Australia. He suggested that South Australia needs to look very seriously at what the situation is in our suburbs and towns with regard to ice and the damage it is doing. I would support the member for Hartley's position and implore the government to not only look at the child protection system in terms of what needs to be reformed, but what are the causes that are resulting in more people entering the system, and does ice and other drugs actually have an impact there? From what I am hearing from Families SA staff, it certainly does. It is a massive problem facing our state, a massive social problem and one that we really need to get some policy solutions to.

Extracted from Hansard