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Tuesday, 28 September 1993
Page: 1254

Senator REYNOLDS —I address my question to the Minister for Family Services. Justice Fogarty of the Family Law Court has publicly expressed his concern about continuing budget cuts in children's services in Victoria. Can the minister explain the likely impact of these cuts on Commonwealth family services programs?

Senator CROWLEY —I was deeply concerned to read about these reports, and particularly concerned to know the absolute value of them. I think it is also very disturbing to see the unedifying spectacle of the Premier Mr Kennett brawling with the Chief Justice of the Family Court.

  Because of my concerns about child protection services and, in particular, my concern that there may be some substance to that report, I made it my business to contact Minister Michael John so that I could be absolutely assured that the child protection services in Victoria were not going to be reduced or in any way put in jeopardy the protection and assistance for children about to be abused or victims of abuse. I am advised by the minister, and I have his assurance, that there are no cuts in essential services in the child protection area in Victoria, and further that Victoria would be maintaining its efforts in the area of child protection.

   Honourable senators may know that while there are cuts in the child welfare budget, these go far more to the domiciliary care arrangements for children. Minister John assures me that the emphasis in Victoria is on the protection of children through assistance to families, rather than the removal of children to institutionalised care. In fact, Minister John praised some of the initiatives of the previous Labor government in Victoria that set up some of the family intervention programs which he judges are working very well and which his government is supporting.

  In August I launched the first ever national prevention strategy for child abuse. That is dependent on the cooperation of the states. At the Commonwealth-state welfare ministers meeting we obtained in-principle agreement to that strategy. In the light of these reports, I was concerned not only to establish the facts, but also to be assured that Minister John would be in a position to contribute to the national prevention strategy in the negotiations soon to occur.

  I am able to advise the Senate that the next meeting of the National Child Protection Council will be in Hobart on 13 and 14 October. On the preceding day officers from the Commonwealth, states and territories will begin the work of negotiating with the states for funding for the programs and arrangements that need to be put in place for that prevention strategy. I have Minister John's assurance that Victoria will be able to contribute to that prevention program.

  It is absolutely important that we do not lose sight of the main game here—and that is the protection of our children. There is no doubt that the prevention of child abuse is the preferred way to go. It is a very complex problem which needs multi-disciplinary programs to make sure it happens. Those things are contained in our strategy and will be put in place. Unfortunately, a lot of the abuse is best dealt with as it happens or as soon as possible after it happens; in other words, we want early intervention as well as prevention. I am very concerned, and I have made it my business to be assured by Victoria, that it is able to continue its programs for early intervention. I look forward to meeting with the national council so as to assure myself that the prevention strategy will be put in place and that Victoria will be able to meet its obligations there, too.

Senator Robert Ray —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.