The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services) (14:19): I seek leave to make a ministerial statement.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: As politicians we must be very careful about what we say in parliament and more broadly in the community. We have a responsibility to respect the confidentiality of individuals, particularly our most vulnerable citizens, as well as the reputation of organisations that have for many years provided critical services to South Australians in our community.
The community sector plays a vital and significant role in ensuring that individuals and families receive necessary services. Community organisations are often the innovators, the advocators and the campaigners; without them many in our society would not have a safe place to sleep, a meal to eat or somewhere to go when they need a helping hand. I have had the good fortune to visit many community service organisations to see firsthand the amazing work they do on a day-to-day basis.
A common theme discussed during these visits is the acknowledgement that the community sector is being forced to think carefully about its service models, leadership and governance. This is because the sector is undergoing major structural change due to new models of service delivery, new ways of doing business and a strong focus on achieving tangible social and economic outcomes. What this means is that, over the next few years, some of our local community organisations will grow, some will consolidate, while others will merge or close their doors.
This transitional time presents both opportunities and challenges for organisations and makes their reputation in the marketplace and community that much more critical. Many are dependent upon securing and maintaining ambassadors, sponsors and donors for their ongoing success and viability, which is why it is so important that they are not carelessly used as political pawns. Doing so can cause lasting damage to their reputation and brand and, ultimately, to the breadth of services they can provide into the future.
It also negatively impacts on clients and families who are dependent upon these services and the volunteers and workers who give their heart and soul to helping our most vulnerable. So when members of the Labor Party ask specific questions about clients, organisations and alleged investigations in some misguided attempt to score political points, I would urge them to think carefully about the damage—
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Point of order, sir.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Hunter. Minister, there is a point of order.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Mr President, I ask you to consider, on the basis of what we have heard so far, whether this is best categorised as a ministerial statement or more likely to be a personal explanation.
The PRESIDENT: I am going to allow the minister some leeway but, minister, be mindful that you cannot debate the issue in your ministerial statement.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Yes. I thank the President. I do not think I will be taking the advice of the Labor Party Whip. Let me start this sentence again. So when members of the Labor Party ask specific questions about clients, organisations and alleged investigations in some misguided attempt to score political points—
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Point of order, Mr President.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Hunter.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The minister on her feet is clearly debating a matter and not making a ministerial statement, so I ask you rule in such a way.
The PRESIDENT: Order! Minister, bear in mind that the ministerial statement is generally a statement of facts and not necessarily having a go at the opposition, so just bear that in mind and exercise some restraint.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Sorry, I will have to start that sentence for a third time, Mr President, because I did not get to finish it.
The PRESIDENT: Can we just move on from that sentence.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: So when members of the Labor Party ask specific questions about clients—
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Point of order, Mr President.
The PRESIDENT: I understand, the Hon. Mr Hunter. Minister, can we just move on from that sentence.
The Hon. R.P. Wortley: So we are not allowed to ask questions about these sorts of things.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Wortley, you are not assisting the President. A point of order has been made by a member of the opposition. Minister, can we just move on to the next bit of the ministerial statement.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I did not get to finish the sentence. So when members of the Labor Party ask specific questions about clients—
The Hon. K.J. MAHER: Point of order, Mr President.
The PRESIDENT: I am giving the minister some leeway.
The Hon. K.J. MAHER: You have asked the member to move on from this sentence and she is defying your—
The PRESIDENT: Yes, I appreciate that. I do not need reminding of my own direction. Minister, just please move on to the next part.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I think I was up to the words: some misguided attempt to score political points, I would urge them to think carefully about the damage they might be doing to the very organisations and people they are disingenuously vowing to protect. I urge them to think about how carelessly throwing words around can cause irreparable harm to an organisation's reputation as well as impacting on a client's privacy.
It is because of these reputations and client privacy that I will not disclose in parliament details that pertain to serious client investigations, except to say that the Department of Human Services (DHS) takes reports of mistreatment very seriously and makes every effort to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all state-funded clients. Any reports or allegations of substandard care are actioned appropriately, including referral to the relevant authorities and liaison with service providers, families and advocates. There are procedures in place to ensure that any allegation of a criminal offence is immediately reported to SA Police.
I encourage all members of parliament, particularly the member for Hurtle Vale, to forward details of any concerns they have for the safety and wellbeing of constituents to my department—
The PRESIDENT: Order! Order! I cannot hear the minister. Continue, minister.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: —or to my office when they first receive them, so they can be followed up promptly. I ask that actual details are forwarded and not just broad allegations that contain inadequate substance. The member for Hurtle Vale—
The PRESIDENT: Are we finished? The Hon. Mr Hunter, please, I cannot hear the minister.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The member for Hurtle Vale stated in parliament on 14 February 2019 that she wrote to me directly on 18 October 2018. What the member for Hurtle Vale failed to disclose—
The Hon. K.J. MAHER: Point of order: this is clearly not a ministerial statement—when someone was written to, what the response was, is only a personal explanation.
The PRESIDENT: This part of the ministerial statement is within the bounds of a ministerial statement.
The PRESIDENT: The members on the government benches are not assisting me either. I would like to hear what the minister has to say.
The PRESIDENT: Have we all got it out of our systems? Minister, please continue with your statement.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: What the member for Hurtle Vale failed to disclose was that according to the dates on third party letters that she forwarded to my office, it took her three weeks to write to me after receiving this information. Such a lag in providing this information is very concerning. Thankfully, when we received the 18 October letter, my department was already in the process of following up these issues, having received the information from the third party the previous month.
The PRESIDENT: Leader of the Opposition, the minister is now answering, in her ministerial statement, those matters which you were complaining about a few minutes ago her not addressing, so perhaps give the minister the courtesy to finish her ministerial statement.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Upon receiving this information, my department acted promptly—the same could not be said for the member for Hurtle Vale. There have been other letters sent to me without specific details. When my office has sought more information from the member, it has not been provided. I will not discuss these matters in parliament further, given they involve vulnerable members of the public and respected organisations. I would be happy for the member for Hurtle Vale to be briefed to assist her to better understand correct processes moving forward.
The type of politics currently being played by Labor only serves to harm the community sector and its clients, volunteers and workers and has the potential to undermine investigations. It is self-serving and conveniently fails to interrogate the poor past performance of successive Labor governments that oversaw a litany of bungles, mistakes and cover-ups. South Australians have long memories. None of us will forget the previous Labor government's poor record when it comes to caring for the state's most vulnerable people. Attempts by current Labor members to redirect the public outrage at their mismanagement is a dangerous underestimation of public sentiment.
The PRESIDENT: Can the frontbench of the government and the opposition cease their conversations. Save your energy for question time.