"Children Legislation Amendment (Child Death Review Team) Bill 2011"
- Category: Legislation and Acts
- Created: Tuesday, 18 October 2011 23:30
- Written by Alecomm2
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr JAI ROWELL (Wollondilly) [4.08 p.m.]: It was pleasing to see that the changes to the Children Legislation Amendment (Child Death Review Team) Bill 2011 are in line with our commitment made in the lead-up to the March 2011 election. The changes include transferring the Child Death Review Team functions from the Commission for Children and Young People Act 1998 to the Community Services Act 1993, removing the role of the Minister in certain aspects, altering the number of parliamentary committees that the Ombudsman must report to, extending the term of team members of the Child Death Review Team, and removing the requirement of ministerial approval before the team can undertake research. The Ombudsman no longer has to provide a draft to the Minister; only a final copy will be required.
Questions have been raised as to why the Government is removing the expert role of the Committee on Children and Young People in relation to child deaths. The Committee on Children and Young People is established under the Commission for Children and Young People Act and exists to monitor and review the activities of the Commissioner for Children and Young People. Once the Child Death Review Team is removed from the Commission for Children and Young People Act it falls out of the committee's purview. The parliamentary Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and Police Integrity Commission is the appropriate body to consider all work undertaken by the Ombudsman, and that includes the Child Death Review Team. It makes no sense to require the Ombudsman to report to two committees.
Splitting child death reporting between two parliamentary committees would mean that neither committee would achieve a full understanding of the area. The Committee on Children and Young People has established expertise in the examination of child deaths. The Commissioner for Children and Young People is a member of the Child Death Review Team and may continue to keep the committee informed of the team's deliberations. Why is the Government removing the role of the Minister to endorse the Child Death Review Team's research program? The standard role of the Ombudsman requires a level of independence from government. This is not the case for the Commissioner for Children and Young People, who was the former convener of the Child Death Review Team.
In transferring the team into the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman it is appropriate that the Ombudsman is able to exercise the team's functions with more independence. The Government also believes that the Child Death Review Team, with its considerable expertise and experience, should be an important part of decisions about the team's research. It is for this reason that the Government proposes to require the Ombudsman to obtain the concurrence of the Child Death Review Team before commissioning research on the team's behalf. Why is the Ombudsman required to seek approval of the Minister in exercising his independent role? While the Child Death Review Team is convened and administered by the Ombudsman, it is not part of that office's independent review and monitoring functions.
The team exists to assist the Government to prevent and reduce child deaths. The approach is collaborative and advisory. This is distinct from the Ombudsman's watchdog role where the onus is on providing independent and impartial oversight of government agencies to ensure they fulfil their functions properly. It is appropriate that the review of the applicable legislation to the Ombudsman's oversight functions should be undertaken by parliamentary committees rather than by the Executive being held accountable. The same cannot be said for the Child Death Review Team, the role of which is to assist government. The Executive is the proper place for the review of the team's policy objectives. While this bill ensures that the Ombudsman is able to conduct his Child Death Review Team functions with more independence than was the case for the previous convener, it is appropriate that decisions about the team's policy remain under ministerial control.
Why is the Government removing the statutory requirement for the convener to submit draft Child Death Review Team reports to the Minister prior to tabling? As I said earlier, the standard role of the Ombudsman requires a level of independence from government. In transferring the team to the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman it is appropriate that the Ombudsman is able to exercise the team's functions with more independence. This change will provide the Ombudsman with greater independence from government. An administrative undertaking of this nature achieves an appropriate balance between the independence of the Ombudsman's functions and the reasonable expectation that government should be afforded an opportunity to review draft reports for factual errors.
