Child protection information may become harder to access with new amendment

Anyone that was once a ward of the territory will have crucial information regarding themselves kept from them under new laws set to be introduced on Tuesday, the ACT Law Society president says.

The ACT Legislative Assembly is due to vote on the Justice and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, which Law Society president Chris Donohue says will greatly impact people's rights to their own information.

The Minister for Children, Youth and Families, Rachel Stephen-Smith, who says a person's ability to access information held about themselves will not change under new legislation. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The Minister for Children, Youth and Families, Rachel Stephen-Smith, who says a person's ability to access information held about themselves will not change under new legislation. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Mr Donohue wrote to Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay asking for the offending section to be removed.

Section 17 of the bill will alter a person's ability to access information under freedom of information relating to the Children and Young People Act 2008.

As the changes apply to children and young people, the minister responsible for the area, Rachel Stephen-Smith, responded for the government.

She said the bill would not be amended prior to Tuesday's vote and the intention of the section was to ensure sensitive information was dealt with under a single set of rules.

Mr Donohue said the type of information that could be withheld included care and protection reports and appraisals, family group conferencing information and contravention reports.

"A person ... would be unable to obtain information about themselves, which they would consider vital to understanding their own history," Mr Donohue said.

He said any safety concerns that the identity of a person who reported a child welfare issue could be released was unwarranted as it was already commonplace to redact identities under freedom of information.

Mr Donohue questioned why the release of information would not instead be examined in an upcoming review of child protection decisions.

He said it appeared the change seemed to protect officials rather than the rights of children and young people.

Ms Stephen-Smith rejected Mr Donohue's claims and said the bill was a minor technical amendment which would not affect an individual's right to request information about themselves in practice.

She said lawyers had expressed concern regarding secrecy provisions of the Children and Young People Act, but this was a separate issue to Tuesday's bill.

She expressed disappointment that concerned parties had not sought to meet with her to discuss the act and she again invited them to do so.

She said she had asked the Community Services Directorate to analyse privacy and information sharing provisions from around Australia as a matter of urgency to inform ACT policy.