Significant child protection laws progress through WA Parliament

The introduction of laws to compel organisations to report allegations of child abuse sends a powerful message to perpetrators and those who try to protect them – there is nowhere to hide.

The State Government will not waver in its commitment to increase the safety, protection and wellbeing of children, and to hold those who prey on them to account.

Significant laws that will prevent Western Australian organisations from covering up child abuse are another step closer, with the Reportable Conduct Bill passing through the Legislative Assembly today.

The legislation will compel heads of organisations to report allegations of child abuse by their employees, volunteers and contractors.

It will also ensure an independent watchdog will have oversight of how organisations handle complaints of child abuse by their staff and give them the power to investigate.

The Reportable Conduct Scheme will cover an estimated 4,000 government and non-government organisations where children are being cared for, or supervised by, someone other than their parent or guardian. Organisations covered by the scheme include schools, religious institutions, childcare centres, hospitals, disability services, detention centres and residential care facilities.

The new laws will deliver on the McGowan Government’s commitment to implement recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

To stop organisations covering up child abuse, the Royal Commission recommended that States and Territories establish Reportable Conduct Schemes to allow an independent body to examine how an organisation handles complaints of child abuse against their staff.

Following public consultation on draft legislation, the WA Government is progressing amendments for the Ombudsman to take on the role of independent examiner.

The Ombudsman will ensure organisations investigate allegations properly, and if not satisfied, conduct an investigation themselves. If organisations fail to do the right thing, penalties will apply.

The changes aim to foster cultural change in organisations to prevent child abuse, encourage and support people to speak up about concerning behaviours, and improve systems for dealing with complaints and reports of abuse.

Anyone who speaks up in good faith will be protected from liability for giving information and victimisation when they do. In essence, children will be heard, believed and supported. Reporters will be protected.

The scheme will not replace an organisation’s existing complaints handling and disciplinary processes. Organisations will be able to build on their existing procedures and reporting requirements to integrate reportable conduct requirements.

The progression of this Bill forms part of the McGowan Government’s significant program of work to safeguard children, protect victims and heal survivors, including the recently passed Children and Community Services Amendment Act 2021, which extended mandatory reporting requirements to ministers of religion to report child sexual abuse.

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children is at the heart of these important reforms.

Further information about the Parliamentary Commissioner Amendment (Reportable Conduct) Bill 2021 can be viewed on the Ombudsman WA website.