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

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (12:05): I rise today to speak on the Children and Young People (Safety) (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill. This bill ensures that the legislative framework for children in care in South Australia is efficient, responsive and inclusive. It prioritises amendments that seek to strengthen the effective and efficient operation of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017, the principal act.

The background of this is that in October 2019 the Minister for Child Protection sought feedback from key government and non-government stakeholders on the efficiency and effectiveness of the act following its first year of operation. Following this feedback, late last year, in 2020, a draft bill was prepared. This bill incorporates minor technical changes and corrections, as well as reflecting stakeholder comments on particular aspects of the current act. The bill is based on, and generally reflects, stakeholder feedback and is limited to changes that strengthen the current act, noting that there is a requirement under the act for a full review in 2022.

The first key amendment involves the insertion of a new section 8(4) to incorporate a best interests principle. The previous reference to 'best interests' was removed from the previous child protection legislation as part of system reform intended to support an unequivocal focus on safety as the paramount consideration for the department and courts in child protection decision-making. Including best interests as a consideration in decision-making, while fully maintaining safety as the paramount or equal consideration, was supported in the most recent consultation on the bill.

The Minister for Child Protection has been a strong advocate of including best interests as a consideration in decision-making, while maintaining safety as the paramount concern. Best interests is now being reinstated as a consideration, whilst ensuring the safety of the child remains paramount.

The second amendment relates to the reintroduction of short-term investigation and assessment orders. Following further consultation and feedback with the Attorney-General, this bill will reintroduce the role requiring hearings for court orders to be commenced within 10 weeks of the application. This will provide the court with the ability to make short-term custody orders of up to eight weeks to allow an investigation of the circumstances of the child or young person to be carried out, with the ability to seek a further four-week extension.

The third amendment includes articulation of the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander (ATSI) Child Placement Principle. Without displacing safety, the bill allows the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle to be the paramount consideration in the administration, operation and enforcement of the act as it relates to Aboriginal children.

The objects of this part include maintaining the connection of Aboriginal children and young people with their family and culture, enabling Aboriginal people to participate in the care and protection of their children and young people, and to act in partnership with state authorities when making decisions about the placement of Aboriginal children and young people under the act.

The bill also more fully articulates each of the principles of the five elements of prevention, partnership, placement, participation and connection. These changes were strongly supported by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal respondents to the consultation.

Amendment 4, insertion of new chapter 7A, includes provision for the adoption of children and young people from care. This seeks to embed into legislation the policy to provide a streamlined pathway for the adoption of children and young people from care. The policy has been the subject of consultation with key stakeholders, and the proposed provisions are included in this bill to enable the timely implementation of the policy and to distinguish the unique position of children in care. The provisions in new chapter 7A do not apply to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

In relation to this amendment, I have seen the frustrations of many people over time who have not been able to seek adoption or take up adoption of a child. I really hope that this part of the bill (when it becomes an act) will provide a timely process so that we can get far better outcomes for families. From my experience as a local member, there are many people who would like to see a more streamlined pathway to adoption. It is not a simple path, nor should it be taken lightly, but there will be far better outcomes in the future when this part of the bill comes into play.

Minor amendments in the bill provide greater clarity in the administration of the act and remedy minor technical errors. One important example is the reverse onus found in section 59 of the principal act. Amendments to this provision will limit the orders under which the onus of proof is reversed. Currently, where the court has placed a child or young person in the custody or guardianship of the chief executive or another person for any period of time and a subsequent application is made, the onus is on the person objecting (usually the parent) to prove that the order should not be made—so, in that regard, reverse onus.

I would like to say I think the minister has done excellent work in consultation in regard to the Children and Young People (Safety) (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill. The children and young people of this state certainly deserve our priority. As time goes on, life becomes more complex for everyone and the things that we can put in place—the legislation we can put in place—and the guiding principles around that to get the right outcomes is what we all seek to do in this place, no matter where we sit.

As I said, there are many complex things that happen in families. I am sure everyone sees these things in their electorate offices, in submissions to electorate offices and in meeting with people, and it is the right thing to do to try and get the best outcome for everyone who presents.

Several years ago, and in light of the tragic death of a foster child, I introduced the Statutes Amendment (Rights of Foster Parents and Guardians) Bill from opposition and was proud, after much negotiation with the government of the day, that we finally got that bill up as an act. I commend the former member for Enfield and the support I got from his office in negotiating my way through to get an outcome that was happy for everyone. We went through about nine drafts changes, but that is the way, sometimes, you have to go to get outcomes in this place. We got there in the end.

It was a sad story about a kinship child who died whilst in the care of kinship parents. When it came to working through the details of the child's burial arrangements and funeral service, and also the opportunity to get listed on the death certificate of young Finn, there was no legal allowance for that to happen. It caused a lot of distress to the Perrett family: Nathan and Monica Perrett at Murray Bridge. As I said, it took a long time—far longer than I thought it would—to get a negotiated outcome.

I appreciate the work I did in opposition with ministers and staff of the government of the day to get the outcomes so that now—and let's hope it never happens, and let's hope it never has to be used—if there is the unfortunate occurrence of a foster child passing away whilst in the care of foster parents, there is the opportunity to get the foster parents' name as an addition to the birth parents' on the death certificate of that child, and there is also the opportunity to negotiate the funeral arrangements of that child. As I said, I hope it never has to be enacted, but it certainly caused a lot of frustration to the Perrett family and a lot of distress at the untimely death of young Finn. I was very proud to get that outcome.

Certainly, there was a staffer in the former Attorney-General's office, and member for Enfield, who worked with me very collaboratively on that to get the right outcome. Sometimes people think you cannot get outcomes; it took a lot of time, but we got there in the end. As I said, I hope it never has to be enacted because it is only if a tragedy happens that that act would come into play.

The principal thing here obviously with this legislation is looking at making it better for the children in care in the state. If we can do whatever we can, if the opportunity is right and the situation is right to get the right streamlined practices in regard to adoption in the state, I think we will have a far better outcome for everyone involved, whether it is for the children obviously, but also for the people who are more than willing to put their hand up to adopt children as it happens sometimes with the necessity of children in care.

With those few words I commend the bill, and I hope it has a speedy passage through the house. I hope it goes through the process in both houses of parliament and gets assented to very quickly.