Finally, the bill retains a statutory requirement for the Ombudsman to provide a copy of the final Child Death Review Team's report to the Minister, as is also the case for the Ombudsman reports made under the Ombudsman Act and Community Service (Complaints, Reviews and Monitoring) Act. However, we must remember that the recommendations made by Justice Wood were only partially implemented by those opposite. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming to implement the changes. The changes did not come into effect until February and they are half-hearted at best. Luckily, on 26 March we had a change of government. The people of New South Wales elected a government that was not tired, old and tarnished. We have a fresh approach and we respect the recommendations of key stakeholders, so we are getting on and finishing the job. This is yet another example of this Government fulfilling its election promises. It is an important step in improving the health and wellbeing of our youth. The Child Death Review Team is an important entity, and relocating it to fall under the responsibility of the Ombudsman is a positive step for the residents of Wollondilly and all other people of New South Wales. I will spend a few moments addressing comments by some of those opposite. The member for Macquarie Fields—who in most circumstances is respected in his field outside this place—had the hide to come into this Chamber today and say that this legislation is a bit dodgy. Those opposite had 16 years to look at this. In fact, they had three or four years after the report was published and what have they done? As usual, they sat on their hands. The member for Macquarie Fields also said that this Government is running a sausage factory, that there is too much work to be done and not enough consultation. Yet the shadow Minister, the member for Auburn, said at the start of this debate that she had had more than a day to look at the bill. Other members, including the member for Keira, said they had only had a couple of minutes. Again, we see nothing but spin from this Opposition that has no substance, no policy direction and is only here to scaremonger no matter what policy we are discussing. Of course the member for Keira made no constructive contribution. He should spend more time focusing on children's needs as opposed to his aspiration to become the leader of the Labor Party at some future point. The member for Bankstown said she supports most of the legislation, but unfortunately she cannot support the bill. It is opposition for opposition's sake. Those opposite should get on with the job, focus on this and support the bill. The Minister Goward should be commended. She spends a lot of time consulting with stakeholders. I know that because she spends a lot of her time in my electorate visiting various groups, organisations and individuals. She is an example of a Minister who is taking politics out of it and is getting on with the job. I support the Minister and the bill, and I commend it to the House.
Mrs TANYA DAVIES (Mulgoa) [4.14 p.m.]: I fully support the Children Legislation Amendment (Child Death Review Team) Bill 2011. I congratulate the Minister for Family and Community Services. I also congratulate the Minister for Ageing, and Minister for Disability Services on the assistance he provided in formulating this extremely important bill. This bill was written to redress the failure of the former Labor Government and to fully implement Justice Wood's recommendations from the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in New South Wales. It is interesting to note that that special commission of inquiry was completed in 2008. I will reflect on the various comments made this morning by those opposite in relation to this bill. They said they had no notice of this bill and were not given enough time to consider its content. The subject of this bill came out of a special commission of inquiry in 2008. Those opposite have had a number of years to digest the content of that commission of inquiry and to consider its recommendations. The Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in New South Wales recommended the transfer of responsibility for convening the Child Death Review Team from the Commission for Children and Young People to the NSW Ombudsman. The New South Wales Liberal Party and The Nationals strongly supported this transfer while in opposition. In April 2009 this Parliament passed legislation that transferred the responsibility of the Child Death Review Team from the Commission for Children and Young People to the Ombudsman. At that time the Coalition in opposition proposed amendments to further strengthen this bill. On 4 November 2010 the Ombudsman released the report "Unresolved issues in the transfer of NSW Child Death Review Team to the Office of the NSW Ombudsman". The report detailed the difficulties experienced by the Ombudsman due to the incomplete nature of the former Government's transfer. There were a number of opportunities for the then Labor Government to understand exactly what the Coalition while in opposition desired to achieve with the Child Death Review Team. They have had plenty of time to consider the implications of our policy position. In fact, on 3 March this year we announced in our out-of-home-care policy called "Recovering Children at Risk" that we would support the Ombudsman's role in independently reviewing child deaths in New South Wales by transferring responsibility for coordinating the Child Death Review Team from the Commission for Children and Young People to the Ombudsman's office.
When the former Labor Government eventually backed down from its initial objections after receiving Justice Wood's recommendations, it made only a half-hearted effort and did not fully implement the complete raft of recommendations. This bill is yet another example of the O'Farrell Government delivering on its election commitments. While those opposite claim they had no notice, we told them our policy position on 3 March. Perhaps they did not believe that we would deliver what we promised, because they did not do that while they were in government and running elections. This bill will boost accountability and transparency by supporting the Ombudsman's independence and the work of his office with child deaths. The objective of the Child Death Review Team is to assist government to prevent and reduce the number of deaths of children aged from birth to 17 years.
