Territory Stories

Parliamentary record : Part I debates (14 February 1989)



Parliamentary record : Part I debates (14 February 1989)


Debates for 5th Assembly 1987 - 1990; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 5th Assembly 1987 - 1990




Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory





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Northern Territory Legislative Assembly

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Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory



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DEBATES - Tuesday 14 February 1989 overzealous social workers jumping to conclusions have been brought to my attention. Some balance is needed. These people are supposed to look after the interests of children. If a child has been abused by a parent or parents, then the full weight of the law should be visited on them. However, if they are wrongly accused, the consequences may be horrific not only for themselves but also for their children who may be wrongly taken away from them. An interesting situation was brought to my attention by a person who used to work in the Department of Law in Alice Springs. That person told me that, on many occasions, welfare personnel would come to the courthouse to indicate that they had taken children away from their parents and wanting to know the legal basis for such an action. I think that, if these peopl~ have not had sufficient training in the law to know on what basis they may remove children, then those children should not have been removed in the first place. In my view, that is horrendous. Quite a number of people have contacted me in relation to such matters, not only persons who have been accused but also concerned friends of accused persons. There was an example of a case relating to people at Harts Range. Some people contacted me because they had not been allowed to give evidence in a case in which a de facto couple had been accused of not looking after their children. The children were removed despite the fact that the father was feeding them. That sort of thing is of great concern to me and to many people in the community. Some sensible balance needs to be developed. It is not easy. Mr Manzie: This bill relates to an amendment to the Oaths Act. You are speaking about child welfare issues. Come on! Mr COLLINS: I may be ranging rather far and wide, but these are matters of concern to many people, including members of this House. The bill appears to be reasonable. If it is not, I trust that the courts will always seek a feedback mechanism to this Assembly in respect of problems they may have in terms of bringing criminals to justice and acquitting the innocent. Mr MANZIE (Attorney-General): Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank honourable members for their support and for the comments that have been made. With reference to the remarks made by member for Sadadeen, I think any member who saw the Four Corners program could not help but be concerned about the possibility of overzealous activity by welfare workers which, under certain circumstances, can cause great trauma and destruction of the family unit fer no reason. It demonstrates that we must be very careful not only with the evidence of very young children, but also with the means by which that evidence is obtained. The bill results from an incident that occurred during the second half of last year. Justice Maurice was very quick to point out that there was an anomaly in the law, and we have moved rapidly to correct that. The member for MacDonnell argued that the problem has arisen because of the Criminal Code. In fact, under common law, criminal responsibility can apply from the age of 14 onwards. From that age, a normal person can be totally responsible for any criminal action which he has committed. A person under the age of 8 is considered to have no responsibility whatsoever for any criminal action. That was the situation under the common law which applied prior to the Criminal Code. The instance which led to this bill involved a 7-year-old and, therefore, the code would not have applied. The provisions in the Criminal Code followed those not only in Queensland but other jurisdictions in which 10 was set as the age beneath which criminal 5435

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