I too rise to speak on this very important bill, and I thank all of the previous speakers for their contributions and the passion that they bring to this very, very important area of public policy. As I was preparing for today I was trying to think about what other area of public policy could be more important, and I do not think there is one. I think the safety and wellbeing of our children is probably one of the most important things that we as a Parliament can do. You can hear from the contributions of others in this debate and the debate that was had in the other place that there is a lot of passion, there is a lot of emotion but I also think a lot of good intention in dealing with this issue and this important area of public policy.
Dr Ratnam just touched on what can only be considered the outrageous numbers in relation to our First Nations people, particularly the children, and some of those statistics are alarming. I have spoken many times in this place about the issues that confront our First Nations people. I think it is a shameful chapter in this nation’s history that we do not appear as a nation to truly value the oldest living, continuous human culture on this planet, here, on our shores, our land.
We cannot even get everybody in this place to stand when we do the daily acknowledgement of country. We have still got challenges—many, many challenges—ahead of us, and I think it behoves us all to take up that challenge and say that we collectively need to do much better in this public policy space for our First Nations people. When we can say that the children of our First Nations people are on a level playing field with other children in this country, statistically and in reality, then that will be a day to be celebrated, and I look forward to it. I certainly give my pledge to Dr Ratnam and all in this chamber to work as diligently as I can towards that outcome, because as I said at the beginning of my contribution, nothing is more sacred, I do not think, and more important in terms of public policy.
Before I move on to some of the issues and some of the structure of the bill, I do want to talk very briefly about some of the contributions and what I construed as a criticism that we are in some way, shape or form celebrating where we are at, congratulating ourselves. I do not think that is the case at all. As a Parliament, I do not think our vigilance towards the protection and safety of our children should ever be anywhere but front of mind and one of the key priorities of this place, regardless of where you sit in the chamber. There is always something to be done, there is always improvement to be made. We know that, because we know the exploitation of children has been something that has challenged people for time immemorial, and we focus our energies on trying to improve that every single day. And if we are not doing that, then we are failing. We have improved laws, we have improved standards.
Now, I take Dr Bach’s contribution. I noted at the beginning of my contribution the passion that people bring to this debate, and that was very evident in Dr Bach’s contribution. We need to all as a Parliament, in a bipartisan way, try and come together. It is our responsibility to improve, wherever we can, whenever we can, the lives of the children of this state. That is what we are here for, and that is what our focus ought to be.
The standards that we are talking about today are a key response, as other speakers have noted, to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations, the Betrayal of Trust inquiry, and its report in 2013. Everybody who followed that inquiry was shocked and horrified with what we heard at that time, and that is still the reaction that we have to some of those insidious examples that we heard through that particular inquiry. The standards that we are talking about apply to over 50 000 organisations, as many have said, and have been operational since 1 January 2017. The one thing that we ought to do in this debate is we ought to commit to the truth, and I think what we heard not in this chamber but in the other place were some factually incorrect assertions—and I think Ms Terpstra touched on the member for Lowan’s contribution about resources and where these standards apply. They do apply to government departments, despite the assertion to the contrary, and to schools, hospitals, child protection services, religious bodies, charities, youth organisations, councils and various private sector businesses.
The Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 does provide for the Minister for Child Protection to make the child safe standards and to publish them in the Government Gazette. There are seven standards, and I think they have been read already by others in this debate, so I will not repeat those. So why are these reforms so necessary? These reforms are significant. The proposition from others that they want them to go further—as I said, I think that is a challenge for this Parliament always in this space. No-one has ever suggested that what we deal with on a day-to-day basis is the most perfect area of public policy. We need to continue to challenge ourselves, but these reforms are significant. They will help organisations to prevent child abuse by strengthening one of the Victorian government’s key child safeguarding schemes, the child safe standards scheme.
As I said, the reforms promote and enhance compliance with those standards across over 50 000 organisations, and the initiatives in the bill will do four key things: they will provide regulators with contemporary monitoring and enforcement powers, enabling regulators to respond quickly and effectively to risks of child abuse; they will allocate a specific regulator for each sector required to comply with the standards, providing clarity for organisations within each sector; they will improve information sharing between regulators so that breaches of the standards can be quickly identified and acted upon; and they will provide a statewide capacity-building and leadership role for the Commission for Children and Young People, promoting consistent child safety outcomes across sectors.
There are some significant and key aspects of the bill that are contained in those reforms that are very, very important to that continued vigilance by this place in improving the environment in which our children grow and learn and indeed exist. Most of the reforms in the bill will commence on 1 January 2023—I think, again, that has been talked about—and the remaining amendments will also commence on 1 January 2023. Considerable lead-in time is required to provide for regulators of the standards to prepare for the new arrangements and to implement the required organisational and system changes. We all understand, I think, that when these sorts of changes are made it does require some adjustment through organisations, and that is provided for.
The bill responds to eight of the recommendations made in the review of the standards, and of the remaining recommendations, the seven separate to the bill, five of those recommendations will be implemented through amendments to the standards, which will be published through the Government Gazette, and two can be achieved within the existing regulatory framework. So again, these are significant reforms with time frames, and importantly, the government is responding to all 15 recommendations of the review of those child safe standards. I talked about when those things will come into operation. Of course there is going to be some adjustment that is required for smaller organisations that rely on volunteers, and so many of our children exist in those types of environments such as local sporting clubs, and we need to put in place systems and indeed proper training for those organisations so that those volunteers are providing the best environment that they can, compliant with the laws of this state. The new functions in the bill for the commission and regulators will support all organisations, including those small community organisations, to comply with the standards. Regulators will be required to provide education, information and advice on how those organisations can provide and promote consistent child safety outcomes across the diverse range of organisations.
I could continue for hours talking about those things, but I know that there are others that want to make a contribution in the debate. But I do want to just come back to one thing that we have done in relation to Home Stretch—a very important and significant reform that we have made. I know Dr Bach had a crack at the minister in terms of him being proud. In his second-reading speech I think I recall him saying that this is the pinnacle of his career, that he has never been more proud of any bit of work that he has done than the reforms that he has brought to this place in relation to Home Stretch. Each year in Victoria around 500 young people aged 16 to 18 have their child protection court orders ceased for the final time and they leave care. Often this means they leave the home where they have been staying and they start on what we think is a challenging road to independence. I do not think we can really imagine, unless we have walked a mile in those shoes, having a drop-dead date on your birthday and someone just saying, ‘Now fly away, birdie. You’re out there in the real world all by yourself’.
We have invested $75 million over four years, ongoing funding, to make the Home Stretch program universal for all the kids who find themselves in that circumstance, suddenly out of home care, and I think that is such an important reform, where we are sending a very loud and clear message to those young people: you are not on your own. We understand that on your 18th birthday the challenges that you confront do not disappear. They will be ongoing. You need that support. We are there. We are with you. We will hold your hand. We will get you through it. We will support you with services and funding and resources to assist you to do that. I commend the bill to the house.