The Ombudsman's "Report of Reviewable Deaths 2008-2009—Volume 1: Child Deaths", is a difficult and challenging report to read. I ask any member of the House who has not yet read the report to take the time to do so. It is a very sobering review and it shines the spotlight on the situation in our State. From 1 January 2008 to 31 December 2009 a total of 77 child deaths were reviewable. Deaths that are required to be reviewed must meet these criteria: the child died as a result of abuse or neglect; the death occurred in suspicious circumstances; at the time of death the child was in care; at the time of death the child was in detention. Some 20 children died as a result of abuse—that is 20 children too many. It is a heartbreaking figure. Some 23 children died as a result of neglect; six children died in circumstances where there were suspicions of abuse and eight in circumstances suspicious of neglect; and 20 children died while in care.
As the mother of a 4½-year-old girl, it is a heartbreaking statistic that the majority of children whose deaths were reviewable were under five years of age. The death of any child is a tragedy so great that most parents can never fully recover. I have met families who have suffered the loss of a child through disease or accident, and their heartbreak lives with them forever. However, in the case of abused or neglected children, the murder of a perfectly healthy baby or child at the hands of those who are meant to protect and provide for that child is one of the most vile and evil actions of a human being. I question whether they can be called "human". I cannot comprehend an adult taking out their anger on an innocent baby or young person and causing that child's death. Statistics demonstrate that the 20 children who died from abuse and the six who died in circumstances suspicious of abuse did so at the hands of someone within their family.
The Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in New South Wales recommended the transfer of responsibility for convening the Child Death Review Team from the Commission for Children and Young People to the NSW Ombudsman. The former Labor Government failed to completely deliver this transfer, as I noted earlier. I cannot comprehend the reason for this failure when we are dealing with the murders and deaths of children, the youngest citizens of this State. Children have no voice in many cases and in these particular families they certainly have no voice. Therefore, it is up the wider community, the Government and the non-government sector to stand up and defend these young people who do not have a voice.
The bill delivers a range of changes, but I will focus specifically on two of them. The first is the removal of a requirement to obtain ministerial approval before undertaking certain Child Death Review Team research programs. I commend the Minister for taking this step. It shows that we are a Government that is willing to bring complete transparency to this process. It is a very serious role. It will ensure that the NSW Ombudsman's office will have full authority to investigate any matter it sees fit without any interference, coercion or direction from the Minister. The second provision is the removal of the requirement for the Child Death Review Team to provide a copy of its draft report to the Minister. Instead, a copy of the final report will be provided to the Minister.
When I read about that change I asked myself why the former Labor Government would want to retain that level of insight or control over a draft report. Why would it want to keep that within its power and influence? Why would it want to reduce the level of perceived transparency in a matter as critical as child deaths? To my mind there can be only one reason: it wanted to paper over the seriousness of what was contained in the report. It wanted to water down the detail and the implications that the report would make public. Shame on the former Labor Government for allowing that to happen—there are now 77 children in this State who no longer breathe and play. They died in dreadful circumstances.
I am proud to be part of an O'Farrell-Stoner Government that is prepared to face up to the tough situations. We are prepared to take a stand. We are prepared to work with all levels of government and all levels of the community to find every way we can to address this horrible scourge on our society. The O'Farrell Government will shine the white-hot flame of transparency through this bill. We will face the truth. We will be willing to see the full report as it stands. I commend Minister Goward for accepting these changes and championing the cause in an absolutely brilliant way. We are determined to stand in the gap and defend our young citizens—babies, boys and girls who do not have a voice—and we will work with every sphere of society to reduce and eventually eliminate this scar on our society's conscience. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr BRAD HAZZARD (Wakehurst—Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Infrastructure NSW) [4.26 p.m.]: I strongly support Minister Goward's initiatives and those of the O'Farrell-Stoner Government to complete the transfer of the Child Death Review Team to the NSW Ombudsman, which the Children Legislation Amendment (Child Death Review Team) Bill 2011 will effect. I have been in this place for almost 21 years and during that time I held 18 or 19 portfolios in opposition. The one portfolio that touched me more profoundly than any other portfolio was that of shadow Minister for Community Services. The job of being Minister or shadow Minister in this portfolio area is demanding because it takes you up close and personal to some of the most horrific acts that can be done to our children.
