CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE (SAFETY) (MISCELLANEOUS) AMENDMENT BILL

I would like to thank the members who have made contributions, particularly the Attorney-General and the member for King, and also the member for Reynell, who is obviously very passionate about this area and who I know has put a lot of work into this. I also thank the Deputy Speaker—who was the Chair—for the very long debate that we had, but it is a very important piece of legislation, so I was more than happy to answer the questions that were required. 

The member for Reynell makes a few assertions, one being that we delayed the bill. The reason for the delay with respect to bringing this forward was actually due to the COVID emergency. All the COVID emergency bills clearly took priority in this house. However, it did allow more time for consultation and people to come forward with their views so, as far as consultation is concerned, that was an advantage because there was even more time. 

Regarding the adoption part of this bill, which is probably the most controversial or the part that the Labor Party has not supported, which is very sad, this party, the Liberal Party, myself— 

The Hon. R. SANDERSON: I announced our intent to bring adoption to this house in September 2019. Since then there has been ample time for people's voices to be heard. We held a forum. We have met with people. We have gathered the information and thoughts from foster carers, from children in care, from children who had been in care, from people who had been adopted previously, from our department—from many different sources and groups of people. 

As the Attorney-General points out, there will be people who will be adamantly against or for this no matter what. There are people who have had negative adoption experiences, just as there are children who have had very negative experiences with their biological family, hence the reason 4,500 are in care. There are no guarantees, whether you are adopted or born to a family, that you are going to have an idyllic life. 

What we are doing is recognising the hard work, the commitment, the love, the care, everything that foster carers are providing to children in their care, and we are saying that we know that statistically, and research shows, permanence, a loving home and a caring family that is forever are significant and important for children and for the carers. We are saying for the first time as a government that that should be an available option for these children. 

The reason this will be in the Children and Young People (Safety) Act is that this only applies to children who have already been removed from their families. This is the relevant act that pertains to those children. That is why it is not in the Adoption Act—because it is only for children who a court has already determined on the basis of facts and the evidence are no longer safe to live with their biological family. That often requires several court trips. There might be an assessment order that the court determines; there might be a short-term order while we are working on reunification with a family, if that is at all possible; and then there will be a further order that is to guardianship to 18. 

So these children have already gone through all those processes. These children are already with a foster family, and we have put in the extra safeguard that they need to have been with the foster family for two years so that we already have an established relationship. Of course, if there is a subsequent sibling born who is a biological sibling to one child the family has had for over two years, there will be exceptions where there might be adoption sooner than the two years. 

However, we have done our best to have an ideal adoption. So it is an integrated birth certificate so the biological family and the new family are both recognised. It is an open adoption: everyone is aware of what is going on. Of course, the families would most likely be known to each other already. Being foster carers, often there is contact arrangements with biological families. 

Some foster carers and biological families are pretty amazing; I have met some who even have WhatsApp groups with family members on both sides—the mum's side, the father's side—and they put up photos of significant things or sports days. I think it can be done really well. There might be times when the adoption does mean there will be less contact with the family, but wherever possible that contact would continue. 

The member for Reynell questions the consultation. I just want to remind the member of the consultation under the former Labor government, when John Rau, the member for Enfield at the time, did his consultation on the principal act. Then, I was in opposition and I was the one actually meeting with all the stakeholder groups, the same stakeholder groups I met with in government and asked again because I knew they were very involved in this legislation right from the beginning, back in about 2017 when it was brought in or even earlier when it was proposed; I think probably earlier. 

The original bill, the Children and Young People (Safety) Bill, was brought in as a result of the Nyland royal commission. The draft bill went out for consultation to the sector on the YourSAy website around December, right on Christmas, right when all the NGOs and everybody are not really engaged, no-one is really thinking about work, everyone is thinking about Christmas. 

It was consulted on over the December-January time period, and possibly November, but I am not sure. I just remember getting the feedback from all the non-government organisations to say that they had intended to have holidays or a break or relax, but they were all back in the office putting in these massive proposals on a huge, brand-new piece of legislation they had to then consult on. 

They all changed their plans and did not go on holidays. They all came back into work over Christmas to put in extensive feedback, which I read every single word of—I still have a folder with all that information in it—and which I also had at the back of my mind when we were drafting all these amendments. Those submissions were given to the member for Enfield at the time, the deputy leader or Minister for Child Protection Reform, John Rau, and when you read the final bill you could say he possibly ignored every single piece of feedback because there was nothing in there that looked remotely like any of the feedback I had read. 

Not only did he pretty well possibly ignore all the feedback that all the NGOs had given up their Christmas holiday breaks to present as their case but he introduced the bill through moving to suspend standing orders and brought it in forthwith. I did not even get to see the final bill. The final bill was not consulted on by the NGOs who put in their original feedback—nobody saw it; I did not even see it. It was moved at 11 o'clock in the morning and I had to speak immediately after the member for Enfield had spoken. I had to speak immediately after that without ever having seen the bill. That was how consultation was done under the Labor government. 

Coming into government, I knew that I did not want to be like the former government, and that is why we did consult. I already knew who the people were who were engaged with this issue. They were the same people I had met with when in opposition, the people I had breakfast meetings and forums with and to whom I showed my bill. We then also showed the final draft of the bill, so we did two lots of consultation because I did not want to be anything like the Labor government when they were in power. They were shocking at consultation, and that is why I went to every effort to consult on not only the draft bill but the final bill. We met in person, I had forums and we did everything possible to do a full and thorough consultation. 

The member for Reynell then, after all that consultation, brought in amendments with no notice. I had no idea who she met with—she would not say—or why we even needed the amendments. I did not feel that we needed to bring them in. I did say that we would look at all of those again. There will be a full review in 2022, as required by legislation. This was not intended to be that full review because the full review is required four years after the implementation of the act, which is in October 2022. 

We can put it on the YourSAy website. We will put it everywhere. Everyone can have their say and we will take our time and do a full and thorough review. That is not what this was. These were amendments to bring through a Liberal government policy commitment for adoption and permanency for young people in care. It was to improve and embed the Aboriginal child placement principle to give it more importance. It was to bring back the best interests of the child, which was important. 

There were many important things that would change in this legislation. There were things that would change as a result of feedback from the courts, from the Attorney-General and from other people. You really need to see a piece of legislation working before you can really make changes because there will be things that need refining and updating. Four years after the bill is a good time to look at everything and plenty of time for it to go through and be embedded, so we will absolutely be doing that. I think the bill strikes the right balance. I think it is a great effort by all the people who have committed their feedback and their time. 

I thank the staff at DCP, in particular Elizabeth and Fiona, who have sat through hours and hours of debate, prepared my folder and really helped in the understanding of all the technical sides of this bill. I thank also my staff, particularly those who have shared their personal stories in relation to adoption, and those in care, those who are carers, those who wished that adoption had been available for them, and those who have been adopted and who see that this is so important. 

They have had wonderful opportunities and wonderful lives as a result of being adopted and think it should be available for these children a court has determined unfortunately cannot go home because it is not safe to do so. I have listened, and we have made the relevant changes, and I commend this bill to the house. 

Bill read a third time and passed.