Extracted from Hansard - House of Assembly 12 November 2020

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce the Children and Young People (Safety) (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2020, which makes a number of necessary amendments to the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017. This bill honours my commitment that I would prioritise a 12-month stakeholder review of the act.

This bill has been developed in consultation with key stakeholders, including government agencies, peak bodies, Aboriginal organisations and representative groups, as well as relevant advocacy and oversight bodies regarding the first year of operation of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017. This bill seeks to progress a series of amendments based on the consultation feedback, noting that there is a requirement under the act for a full review in 2022 when I anticipate a broader public consultation will take place.

The government has closely considered the advice received. The proposed amendments will strengthen the effective and efficient operation of the act and those proposals which received overwhelming stakeholder support. Given the scope of the review, not all proposals have been incorporated at this stage. Some of these have been deferred for consideration under the 2022 legislative review, either because they did not receive widespread support or were of such significance that they warranted further testing and consultation.

I will briefly refer to the key amendments contained in the bill. The first is the insertion of a subsection to ensure those involved in the administration, operation and enforcement of this act work in the best interests of children and young people. Members in this house will be aware that I have consistently advocated that all children and young people in care should expect that those responsible for their care have a focus on the child or young person's best interests, and that implicit in best interests is safety.

A number of stakeholders provided their support for the inclusion of 'best interests' and I am proud to be responsible for its insertion in this bill. While the bill maintains safety as the paramount consideration for the decision-maker, reintroducing 'best interests' is intended to further embed a principled framework which has a child's best interests as a key consideration.

We have responded to the calls of stakeholders and this bill honours the Marshall Liberal government's own commitment to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people. We have elevated our previous commitment to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principles, at a policy level, to a legislative framework. This embeds into legislation what we aim to achieve in practice. Specifically, the bill:

  • describes each of the five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle; and
  • embeds the commitment that any person or body performing functions under the act which involve or are related to the placement of Aboriginal children and young people will take active and timely steps to give effect to the principle.

These provisions are intended to ensure that those responsible understand the principle as a framework to guide their actions and that it is the government's commitment to continue to work with its Aboriginal partners towards full implementation of the principle over time.

I reiterate that each of these amendments is an important step as we work with our partners to embed our commitment to achieving the true policy intent of the principle, in the way its implementation was envisaged and articulated by Aboriginal stakeholders. This includes the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, more commonly known as SNAICC.

As we keep striving to do better, I want to acknowledge the continuing support and advice of our Aboriginal partners. The bill also includes significant amendments relating to provisions, which will enable the government's adoption from care policy.

Last year in September, I consulted on the practice of adoption from care as one of a range of permanency options in South Australia for children and young people in care. From the outset, I made it clear that adoption for Aboriginal children is not being considered. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle will continue to provide the framework for permanency planning for Aboriginal children and young people. As I have stated in the house before, whilst open adoption is not for every individual, it should be considered when it is the child or young person's best interests.

The core messages we heard throughout the consultations were that each child is different, and that decisions to support adoption should be made according to a child's individual circumstances, taking into account their best interests, wellbeing and wishes. This is consistent with the government's child-centred approach to permanency planning in general.

The proposed provisions included in this bill reflect this feedback by providing a specific pathway for adoption for children and young people in care while maintaining appropriate checks and balances. This approach acknowledges the unique circumstances of children under guardianship and the particular importance of permanency and stability to the wellbeing of a child in care.

Every child deserves to live in a safe, loving and secure home for life. Adoption from care as a permanency pathway is a new, exciting and much welcome policy. Open adoption can now be considered as a genuine option when undertaking permanency planning for children and young people in care.

The house will see that the bill amends section 59 of the principal act to limit the orders under which the onus of proof is reversed. This amendment provides that the reverse onus only applies to applications for long term guardianship—specified person orders. As noted, there are a number of small amendments which give greater effect to the principle of timely decision-making, which we know is in the best interests of children and young people.

These include the reintroduction of short-term investigation and assessment orders, consistent with those previously provided for under the now repealed Children's Protection Act 1993. This amendment makes clear that the court may make an order granting custody of the child or young person to the chief executive for a specified period not exceeding eight weeks while an investigation of the circumstances of the child is carried out.

Finally, several minor amendments have been included to provide greater clarity in the administration of the act to support more effective and timely decision-making that will best serve children and young people in care and to remedy some minor technical issues identified following the current act's commencement.

The bill will introduce the rule requiring hearings for court orders to be commenced within 10 weeks of the application. This provides the court with the ability to make short-term custody orders of up to six weeks to allow an investigation of the circumstances of the child or young person to be carried out. It also reinstates the option available under the Children's Protection Act 1993 and will allow urgent applications to be dealt with more expeditiously. The short-term custody order can be extended by up to four weeks if necessary.

Importantly, it removes the potential conflict between the jurisdictions of the Youth Court, the chief executive and the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) in relation to inconsistencies arising over placement of children under guardianship and the application of the general and Aboriginal placement principles.

Finally, I thank my department and all those who have provided me with their comments, feedback and assistance that have enabled this bill to be presented in the house. I would like to thank each of the stakeholders who took the time to contribute to this process and provide feedback. I know we are all united in our goal to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and young people in care. I commend the bill to the house and seek leave to have the explanation of clauses inserted in Hansard without my reading it.