Reforms to strengthen working with children check laws

Ministers of religion will be expressly required to hold working with children checks under reforms introduced into Parliament today.

The new requirement will implement an important recommendation of the Betrayal of Trust report arising from the Parliament’s bi-partisan Family and Community Development Committee inquiry into criminal abuse of children in religious and other non-government organisations.

Under the new law, all work as a minister of religion will be treated as child related work requiring a working with children check unless any contact is only occasional and incidental.

At present, ministers of religion are not required to hold working with children checks unless their contact with children is regular, direct and unsupervised.

The new law will apply to all religions and faiths, and to all congregations including churches, mosques, synagogues and temples.

“These changes will make clear that all ministers who have contact with children in their congregation as part of their work, or who visit or take part in church schools, kindergartens, Sunday schools, youth camps or any other church activities involving children will need to have a working with children check,” Attorney-General, Robert Clark, said.

“This reform adds to steps already taken by the Victorian Coalition Government to better protect children following the Betrayal of Trust report.

“Reforms already introduced include new anti-grooming laws, making it an offence for persons in authority to fail to take action to protect children in their organisation against known child abusers, requiring the reporting of child abuse to police, and requirements for organisations working with children to meet new child safe standards.”

The new laws will also make other important improvements to working with children check requirements, including legislating to ensure that the protection of children is the paramount consideration for decision-makers when deciding whether to issue a working with children check clearance.

The legislation also includes clearer definitions and offence classifications, and greater powers to revoke a check where a person fails to provide required information.

It also makes clear that working with children checks are a check that screens for criminal history rather than being a “suitability check”, so that organisations realise they must consider other factors as well when deciding on the suitability of prospective employees or volunteers.