Child sexual abuse in Tasmanian schools to be focus of new inquiry as survivors sue department

Key points:

  • The inquiry will examine past systems and whether current legislation, policies and practices minimise risk of child sexual abuse in schools
  • Sexual assault survivors are suing the Education Department for negligence, alleging it protected child-molesting teachers
  • A lawyer representing survivors says the inquiry's terms of reference miss the mark

An independent inquiry into child sexual abuse in government schools has been announced by the Tasmanian Government, following a move by survivors earlier this year to sue the Education Department for negligence over its handling of complaints.

Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff announced the inquiry in Parliament, with an independent reviewer to be appointed shortly.

"The safety of our children and young people is of utmost importance to the Tasmanian Government," Mr Rockliff said.

"People such as teachers are in a position of trust, and it is critical that the checks are in place to ensure that trust is not abused in any way."

It comes after revelations in May that at least seven survivors of abuse were preparing to sue the Education Department, alleging the department protected up to 10 child-molesting teachers.

The inquiry will look at whether past systems used by the Department of Education did not encourage reporting or investigation of child sexual abuse, or did not alleviate the risk of repeated child sexual abuse by an employee.

It will also consider whether current legislation, policies and practices are working to minimise the risk of child sexual abuse in Tasmanian schools.

Mr Rockliff said the inquiry was intended to complement, rather than replicate, the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

"Our intent is to ensure we are doing everything possible to protect young people in government schools, today and into the future," he said.

"We need an assurance that the systems we have in place today are the best that they can be."

Lawyer Sebastian Buscemi, of Angela Sdrinis Legal, said he was working with more than 50 claimants seeking financial compensation from the department.

Sebastian Buscemi photographed outside the Supreme Court in Hobart.
Hobart lawyer Sebastian Buscemi says the terms of reference miss the point.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

He said he was disappointed after reading the terms of reference for the inquiry and felt it was asking the wrong questions.

"The main problem is not that there were no laws to protect children — Tasmania had mandatory reporting from the mid-1970s — the problem is that they were being ignored and that teachers who were subject to credible allegations of abuse were being moved from school to school."

Commissioner for Children and Young People Leanne McLean welcomed the announcement, but said more work was needed.

Commissioner for Children and Young People Leanne McLean sits at a desk with a report in her hands.
Tasmania's Children's Commissioner, Leanne McLean, says more work needs to be done to protect children.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

"Child safety and wellbeing must be embedded in organisational leadership, governance and culture at every level to ensure organisations and services are indeed child safe," she said.

"While I applaud the Government's actions in undertaking this review, Tasmania must also prioritise the development of a comprehensive child-safe legislative framework, including standards that all organisations providing services to children must meet."

Labor and the Greens said they supported the inquiry.


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