Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Restrictions on the Making of Protection Orders) Bill 2015

Mr. J. BULL (Sunbury) — I acknowledge the comments made by the member for Gembrook on the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Restrictions on the Making of Protection Orders) Bill 2015. I agree with him that these are very delicate, important and serious matters. I also agree with the member for Caulfield in relation to his comments on ice. Ice is a great threat to all communities. I know that in the Sunbury electorate there is great concern around the use of ice.
I know it is a common theme dealt with by all members across the house. In addressing the issue we need to realise that the problem will get worse before it gets better, but I am very confident in and proud of the government’s commitment to tackling the use of ice and the dangers that come with it.

But I rise today to speak in support of the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Restrictions on the Making of Protection Orders) Bill 2015. I just want to note the important contributions made by the Minister for Women, who is also the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, and the members for Macedon, Broadmeadows and Wendouree.

This bill fulfils the promise made by Labor while in opposition to reinstate in the legislation the legal test that the Children’s Court must be satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to provide the services necessary in the best interests of the child. Obviously there has already been great debate about ‘the best interests of the child’.

The bill also refers to ‘all reasonable services’. The critical element for me is that the government must be satisfied that the Department of Health and Human Services has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that all reasonable services are provided to families.

We intend to reinstate the rules so that before a child is put into permanent care, which is similar to adoption, the courts require the Department of Health and Human Services to prove that it has provided families with all the support services that they have needed in the best interests of the child.

Currently out of the 1.25 million children in the state, 7000 are placed in out-of-home care, and these include around 2100 children who are subject to permanent care orders. In 2013–14, 295 permanent care orders were made that placed children who could not safely return home permanently in the care of another family. We know that currently in Victoria children can only be removed from the care of their parents if the department makes a protection application to the Children’s Court. We are saying that the court in each case must decide whether that child needs protection and if so whether that child needs to be placed in out-of-home care. Under this bill the court processes remain unchanged. The reforms will not lead to more children entering out-of-home care. Instead, what they will do is reduce the amount of time that children who do come into care have to wait before they return home or, where necessary, are found another family to care for them until they are 18.

This bill helps reduce the harm suffered by children who currently spend lengthy periods of time in out-of-home care, which we know often comes with anxieties and stresses about their future. Some really heartfelt contributions have been made by members on both sides of the house. Currently too many children develop behavioural problems as a result of lengthy periods of uncertainty, which makes life extremely difficult for them. I think it is very tough for many members — and I actually hope it is tough for them — to relate to these children. Quite often the children come from broken and disadvantaged homes, where they are not loved or cared for, where they are not given the services and support they need to thrive in our society and community, where they are not looked after in the way we know they should be.

It should be the aim of this and every government to enhance and strengthen family units. The family unit is, above all, the most important thing that a person has. I can only reflect on my own experiences. I am the youngest of four.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr J. BULL — The member for Essendon says, by interjection, ‘Four’s for quitters’. My parents may disagree with that. As the youngest of four, I know each of us was given the love, care and support we all needed. My older brother and sister were adopted, and it was wonderful to grow up in a family like that. Both Mum and Dad gave us every opportunity to succeed in life, and I think for a parent that is — —

Ms Edwards interjected.

Mr J. BULL — Others may disagree on whether or not I have succeeded; that is probably for others to comment on.

This bill certainly goes to the heart of these critical family issues. If we are to look at the budget and the government’s contribution in this area, we know we need to do more, not less, in child protection. That is why this budget includes $257 million over four years for child protection, out-of-home care and family services. This represents new funding of at least 17 per cent for child protection and family services compared to the previous year’s budget. There is also funding of $615 million over five years for the families and children portfolio, and 110 new child protection staff will be appointed.

This budget addresses the immediate demand and the gaps in the system and service that we have discussed in the debate today. Those gaps affect the most vulnerable families. The government does not want to see those gaps widening. We want to close the gaps. We do not want to see young people who are without protection left on their own and not cared for.

This budget also provides $65.4 million for child protection services and much-needed additional capacity to respond to that demand. It includes 88 additional frontline child protection practitioners. We will also employ four specialised child protection workers to target the sexual exploitation of children in state care.

I am very proud to be supporting this bill. As I said, it has to be the objective of every government to ensure that the number of young people entering residential care is as low as possible. I commend the bill to the house.