Minister Flayed for Gaffe on Abusers

By John Ferguson and Sophie Gosper
The Australia
March 1, 2012

[Cummins Inquiry report]

A MINISTERIAL gaffe where the rights of pedophiles were compared with those of victims yesterday triggered the intervention of Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu a day after a report found that a quarter of children could be suspected of having been abused.

Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge yesterday compared sex offenders' rights with those of their victims.

"One of the things that is a real issue here is that we have to balance the rights of children and families and also with the rights of pedophiles," she told 3AW.

Ms Wooldridge was criticised by welfare workers and attacked in parliament over the comment.

Mr Baillieu told parliament that protecting vulnerable children was the government's highest priority and vowed a swift response to the Cummins inquiry, which released its report on Tuesday.

It found the growth in suspected child abuse and neglect was so great that almost one in every four children born last year would be the subject of at least one welfare protection report by their 18th birthday.

Mr Baillieu said the government would examine whether laws suppressing sex offenders' indentities should be repealed.

"I want to emphasise again that this process will be an urgent one, so that ministers will be in a position to take a decision on policy as soon as possible," Mr Baillieu said.

Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci questioned Ms Wooldridge's comments, saying the community needed to know how to protect children. "The community expects children to be the No 1 priority, not sex offenders," Dr Tucci said.

The inquiry, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Philip Cummins, found a lost generation of vulnerable Victorian children had been failed by governments and the legal system, and backed a ground-up overhaul of child services. Some government departments had given "insufficient regard" to child welfare, it found.

Child protection agencies questioned whether extending mandatory reporting provisions -- another recommendation -- to the church, childcare workers and kindergarten teachers would help vulnerable children.

Berry Street director of planning Julian Pocock said unless the groups in question received proper training, they would congest an already overwhelmed industry with unnecessary reports.

"Just changing the law on mandatory reporting and extending it to the clergy and childcare workers won't achieve anything if we don't have a broader campaign across the community on issues relating to child abuse and neglect, and when it is they can and should report matters that have passed," he said. "This is precisely the problem NSW has had . . . NSW has mandatory reporting . . . and they receive tens of thousands of additional reports at the department about matters that no reasonable person would see as requiring a child protection response."


Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.