Address in Reply

The Hon. R. SANDERSON (Adelaide—Minister for Child Protection) (12:37): I rise today to speak on the Address In Reply, which sets out the Liberal government's reform agenda for the 54th parliament. Thank you to the Governor, His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC, for his opening of parliament last week. As the 35th Governor, you and your lovely wife, Lan, have served the South Australian community well, and I hope that you serve for many more years to come. I would also like to acknowledge the election of our Speaker, the youngest Speaker in South Australian history, and wish him all the best in this prestigious and important role in this parliament.

I also congratulate the Premier. As the leader of the Liberal Party, you took a strong and focused team to the election. You articulated our many, many policies to the masses and led from the front during the whole campaign—not only during the campaign but for the many years leading up to 2018. I remember fondly our time together on the back bench when were both first elected in 2010.

I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the new members in this place: the Liberal members, the members for Colton, Davenport, Elder, Finniss, Heysen, Kavel, King, MacKillop, Morphett, Narungga and Newland; and the Labor members, the members for Badcoe, Croydon (arriving from the other place), Playford and Wright.

I stand today in government, led ably by the Premier but also equally ably by the Deputy Premier. Almost 125 years after women got the vote and were able to stand in this place, the member for Bragg holds the highest parliamentary role held by a woman in South Australia's history, and she also holds the role of Attorney-General—again, the first woman to do so.

As Minister for Child Protection, I am very pleased to be taking responsibility for overseeing a department that is building a better system to protect vulnerable children and young people in South Australia. There are currently 3,583 children and young people under my guardianship as at 31 March this year. As Minister for Child Protection, I see my ultimate responsibility as doing everything in my power to see that vulnerable and at-risk children and young people are kept safe from harm and neglect so that they have the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential, and I take this responsibility very seriously.

During my time in opposition, and indeed since taking up my place as minister, I have met with many young people, carers and other stakeholders in the industry who have felt that they were not being heard in the past and that they had been undervalued by the previous system. Since assuming the role of minister, I have already visited more than a dozen Department for Child Protection site offices, speaking with staff, children, young people and carers, gathering their thoughts and opinions so that we can work with them to build a better system where there are fewer children and young people in care and so that those who are already in care are served better.

Where possible, those in care should be living in stable, nurturing family-based environments surrounded by love and encouragement so that they have the best opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. In the lead-up to the election, I campaigned on a number of issues relating to child protection that became Liberal and now government policies that I intend to deliver on. These include the diversification of the workforce. The Nyland royal commission talked about the shortage of suitably qualified social workers to meet the demands of the child protection system in South Australia.

My department is working on a recruitment process and criteria where the types of qualifications recognised by recruitment panels will be expanded beyond those with a degree in social work to include qualifications in a relevant field. This will go a long way towards addressing the skills shortage. I have met with both the PSA and the AASW to discuss their preferred qualifications that should be included. In particular, this government will not restrict its workforce to those holding an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in social work. This will be done without compromising the welfare or safety of children who need protection.

As the Nyland royal commission found, South Australia has not aligned itself with the recruitment practices in all other Australian jurisdictions which have targeted workforce planning strategies. As a result, vacancy levels have been consistently higher, placing pressure on staff to work beyond their capacity, compromising service delivery and potentially risking the safety of vulnerable children.

Like all other Australian jurisdictions, this government will recognise a broader range of qualifications in the human services field. As the Nyland royal commission recommended, while social work will continue to be regarded as the preferred qualification, other relevant qualifications will also be recognised which can be augmented by further in-house training.

Another policy that we are working on is to appoint an Aboriginal commissioner for children. The over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care is also something we will be addressing. Our government has committed to appointing an Aboriginal commissioner for children, and this will occur shortly. The Aboriginal commissioner for children will focus on assisting Aboriginal families and communities to keep children safe in culturally appropriate ways. We must do more to deal with the poor outcomes for Aboriginal children in child protection, education, health and justice.

