Tasmania Flags New Child Protection Act

The Government of Tasmania will enact laws to criminalize those in authority who fail to protect a child or young person from a significant risk of sexual abuse.

Liberal Prime Minister Jeremy Rockliff announced the intention on Tuesday amid an ongoing commission of inquiry into the state government’s responses to child sexual abuse in public institutions.

Tasmania Flags New Child Protection Act

Survivors have told the investigation, which is holding public hearings ahead of a final report due in May 2023, about allegations that have fallen on deaf ears and allegedly abusive teachers who have switched schools.

“Too many children have been abandoned by government agencies and living with trauma after being betrayed by a person they should have trusted,” Mr. Rockliff told state parliament.

He said the legislation would be drafted and hopefully passed this year to create a new crime of failing to protect a child or young person.

It is aimed at those in authority within an organization who fail to protect a child from a significant risk of sexual abuse by an adult associated with that organization.

Tasmania has mandatory reporting laws, requiring professionals such as teachers and principals to report suspected child abuse.

The state government also plans to amend the penal code to introduce a presumption that children under 17 cannot consent to sexual intercourse when a person has a position of authority over them.

Mr. Rockliff identified several changes in government processes, including more trauma-informed code of conduct investigations, better sharing of information with agencies and survivors, and more consistent responses to the right to information (RTI).

Mr. Rockliff apologized to the survivors and said he would issue a formal apology on behalf of Parliament once the public hearings of the investigation concluded.

Tasmania’s Commissioner for Children and Youth, Leanne McLean, welcomed the commitments and urged the government to act quickly.

Education Secretary Tim Bullard told the inquiry earlier this month that a “mosaic of approaches” had been used to investigate historical abuse claims.

One survivor told the investigation that he needed permission from his abuser to access government information as part of an RTI request.

Mr. Rockliff said any state agency workers who came to the investigation would be supported and given two days of leave.

Labor opposition leader Rebecca White said it was encouraging to see a clear statement from the government.

“(However) there didn’t seem to be any timelines for the delivery of many of the pledges. We’ll be looking into some details,” she said.

In Thursday’s state budget, Thursday’s state budget will provide approximately $36 million to fund child protection officers at all public schools and other initiatives.

The officers, some trained existing teachers and others new staff, are said to be a “central point of contact” for school child safety matters.

It was one of 20 recommendations from an independent report released in November.

It found that in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the Education Department was primarily concerned with protecting itself from legal, financial, and reputational risks when handling abuse complaints.

The investigation was called off in November 2020 after allegations of abuse against a northern Tasmanian nurse and juvenile detention center staff received public attention.

Lori J. Kile
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