ROYAL COMMISSION INTO THE NEW SOUTH WALES POLICE SERVICE PAEDOPHILE INVESTIGATION
Mrs BEAMER: My question is directed to the Premier. What is the Government’s response to the recommendations of the police royal commission’s investigation into paedophilia?
Mr CARR: The royal commission’s report on paedophilia was an Australian first. For the first time in this country’s history we have had the benefit of a detailed investigation of the issue and an equally detailed plan to deal with it. We have had 140 recommendations to consider, each designed to help and protect children from abuse by predators.
Mr Collins: On a point of order. This is plainly a ministerial statement. This ministerial statement should have been made before question time, and I should have had a right to reply to this ministerial statement.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Premier is entitled to respond to the question asked by the honourable member for Badgerys Creek. It is far too early for the Chair to rule whether this is a ministerial statement.
Mr CARR: There were 140 recommendations, each designed to help us protect children from abuse. I say at the outset that it will take some time
to put all of them in place. However, the Government will put legislation to the Parliament this session. I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute once again to royal commissioner Wood and his team for their efforts in exposing the dimensions of this scourge on the community. He has both the total support and the confidence of my Government. The creation of the Child Protection Enforcement Agency in July last year has given us the nation’s best police unit of that kind. The CPEA has now laid more than 500 charges against paedophiles. This level of activity was previously unknown, and it is a sad reflection on the state of policing in New South Wales that that was the case.
Mr Hartcher: On a point of order. Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to the very learned ruling by Speaker Kelly in 1976. I think you were a member of this Chamber in those days. Speaker Kelly ruled:
The Premier is dealing with an important matter of policy, and he is stating the proposed actions of his Government. It is very important and we acknowledge that, but I submit to you that it is a ministerial statement and I would ask that you so rule.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have listened closely to the Premier. He has indicated legislation could be introduced but he has not gone on to detail Government policy.
Mr CARR: The CPEA was praised by the royal commissioner. In addition to that, four joint investigation teams, known as JITs, are now operating; another four will begin shortly. They were recommended by the royal commission in its earlier report and we have implemented them. The royal commissioner has indicated his satisfaction with how they are working. I am able to report to the House that in the teams’ first month of operation 18 people have been arrested and a total of 52 charges have been laid. The joint investigation teams have dealt with 129 abuse cases. Seven cases have been brought before the Children’s Court and 40 apprehended violence orders have been taken out. I can report to the House that of the royal commission’s 140 recommendations the Government has commenced or completed implementation of a third. I can report to the House that work has begun on the remainder of the recommendations which relate to the key areas of the Children’s Commissioner, complaints handling, pre-employment screening, and investigations against staff. Let me now turn to some of the specific recommendations made by Justice Wood and the royal commission. My Government supports the creation of a register of sex offenders. I have written to the Prime Minister requesting -
Mr Collins: On a point of order. Plainly, the Premier is now talking about proposed Government action on this extremely important issue. It is an issue which warrants a ministerial statement. Rather than take the time of question time, when members should be able to ask questions of the Government, the Premier should have addressed this issue when you called for ministerial statements earlier. That would have given an opportunity for me to respond on behalf of the Opposition, which is consistent with the proper forms of this House. This is a ministerial statement.
Mr SPEAKER: I remind the Leader of the Opposition that two opportunities exist for ministerial statements. At the end of question time the Premier may wish to make a ministerial statement.
Mr Whelan: On the point of order. Mr Speaker, I would have thought that Speaker Rozzoli’s rulings on ministerial statements would have more weight in this Chamber than former Speaker Kelly’s. I refer you to Decisions of the Chair, page 5744 of Hansard in 1988-90. Speaker Rozzoli ruled:
Ministerial statements are covered not by the standing orders but by usage and practice. Statements of public importance which announce and touch on some policy of or proposed action by the Government constitute a ministerial statement.
That is a very good ruling and I ask you to uphold it.
Mr Photios: On the point of order. The Premier has three times used the words "report to the Parliament" in his answer. In other words, he is not responding merely to a question without notice but he is actually making a ministerial statement on the detail of some of the 140 recommendations. Going to your earlier ruling, and very appropriately the action to be taken, the point of the Leader of the Opposition is that the Premier is now dealing with future and intended legislation. He is dealing with the detail. In every sense of the words, unqualified, this is a ministerial statement.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr CARR: My Government supports the creation of a register of sex offenders. I have written
to the Prime Minister requesting that the creation of a national register be put on the agenda for the next meeting of the Council of Australian Governments. Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table this letter.
