ACT News

New child sexual abuse statutory authority proposed for the ACT

The ACT government will move to create a new independent authority to oversee legal reporting requirements for child abuse and neglect, ahead of the completion of the royal commission.

Under the plan put forward by Chief Minister Andrew Barr, organisations with responsibility for children will be legally required to report any allegations of abuse or neglect to a new statutory authority. The move is designed to end internal reporting and handling mechanisms, previously used by churches and other organisations seeking to handle abuse allegations outside legal structures.

New reporting requirements for child abuse proposed: Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
New reporting requirements for child abuse proposed: Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Photo: Graham Tidy

The scheme would be based on systems already in place in NSW, which the government believes would bring effective reporting requirements to the territory and complement measures already in place in the ACT.

The proposed scheme would to increase statutory responsibility by creating a new independent oversight body armed with powers to provide further protection for children and young people.

It is also designed to provide additional assurances to the community that all investigations into allegations of child abuse and neglect against employees would be carefully monitored and reviewed.

Mr Barr said the plan was designed in response to the ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The government will conduct a month-long community consultation on the plan.

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"The commission has already uncovered a number of shortfalls in the investigation and reporting of abuse or neglect against children around Australia, and it's important the ACT government has the best possible system in place to protect our children," Mr Barr said.

"We are determined to ensure our children remain safe. A new ACT scheme is important in developing the right levels of scrutiny on organisations investigating the conduct of employees in relation to allegations of child abuse.

"Under this scheme no organisation will be able to sweep allegations under the carpet."

The royal commission's final report is due to be handed to the federal government by December 2017.

Leonie Sheedy, the chief executive officer of the Care Leavers Australia Network, said the government should engage with victims advocates as part on consultation, running until March 18.

"It is imperative that organisations and institutions are totally removed from hearing these allegations of abuse.

"They won't be independent in any way. They will set out to protect their own and their organisations, as they have proven to do so over many years and decades."

Ms Sheedy said the standards and integrity of the new organisation would depend on who is chosen to lead it.

"It sounds very promising but I would have to wait to see who they select to do this job and what mechanisms they have to support people going to the new authority. It sounds like a step forward," she said.

Ms Sheedy will meet with representatives of federal Attorney-General George Brandis in Canberra on Thursday to discuss the need for a national redress scheme for victims of child abuse.

The federal government is opposed to a national redress scheme, which it says would be too expensive and time consuming to implement.

Ms Sheedy said some victims, including those children raised in orphanages and foster homes, had been abused in more than one jurisdiction and needed consistent national standards of redress.