Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk is under pressure to resign after the government revealed in Parliament seven people accused or convicted of sex crimes were able to work with children for on average six months before her department denied them Working with Children cards.
The revelations come after Ms McGurk faced mounting criticism of her handling of WA's foster care system with carers demanding an inquiry into her 'toxic' department.
WA's auditor general last week said it had taken the Department of Communities more than 200 days to notify 53 people – including the seven accused or convicted of sex crimes – they were unsuitable to work with children.
This means they could work with children until their applications were rejected.
The government revealed individuals had been employed in organisations such as an educational institution for children, an overnight camp, a religious organisation and for a children’s entertainment or party service.
Opposition leader Liza Harvey slammed Ms McGurk's management of her department and called for her resignation.
"It's shocking, it is absolutely shocking and part of the reason we're calling for the minister to be sacked is that her performance yesterday and her response when we raised this in the parliament was absolutely substandard," she said.
"There were 53 individuals who were able to work with children in various different roles including as a tutor, as a counsellor and even at overnight camps, when they were subsequently found to pose an unacceptable risk to children and were refused a working with children check.
"What we discovered yesterday was that seven of those individuals had prior convictions for sex offences.
"There's a simple thing the minister could do, which she has refused to do, and that is for the 105 or so people that need further investigation when they apply for a working with children card, tell them they cannot work with children until they've been cleared."
Premier Mark McGowan defended Ms McGurk's handling of her department and scoffed at demands for her resignation.
We're currently reviewing whether or not there's enhanced capacity for spot checks or checking to be put in place, but clearly we'd like to see the system improved.Premier Mark McGowan
"This is just the Liberal Party with their normal behaviour," he said.
"Being the minister for child protection always has difficult issues and this is one of those situations where we have a regime in place that is designed to protect children but it does rely upon employers and community organisations, particularly sporting clubs, implementing the system as it exists.
"Clearly, we need to have enhanced education and enhanced checking, if you like, of the clubs and the employers to make sure they're implementing the system that's put in place."
Ms McGurk said she accepted the auditor general's warning the government needed to improve the department's Working with Children compliance capability.
She said a senior staff member from the auditor general's office and a public service regulator specialist had been employed by the Department of Communities.
Ms McGurk said the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the auditor general had recently examined WA’s Working with Children systems and neither called for all individuals to be immediately barred from working with children after making an application.
"As well as looking at the criteria, I have asked the department to expedite those outstanding applications that are considered to pose any risk.
"In addition, of the 34 Working With Children check recommendations made by the Royal Commission that are applicable to WA, the state government has completed 12 of them and work is under way on the remaining 22."
Ms McGurk said the Working with Children legislation was put in place in 2004 and there had been been a series of reviews.
"The act has been found to meet the child-safe standard specified by the Royal Commission," she said.
"But it's important that parents and guardians are not given a false sense of security by the Working with Children Checks system, which is one mechanism in a range of tools in place to ensure that organisations are safe for children.
"For example, the system cannot reject someone for a Working with Children Card if an offence they previously committed has not been reported to authorities or there is no record of charges or a prosecution."