"Child Protection"

Page: 28544

Ms PRU GOWARD: My question is directed to the Premier. After 15 years of Labor we have had a five-year $1.2 billion program—

The SPEAKER: Order! Members on both sides of the House will cease interjecting, particularly the member for Bathurst and the member for Wakehurst.

Ms PRU GOWARD: I thought the Government cared about this.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Goulburn will ask her question.

Ms PRU GOWARD: After 15 years of Labor we have had a five-year $1.2 billion program to improve child protection in New South Wales, which commenced in 2002, at the end of which the Government was forced to hold a special commission of inquiry and, two years later, has still failed to implement key recommendations from the report. Why would anyone believe that re-electing Labor could fix those problems?

The SPEAKER: Order! I call the member for Kogarah to order.

Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY: When it comes to child protection, this House stands united in the view that we should work to provide the strongest child protection system possible. There is not a child protection system in the world that is able to guarantee the safety of every child at all times, but I think we in this Parliament can agree that we need to work as hard as we can to deliver as strong a child protection safety system as possible. That is why there has been a 16 per cent increase in the 2008-09 budget for community services and there is a $96 million 2009-10 budget increase as part of the whole-of-government Keep Them Safe budget of $750 million over five years. There is record funding of an extra $1.3 billion over five years from 2006-11 in disability, and that budget, as we saw this year, was a significant one—$2.3 billion in 2009-10—again providing assistance to the most vulnerable in the community.

When it comes to community services, we have seen an increase of around 1,000 caseworkers since 2002, bringing the total number of highly qualified, hardworking and dedicated community services caseworkers on the ground in 2010 to well over 2,000. In 2008-09 there have been more than 300,000 child protection reports made to community services. Domestic violence, mental illness, and drug and alcohol abuse are contributing to neglect and abuse, as are intergenerational poverty and disadvantage. That is why we have brought forward the reforms under Keep Them Safe. We released our five-year plan Keep Them Safe in March 2009, accepting 106 of 111 recommendations from James Wood's special commission into our child protection system. The central theme of the Wood report and of Keep Them Safe is shared responsibility. Government and non-government organisations are working in partnership to protect more children and to help more families.

Major milestones and achievements include $750 million over five years for Keep Them Safe, 40 per cent of which will go to non-government organisations, and new laws that mean government agencies and non-government organisations can share information where it concerns a child's safety. Privacy barriers are now removed. A new risk-of-significant-harm reporting threshold, along with alternate reporting arrangements via child wellbeing units and other government agencies, means there is more likelihood than ever before that children and families will receive the level of support that they need. Also, the world's first online and interactive mandatory reporter guide is available on the Keep Them Safe website and we have heard from our front-line workers how it helps to determine if their concerns reach the new reporting threshold or should be dealt with directly at a local level.

We also have the Keep Them Safe support line. A temporary telephone service is now working to assist non-government mandatory reporters, including those working in non-government schools, with the changes following the introduction of the reporting threshold. The newly developed WellNet computer database is being used to help child wellbeing units determine when a child has a history of reported events or is already involved with community services.

This Government accepts that there is always more we need to do. This Government has backed it in with significant changes in line with what Justice Wood recommended and this Government has backed it up with the funding. It is the Opposition that has raised this matter in a political context. It is worth putting on the record that this Opposition went to the 2003 election vowing to cut $700 million from the Community Services budget, effectively cutting 675 caseworkers out of the system. This is an Opposition whose major policy document, "Start the Change", commits not a single cent to child protection, not a single cent to out-of-home care, not a single cent to the transfer of services to the non-government sector, not a single cent to maintaining Keep Them Safe, and not a single cent to caseworkers. Every time the Opposition rises to attack the Government on community services I will remind its members and the community of this record of shame.  (Source : http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/hansart.nsf/V3Key/LA20101130027?open&refNavID=HA8_1)

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