22 November 2018
(Bills - Consideration in Detail, Legislative Assembly, Parliament House)
Mr ALEX GREENWICH (Sydney) (17:21): I support the amendments moved by the Opposition. Under the bill, the secretary and the courts will only be able to consider whether children can be restored to their families within a two-year time frame.
This time limit does not currently exist. When a child is the subject of a care plan that is being considered by the courts, it is because at that time they cannot be cared for by their parents. The courts, in approving a care plan for permanency, must determine if there is any realistic possibility of restoration. There are limits on how the term "realistic" can be interpreted, with exclusions for expectations that are fanciful, sentimental, idealistic or based on unlikely hopes. This will not change under the bill; however, what will change is that a realistic possibility of restoration will be limited to two years.
The prospect of restoration in two years may not be possible for some families because of serious challenges such as the need to escape domestic violence, addiction, mental illness, intergenerational disadvantage, trauma, poverty, housing and incarceration. The chronic lack of social housing, which has resulted in more than 60,000 people waiting for a safe and stable home, with many having to wait more than 10 years, is a significant barrier to restoration. Parents who need housing to secure restoration will have no hope under this plan. Without their children, they will not be able to access social housing that is suitable for a family, and without suitable housing, they will not be able to get their children back. This is a common and impossible problem faced by many parents who have contacted my office.
It is fundamental that the courts have broad discretion to make determinations that aim to achieve what is in the best interests of the child. Two years is an arbitrary period and is not realistic for many parents. I understand the intention is to provide children with stability in their foster homes without regular court reassessments, but this is not necessarily in each child's best interest. Why should the court not revisit whether a child's parents can look after them after more than two years? The barriers for restoration are complex and it is not clear whether the courts will consider them special enough to exercise the powers that enable the period to be exceeded beyond two years. The time limit will set many parents up for failure. I support the amendments.