MINISTERIAL STATEMENT: ONLINE PREDATORY BEHAVIOUR

Extracted from Hansard- House of Assembly 22 September 2020

I seek leave to make a ministerial statement.

Leave granted.

Last week, South Australians were confronted by the reports of abhorrent abuse against a minor. Sentencing remarks made by Her Honour Judge McIntyre exposed how truly devious child sex offenders are. I would like to remind the house that at the centre of this is a vulnerable young person in care.

I want to be clear that, in any discussion of this incident, members and the public respect that the privacy of the young person who was the victim of this crime is maintained, that in exploring the circumstances of this matter we do not reinjure and retraumatise this young person, and indeed the many other young people in the community who have also been victims of child sex offenders, and that we do not perpetuate the unacceptable narrative where the blame for violence against women, children and young people is shifted away from the offender.

On 14 September 2020, a 35-year-old male sexual predator was convicted of two serious offences, including unlawful sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 14. I share the community's outrage that this has occurred, and I know that all parents and carers across South Australia and the nation are concerned about their children going online and being exposed to the risk of sexual predators. I will not shy away from the scrutiny I expect the public to place on how young and vulnerable people are cared for.

The media attention has understandably been that a minister was not apprised by her department of a very serious incident of a child in statutory care. I have already addressed my own dissatisfaction with my department in relation to this matter. I can advise the house that, immediately upon discovering the perpetrator's criminal behaviour against the young person, the department initiated a rapid and comprehensive response centred on the best interest of the young person.

Child protection practitioners supporting this young person acted in a timely and decisive manner in their prompt identification of this predatory behaviour; in their immediate referral of the matter to SA Police, which resulted in the offender's arrest; and in their efforts to mitigate the harm caused by the perpetrator's offending through the ongoing provision of targeted and therapeutic supports.

I reiterate to the house that, in accordance with established protocols, staff reported the matter to SA Police and immediately provided trauma-informed therapeutic interventions to the young person. A complex case review was undertaken and, as per their recommendations, the young person will continue to receive a range of targeted, specialised and wraparound services to support her mental, physical and emotional wellbeing going forward.

I have met with my chief executive, Cathy Taylor, and reaffirmed my expectation that I should have been advised much earlier by my department of this tragic case. In relation to the department's ongoing response, I can confirm it has policies and practice guides in place for the use of mobile phones and social media in residential care homes, which cover cyber safety and the responsible use of technology. As I have stated, it was these policies and practices that instigated immediate contact to SA Police.

Last Friday, I also met with the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Helen Connolly. From that, she has renewed her commitment to e-safety and the protection of children and young people. My department has also provided a briefing to the Guardian for Children and Young People. My department and I will continue to support the work of SA Police and the eSafety Commissioner to improve community awareness about online predatory behaviour, including sexual predators, and reduce the incidence of sexual abuse of children online. To that effect, I have arranged a meeting with the e-safety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, to further discuss implementing restrictions and improving safeguards for access by children to improve online safety.

I have also written to the Minister for Police requesting an urgent meeting with the Joint Anti-Child Exploitation Taskforce of the Australian Federal and South Australia Police to pursue other avenues to remove these sick and depraved predators from our community.

In addition, the department has consolidated and enhanced its practice in regard to targeting predatory online behaviour. The Department for Child Protection has:

  • Further modified its significant incident reporting procedure;
  • Commenced communications to ensure all staff and carers are familiar with the volume of online apps and social media that might be used by sexual predators to target children and young people;
  • Continued to work with the MacKillop Family Services to implement the Sanctuary model of therapeutic residential care and to consider opportunities to scaffold this model with specialised training through innovative programs, such as MacKillop’s Power to Kids; and
  • We have tabled e-safety on the agenda of the Children and Families Secretaries meeting in November 2020 to support a national approach to this important issue.

Of course, this incident should give not only my department but all parents and carers pause to consider what strategies should be put in place to ensure that we are all armed to recognise predatory behaviour targeting our children so we can intervene as early as possible.

Like any parent, getting the balance right between independence and supervision requires an ongoing focus. As a government, as a community and as parents it is appropriate that we reinforce our commitment to do everything in our power as a whole of government and a whole of community to be alert to the vulnerability of children to this kind of criminal behaviour, to keep children safe from online predatory attacks and to hold offenders accountable for their crimes, and this is exactly what I will doing.