Children in State Care Apology

The Hon. R. SANDERSON (Adelaide—Minister for Child Protection) (11:12): I rise to support this very important motion to recognise the 10th anniversary of the formal apology offered by the government of South Australia to children abused in state care. At the time of the apology 10 years ago, it was widely acknowledged that the importance of an apology should not and could not be underestimated, and that is still very true today.

Over the past couple of months, we have witnessed every state in Australia join the National Redress Scheme. While this will never take away the pain experienced by those who suffered these abuses, we hope it will go some way towards supporting survivors in their journey towards healing, particularly in light of the systemic failures of the authorities in the past who could have and should have listened and protected those most vulnerable in our community.

Participation in the National Redress Scheme by South Australia is an acknowledgement that the childhood sexual abuse suffered by children in state government institutional settings was wrong and should not have happened and recognises the suffering survivors can experience, have experienced and do experience today. In South Australia we were already leading the way with our state care compensation scheme for victims of abuse in care, but joining the National Redress Scheme further reinforces our commitment to righting the wrongs of the past and our belief in the words of the survivors and the abuse and neglect in state-run institutions in South Australia.

We know participation in the scheme will significantly impact our Aboriginal community, given the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal survivors who have been in care. The fundamental principles remain that everybody, each and every one of us, has a role to play in keeping children and young people safe from harm.

The South Australian Liberal government has committed to taking actions to strengthen protections for children and young people and is already taking steps to enact this commitment. Achieving change will take time and it is critical that we continue to work together, focusing on keeping children safe while we implement system-wide reforms.

The new Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017, which replaces the Children's Protection Act 1993, provides the foundations for a reformed child protection system. The act leads the way by removing the exemption of church confessions from mandatory reporting obligations. From 22 October this year, anyone who hears an admission of child sex abuse during confession will be required to report this or face prosecution.

The act also provides for a stronger voice and representation for children and young people under custody and guardianship orders in decisions that will affect their lives. It promotes permanence and stability for children and young people who have been removed from their parents or guardians and encourages decisions and actions to be made in a timely matter or, in the case of young children, as early as possible.

The act establishes the Child and Young Person's Visitor scheme, appointing a Child and Young Person's Visitor to conduct visits and inspections of residential care facilities, meeting with the children and young people who live there to ensure their best interests are being considered and that they are cared for. The visitor advocates for children and young people, providing advice to the minister around areas requiring systemic reform, to improve the quality of care and treatment of children and young people in residential care and to ensure quality management of out-of-home care services.

All these measures are to help safeguard children and young people from abuse, such as that experienced by children who were harmed in state care, so that it never occurs again. It was not until the ABC screening of the 1992 documentary, The Leaving of Liverpool, which told the story of two boys who were part of the child migration scheme and the deprivation, hardship and abuse they encountered as orphans in a strange land, that people started speaking about their own experiences. Through the documentary, which served as a catalyst, others felt able to break their silence and speak up.

By 1994, the evidence had become undeniable, as literally hundreds of South Australians spoke of their own experiences as children in care in South Australia, mirroring the stories of abuse and neglect being told around the country. We are listening and we are believing. That is why we, the Liberal government in South Australia, are working for all South Australians, but none more than the vulnerable and at-risk children and young people of our state to keep them safe from harm and provide them with every opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.

Working across government in collaboration with non-government agencies, with families, with carers, with children and young and with the community, together we can make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. Child protection is everyone's business, but it is also everyone's responsibility. We all have our part to play, whether that is reporting something we see that does not look quite right or taking a child into our home as a carer. It could be as simple as donating to an organisation or volunteering some of our time.

Today, we recognise the 10th anniversary of the day we first apologised. Outside the Women's and Children's Hospital in Red Gum Park (Karrawirra) is the memorial to the Forgotten Australians and wards of the state. The work by Adelaide sculptor Craige Andrae, of huge metal flowers intended to be daisies, was erected in 2010, two years after South Australia led the way with our apology to those who had been abused and neglected in state care. Its inscription aptly reads:

In honour of the children who suffered abuse in institutional and out-of-home care. We have grown through awareness and unity. We celebrate our courage, strength and resilience. We are no longer forgotten. Dedicated to the future protection and nurturing of all children.

I encourage you to visit the site and sit under a huge Moreton Bay fig. It is a truly lovely place to sit and reflect on what has been, what is and what can be in the future.

As Minister for Child Protection, I acknowledge the tireless work of staff in the Department for Children Protection and the many agencies in the sector who work hard, to this very day, to keep our children safe. We will continue working, planning and making sure that we are doing everything we can, so that all children and young people are better protected and kept safe from harm so they can grow up with every opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.