Mr chairman: Good morning. I welcome Mr Vatskalis, and invite you to introduce the officers accompanying you, and if you wish to make an opening statement on behalf of the Department of Health and Families. Minister vatskalis’ portfolios

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Sorry, she gave evidence at the coronial inquest about regulations being drafted.
Ms GARDINER-BARNES: Can I introduce Leonie Warburton. Leonie is the Senior Director of Out of 
Home Care Services in NTFC.
Ms WARBURTON: I am trying to think back, because I was here while Ms Scott gave her evidence. If 
they are the provisions under the Community Welfare Act under section 63, the draft regulations 
which Clare has just referred to are comparable to those that were under the previous Community 
Welfare Act, section 63, so we have really just lifted them up, and now we are looking to place those 
as the placement regulations under the new Care and Protection of Children Act.
Ms CARNEY: Of course, the coronial findings were delivered in January, but as we know, the case 
went over for a significant period of time in 2008, I think. Okay. So the regulations will be done at 
some point, they are in the pipeline?
Ms CARNEY: Okay. The Coroner was also concerned about the lack of external review in the act. He 
noted that the act created the position of Children’s Commissioner, however he said:
There is no provision in the act which guides or controls the Commissioner in how to exercise 
his functions. No specific powers are conferred on the Commissioner to obtain documents, 
examine persons, or carry out types of investigations. This is in contrast to the detailed 
provisions about the Commissioner’s powers to investigate complaints. The act should be 
amended to remedy those significant omissions.
Why has the act not been amended as recommended by the Coroner?
Mr VATSKALIS: Again, at the risk of repeating myself, I said we have an inquiry coming up, the 
inquiry will provide a number of recommendations the government has already said we are going to 
adopt and, I expect, because they brought on an inquiry, a number of these issues would be erased. I 
think it is premature for us to change the act or to amend the act before the end of the inquiry. 
However, we will be using the whole package of the Coroner’s inquiry and the inquiry 
recommendations in order to proceed to do the necessary amendments to the act.
Ms CARNEY: Okay. Recommendation 7 from the Melville Inquest was:
Part 5.1 of the act should be amended to provide for a regular two yearly review of the 
administration of the act insofar as it relates to protected children and to confer more specific 
powers on the Children’s Commissioner to enable him or her to conduct such a review.
Just for the sake of the record, I assume it is the same answer you have provided, minister.
Mr VATSKALIS: And I think it is a fair recommendation that would considered when we actually go 
back and we have a look at the recommendations.
Ms CARNEY: Minister, your predecessor did not take up our recommendation for the inquiry to have 
as one of its terms of reference to inquire into whether existing legislation is adequate to provide 
effective child protection services. Hence, legislative change – and you should know this – is not 
going to be considered by the inquiry. You have said repeatedly in answer to my questions: ‘No, we 
are not going to make that change; we are waiting for the inquiry.’ They are not even within the terms 
of reference of the inquiry.
Minister, it is clear you are not across this. It is clear to me and, I am sure, others, that you are just not 
doing anything because you cannot be bothered and you do not care, and you just want to wait until 
the inquiry whereupon, apparently, everything is going to magically fix itself. You must have known 

that the inquiry does not consider whether existing legislation is adequate.
Mr VATSKALIS: I resent your accusations for the simple reason the inquiry will come down with a 
number of recommendations. These recommendations, despite the fact it is not in their terms of 
reference to look at the legislation, will have a certain impact on what we have to do and how we are 
going to address it, and there will be incidents we have to address and amend the legislation. As a 
matter of fact, next Wednesday there will be a workshop for legislative changes in the act. We are 
looking at many aspects – you do not have to specifically put it in the terms of reference to look at the 
legislation. A number of these recommendations will come, I am sure will come, because of 
experience I have had since I have been in the portfolio that requires some, if not big changes in the 
legislation, and we are prepared to do that.
Ms CARNEY: Minister, you are presumably aware of the Inquiries Act, you are presumably aware of 
the purpose of giving an inquiry terms of reference.
Mr VATSKALIS: Absolutely.
Ms CARNEY: Are you seriously suggesting that you do nothing, that the inquiry looks at things 
beyond its brief, and therefore that is a satisfactory situation? You are kidding me.
Mr VATSKALIS: The terms of reference for the inquiry were drafted before my time as minister …
Ms CARNEY: Oh, not your fault? Okay.
Mr VATSKALIS: I am giving you my assurance, should amendments be required to the legislation. It 
will happen.
Ms CARNEY: Right. Have you told the board of inquiry, have you amended the terms of reference so 
the board of inquiry does have within its remit to comment on the adequacy or otherwise of Northern 
Territory legislation for the protection of children? Have you told them that?
Mr VATSKALIS: I have in the panel three experts in child protection. They are not just following the 
government’s line; these people are given free rein to do whatever it takes to fix the problems, to 
identify the problems with child protection services in the Northern Territory. These people are going 
to come with a stack of recommendations, these are what we are going to examine, assess and 
adopt, and make the necessary changes at as many levels of the organisation and the legislation 
should it be required.
Ms CARNEY: I do not recall seeing the words ‘free rein to do anything’ in the inquiry’s terms of 
reference. I will move from this shortly, but I think it is open for others to conclude there is what 
amounts to inertia on the part of the government in this area, and it is just hoping that around about 
September answers will appear. That is very disappointing.
Mr VATSKALIS: No, answers will not appear in September. What will appear in September will be 
the results of the inquiry and the recommendations. Answers will be given from this government; the 
only government in the past seven years has done something about children services in the Territory.
Ms CARNEY: Let us talk about caseloads, because caseloads has come up in the well known 
coronial investigations, report after report, estimates in the past, and I would like to see whether 
anything much has changed. You would know in one of the coronial inquests one case worker gave 
evidence that she had 118 cases on her books. Others have acknowledged caseloads were in the 
area of 70 or 80, and that was about average. I believe you predecessor publicly acknowledged that 
was so for some case workers.
Has the department set benchmarks for caseloads for workers? 

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