Criminal Law Consolidation (Children and Vulnerable Adults) Amendment Bill

The Hon. R. SANDERSON (Adelaide—Minister for Child Protection) (16:50): I rise to speak on the Criminal Law Consolidation (Children and Vulnerable Adults) Amendment Bill 2018, and commend the Attorney-General for her swift action in bringing this very important bill to the house. It is a shame that Labor did not progress this further last year; it went through the lower house and the Liberal Party was happy to pass it through the upper house but it sat on the Notice Paper and was not progressed prior to the election. So again I congratulate the Attorney-General on bringing this forward so soon into the new sitting term.

This bill addresses gaps in the law so that people who inflict serious injuries on children and vulnerable adults do not escape liability. One of the issues we have had previously was the definition of 'serious harm' being used, and that has now been changed to just 'harm'. This bill affects children, defined as a person under 16 years of age, as well as vulnerable adults. That means any person aged 16 years or above who is significantly impaired through physical disability, cognitive impairment, illness or infirmity.

For the purpose of Division 1A, a reference to harm will be taken to include detriment caused to the physical, mental or emotional wellbeing or development of a child or vulnerable adult, whether temporary or permanent. Also for the purposes of this division, 'a defendant has a duty of care to a victim if the defendant is a parent or guardian of the victim or has assumed responsibility for the victim's care.'

There will also be an amendment, as I have mentioned, that 'serious harm' will be deleted and 'harm' substituted. Maximum penalties will also increase significantly; where a victim dies imprisonment for life is available and, in any other case, imprisonment for 15 years. I believe prior to this it was only five years. A new section has also been inserted after section 14:

14A—Failing to provide food, etc. in certain circumstances

If—

(a) a person is liable to provide necessary food, clothing or accommodation to a child or vulnerable adult; and

(b) the person, without lawful excuse, fails to provide that food, clothing or accommodation,

that person is guilty of an offence.

Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 3 years.

I know, from working as the Minister for Child Protection, that unfortunately a lot of harm and neglect is going on in our community to children and vulnerable people. Over the 16 years of the former Labor government there were many royal commissions and inquests: the Robyn Layton review in 2003, there were two Mullighan inquiries, there was the Debelle inquiry, the recent Nyland royal commission, and there has been a series of select committees and coroner's inquests where harm and neglect, death and serious injury have been raised regarding children.

We note that this still continues, so it is great to see that we have some legislation that will strengthen the ability of a judge to sentence adults who have committed offences against children. Many people would remember the house of horrors, which was a shocking blight on South Australia, where children were not being fed and there was severe neglect and extreme abuse. The bill will strengthen the ability of judges to give harsher sentences.

There was also the case of baby Ebony, who presented with a broken femur and was sent home with her family and later died from further injuries. The bill will help to rectify that issue, particularly where the people are responsible for those children. In fact, those responsible could be the state because we have 3,583 children under the guardianship of the state.

This legislation will cover all children and ensure that these children have the right to be considered, even though children are known to heal a lot quicker than adults, which is why the definition of 'serious harm' has been quite difficult to identify in the past. If an older person breaks a hip or a leg, that would definitely be considered a serious injury because of the time it would take to heal and the incapacity that would be created. However, with a child and even with the baby Ebony case, a baby can break the largest bone in their leg, in their body, and heal quite quickly, so it was hard for judges to determine that that was a serious injury. It is great that the bill will rectify that problem.

SAPOL and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have been consulted on this bill. When the bill was last before the house, the former government advised that it had consulted justice and child protection agencies. I commend the amendments to the house and look forward to the bill's speedy progression.