Appropriation Bill 2017 (Estimates)

Ms SANDERSON (Adelaide) (17:05): I rise to make my report on estimates from last week. I am no longer the shadow minister for social housing or youth; however, I did participate and ask questions on behalf of the shadow minister along with sitting in on the questioning about the status of women. They were all with minister Bettison. I must say that I almost developed an ulcer from frustration with how long every single question took to answer, how rambling and long all the answers were and how they went off on tangents. The minister was certainly very skilful at not actually answering any questions.

It was quite a frustrating experience, and I certainly do not feel that I am any more enlightened in any way on the topics of social housing, youth or the status of women. I think about two questions on each of those were actually answered in full. In contrast, it was fantastic to have an hour and a half with minister Close on child protection. There were no Dorothy Dixers, which was wonderful as well. We got through a lot of questions. Unfortunately, 14 of those were taken on notice, so we do not actually have the answers, but I did ask the questions. I really hope that I am able to get some of those answers in a timely manner, preferably in the next few weeks or the next month—that would be fantastic. I hope that I do not have to wait until after the election to get those answers.

We were able to get some answers. It has been over a year since the royal commission report was handed down, and there have been slight improvements in the time taken to answer the Child Abuse Report Line. However, we find that there were still 23,000-odd calls that were not answered. It is a small improvement, but it is no joy for those 23,000 people who attempted to make a call to the Child Abuse Report Line in good faith because they felt that children were being left in danger or neglected but gave up before their calls were answered. It is quite shocking to think of how many children are left unsafe.

There were also still a lot of children who were substantiated and then resubstantiated within 12 months, which means that whatever processes or safety plans were put in place for those children, or whatever remedies were sought, made no difference to those children's lives. In fact, they were left in danger for a further year and then reported again. As many of the non-government organisations and stakeholders have said repeatedly, the government needs to put a lot more effort and energy into early intervention and prevention.

In August last year, the government had already committed an extra $200 million into child protection. In the Mid-Year Budget Review, they announced a further $232 million, and in this budget a further $86.5 million was introduced, which was mostly for the extra cost of housing children in residential care due to their inability to actually fill the full-time equivalent staff. They are having to outsource. It was mentioned in 2014, in my first estimates with minister Rankine, that 360 extra staff would be employed in the residential care facilities to save money by not outsourcing to commercial care.

Three years later, that is still not fixed. This government makes announcement after announcement of big spending. Money is announced and there is a big show and a press conference, yet nothing happens. It is incredibly frustrating that three years later the government is having to put a further $86.5 million in this budget because they have failed to employ enough people in residential care. We saw that last year $99.7 million extra was required for residential care as well because they were unable to fulfil those FTEs.

The government has reduced the number of children in commercial care, which is eight-hour shift workers in accommodation such as hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and that sort of thing. They have reduced that from 212 to 162 and we are assured that, whilst they are in commercial care, they are no longer in hotels or motels, but the number in residential care has risen by more than the commercial care numbers have dropped. Basically, they have just moved them to another eight-hour rotational shift care that may be slightly better, but we still know that eight-hour shift workers with different staff is the worst form of care a child can have, and we know that they are 12 times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.

Many of them become institutionalised. Many of the teenagers I have heard speak who have come through the government system, particularly through residential care, have mentioned in their speeches that their breakfast was made for them every morning and everything was done. When they are put into their own private accommodation at age 17, they have never made breakfast or lunch, they have never travelled on a bus or got themselves to an appointment, and they have never had to ring and make an appointment. These children are totally institutionalised. They are not taught life skills, they have very bad results in schooling and in NAPLAN and they are failing to finish year 12.

They are at a serious disadvantage, and it is costing around $200,000 a year to give these children this horrible life. This government is failing to make the necessary changes to turn that around. For $200,000 a year per child, you would think that you would have the best tutors, the best chefs and the best mentors for these children and that a lot could be done. I understand that some children are better suited to residential care, particularly those with high and complex and multiple needs.

However, at the only residential care facility that I have been allowed to visit with the minister, Tregenza House, the five or six children I personally met did not have a severe or a particular need to be in that residential care facility. They were all under the age of 10, and we know that children under the age of 10 should definitely never be put in these types of facilities. Years ago, the Guardian for Children and Young People recommended that the large facilities all be closed and as many children as possible be moved out of residential care and into family homes.

We know that the government has made multiple announcements on foster care. There was $4.4 million one year and $9 million the year after, I think in February 2016, and we still do not have any answers on how many new foster families came in. How many foster families left? How many are there in total? These are the answers that I am not able to get; the questions were all taken on notice. We need to be more transparent because apparently there are 4 per cent more children in foster care, but I would allege that this is probably just extra capacity with the families that already existed and that all the ads that we are all hearing repeatedly on the radio and on TV, costing millions and millions of dollars, are not getting results.

We know that word of mouth is always the best form of advertising and that looking after existing foster carers is the best way to strengthen and increase the numbers of foster carers in the system. I was also unable to get figures for Other Person Guardianship. Years ago, again in estimates in 2014, there were over 100 children under OPG orders and at that time, there were 85 ongoing applications. That has dropped off, and only about nine or 15 each year have been added.

Clearly, there is an issue, and there has been an issue for three years, so what is being done about it? Why are children not given the stability they need? It is in every report that children need stability, that they need security and that they need to know where they are living. Foster families want to be able to make decisions about going away on the weekend, going on school camp or cutting hair. They do not want to have to hassle the department and wait for them to get back to them. It is mutually beneficial, and I do not understand why it is so difficult for this government to enact it. What is the hold-up and why has it not been fixed?

There are still so many different areas with so many unanswered questions taken on notice. It is still unclear how many FTEs the government is under. The Public Sector Association alleges it is somewhere around 380 FTEs under, if you include the expected increase as well as those that have already been promised. It is very difficult, with so many questions being taken on notice. I hope that we can get answers back soon.

Whilst we have spent around $6 million on the royal commission, I am also still waiting to hear what the cost is on the one-year report, the cost of the government's response, the cost of the legislative changes made and the cost of the new child protection safety act, the screening act. What is the cost of what is going on and what are the results? This government is very good at throwing around millions and millions of taxpayers' dollars to make it look like something is happening. However, it has been more than three years since the Shannon McCoole incident, which was the trigger for this royal commission, and a year since the reporting of the royal commission, yet there are no substantial positive changes.

The number of children going into care is still rising. The number of children on eight-hour rotational shift workers is still rising. We still have over 23,000 unanswered calls to the Child Abuse Report Line. We still have a backlog of eCARL reports. We still do not have children assessed for the NDIS, which was a recommendation due to be fulfilled by 31 March this year. There are still so many failings that the government needs to get on top of.

Whilst it was an improvement, insofar as I asked lot of questions, I am still waiting on at least 14 questions on notice from child protection. Not enough has changed so far, but I hope that we and the minister continue to make changes and amendments, definitely at the early intervention and prevention level, because the numbers are burgeoning, the system is not coping with the number of children it now has and more needs to be done.