Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment (Protection from Serious Offenders) Bill 2015

I support the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment (Protection from Serious Offenders) Bill 2015, introduced by the member for Bankstown. I do so because I firmly believe that, as lawmakers, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of all children. Every child has the right to grow up in a safe home. Our communities, our electorates and our constituents are rightly outraged and upset when they hear of instances where a child has not been safe in their own home.

This outrage is supported by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which at article 19 states:

        States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
        Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.

I am proud to be an elected member of this place, and a member of the Labor Party. The Labor Party has advocated, and continues to advocate, on behalf of the most vulnerable and voiceless in our community. It is the party that champions equity and fairness for all. Nowhere is unfairness more evident than when a child is killed by a person whom our society rightly expects should love, care and protect them—that is, a parent or guardian.

Fundamentally, the purpose of the bill is to protect the existing and future children of parents who have committed murder, manslaughter and other serious offences against their own children. The objects of the bill are to ensure that, subject to some exceptions, any person found guilty of the murder or manslaughter of a child or young person, or of certain other serious offences in relation to a child or young person, where the offender was the parent or guardian of the victim, will automatically have his or her future children removed from his or her care at birth or will be prevented from residing with, approaching or contacting them. The bill will also provide for the issuing of restraining notices so that any person found guilty of such an offence may be prevented from residing with, approaching or having any contact with a child or young person.

Certainly, we on this side of the Chamber believe the rights of the child must prevail over the rights of those parents or guardians who cause serious, violent harm to their children. The bill will help ensure that those who have ended the life of a child will be prevented from ever destroying the life of another child or young person for whom they are supposed to care. There is no higher duty for the State than to protect our children. Our current child protection framework is insufficient and the bill before us attempts to address this. The preparation of the bill follows three devastating cases that resulted in the death of innocent children—Ikicia Leach, Bailey Constable and Chloe Valentine. These stories should be enough to convince the Government of the urgency of this proposed reform.

In 2012 in South Australia four-year-old Chloe Valentine's mother and her mother's partner forced Chloe to ride and repeatedly crash a 50 kilogram motorbike, which caused her death. Chloe's mother and her partner videoed Chloe repeatedly crashing the motorbike. When Chloe's own grandmother saw her at the hospital on life support before her death Chloe was so swollen, bruised and broken that at first she did not recognise Chloe. Chloe's mother and her partner left the hospital as soon as the life support was turned off and neither was present at her death. Disturbingly, before her death Chloe had been the subject of at least 22 child protection notifications to Families South Australia, which is South Australia's equivalent of our New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services.

The coronial inquest into the death of Chloe Valentine examined the circumstances of Chloe's life and death. The Coroner found that the child protection authorities in South Australia had mishandled her case and that there was a need for reform in this area. The South Australian Coroner made 21 recommendations in order to prevent other children from suffering the same fate of neglect and harm as Chloe. The first of those recommendations was that the Children's Protection Act 1993 be amended to provide that a child born to a person who has a conviction in respect of a child previously born to them for manslaughter by criminal neglect, manslaughter or murder will, by force of the Act, be placed from birth under the custody of the Minister. This recommendation resulted in the South Australian Labor Government introducing legislation that provides for the automatic removal of a child from a parent or guardian with a previous serious, violent conviction against their own child. South Australia was the first State to do this.

The next heartbreaking story is that of Bailey Constable. In 2013 Nathan Forrest pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of four-year-old Bailey, the son of his de facto partner, Jessica. A post-mortem found that Bailey died of multiple injuries—his body bruised all over with old and new injuries. Bailey's forehead, cheeks and the back of his head were bruised. There were old cuts across his nose and he had black eyes and injuries to his buttocks. Forrest was sentenced to a maximum of eight years in jail and was to serve a non-parole period of six years. During the trial the court heard that young Bailey had told his maternal grandmother of Forrest's repeated physical abuse of him. Bailey had been treated in hospital only days before the fatal attack for a black eye and other injuries.

The final example I have is the devastating death of Ikicia Leach. In 2007 Benjamin Leach was convicted of the manslaughter of his seven-week-old daughter, Ikicia. Baby Ikicia died after being sat on by Leach—possibly for up to 15 minutes. Leach was sentenced to four years and seven months imprisonment, but served less than four years. Following his release from prison, Leach changed his name and settled with a new partner, without disclosing his crime to her. In fact, he told her that his crime was armed robbery. A short time later, Leach and his new partner had a child together. Under existing New South Wales legislation any person who has committed offences against a child is automatically placed on the Child Protection Register and is subject to strict reporting obligations. The register means that offenders will likely be prevented from working with children again. However, currently under existing New South Wales legislation there is no specific provision that prevents a person such as Forrest or Leach from living with and parenting a child again.

Currently, if there are reasonable grounds to suspect a child is at risk of significant harm a report can be made to the Child Protection Helpline. But as we have learnt from the recent focus, domestic violence—violence that happens in the home—is hard to detect. The current child protection framework is simply insufficient and this is just not good enough for our children. The argument has been made that removal of a child from the care and protection of a person should continue to be done on a case-by-case basis. But if a parent has committed a serious offence against a child it is a significant indicator that all future children in their care will be at risk. The legislation should reflect this fact.

We reiterate that the offenders whom these amendments are targeting must be kept at the forefront of this argument. This legislation focuses on offenders who capitalise on their own children's vulnerability. It targets parents who have committed murder, manslaughter, assault causing death, acts done with intent to murder, wounding or grievous bodily harm with intent, reckless grievous bodily harm, sexual abuse and female genital mutilation against their own children. For the perpetrators of those horrendous crimes there can be no second chances. However, in the case of significant mitigating circumstances the bill contains exceptions and safeguards, for example, where the offence occurred because of an illness or condition, or circumstances that no longer exist. There is also a right to appeal decisions before the Children's Court.

I thank and commend the member of Bankstown for her hard work in drafting this private member's bill. As legislators, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of all children. The bill before us helps in this continuous pursuit. For the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes, there can be no second changes. We owe it to Ikicia, to Bailey and to Chloe to do everything in our power to protect children from these perpetrators. I commend the bill to the House.