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Bruce Debelles school sex abuse report critical of South Australian authorities

Updated

July 02, 2013 10:04:23

Debelle report

Photo:

The royal commission examined the handling of a sexual abuse case at an Adelaide school.

Related Story:
Debelle sex abuse inquiry findings go to SA Governor
Related Story:
Officials keep parents in the dark on child rape

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A report on child sex abuse at an Adelaide school has highlighted the failings of government authorities and made dozens of recommendations for change.

The report was compiled by Bruce Debelle, a former Supreme Court justice, after parents at the school in Adelaide’s west were not told about an assault case involving a student and an after-school carer in 2010.

Premier Jay Weatherill and Education Minister Jennifer Rankine held a news conference to release an edited version of the report, after it was discussed by State Cabinet.

Mr Weatherill apologised to parents and the school governing council for the Education Department’s failure to notify them of the abuse case.

He said the inquiry found incorrect legal advice led to parents being kept in the dark about the arrest and later conviction of the after-school carer for the sexual assault of the student.

There’s no doubt there was other behaviour that is utterly unacceptable, for instance the behaviour by the department when these issues were raised with them by the school community, to not reconsider the matter

Jay Weatherill

“At the heart of this is the erroneous legal advice. That’s the heart of the problem,” he said.

“There’s no doubt there was other behaviour that is utterly unacceptable, for instance the behaviour by the department when these issues were raised with them by the school community, to not reconsider the matter.”

Mr Weatherill says his chief-of-staff Simon Blewett made a mistake by not informing him of the case in 2010 when he was the education minister.

Ms Rankine said her department’s failings were significant and she had ordered an independent review.

“I want someone to come in have a look at how the department is structured how it is operating,” she said.

“There will be improvements to the way teachers are registered and contractors are screened.”

In-principle support for findings

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Video: School sex case report slams govt departments

(7pm TV News SA)

The Government said preliminary consideration had been given to the 43 recommendations and it had given in-principle support to each of them.

It said work would start immediately to implement them.

Mr Debelle was given royal commission powers to make his investigations, which took six months and cost more than $1 million.

Families affected by the matter were briefed on the inquiry’s outcome before it went to Cabinet.

They said Mr Debelle made clear there had been failings.

Audio:
Inquiry into sex abuse SA schools slams department

(PM)

“In our case, most of the damage was actually caused by the department after the incident had taken place, so I would love to see these recommendations tackling issues like ensuring that counselling is actually bespoke and there’s ongoing support.”

A parent expressed hope the inquiry would lead to better support for abuse victims.

“[To ensure] psychological and psychiatric reports are considered before the schools actually embark on any course of action and that there’s a follow-up plan and financial assistance for children to receive the support that they need.”

A mother who gave evidence to the Debelle inquiry said she wanted department staff disciplined over handling of the case.

“From what I’ve seen in the report there are clearly names mentioned just in the first contents page of the report so more than just disciplinary action, I’d love to come and see them face parents and, you know, cop a bit of what that’s been for myself and my children for, you know, the past seven or eight months,” she said.

Education Department CEO Keith Bartley would not rule out taking disciplinary action against staff.

Mr Bartley said the 281-page report showed failures at every level of his department and it would face a wide-ranging review.

“At the moment the commission’s findings are its findings and any action that I cause has to be done both fairly and appropriately in observing principles of procedural fairness and natural justice, so I am considering the report in that light and will take whatever action is necessary,” he said.

I think one of the other telling matters with regard to this is that a letter was drafted to go out to parents but a decision was made by this Government that it would only go out if the story broke in the media and this gives a really telling insight into the way this Government, under Mr Weatherill, is managed

Steven Marshall

The Opposition said two government advisers, Simon Blewett and Jadynne Harvey, should be sacked, based on the findings of the Debelle inquiry.

Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said the inquiry was telling about how the Government managed its response.

“I think one of the other telling matters with regard to this is that a letter was drafted to go out to parents but a decision was made by this Government that it would only go out if the story broke in the media and this gives a really telling insight into the way this Government, under Mr Weatherill, is managed,” he said.

Mr Weatherill said it was a very serious criticism but they would not be sacked.

“My view is that this is an isolated mistake, they have been excellent servants of both myself and the state and that’s the judgment I have made about the matter,” he said.

Mr Blewett remains Mr Weatherill’s chief-of-staff and Mr Harvey is now chief-of-staff to Employment Minister Grace Portolesi.

Topics:

states-and-territories ,

government-and-politics ,

child-abuse ,

law-crime-and-justice ,

sa ,

adelaide-5000 ,

australia

First posted

July 01, 2013 13:46:57


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