As I sat here and listened to this debate I was thinking of a number of children who died, often in horrific circumstances, and their families. I remember the agony that was occasioned to the families in the aftermath of the deaths of those children. I particularly remember one little girl who died on the Central Coast. I will not name her. The family came from Wollongong. It was a profound breakdown of the duty of care that should have been offered by the Department of Community Services and the mental health team. I am particularly concerned that that family, and other families in similar situations, had to cope with the realisation that the government of the day had done more to cover up the failings of the system over which it presided than to put in place the necessary protections for the children that we are tasked with protecting in this State—the children who are at risk of harm.
When I was shadow Minister and observing and dealing with families that were in the most traumatised of circumstances I saw a Labor Government which, on the face of it, was talking about social justice and purporting to represent families and community, yet took a succession of steps that were more about protecting that Labor Government than about protecting children. For those in this place who do not recollect, in the early 1990s we had a Community Services Commissioner, Robert Fitzgerald, whose task—which he carried out very well—was to advocate on behalf of families in horrific circumstances, often when the Department of Community Services had been unable to look after children at risk of harm. That Labor Government removed the Community Services Commissioner.
At the same time I recollect that the Commission for Children and Young People usually—and I emphasise usually—published child death statistics. Yet I well remember the horrific reality one year of opening the report and finding that the figures on child deaths had completely disappeared from the report. There was no doubt in my mind at that time that the Labor Government of the day had taken a deliberate approach to shut down the transparency, accountability and openness necessary to protect children at risk. That culture permeated the Department of Community Services. Most caseworkers in the Department of Community Services are very fine workers, but the culture at the top was atrocious. I recollect also in my time as shadow Minister seeing reports that had been doctored at middle management level, apparently at the direction, but certainly with the approval, of senior management. That eventually led to two 60 Minutes programs and one Four Corners program in which disclosures were made about the horrific cover-ups that were occurring.
I do not intend to say much more than this. In the first seven months of this Government more has been done under the direction of Minister Goward than I saw in the 16 years of the Labor Government, to introduce accountability, transparency and honesty in the reporting processes. There is no question that the job of this Parliament in protecting children at risk of harm, children who have come under the notice of government agencies, particularly Community Services, is paramount. It is the paramount duty of all members to ensure that children at risk of harm are well looked after. I say to the remaining Labor members who were members in those 16 years that the Government of which they were part should hang its head in shame. There are, probably fortunately, few of them left, because those sorts of actions were all too frequent under the former Government—cover-up, not clean up. It was never a case of actually addressing the underlying fundamental problems.
I am very supportive of this Government's initiative. Across all portfolios, we are seeking to shine the cold, hard light on what occurred behind closed doors. Justice Wood would be proud of the fact that this Government has listened to what he wanted to achieve, and the transfer to the Ombudsman is now complete. It will not be perfect; situations will still occur from time to time. We cannot expect that suddenly the resources issues or any other issues of the Department of Community Services will be solved overnight. But this Government is making a fair dinkum effort. We will make sure that the community knows exactly what has been going on behind closed doors and, more importantly, what is happening now. In that, there is hope that the system will improve.
Mr ANDREW CORNWELL (Charlestown) [4.34 p.m.]: I speak on this important reform bill, the Children Legislation Amendment (Child Death Review Tam) Bill 2011 wearing three hats: those of the member for Charlestown, the father of two young children, and Chair of the Committee for Children and Young People. I thank the vast majority of members who have spoken on this bill for conducting this debate with appropriate earnestness. The objective of the Child Death Review Team is to assist government to prevent and reduce the number of deaths of children from birth to 17 years in New South Wales through data analysis, research, and recommendations. The Child Death Review Team research functions are to: maintain a register of child deaths in New South Wales; classify those deaths according to cause, demographic criteria and other relevant factors; identify patterns and trends relating to the deaths; and make recommendations to government and non-government agencies for the prevention of further child deaths.
