Premier defends embattled Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson over teen abuse, pregnancy case

Premier Steven Marshall has come to Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson’s defence after she was grilled in state parliament over a shocking child sexual abuse case.

Questions about when the child protection minister’s office was told of the shocking abuse of a 13-year-old girl in state care by a paedophile are “distasteful” and “irrelevant”, the minister says.

Premier Steven Marshall came to Rachel Sanderson’s defence in State Parliament on Wednesday, saying she was dedicated to her portfolio.

Ms Sanderson has come under increasing scrutiny amid the fallout of a shocking child sexual abuse case in which a girl under her guardianship was groom via social media and fell pregnant to a predator.

Matthew James McIntyre, 35, was jailed on September 15 for almost two years for seducing the ward of the state via a teenage dating app in January.

Ms Sanderson last week said she found out about the case when McIntyre was sentenced but in parliament on Tuesday, following repeated questions from the Opposition, she refused to reveal when her office was notified of the matter.

On Wednesday, she told parliament those questions were “distasteful and insensitive”.

“When the Chief Executive or I knew about this incident is irrelevant to ensuring adequate care and support was provided to this young girl,” she said.

However, she did answer the question.

“My staff and I were made aware of the specific circumstances last week following the sentencing of this offender,” Ms Sanderson said.

She said “no records exist or were ever received” by her office in relation to the victim.

Ms Sanderson went on to say she received “general correspondence regarding unlawful sexual intercourse with minors and associated criminal penalties” in May.

“The focus of this correspondence was the criminal penalties associated with offending of this nature,” she said.

“A reference was made to more than one young person, one of whom was in guardianship.

“It did not refer to a failure of care or identify the specific circumstances”.

The Opposition questioned why Ms Sanderson did not make further inquiries in relation to the correspondence.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said “there was no identification of any specific case, either current or historical, as to identify the subject case that has been the basis of the questions from the opposition member, so there was no indication at that point sufficient to alarm that there was an existing case for the Child Protection Minister”.

Mr Marshall said Ms Sanderson had shown “absolute dedication to her portfolio”.

“At every single opportunity, she has been inquisitive,” he said.

“She has looked at every single detail of her portfolio and of course she has been in a unique position to do this because she is dedicated to this area, a very tough area of public policy.”

Mr Marshall said there had been “widespread failures of accountability in most of the social portfolios that the previous government presided over”.

“By contrast, since coming to government we have taken accountability in each of those areas, and I commend the Minister for Child Protection for the outstanding work that she has done,” he said.

Meanwhile, Innovation and Skills Minister David Pisoni has been accused of making anti-Semitic and racist remarks towards Labor MP Katrine Hildyard after she grilled Ms Sanderson over the case.

Ms Hildyard told parliament Mr Pisoni quipped “you will make them wear a star soon”.

It came after Ms Hildyard asked Ms Sanderson how many children in residential state care had mobile phones.

Mr Pisoni said it was “not exactly what I said but I withdraw and apologise”.

Nazi officials made Jews people wear Star of David badges to identify them as being Jewish during World War II.

The Opposition later moved to censure Mr Pisoni over the alleged remarks however the motion was defeated.

“I do not believe for a second that (Mr Pisoni) is racist,” Dan van Holst Pellekaan said.

“I do believe that he was called out and asked to apologise for his remarks, and he did so.”


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