Tasmania’s Commission of Inquiry turns focus to education department in second week of public hearings

Tasmania’s child sexual abuse commission of inquiry is only one week into six weeks of public hearings, but already shocking details have emerged of abuse at the Launceston General Hospital, workplace culture at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre, and an out-of-home care system under strain and failing some of our most vulnerable children.

It has also highlighted complex systems — whether that be the process of making complaints or the way the recommendations from the national child sexual abuse royal commission are being implemented — and cultural issues that make it less likely people will report concerns.

Journalists have told the commission about the difficulty of getting information from the state government in Tasmania and its “obstructionist” and “combative” attitude towards the media.

Children’s commissioner Leanne McLean, ombudsman Richard Connock, and the state’s integrity commission head Michael Easton appeared before the commission together on Thursday as it sought to gain an understanding of how the three oversight offices operated.

While they all acknowledged they had a good informal working relationship, they also agreed that the system for making complaints was a complex one.

The children’s commissioner is primarily an advocate and does not have a complaints-handling role, although she does refer complaints to the relevant place for investigation.

The ombudsman may take complaints from individuals, and the integrity commission takes complaints about misconduct.

It took counsel assisting the commission, Elizabeth Bennett SC, several questions to arrive at that explanation.

For a parent of a child at the Ashley Youth Detention Center who is concerned about the treatment of their child, for example, the three agreed it would be hard to navigate, but they said they could each guide the parent to the most appropriate authority to deal with their concerns.

Although they agreed with Ms Bennett that abuse was occurring in state institutions, Mr Connock and Mr Easton said very few complaints involving child sexual abuse allegations reached their offices.

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