It is notable that over the period that the Child Death Review Team has existed there has been a gradual trend downwards in those figures. One of the important things about this reform is that we are not falling into complacency. It is important that we try continually to improve the situation. The Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in New South Wales recommended the transfer of responsibility for convening the Child Death Review Team from the Commission for Children and Young People to the Ombudsman. The New South Wales Coalition in opposition strongly supported this transfer. In April 2009 the New South Wales Parliament passed legislation that transferred responsibility for the New South Wales Child Death Review Team from the Commission for Children and Young People to the NSW Ombudsman. The Coalition in opposition proposed amendments to strengthen Labor's bill.
On 4 November 2010 the Ombudsman released the report "Unresolved Issues in the transfer of the NSW Child Death Review Team to the Office of the NSW Ombudsman". The report detailed the difficulties experienced by the Ombudsman due to the incomplete nature of the former Government's transfer. The transfer came into effect on 11 February 2011. The Ombudsman sought legislative and administrative amendments to: enhance efficiencies in the operations of the Child Death Review Team, ensure the Ombudsman's independence is protected in this new role, and create better alignment between the research activities of the Child Death Review Team and his work on reviewable deaths. While the Child Death Review Team is convened and administered by the Ombudsman, it is not part of the independent review and monitoring functions of that office.
The Child Death Review Team exists to assist the Government to prevent and reduce child deaths. The approach is collaborative and advisory. This is distinct from the Ombudsman's watchdog role, where the onus is on providing independent and impartial oversight of government agencies to ensure they fulfil their functions properly. It is appropriate that the review of legislation applicable to the Ombudsman's oversight function should be undertaken by parliamentary committees, rather than by the very same Executive that is being held accountable. The same cannot be said for the Child Death Review Team, whose role is to assist government. The proper place for review of the team's policy objectives is the Executive.
While the bill ensures that the Ombudsman is able to conduct his Child Death Review Team functions with more independence than was the case for the previous convener, it is appropriate that decisions about the team's policy remit remain under ministerial control. I will address a few points raised by Opposition members. The member for Auburn recognised the importance of Justice Wood's recommendations, of which the transfer of the Child Death Review Team to the Ombudsman was one. I also note her recognition of the importance of the Committee for Children and Young People. Currently, the Ombudsman is reporting to two committees, creating an inefficient system without clear lines of authority.
The member for Macquarie Fields reiterated those concerns, asserting that the Committee for Children and Young People had been legislatively emasculated from conducting rigorous inquiries that may require input from the Child Death Review Team. I will point out some facts on this matter. The Commissioner for Children and Young People is a statutory appointee to the Child Death Review Team. The commissioner reports to the Committee for Children and Young People. Therefore, the commissioner can still report to the committee on matters within the remit of the Child Death Review Team. Also, like all parliamentary committees, the Committee for Children and Young People can call the Ombudsman to report to, and provide evidence to, a parliamentary inquiry. The Committee for Children and Young People will continue to conduct its work in the same rigorous manner it has always done.
I refer now to the breathless hyperbole from the member for Keira. Rather than speak to the substance of the bill, as the member for Macquarie Fields and the member for Auburn did, he stood at the lectern full of faux outrage and sanctimonious puffery complaining that these reforms have appeared suddenly. In April 2009 the Parliament passed legislation to remove the Child Death Review Team from the Commission for Children and Young People to the Ombudsman. On 4 November the Ombudsman released his report outlining that his dual lines of reporting were causing problems. We committed to this reform during the election; this is not a new proposal. The member for Bankstown continued the criticism of the bill, stating that it was being rushed through. She implied that we were not supporting children. I take this opportunity to advise the House that the previous Committee for Children and Young People was unable to fulfil its statutory responsibilities last year because the then Premier prorogued Parliament. If the former Government was so committed to the Committee for Children and Young People, perhaps it would have considered at what stage its reporting program had reached before shutting down Parliament, thus rendering the committee unable to discharge its responsibilities. The crocodile tears being shed by a few Opposition members are either through ignorance or hypocrisy. I urge the Opposition to reconsider its objection to the bill. I place on record my admiration for the work the Commission for Children and Young People carries out under the guidance of its commissioner, Megan Mitchell. While these changes finally complete the separation of the Child Death Review Team from the commission, in no way does it reduce the team's ability to continue to make its valuable contribution to the children of New South Wales.