In South Australia, 37 per cent of all children admitted to care and protection orders in 2015-16 were Aboriginal children. Aboriginal children comprise more than 32 per cent of all those on care and protection orders. A series of inquiries in South Australia, including the Nyland royal commission in 2016 and the Mullighan report in 2008, identified the extent of Aboriginal child sexual abuse, child abuse and neglect, and also educational issues, youth crime and substance abuse. The Aboriginal commissioner will develop policies and practices that promote the safety and wellbeing of all Aboriginal children, and once appointed, a round table will be organised to discuss with all of the stakeholders where best to direct his or her initial concerns.

I have also long been an advocate for extending foster care and kinship care payments from age 18 to 21. This will enable the young person to remain in a stable supportive family home environment. This will provide some of the most vulnerable young people in our community with the extra security they need to branch out into the workforce, attend university or gain further training. 

Thirty per cent of those leaving care are homeless within 12 months. This policy will provide the opportunity for young people to remain in their foster care or kinship care placement through to 21, should they choose to do so, by ensuring the provision of reimbursements to be paid to carers. While this policy is about removing barriers that keep our children in out-of-home care from achieving their best lives, it is also about allowing government the flexibility to move with the times and update their policy settings to reflect changing society values. The whole community benefits when our young people are safe and secure in a loving environment. We want to ensure that young people who have suffered a hard start in life are able to get on their feet as they approach adulthood.

Research shows that home-based care is far better for children than eight-hour rotational care, such as is used in residential and commercial care. I have directed my department to audit all children in either government or non-government residential and commercial care to identify children and young people who are suitable to be moved into home environments, such as foster care or kinship care. Unfortunately, there are some children who, I am told, may require therapeutic care in a residential care home. However, the use of commercial care should be stopped as soon as possible, and that is certainly one of my goals.

The best interests of children and young people under my guardianship is at the heart of all decisions and policies that will be implemented. A whole-of-government approach is one of the major priorities of this government. We need to stop the silo approach of the former government and work as one for the best interests of children and young people and the staff in our departments. The department and I cannot do this alone. Over the next four years, we will be calling on other government agencies, the non-government sector, families and community as we work together to continue to improve how we do business and create opportunities to ensure that children and young people in our care have the best chance to thrive and have success in adult life. Child protection is everyone's responsibility.

I would also like to thank my electorate for believing in me once again. It was a hard-fought election, being my third election, and I would like to thank the many volunteers who made this possible. There are many volunteers who have been with me through all three campaigns, working tirelessly, putting up posters, doorknocking, letterboxing, working on booths and helping with administration as well. There are lots of workers. Everybody in this house would know that it takes a whole community to win an election.

I am both humbled and privileged to now be the Minister for Child Protection. Whilst this is a very difficult area that has been fraught with controversy, royal commissions, reviews and inquiries for many years under a Labor government, I will do everything I can to work with my department to implement changes and reforms that are needed to improve the lives of children who are already in care, reduce the numbers of children at risk of coming into care and support families to be stronger so that they are able to maintain their relationships with their children.

It is a wonderful opportunity to be part of a Marshall Liberal government, and I certainly take my responsibility very seriously. Again, I will not only work very hard in my new ministerial role but I will continue to be a very hardworking local member and advocate strongly for my constituents throughout my whole electorate, where for many years development issues have been one of the hot topics: the risk to heritage buildings, the overdevelopment (in many people's opinions), the change of the landscape in Prospect—Prospect Road and Churchill Road in particular—and now some of the institutional zones in North Adelaide. There were a lot of planning decisions made under the former minister that have seriously affected my electorate, and I look forward to working with the new minister to ensure any issues can be tidied up so that there is not such a dramatic and devastating effect on my local community.

 I will continue to be accessible to my electorate; however, I must say that in the first couple of months it has been a bit of a whirlwind needing to contact so many people in my ministerial role. Literally hundreds of people have written to me in relation to my new portfolio, whom I need to get around to meeting, so I hope that my electorate will be a little bit patient. I will certainly be back there, as I always was, but there is a lot to clean up from what was quite a devastating 16 years of Labor government in child protection. There is a lot to do, but I will work very hard over the next four years to prove to my electorate that I am able to do both very well, and that I will serve them well in this parliament.