In line with the royal commission recommendation, it must be a national register with a uniform approach in all States and Territories. The Government accepts the royal commissioner’s view that a register of sex offenders based on the British system is preferable to a Megan’s law approach. Discussions are already under way with the British police about the operation of their register and a warning system which is activated in exceptional circumstances. The United Kingdom Sex Offenders Act was passed earlier this year. It established a national register of sex offenders including paedophiles. It established that the amount of time that a person will remain on the register will be in proportion to the seriousness of the offence.
My Government supports the creation of an independent children’s commissioner. As recommended by the royal commission, this will take over the Child Protection Council and some of the Community Service Commission’s responsibilities for children. In establishing the new commission it is essential that we involve key groups, such as the New South Wales Council of Social Service and the New South Wales Child Protection Council, in providing advice on the new commissioner’s functions, structure and resources and the future of the CSC’s responsibilities to people with disabilities and the homeless.
Establishing an organisation with a role as vital as that of the new Children’s Commission should not be done in haste. I will report back to the House when details of the commission’s role, structure, responsibilities and funding are finalised. The report makes a number of recommendations regarding the way in which community services are delivered. The proposal for a children’s division within the Department of Community Services was considered by the Government when it received the report on DOCS from the Council on the Cost of Government. The Government then did not and now does not see this as the way forward for the department. The department already has embarked on a process of major restructuring to improve service delivery across the board. The Government has also accepted other recommendations - 12, 16, 19, 20 to 28 and 32 - relating to standards and improving service delivery. In many cases implementation is already under way.
The New South Wales Crime Commission will receive a reference to use its powers to investigate matters relating to paedophilia. This will enable it to use coercive powers, such as phone tapping, search powers and notices to produce documents, when these would assist the Child Protection Enforcement Agency. I can report to the House that the Police Service has already referred two matters to the Crime Commission and discussions are under way to finalise the ongoing reference.
My Government supports pre-employment screening of people working with children. The departments of health, education and community services have already introduced screening procedures to prevent convicted paedophiles from working with children. New South Wales has obtained an agreement to create a national system of information sharing between police, community services and education Ministers in other States and Territories. The system will outline employees’ rights and appeal mechanisms, will be secure and will have accountability arrangements.
In relation to investigation of allegations against staff, Justice Wood highlighted the potential conflict of interest that may occur when agencies undertake investigations alone. Departments must continue to take responsibility for handling these allegations. However, the Office of the Ombudsman will be given the power to independently oversee these investigations as it currently does in the New South Wales Police Service. In addition, the Government has released a discussion paper on teacher registration as recommended by the royal commission.
Mr O’Doherty: A discussion paper? Can we afford that?
Mr CARR: What did you do about these problems in seven long years? The reason we have a royal commission report is because the coalition failed to act on these matters.
Mr O’Doherty: On a point of order. I draw your attention to a ruling by Speaker Ellis. At page 87 of Decisions from the Chair it is stated:
In answering a question a Minister may give facts about certain things or give facts about matters and initiatives which are proposed by the Government.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved. The honourable member will resume his seat.
Mr Collins: On a fresh point of order. The Premier has just indicated that this is a ministerial statement. The Premier asked, "What did you do?" The Premier wants to know our response on these issues. There can be no clearer proof that this is a ministerial statement.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved. The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. The honourable member for Bulli will remain silent.
Mr CARR: The royal commission recommends the introduction of audio- or video-taped out-of-court statements and proposes pre-trial hearings in which the children’s evidence - examination and cross-examination - is recorded. The Attorney General is currently preparing legislation to enable taping of children’s evidence. I expect it will be introduced in this session. The Attorney General is also considering commission recommendations to create new offences. The Attorney General will also be raising with the Bar Association, the Judicial Commission and the Law Society the recommendation for specialised training for lawyers and judges to assist and to question children more effectively.
Mr Armstrong: On a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I give the call to the Leader of the National Party, I remind members of the Chair’s concern about points of order taken in order to interrupt a statement from any member in the House. I have already ruled on ministerial statements. I trust this point of order does not deal with that matter.
Mr Armstrong: In light of the last few words of the Premier in which he clearly indicated that he will introduce legislation, it is a ministerial statement.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat.
Mr CARR: The Children’s Commission will have an important role to play in monitoring the quality and relevance of this type of training. A confidential fourth volume of the royal commission report cannot be released until certain legal proceedings have been completed. Justice Wood referred to this in chapter 7 at page 739 of the report. I have not seen the volume and it is being held by the Police Integrity Commission. The royal commission’s final report is the beginning of our work, not the end. Children must be protected and we now have a blueprint to do just that - to protect children right across the community. This report gives New South Wales the opportunity to lead the nation in dealing with this most fundamental of society’s problems.
To preserve the rights of members during Question Time, when replies to questions are to take the form of Ministerial Statements they should be deferred until the time allotted for questions has expired.