Ms PRU GOWARD (Goulburn—Minister for Family and Community Services, and Minister for Women) [4.41 p.m.], in reply: I thank members for their contributions to the debate and for their support for the Children Legislation Amendment (Child Death Review Team) Bill 2011. This bill will facilitate the important work of the Child Death Review Team to reduce and prevent the deaths of children and young people in New South Wales. The Coalition signalled this uncontentious piece of legislation in opposition and in the early days of taking office after the election. The report of Justice James Wood, containing these recommendations, was tabled in the Parliament and received bipartisan support. Only later did the former Government pay lip-service to Justice James Wood while squiggling and wiggling on the stick because of ongoing resentment towards an Ombudsman who persisted in exercising his independence. That is the point we have reached today. I cannot think of any opposition in a Western democracy that has not welcomed the opportunity for more open and accountable scrutiny of a government, and more independence. I cannot imagine any other Australian opposition knocking back the chance to have more open access to government information. But the New South Wales Opposition is a bit different. After 16 years in government the Labor Opposition still thinks its job is to keep the veils of secrecy over public administration in this State and to stop people from knowing what is going on. Obviously, the New South Wales Opposition has forgotten that in this instance it will stop itself from knowing what is going on. How extraordinary and rare that the Opposition wants less scrutiny, less independence and less opportunity to interrogate the workings of the government of the day—certainly it has achieved a first. The Opposition has always known that this would be the end result. From the time we first responded in Parliament to the amending bill, the Opposition knew that we held these objections, as did the Ombudsman, who was so professionally offended by the nature of the legislation that he felt compelled to release a report in November last year on the unfinished business of the Child Death Review Team. This bill takes nothing from the Commissioner for Children and Young People, but reminds us of the clear reasons Justice Wood recommended the Ombudsman as the preferred carrier, team manager and leader for this important work. Of course, that relates to the high levels of independence enjoyed by the Ombudsman of New South Wales—indeed, ombudsmen more generally in Australia. The faux outrage—as described by the member for Charlestown—was that the bill was introduced without enough notice. I would have thought that 18 months and debate in the media was enough notice. When a bill gives an opposition more access to information than it began with, I would have thought it would be very happy for the bill to pass quickly. When all the faux outrage was over, what were the Opposition's arguments and reasons for opposing the bill that would provide more independent and public scrutiny regarding the deaths of vulnerable children? My goodness, it did not attack the independence of the process, or that it would enable the Ombudsman to be more independent of government because that would have drawn attention to its own role in denying him his independence. The Opposition's fundamental issue was which parliamentary committee was best placed to oversight the team. The member for Auburn, and shadow Minister, began by expressing her concern that the Child Death Review Team should report to the parliamentary Committee for Children and Young People because one of its members was a paediatrician. We all love Dr Andrew McDonald and I am grateful that a member of that committee is a paediatrician. But the Opposition knows, or needs to know, that our reporting functions for independent statutory bodies cannot be constructed on the basis of committee memberships from term to term. That is not how it is done. Perhaps the member for Auburn needs to reconsider public administration in practice, if not in theory, if she considers that a valid argument.
The second argument raised by the member for Auburn was that the team should report to the Committee for Children and Young People because that committee has the expertise. No mention is made of the incredible work done by the parliamentary Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission. Expertise is as expert as its members and we thank each member of the Committee for Children and Young People, chaired by our own wonderful member for Charlestown, for their expertise. But expertise does not decide which committee oversights the work of an independent body; that decision lies in the term "oversight". Who is best suited to oversight a function of a body such as the Ombudsman with a particular level and standard of independence from government? Clearly, it is the committee that oversees other aspects of the non-government or independent body system of government, such as the Police Integrity Commission and the other responsibilities of the Ombudsman.
