Crimes Amendment (Child Neglect) Bill

About this Item
SubjectsChild Abuse; Government Department: New South Wales: Community Services (DOCS); Parents
SpeakersWest Mr Graham
BusinessBill, Second Reading, Motion

Page: 9976

    Second Reading

    Business resumed from an earlier hour.

    Mr GRAHAM WEST (Campbelltown—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.44 a.m.]: In appropriately severe cases, the option of imprisoning the perpetrator should be clearly available. These prosecutions should be carried out by either the police or the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions under the Crimes Act, rather than by the Department of Community Services [DOCS]. The process is then separated from the intervention work undertaken by DOCS. The Government does not consider it appropriate to amend in any significant way the care legislation at this time. The legislation already contains offences in relation to child abuse and neglect of children and young people.

    The monetary penalties in the care legislation are significant. The maximum penalty for these offences is 200 penalty units, which is currently $22,000. If proceedings are commenced in the Local Court, the maximum penalty that a magistrate can apply is $11,000. The State's care legislation requires DOCS to focus on the safety, welfare, and wellbeing of a child or young person. It requires DOCS to provide a primarily care and protection response that is aimed at taking action to enhance a child's safety, welfare and wellbeing. The care legislation also allows DOCS to work with parents and care givers to provide support and education that is aimed at intervention for the family as a whole if possible, focusing on circumventing any cycle of neglect or abuse. It allows DOCS to engage in early intervention and prevention work so that DOCS can work with parents to help them change their behaviour. This preventive approach can help to circumvent or minimise the likelihood of harm from neglect.

    The Government's Families First strategy and DOCS early intervention initiatives are excellent examples of the Government's commitment to strengthening families and preventing the abuse and neglect of children. These programs seek to identify the early warning signs and provide practical assistance to children and families in need. Families are offered tangible and positive help, rather than a punitive approach. Many children who come to the attention of DOCS have struggling parents or care givers who are facing myriad complex problems, among which might already be a history of incarceration.

    The Government has consistently acknowledged that neglect issues are challenging and require a range of responses, including the tough, but workable, changes to the law proposed in this bill. As the Minister has said previously, the Government does not believe that custodial sanctions should automatically apply in all cases of child neglect. Such an approach might have superficial appeal, but it will not resolve the problem of child neglect. We must recognise, however, that there will be cases that demonstrate a complete and inexcusable failure to care for a child to such an extent that the child's life or health is seriously endangered. The bill proposes sensible and workable amendments in the difficult area of child neglect. The proposals use contemporary language and will provide clear options to care and law enforcement related authorities when determining what sanction should be pursued in circumstances in which a child's welfare is jeopardised. I commend the bill to the House.

    Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Daryl Maguire.