Tuesday, 21 February 2023


Child protection

Child protection

Matthew BACH (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (17:36): (41) My adjournment matter this afternoon is for the Minister for Child Protection and Family Services. I could not believe my eyes when I was reading the Guardian this morning, as I do every morning, and I saw in the Guardian this morning that apparently the government was reintroducing a child protection bill – the Children and Health Legislation Amendment (Statement of Recognition, Aboriginal Self-determination and Other Matters) Bill 2023. I thought to myself, ‘Is this one of the many child protection bills that we started debating last year that we on this side of the house indicated we would wholeheartedly support but then the government pulled for reasons unbeknownst to me?’ And lo and behold it was. So it was lovely to see Minister Blandthorn out and about – she is not allowed out and about often; however, she was out and about today – saying that the government is going to do something to reduce the shocking over-representation of Indigenous people in care here in Victoria. That is an excellent thing. This is something, as the minister was good enough to acknowledge in question time today, that the Liberals have always supported.

But there are other bills that were perfectly good bills that the government brought forward in the last term of Parliament that then they ditched – for strange reasons unbeknownst to me – that I would like to see resurrected. And in particular my adjournment matter tonight is for the minister to resurrect the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Child Protection) Bill 2021. This week it was 500 days since that bill was first introduced to Parliament, and on the bill’s introduction I made it absolutely plain to the child protection minister at the time – it is hard to remember who it was; it was five child protection ministers ago, but whoever it was, I said it to them – that we were going to support it. I said to them that every single Liberal and National member in the upper house is going to vote for it. And at the time if you added up every single Liberal and National Party member and every government member, well then you would have gotten a clear majority. And so I said, ‘We’re all going to vote for it.’

However, what happened at that time is that the leader of the Greens party, Dr Ratnam, had the temerity to suggest that she might seek to move an amendment – how dare she – regarding raising the age of criminal responsibility. Now, I am very pleased that soon we are going to be able to have a discussion in this place on that incredibly important matter, and it is great to see the Minister for Corrections and Minister for Youth Justice at the table. We have a shared goal in this house – I am sure we do – of reducing the appalling over-representation of Indigenous kids in care, ending that dreadful pipeline whereby so many vulnerable children move almost inexorably from child protection through into youth justice, and one suggestion as to how we might do this is to raise the age of criminal responsibility. It is absolutely worth discussing, as so many other measures are worth discussing – for example, the excellent ones that Mr Mulholland flagged in his maiden speech. So I think we know why in actual fact the government did not want to move forward with the children, youth and families bill which was introduced 500 days ago in an election year. But there is not an election for four years now. That bill was important 500 days ago. It is important today. The minister should bring that one back too.