MS LAWDER(Brindabella): As the shadow minister for family and community services, I will make a few comments, firstly, about service delivery in the Community Services Directorate and also about Care and Protection Services. Throughout estimates, when talking about community services there was a lot of talk about the human services blueprint. No matter what aspect of CSD we talked about, there was the human services blueprint—that it will be developed, is developed and will fix all of the problems. Over the forward estimates $1.78 million is being spent on the human services blueprint, as well as the better human services strengthening families program. We will not really know until this work is complete how much of a benefit it will provide.
I certainly hope in this instance the government is correct and the blueprint will provide efficiencies within this area. But I will wait for the proof of the pudding. I hope this blueprint will not only provide efficiencies for the government but that it will also make interaction for community services providers easier and more streamlined. I hope the blueprint ensures community service providers in our city are able to do what they do best and be supported by the government. I hope this blueprint removes some of the red tape and bureaucracy that has always been an issue, but we will wait and see.
We also have Care and Protection Services within this directorate. It is one of those very complex areas of government that a blueprint is not going to fix. I do not stand here claiming there is a magic wand you can wave to have a perfect care and protection system, but I want to take a moment to reiterate how important this area is and express my disappointment that no action seems to be taken while we are letting down some of our most vulnerable citizens. In this budget expenditure for care and protection is increased by not even enough to cover CPI, which we all know means in real terms the funding for this area is going backwards.
Report after report has detailed how the care and protection system in the ACT is failing our most vulnerable children. We have heard many times about the systemic culture of cover-up and bandaid fixes that have allowed the service, which is supposed to protect our children, to fail time after time, yet the government has not made this an area of priority in this budget.
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 exist in Care and Protection Services. Given the narrow scope of this initial review, it was assumed by most that the report did not paint the true picture of care and protection services but was simply an aberration.
MS LAWDER: Before we were saved by the dinner bell I mentioned that the Public Advocate's interim report into the emergency response strategy for children in crisis in 2011 had painted a dark picture of care and protection services. The Public Advocate was quoted as saying:
My investigations revealed that there may be many more cases of systemic deficiencies and practice failures than I dare to think.
In 2012 we then saw the Public Advocate state in the final report:
These problems are exacerbated by broader systemic deficiencies within the Care and Protection Service.
It has been no secret that, in this area of government, we have not been successfully looking after our most vulnerable Canberrans for a long time. The hard-working and dedicated front-line staff within Care and Protection Services continue to battle against a system that failed to support them, despite their best efforts. And despite the minister's constant reassurances that things will improve, that was not the case.
In a report released last year on care and protection by the ACT Auditor-General it became known that the government could not tell you on any given day where the children that were in care were. Who would have thought that would be too much to ask for?
Late last year we had the release of the ACT Children and Young People Death Review Committee report, and the statistics there showed that 20 per cent of children that died in the ACT over the five-year period examined were either known to Care and Protection Services or one of their siblings was—that is, one in five children who died were known to Care and Protection. We had some deaths that could conceivably have been avoided.
This year we had the report on government services released in January. This report showed the ACT government is continuing to allow the territory's child protection services to flounder. In comparison to other jurisdictions, the ACT spends well below the national average on the sector. On a per capita basis the ACT spends only $551 per child compared with the national average of $739. We spend the lowest on our care and protection services, and it shows.
This budget shows that even after all those reports, after all the proof that the operations of this department need to be improved, after all the reports that show our children are being let down, this is still not seen as a priority by this government. We are happy to throw $600 million at a light rail system, we are happy to put $1.3 billion into the budget without really explaining how it is going to be spent but we are not even going to find enough of a funding increase for Care and Protection Services to cover CPI. This government wants to continue to have a system which works against the best efforts of the hard-working, front-line staff and does not provide true support for the children who need it.
There is no consistency here. There are situations where one child may be given back to a mother but not another, situations where children are put into foster care and the father has no knowledge of it, times when children who are in danger are forced to go back to parents when evidence indicates it is not safe. There is case after case of the care and protection system being inconsistent and failing, and we really need to make this a priority of our government.
We spend less in this area not because we are more efficient but because we are delivering poorer outcomes. We are throwing away money on things like light rail but when it comes to Care and Protection Services, with our most vulnerable people, we seem to have short arms and long pockets.