Child protection looms large as Parliament spring session begins

It’s still winter for the rest of us, but spring is already in the air in the Tasmanian Parliament.

The spring session got underway on Tuesday, the final sitting period before the next state election.

For the casual observer, it would have seemed as if Child Protection Minister Jacquie Petrusma was the premier, given how often she was on her feet.

Opposition Leader Rebecca White hammered Ms Petrusma all morning, on matters ranging from the impending resignation of Children’s Commissioner Mark Morrissey to allegations that the minister misled Parliament over the Safe Pathways affair.

First up, Ms White wanted to know if Ms Petrusma had attempted to convince Mr Morrissey to remain in the role.

On Thursday, Mr Morrissey announced that he would be reverting to part-time work until September, when he would step down from the Children’s Commissioner role.

Ms Petrusma accused Labor of “rank hypocrisy”.

She noted that, under a number of Labor governments over 12 years, six commissioners “came and went”.

The minister said that Mr Morrissey’s decision was a “lifestyle choice”, made after three decades of public service.

Greens leader Cassy O’Connor also pressed Ms Petrusma on child protection, claiming she misled Parliament in the wake of a Four Corners report in 2016 that revealed child protection provider Safe Pathways had not given adequate care to its wards.

It was revealed by the ABC in July that the Health and Human Services Department acting deputy secretary had told Minister Petrusma they could not give her the assurance that all 11 children in the care of Safe Pathways in Tasmania had been checked on.

But then Ms Petrusma said in Parliament that they had all been checked on.

She said the DHHS secretary Michael Pervan had also provided advice and that that was the advice she had followed.

In answering questions, the minister used the opportunity to give the house an update on the formal review of Safe Pathways.

She said the review had found no evidence to suggest that any children were harmed and recommended the termination of the government’s funding agreement with Safe Pathways due to the organisation’s non-compliance.

Question Time closed with Ms Petrusma offering a response to Coroner Olivia McTaggart’s findings regarding the 2012 death of North-West baby Bjay Johnstone.

Coroner McTaggart believed Bjay’s father had caused his death by inflicting a traumatic head injury on him.

“The child protection system was a very different one in 2012,” Ms Petrusma said.

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