The NSW opposition is urging swift reforms to working-with-children laws to shut down successful appeals by convicted criminals including rapists and killers.
It has emerged that violent criminals banned from working with children have been cleared to do so on appeal, despite objections from the Children’s Guardian.
“Parliament’s going to have to make a strong statement here – that child protection trumps legal niceties,” Labor leader Luke Foley told reporters on Sunday.
Among those cleared to work with kids in the last 12 months after appealing adverse decisions were a man who once picked up a hitchhiker and sexually assaulted her multiple times.
Another case involved a woman whose own children were removed from her care before she was jailed over her role in a drug-fuelled bashing murder.
In each case, the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian deemed the applicants unfit to work with children but the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal overturned the decision on appeal.
Currently, the only people who are not eligible to appeal adverse decisions from the Children’s Guardian are those convicted of the murder of a child.
The opposition wants that “one-strike” category of offences extended to include sexual assault against a minor or the manslaughter of a child.
Mr Foley said people guilty of those crimes should never get a second chance to work with children after being rejected by the Children’s Guardian.
“(The message should be) ‘Don’t bother appealing, because we just won’t ever take the risk of putting you in charge of a child in a workplace ever again,'” he said.
Mr Foley said it was also troubling that convictions recorded overseas were not captured under the current scheme.
He acknowledged that beefing up the scheme could risk curtailing the civil rights of rehabilitated offenders but said: “Children’s rights here must trump all other rights. Offenders will say they have rehabilitated themselves but the onus must always be in favour of child protection.”
The Baird government has promised to examine all tribunal cases which have overturned a Children’s Guardian decision to refuse a working-with-children clearance, and has indicated a willingness to consider legal reforms pending the outcome of that review.
But Mr Foley wants legislative amendments passed this month, before parliament rises for the winter break.