Criminal Law Consolidation (Children and Vulnerable Adults) Amendment Bill

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (17:05): I rise to speak to the Criminal Law Consolidation (Children and Vulnerable Adults) Amendment Bill 2018. The reason we are bringing this legislation to this place is that it addresses gaps in the law so that people who inflict serious injuries on children or vulnerable adults will not escape liability. This very same bill passed the House of Assembly in last year, in the time of the former Labor government, but lapsed in the Legislative Council upon the dissolution of parliament. As I indicated, it is identical to the one that lapsed.

The principal effect of this bill is that it amends the offence of criminal neglect to better capture behaviour which was neglectful and which was difficult to prosecute, as it did not necessarily constitute serious harm as defined in the act. For example, babies will most likely recover from multiple fractures without lasting impact, whereas an adult with the same injuries would likely suffer some permanent impairment. The label 'serious harm' will be substituted with 'harm' to ensure that it is capable of capturing injuries inflicted on children, notwithstanding a greater capacity to heal.

This will extend to all acts and omissions that cause physical or mental harm, including detriment to their physical, mental or emotional wellbeing or their development. This also ensures that abusive or neglectful guardians can be prosecuted for cruelty, in addition to specific offences, under the current law. The bill increases the penalty for neglect that causes harm to a maximum of 15 years' imprisonment and neglect that causes death to life in prison.

These penalties are significant. If there is neglect which causes harm, there is a maximum of 15 years' imprisonment, which is no small amount of time to have to reside at our Queen's pleasure, or life imprisonment where neglect causes death. That is why people need to make sure that we look after our most vulnerable, whether they be our children or whether they be adults. We saw what happened with the Oakden scandal where a minister from the former government completely took her eye off the ball. Obviously, there were major issues of neglect.

As children come into the world, you have to look after them and do everything for them. You have to feed them as babies, change their nappies and essentially do everything to make sure that you not only keep them alive but keep them happy and healthy. At the end of life, with what should be excellent aged care in whatever setting it is, or even if you are just looking after your own parents, grandparents or an elderly friend, they have the right to be looked after appropriately, whether that is in a private setting or in a facility, and that includes facilities like Oakden.

In the main, these things do work, but we saw what happened at Oakden—the terrible things that happened and the many families that were involved and the injustice caused to their loved ones. This is why we need to make sure that we have the appropriate legislative response. I acknowledge that it was legislation brought on by the former government.

We need to get it right because our society is only as good as how we tend to look after our must vulnerable, whether they are the youngest people in our care, the most elderly in our care or, through no fault of their own, people who have suffered a terrible accident or injury and need to be looked after, whether they are young or middle aged. People deserve to have that right, so there are serious offences if this bill becomes law and becomes an act and is not complied with. Certainly, you would like to think that, with the threat of 15 years for causing harm, people will take that onboard and do the right thing, particularly in regard to the potential for life imprisonment. It is not that hard.

Many of us have had a parent or loved one in an aged-care facility. My father was for many years. A long time before he left us three years ago, I would take him out for a drive and he would say, 'I must get home.' That is a nice thing to hear from a man who did not want to go in there in the first place because, as he used to say to me, he was not too happy because right next door was the funeral director. I said, 'Dad, it's inevitable, mate. It's what happens.' He realised that, and I must say that he was cared for excellently at Resthaven in Murray Bridge. So it can be done and I commend that facility.

They are building on in Murray Bridge. They are putting on 20 extra rooms and doing a big redevelopment. I think it is about a $16 million build. It is on a sloping site, so it has its difficulties. Work has been going on there since early last year, so the project has been ticking along for about 18 months. A lot of work went on at the back of the facility and there is a lot more work going on in the actual physical construction of the rooms fronting Swanport Road. With regard to that, I understand that, in looking after our elderly people in the local area, Lerwin, which is another facility that does excellent work in looking after the local aged people, is looking at expanding as well.

We just have to face up to it. We have an ageing population, and we will need more and more of these facilities to look after people as we all get older. It is inevitable that a percentage of people will end up in these facilities. Some families can manage—and this is not judgemental at all—to look after their aged loves ones, but for a whole range of circumstances sometimes you just need that expert care for your loved ones in these facilities that have the equipment. It is great to see the amount of different electronic equipment they can get to help people in and out of beds. You have equipment that is electronic combined with hydraulics, as well as electronic wheelchairs, which just makes the life of the person in the facility—and everyone around them—as good as it can be, and that is what we must do as a society.

We just have to make sure that we get it right, and as we do get older our population of aged people is going to expand. However, hopefully we will retain a lot more young people in this state under a Marshall Liberal government and stop some of that brain drain that has been exiting this state by about 7,000 people every year and that we will get a good young population staying in the state and working in the state.

With regard to having consultation on the bill, the South Australia Police and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have been consulted on the bill, and when the last bill was before the house the government had given us advice that it had consulted justice and child protection agencies. We just need to make sure that we get this legislation through this place. Obviously, because the former government presented it to this house in the last parliament, I cannot see any issues with that.

We certainly support the bill from this side. It is sad, really, that we have to legislate at this level when, just by people's nature, we should be able to look after vulnerable children and vulnerable adults. Obviously, as I have seen with different levels of legislation in this place, sometimes you just have to legislate for things where you think, 'Well, common sense will sort that out,' but there are always one or two rogue operators. It does not matter what part of society you are looking at or what part of legislation you are looking at, you have to legislate to a degree to the lowest common denominator. However, in saying that, I sincerely hope that, as a society, we never have to enact this legislation because that shows what society has got to.

Especially in a modern world, where we have access to so many things and gadgets that can make life that little bit better, as a society we should be able to use not just that equipment but also the skills we have learnt, with better access to better technology and better learning in the field of looking after our children and vulnerable adults to get the right outcome. If anyone is not prepared to do that, it is shameful, quite frankly. We need to make sure that we do our utmost to protect these children and adults.

Too many times, I have gone before the former child protection minister with issues about children and foster children. I have certainly seen some interesting outcomes for foster-parents who have been caught up in alleged cases of abuse. The systems are very tight, but it can be very distressing when people do not believe they have done anything wrong. Obviously, the agency has to be absolutely certain that foster-parents have not done the wrong thing by the children under the guardianship of the minister of the day.

It is a tough gig; it is a tough gig for anyone to attempt to get right. I have had several cases—not too many, thankfully—put in front of me. Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to put them in front of the minister of the day, or have some correspondence with the minister of the day, to get the best outcome for the situation. As I indicated earlier, we need to do the right thing. We need to look after our people. If as a society we cannot look after our most vulnerable children and adults, I am at a loss. I commend the bill.