MS LAWDER (Brindabella) (11.23): My colleagues have covered many topics today, so I rise to talk only about two subjects—child care and Care and Protection Services—both of which fall under the responsibility of Minister Burch and both of which demonstrate her serious failings as a minister.
I start today with child care, a responsibility of this minister, where there are numerous failings. Not only are we the most expensive jurisdiction for child care in the country, but also we fail to meet many of the national benchmarks. The 2014 report on government services shows that the ACT has a long way to go.
Here in the ACT, child care generally accounts for about 12 per cent of gross income after subsidies, while the Australian average is much lower at eight per cent. Many ACT residents are now paying as much as $100 a day per child for this service, and these costs have doubled in the last six years alone.
We are not even up to scratch. In May last year the first report card of the Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority was released and it showed that, of the 51 centres assessed in Canberra, 35 failed to meet even one of the seven criteria. The criteria focus on education, health and safety and the physical environment, among other things. So from this we can see that this minister has led us to a situation where we have the most expensive child care, coupled with some of the lowest standards in the country.
Then, Madam Speaker, I move on to Care and Protection Services, a department that is responsible for the care and protection of our most vulnerable citizens, the children who are at risk in our society. I am not the first, nor would I be the last, to say that child protection in the ACT has failed many and needs drastic improvements. The systemic culture of cover-up and bandaid fixes has allowed the service, which is supposed to protect our children, to fail time after time.
Madam Speaker, as you know all too well, the Public Advocate's interim report into the emergency response strategy for children in crisis in the ACT was released in October 2011. This report made recommendations to address the organisational and systemic changes in response to what was considered the deficiencies which existed in the care and protection service. The Public Advocate said:
My investigations revealed that there may be many more cases of systemic deficiencies and practice failures than I dare to think.
This was back in 2011. Then we had the release of the full Public Advocate's report in May 2012, which stated that the problems are exacerbated by the broader systemic deficiencies within the care and protection service. The disastrous state of the child protection service in the ACT became known to everyone. It became clear that the hardworking and dedicated front-line staff within care and protection continued to battle against a system that failed to support them, despite their efforts.
In March 2013, we saw the release of the Auditor-General's report into the Care and Protection Services. It became public knowledge that this minister did not even have suitable records for the children she was responsible for. According to the Auditor-General, Minister Burch's department could not tell you on any given day where the children were that were in their care. Who would have thought that would be too much to ask?
The Auditor-General stated that the records being kept by Care and Protection Services were poor, inaccurate and out of date. In fact, it came to light that some children who were put into long-term care by Care and Protection Services would potentially never—that is, never—receive a visit from a case worker. There was no follow-up at all. The actions and whereabouts of the children were unknown to officials—they were not checked on at all—and no-one would have known if they were being treated correctly.
I have not even mentioned the ACT Children and Young People Death Review Committee report which was released late last year. The statistics in that report showed that 20 per cent of the children that died in the ACT over the five-year period were either known themselves to Care and Protection Services or one of their siblings was. That is the potential for one in every five child deaths to be avoided. They were known to authorities and action could have been taken.
We are also aware of many cases reported in the media where young children have lost their lives due to the failure of authorities to act. It is these stories that show the statistics are more than just numbers; they are real lives, of very vulnerable children.
There was also the story of a baby girl who had been put into foster care without the father having any knowledge at all of the situation. He had in fact reported his daughter and wife as missing and was still not contacted by care and protection officials. It was the Children and Young People Commissioner who said the father should have been contacted to see if he was a suitable placement option, but this did not happen. The father of this baby was kept in the dark.
I have even received correspondence just this morning from constituents who heard of this no confidence motion and wanted to give me further information on why they believe the minister has failed in care and protection. There is case after case of the failings in care and protection.
If you look at Minister Burch's press releases you would be forgiven for thinking all was now hunky-dory in care and protection. But I would like to remind everyone today it was only last month that the report on government services revealed that in fact the ACT lags in child protection. We spend less. We spend less not because we are more efficient but because we are delivering poorer outcomes. Each and every one of the children under Care and Protection Services is a valuable but oh so vulnerable life. We must be doing absolutely everything in our power to ensure the safety of our children. We need to look after them in the same way we would like our own children to be, but I am sad to say that this is not always the case.
In our system of government, ministers take responsibility for their department's actions. Today this minister needs to take responsibility for the failings in her department. Several speakers from across the chamber have spoken today about this motion, referring to it as being politicising and attempting to sensationalise events in the media rather than a genuine attempt to address matters in this place. To this I have just three words: pot, kettle, black.