I am pleased to join in the debate on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Child Safe Schools) Bill 2015 and to support the bill.
It seems to me that sometimes terrible things have to happen before significant change can occur, and law reform ultimately follows.
Sometimes it takes a very long time to get the change to happen.
In my lifetime I have lived through major rape law reform. It used to be the law that a man could rape his wife. It used to be the case that there were no equal opportunity laws, no freedom of information laws and that consenting males could not legally participate in sexual intercourse with each other in this state. Many things have changed, and over the years I have been around to see a lot of that change.
I have been a family lawyer for most of my professional life and an independent children’s lawyer on the panel that Victoria Legal Aid has had for many years. During the course of my professional career it has always been one of my practices to ask my clients — not children — about their experiences in relation to domestic violence and abuse. It has continually shocked me to learn how many people have been affected by the abuse that goes on in our society. It is particularly awful to think that so much of that abuse has happened in the home. For many children, schools have been places of respite and places where they can get away from the awful circumstances of their homes. It makes me glad that today we are taking further steps to make schools safer places for children, and I endorse this legislation.
I recall the early 1990s when Daniel Valerio was murdered at the hands of his stepfather. That crime caused an outrage in the Victorian community beyond many others that I ever recall. At that time I think the Herald Sun, Justice Fogarty and many others demanded that steps be taken to address the lack of attention in relation to child abuse. Many people knew that Daniel had been consistently abused over a long period of time, but no-one reported it, at least not to the extent that any steps were taken. His killer got 22 years in jail, but what can I say? The outcome of Daniel’s death was very significant law reform, and that was the introduction of mandatory reporting in this state.
We introduced mandatory reporting in about 1993. There was some opposition to that legislation — it was thought that the problem would go underground and that people would not report it and it might create worse circumstances — but by 2008 the instances of reporting of abuse had increased dramatically and it was shown that the fear of driving the problem underground was wrong. These days we continue to have many reports made on a regular basis by a whole range of people who are mandated to report child abuse. I have reported child abuse in my capacity as an independent children’s lawyer. I have often consulted with people who are worried about whether they should or should not report it, and I have encouraged them to do so.
I have had serious concerns about what happens in circumstances where people who are mandated to report do not do so. I believe that in this state we do not have a system that penalises people who fail to report, and I think that within the system, while we are not out to find people who are failing to do their job and make examples of them necessarily — we really want to protect children — there do need to be consequences for failing to comply with the law. I believe there have been instances where people have not performed their duty as they should have, and I believe it is important that the government of the day ensure that the laws that are in place in this state are enforced.
Mandatory reporting made a very significant change to the way we think about abuse in this state. Obviously the Betrayal of Trust inquiry was another leap forward, and it has brought out so much more information about abuse. People have had the chance to tell their stories, which has been a remarkable opportunity for victims of abuse to have. Currently there is a federal royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and, at a state level, a family violence royal commission is about to commence. When issues arise, they sometimes take a long time to be addressed, but I think we are now at another pivotal point where the outcomes and recommendations of the Betrayal of Trust inquiry are being addressed. We are looking at ways of making schools safer. Hopefully we will make families safer by virtue of the recommendations that may come out of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
I can do nothing but support this bill, because it is another step in the journey we are taking to try to bring about change. We are trying to change society’s attitudes and ensure that as a community we are all aware of what goes on and that we are willing to take steps to address the problem. I commend the bill to the house.