Grievance Debate: Protection of Children


Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 15:19 :58 ): I want to reflect on the Premier's performance in question time today, which I thought was an extraordinary example of spin, dissembling and post-hoc justifications. I think that the extraordinary series of commissions, inquiries, coronial inquests and the disturbing betrayals of faith the community has in the government's handling of child protection over the last 14 years have traumatised many in the community. It has led to a series of responses in the parliament today that have really been nothing more than spin, dissembling and post-hoc justifications.

An interim set of recommendations was made by Commissioner Margaret Nyland. It has finally led the government, years and years after everyone else in the community knew that it was in the best interests of South Australia and our vulnerable children, to remove our child protection agency from the education department. It was a social experiment of the Premier's own devising that has failed the people of South Australia and our most vulnerable children.

Ever since the 2011-12 changeover period, when the Premier moved from the education department to the Premier's seat which he now occupies, when he was able to put in place his social experiment, we have seen an extraordinary series of failings of this department, this critical agency, that needs its own focus, that needs its own minister for whom the most important task is to provide that oversight to make sure they are doing their job.

Because it was his idea, it was of his own devising, we have heard the Premier continually justifying it. He called it a retrograde step, when the opposition said in 2013 that if elected to government with the support, as we had, of 53 per cent of the community, we would remove Families SA from the education department. For three years, the Premier has been stridently arguing against it. Then today, when we asked our first question on this important issue about why has it taken so long for the government to recognise this problem, the Premier's response was to blame the opposition. He said that we created the culture, that we created negativity in the community and that the media and the opposition were at fault. What a disgraceful response by this Premier, who single-handedly as Premier was responsible for this misguided step that has been of such detriment and damage to our children.

The Premier was asked today if he stood by his reforms. He said, yes, he did, but they are going to change it anyway, clearly because of the pressure, with the commissioner adding pressure by adding voice to the weight of the principals' organisations. Even the education union and almost all the education commentators have agreed with the opposition's call in 2013 for Families SA to be removed. The Premier was finally forced to make it happen. Even today, he said that he still stood by his initial statements that bringing them together was a good idea. This is a move that the Premier has been forced to make, a move that he does not believe in.

When we asked the Premier when he would establish the commissioner for children and young people, the other reform which was first suggested in 2003 as part of the Layton review 13 years ago, and also committed to by the premier and the government in 2013, and which is still not in existence, he said that the opposition is playing politics. That was his excuse for why that has not happened.

The Premier then said that the other reason there have been delays was that none of the other reviews—Mullighan, Debelle, Layton and the Chloe Valentine coronial inquest and all those catalogues of tragedy and trauma—had suggested that this step was necessary. The Premier does so knowing full well that it is necessary because he created this mega department, this department for education and child protection, where education is unable to get the full power and impact of a minister focused on that and child protection is unable to be the lead agency it deserves to be.

The Premier says that nobody had ever suggested that child protection needed to be removed from the education department before. Mullighan and Layton, of course, were years before the Premier had even put them together. The opposition was calling for this for years. The stakeholder groups were calling for this for years. The government has finally stepped up but does so begrudgingly. The Premier should be apologising for what he has done to this area over the last five years of his leadership.