I state clearly that the alternative was to have the Ombudsman report to one committee on some of his functions—a committee that appreciated the independence of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commissioner. Through that framework the committee will oversight the work of the Ombudsman. The Child Death Review Team, under the old arrangements, would expect the Ombudsman to report to another committee under a completely different definition of independence and a different accountability framework. This bill confirms the Ombudsman's level of independence from government, which is what Justice Wood wanted it to do. That is why Justice Wood recommended that the Ombudsman be the convener of the Child Death Review Team.
If the Ombudsman is to be the convener, because of the importance of acquiring and employing his independence to improve and expand on the level of scrutiny, the parliamentary committee to which he or she reports should work in that same framework and at the same level of independence. If that is not what occurs the question that would have to be asked is: What level of independence does the Ombudsman have to meet to carry out his functions as the convener of the Child Death Review Team? That is what the amending bill was supposed to do. This amending bill will refer those matters to the Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and Police Integrity Commission, which means that the Ombudsman's level of independence will be applied consistently to all his work, which will be supervised or overseen by the appropriate parliamentary committee. This will take nothing away from the wonderful work that is being done by the Committee on Children and Young People.
This bill will ensure consistency—a point that I hoped was perfectly obvious to Opposition members. It is apparent to me why Opposition members oppose this legislation. This is an opportunity for them to get back at the Ombudsman who dared to criticise the way in which the former Government ran this State. Opposition members want to ensure that he will be required to answer to a lower level of independence than this Government considers appropriate. As a statutory member of the Child Death Review Team the Commissioner for Children and Young People has every opportunity to answer to the Committee on Children and Young People and that committee can call the Ombudsman before it if it conducts an inquiry. As I said in my opening remarks, the bill makes it clear that:
- ... a member of the [Child Death Review] Team makes the disclosure to any person, body or organisation for the purpose of obtaining information, advice or comments in connection with draft reports prepared by the Team ...
Nothing in this bill prevents the Child Death Review Team or the Ombudsman from being exposed to other parliamentary committees. What is at issue is who oversights this work, which is why we are conferring this level of independence on the Child Death Review Team, through the Ombudsman, who is now leading that team. The Opposition cannot overlook this important point: The Child Death Review Team will be headed by the most independent officer that we have in this area who, without fear or favour, or the suggestion of a political wink and a nudge, will do the work that needs to be done, thus ensuring maximum scrutiny, debate and transparency in the driving of reform. Government members have always said that the best motivator for reform is scrutiny and the discomfort of criticism. Sadly, the member for Macquarie Fields is still fighting the old war. He is still insisting that the Commissioner for Children and Young People should be the convener of the Child Death Review Team. I thought we had sorted out that issue a year ago and Justice Wood sorted out that issue more than a year ago. Justice Wood saw the need for a transparent mechanism to drive change and reform, which is why he recommended these changes. Even though there is bipartisan support for this bill and Justice Wood's findings, it is sad that the member for Macquarie Fields has reverted to fighting an old war. That is a naïve argument from the member for Macquarie Fields, who once was a member of the Child Death Review Team. From time to time all members of this place have been members of other institutions. However, one's personal experience does not detract from the findings of a special commission of inquiry that has bipartisan support.
This report reflects the work of a respected member of the judiciary and those who supported and advised him. In future the Opposition's mantra should not be, "I was on it and it was okay when I was on it so let us not change it." Perhaps that mantra could be changed to, "It could be better". The legislative changes that have been made today will provide the Ombudsman with the necessary framework to carry out his or her functions on the Child Death Review Team. That team will be able to carry out its tasks with greater efficiency and the appropriate level of independence and scrutiny for the greater good of the people and children of New South Wales. I thank the staff in the Ombudsman's office for their advice. I also thank my staff, in particular, my chief of staff, Anthony Bencher, and Penny George and all those who have had such a committed and devoted interest in this subject. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill agreed to in principle.
Bill declared passed and transmitted to the Legislative Council with a message seeking its concurrence in the bill. (Source : http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/hansart.nsf/V3Key/LA20111019029?open&refNavID=HA8_1)