The Palaszczuk government has failed to overhaul Queensland’s outdated child death review system, despite being warned to do so more than two years ago, after the death of toddler Mason Jet Lee.
Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath was on Monday forced to defend the delay, in the wake of the alleged murder of two toddlers – known to Queensland’s Department of Child Safety – by their mother on Saturday
Kerri-Ann Conley, 27, is the first person charged under Queensland’s new definition of murder, expanded in May to include “reckless indifference to human life”. She allegedly left her daughters Chloe-Ann, 1, and Darcey-Helen, 2, to die in a hot car at the family home in Logan, south of Brisbane.
Court documents revealed Ms Conley was also charged with possessing cannabis and a pipe used for smoking drugs.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the government’s child protection agency had “had contact” with the girls before their deaths, but said “nothing replaces a loving family”.
“Parents who look after their children, nothing replaces that,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
Queensland’s Department of Child Safety will conduct a child death review of the fatalities, and the state’s Family and Child Commissioner Cheryl Vardon has also been asked to investigate.
But the government has yet to pass laws to reform the child death review system, as recommended by Ms Vardon in March 2017, after the death of 21-month-old Mason Jet Lee in June 2016. Mason was known to child protection authorities.
Opposition leader Deb Frecklington slammed the delay as “extremely disappointing”.
“Mason’s death should have been the catalyst for prompt action, not more delays and excuses from Labor,” Ms Frecklington said. “Protecting our most vulnerable kids should have been a priority for the Palaszczuk Labor government.”
Ms Vardon told the government there should be a new “external and independent model for reviewing the deaths of children known to the child protection system.” She warned the state did not have a “contemporary, best practice” model that could identify systemic problems to protect vulnerable children and prevent further deaths.
She recommended a new independent agency be set up, that the reports’ outcomes should be made public, and other government departments should be compelled to review their own involvement in the lives of children who later died.
Currently, child death reviews are conducted when a vulnerable child known to government authorities dies, and are supposed to uncover ways child welfare systems can be improved to prevent future deaths.
Legislation was finally introduced in September, and a parliamentary committee last week recommended it be passed, but it is not clear whether a vote will happen this year.
Ms D’Ath defended the delay.
“The government has consulted widely in preparing this legislation and we’ve done a lot of hard work to ensure the right model is implemented,” she said.
“In the interim, critical matters are being referred to the Queensland Family and Child Commission and this will continue until the new model is fully implemented and operational.”
Conley, who has been held in the Brisbane watch-house since Saturday, did not appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court for a brief hearing on Monday.
By the time her daughters were found in the car on Saturday, several hours had passed, and temperatures had reached 31C.
Paramedics tried to revive the children, but they were pronounced dead at the scene about 2pm.
Queensland’s new definition of murder was prompted by an alarming number of child deaths at the hands of their carers.
When the government introduced the new legislation in May, offenders responsible for child killings in Queensland were often convicted of manslaughter, rather than murder.
It said the new definition would sympathise with community expectations that “a person who foresees the probability of death is just as blameworthy as the person who intends to kill”.