Child Protection Department

Ms SANDERSON ( Adelaide ) ( 14:18 :09 ): My question is to the Minister for Child Protection Reform. Can the minister now identify how many of the 102 Families SA staff identified in the Hyde review are still employed by the agency, and how many are currently suspended on full pay?

The Hon. J.R. RAU ( Enfield—Deputy Premier, Attorney-General, Minister for Justice Reform, Minister for Planning, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Child Protection Reform, Minister for the Public Sector, Minister for Consumer and Business Services, Minister for the City of Adelaide) (14:18:33): I thank the honourable member for her question. I can indicate, as I think I did in answers yesterday, that the government is presently seeking some advice in relation to those matters, and as soon as we are in a position to advise the house about those matters, we will.

Ms SANDERSON ( Adelaide ) ( 14:18 :54 ): Supplementary: given one of these employees was subsequently arrested for child abuse offences, why is dealing with these staff not a higher priority for the government?

The Hon. J.R. RAU ( Enfield—Deputy Premier, Attorney-General, Minister for Justice Reform, Minister for Planning, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Child Protection Reform, Minister for the Public Sector, Minister for Consumer and Business Services, Minister for the City of Adelaide) (14:19:04): Again I thank the honourable member for her question. I reject the premise of the question, which is that this is not a high priority for the government, and I emphasise—

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The member for Adelaide is warned for the second and final time.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I emphasise that—

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Member for Adelaide.

Ms SANDERSON ( Adelaide ) ( 14:19 :28 ): Supplementary: how much did Families SA spend on salaries and wages for staff who were on suspension in the 2015-16 and current financial years?

The Hon. J.R. RAU ( Enfield—Deputy Premier, Attorney-General, Minister for Justice Reform, Minister for Planning, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Child Protection Reform, Minister for the Public Sector, Minister for Consumer and Business Services, Minister for the City of Adelaide) (14:19:40): Obviously I would need to seek some advice about that because I am not presently in a position to say exactly how many people and at what rates of pay those people were operating. What I can say to members is this, and this is a matter which I think might be helpful in understanding the situation in which we all find ourselves: as a matter of appropriate management of staff, it is neither appropriate nor lawful to dismiss people on suspicion without due process.

Mr Marshall interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The leader is on two warnings.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: If there is a serious allegation made against a staff member, it is entirely appropriate that, depending on the nature of the allegation, perhaps that staff member be moved by the chief executive from a place in which they are perceived potentially to be problematic to another place where they are not going to be problematic, or in other circumstances it may be entirely appropriate that that individual be suspended from service altogether. But there is a significant difference between suspending a person pending the completion of an investigation of allegations against that individual and terminating that person on the basis of an allegation.

If a person who is the subject of an allegation, whether it be in the public sector or private sector, is terminated from their employment without due process and without that person being given the opportunity to hear the allegations made against them, to respond to those allegations as they may see appropriate and for their responses to be properly considered and weighed in the balance, that person has the opportunity to seek a remedy against whoever their employer might be, whether that be the state or somebody else. The state, as an employer, is obliged to observe these rules, and the state is an employer that should aspire to be a model employer in particular. I just make the point.

I will try to find out the answer to the question in terms of the dollars and the number of people concerned, but let's all be very clear about this: just because an allegation is made against an individual, that allegation may not be substantiated. That allegation may be untrue, it may be malicious, or it may be completely accurate, and appropriate disciplinary action, which might include being shifted about or termination, should occur, but only after due process.

Ms SANDERSON ( Adelaide ) ( 14:23 :00 ): Supplementary: what would be a reasonable time for an investigation, given it has been about 28 months?

The Hon. J.R. RAU ( Enfield—Deputy Premier, Attorney-General, Minister for Justice Reform, Minister for Planning, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Child Protection Reform, Minister for the Public Sector, Minister for Consumer and Business Services, Minister for the City of Adelaide) (14:23:14): I am not sure exactly what the honourable member is trying to say—

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Would anyone like a question?

Ms SANDERSON ( Adelaide ) ( 14:23 :38 ): My question is to the Premier. Why is staff morale the Premier's measure for a successful child protection system, rather than keeping children safe?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL ( Cheltenham—Premier) (14:23:51): It is because our front-line staff are at the centre of our child protection system. They are the people who go in—

Mr Marshall: That's your number one priority?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: It is, actually. It is, because they are the people—

Mr Marshall interjecting:

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: I know those opposite don't care about the morale of our staff and are prepared to attack our child protection workers at every turn, but the truth is that the last person who seeks to help is the first person they accuse, and they have been pointing the finger at our child protection workers for years and years and years. This is some of the most difficult work that occurs in government: going into difficult families, going into places that many of those opposite would not dare to even actually go near—would not even dare to put themselves in this position.

Mr KNOLL: Point of order, Mr Speaker: 98 and 127.

The SPEAKER: No.

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: Those opposite, who feign this concern for these poor impoverished families where some of the most difficult and awful things happen—it is galling. I must say that I did enjoy the lecture we had from those opposite in the same radio interview, I might regard, from the Leader of the Opposition who said this was a crisis for 14 years. He said that this had been going on for so long and there hadn't been—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: 'Hear, hear!' they all say. Well, where was the child protection response from the Liberal Party of South Australia in the 2014 state election campaign? Zip, zero, nothing. Zip, zero, nothing for child protection centres. Where was the money? Where was the pledge? Where was the pledge in the election campaign of the additional resources that these children need? Zero. Where did the money go? To the big end of town: big land tax cuts, big handouts to the big end of town. This is—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: Well, that's right. Those opposite will be looking at those people who actually step up and look after some of the most impoverished families, some of the families that are facing the biggest challenges in our community. What we know is that the front-line workers in our state who actually go into these families need our support. They need to make courageous decisions about whether to leave children in families, because it is a brave decision to leave a child in a family where you believe you can strengthen that family and ensure that that child is safe, or an equally courageous decision to remove that child from a family, which can be a brutal decision.

It is a brutal decision to take a child from their birth parents in the interests of that child. That is why the morale of our child protection workers, their understanding of their role, that very clear remit they have to put the interests of the child front and centre, is an incredibly important measure of success and an early measure of success. There is much to do in this system, but the first thing we need to do is make sure that those workers on the front line have the confidence and the support necessary to ensure that they are going to be a successful agency and that our children are safe.