ACT Government Responds to the Royal Commission and Commits to Ongoing Amendments

28 June 2018

The Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) made 409 recommendations to help ensure the prevention of child sexual abuse in institutional environments. As previously reported on School Governance, the recommendations in the Royal Commission’s Final Report require attention and response from multiple levels of government to have any impact.

Many of the recommendations are made specifically to the Federal Government and state and territory governments and aim to promote national consistency and cooperation in responses.

At the February 2018 meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), all states and territories committed to publicly respond to the Royal Commission’s Final Report in June 2018.

The ACT Government is one of the latest states/territories to provide its official response to the Royal Commission. The ACT is notable for its progressive action on the Royal Commission over the last three years, which is summarised in the Timeline of Action on the ACT Government website. Previous School Governance articles covering recent legal changes in the ACT can be found here and here.

As of today, the only jurisdictions yet to provide a clear official response to the Royal Commission are Victoria and Western Australia. As previously reported on School Governance, the Federal Government tabled its official response to the Royal Commission on 13 June 2018.

The ACT’s Official Response

In a media release on 15 June 2018, the ACT Government committed to addressing each recommendation from the Royal Commission, and to work with the community to develop a culture of child safety in the ACT. The ACT Government’s response is “designed to change the status quo, to effect cultural change within organisations and to ensure the failures of the past are not permitted to continue”. The ACT Government’s focus on cultural change echoes the response of the Federal Government, which highlighted that cultural change is crucial to ensure the safety of children.

Of the Royal Commission’s total 409 recommendations:

  • 307 were judged to be applicable to the ACT
  • 290 were accepted or accepted in principle, including that all schools should implement the Child Safe Standards
  • 16 were marked as requiring further consultation, including the recommendation that all sport and recreation institutions should implement the Child Safe Standards
  • one was ‘noted’, being that governments should process WWCC applications within five working days and no longer than 21 working days. In noting the intent of this recommendation, the ACT Government indicated that it will require significant coordination across jurisdictions to achieve.

Part of the ACT Government’s response focused on the need to reduce the regulatory burden that will inevitably flow from many of these legal changes. This echoes the tone of November 2017 updates to the Keeping Children and Young People Safe guide authored by Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS) which included messaging that CYPS is only responsible for investigating child abuse or neglect that occurs within a family context. However, in attempting to ease the regulatory burden, guidance materials need to ensure that they are consistent with legislatively-defined obligations.

In its media release, the ACT Government considered itself “a leader in adopting survivor-focussed criminal laws like those recommended by the Royal Commission” and commented that the recommendations have been implemented progressively since the first recommendations were issued in 2015. These significant reforms include removing time limitations on claims for personal injury against institutions and individuals, and introducing new offences for ongoing child sexual abuse and grooming.

Next Steps for the ACT Government

Over 2018-19 the ACT Government has committed to:

  • amend the Working with Vulnerable People (WWVP) Scheme to strengthen protections but also reduce its regulatory burden on employers, community organisations and Access Canberra
  • expand the scope of the Reportable Conduct Scheme to cover all services for children provided by religious organisations, which is about to occur through the commencement of the Ombudsman Amendment Act 2018 on 1 July 2018
  • continue to work with the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions to deliver a survivor-focused Redress Scheme
  • continue public consultation on recommendations from the Royal Commission’s Criminal Justice Report, with legislation to be progressed in the second half of 2018 (refer to our previous School Governance article for more information on the consultation)
  • prioritise collaboration with other jurisdictions to progress a new National Framework on Child Safety
  • commence analysis of the current regulatory environment and consult on the impact of implementing Child Safe Standards
  • participate in the development of national approaches to identified priority areas
  • implement recommendations that survivors should be able to sue a readily identifiable entity that has the financial capacity to meet institutional child sexual abuse claims (the Victorian version of this change takes effect on 1 July through the Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2018 (Vic)).

What Should the Response be by Schools?

As part of its official response, the ACT Government urged non-government institutions operating in the ACT to follow its lead by implementing the recommendations set out for them by the Royal Commission. For schools, this would include implementing the Royal Commission’s 10 Child Safe Standards as well as incorporating effective policies and procedures for managing complaints about children with harmful sexual behaviours. Schools in other jurisdictions should anticipate a similar expectation for how they engage with the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

ACT schools also need to ensure they are across the ACT Government’s fast-paced Timeline of Action, and are prepared for upcoming legal and regulatory changes. These include updated guidance on the reportable conduct scheme recently published by the ACT Ombudsman, which included a new Reportable Conduct Process. There is also the potential for the scheme to extend to religious confessionals from March 31 2019.

A core best practice step for a school in understanding the extent of their evolving child protection obligations is undertaking a gap analysis of their policies and procedures against the wording of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, and to proactively anticipate how their child safety frameworks may need to change over the next few years.

Schools should also account for the clear focus on culture at multiple jurisdictional levels by embedding a child protection culture. Practically, this means looking beyond documented policies and internalising child safety concepts into the everyday thinking of school leaders, staff and the broader community.

Kieran Seed

Kieran is a Legal Research Coordinator at CompliSpace. In his position, Kieran assists with drafting and review of governance, risk and compliance content programs and client-requested policies, while also writing regular articles for School Governance. Kieran’s key focus areas are student duty of care and school registration. Kieran studied at the University of Sydney, completing a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of International and Global Studies majoring in Government and International Relations.