March 24th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Media ensure a comfy rise for Bill Shorten

CANBERRA OBSERVED Can Liberals' broad church survive schism?

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Middle-East time bomb: youth unemployment

ENVIRONMENT Europe's freeze further proof of global warming!

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cashless debit card records positive results

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Liberals' Tasmanian victory: the implications

OPINION The height of absurdity: education as business

ECONOMICS AND CHINA Eyes averted from the dragon in the marketplace

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM The state attacking the Church: lessons from history

FAMILY POLITICS A Trojan horse for monitoring children

NORTH AMERICA The cultural and political mosaic that is Canada

CINEMA Mary Magdalene on film: a new interpretation

MUSIC Audio-visual: or, how to watch your music

CINEMA The Adventures of Tintin: A light amid the bleakness

BOOK REVIEW Taking arms against the gender fluid fad

BOOK REVIEW Narrative history from a great writer



INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Sexual exploitation at Oxfam symptom of culture of death

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Trojan horse for monitoring children

by Terri M. Kelleher

News Weekly, March 24, 2018

The Children Legislation Amendment (Sharing of Information) Act amounts to state overreach – big government – and is contrary to the values of freedom and independence of the individual and family from excessive state control.

Introduced into the Victorian Parliament only on 13 December, 2017, the last sitting day of the year, the Children Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill, a lengthy and complicated piece of legislation, was debated and passed by the Legislative Assembly by February 22, 2018, and by the Legislative Council on March 8, despite serious issues with the proposal being raised and amendments proposed by Coalition MPs.

The purposes of the act are “to promote better child wellbeing and safety outcomes by enabling specified government agencies and service providers to share information”.

That is an objective to be supported. For children at risk this seems a positive step. However, the act also establishes a Child Link Register, a register of “all children born or resident in Victoria … to monitor and support their participation in government-funded programs and services”.

Why does there need to be a register of all children born in Victoria other than their birth registration? Why is the scheme not focused on real indicators of children at risk, such as drug addiction of the mother/parents, for example?

Why is the privacy of all parents and families and children to be invaded with all prescribed information about every child to be collated and recorded for government agencies and services to access?

Will the families of children who are not at risk be monitored as to what government services (kindergartens, government schools, vaccinations) they use or access?

The act provides that the Child Link Register will also contain information in relation to children who are registered for home schooling. If families choose to opt out of the education system and home-school their children, will it mean that what they teach will be monitored and home schoolers’ children treated as at “risk of their safety and wellbeing” if government-mandated curricula are not taught?

Will it mean that parents who want to opt out of government sex and relationships programs (such as Safe Schools) because they are in conflict with their convictions not be able to do so? This would be contrary to the right of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions, as recognised by Article 18.4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The act also raises concerns about privacy and the types of information to be shared and who will have access to it. The information that can be shared includes “personal information”, that is, “information or an opinion … that is recorded in any form and whether true or not.” Why should information that is not true be disclosed? It also includes “sensitive information”, which means information or an opinion about such things as an individual’s racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, membership of a political association, religious beliefs or affiliations, philosophical beliefs, membership of a professional or trade association or membership of a trade union.

Disclosure of this information is an unnecessary invasion of the privacy of parents (or other persons associated with the child) and it remains unclear how access to such information is relevant to “promoting the wellbeing or safety” of a child.

“Health information” is also included. As defined in Section 3(1) of the Health Records Act 2001, it includes very sensitive information such as information or an opinion about the physical, mental or psychological health or disability of an individual, a health service provided, or to be provided, to an individual, and genetic information about an individual in a form which is or could be predictive of the health (at any time) of the individual or of any of his or her descendants.

The threshold for requesting or disclosing confidential information is that it is for the “purpose of promoting the wellbeing or safety of a child”. Safety can be objectively measured; but what does “wellbeing” mean? It is a much broader concept. Does it include protection of the child from ideas or beliefs that those charged under the act with the collection and disclosure of confidential information about children and their parents/families view as detrimental?

A request for confidential information must be provided if the entity of whom the request is made “reasonably believes that the disclosure may assist” the requesting entity to make a decision, assessment or plan, or to conduct an investigation relating to a child or provide a service for or manage a risk to a child.

The test is not that the disclosure of the confidential information will assist the entity requesting the information, but just that it may assist. It would be difficult for any entity requested to disclose information to decide that the disclosure “may” not assist. Does this mean effectively that any request for information must be complied with?

This is a gross invasion of the privacy of parents and children and unwarranted unless there is reason to believe a child is actually at risk.

Further there is no requirement to seek the consent of parents to disclose confidential information about their child or family. Unless there is a risk of abuse by the parent(s), why are they not involved in decisions about their child’s wellbeing and/or safety?

Who are the individuals who will have access to confidential information about children (and so also their families) under the act? During the debate in the Legislative Assembly one MP alluded to this and asked: “What are the risks of data being accessed by child abusers who manage to infiltrate themselves into different organisations?”

A number of domestic violence and child protection groups expressed concerns about the purposes of the law and the “need to assess and manage ... risks to the safety of a child”. In domestic violence situations, sharing of information about a child and the child’s family needs to done very carefully as it could put the child, and other family members, in serious danger. For example if disclosure of a child’s residential address was accessed by the perpetrator.

Establishing and maintaining the Child Link Register will involve setting up a huge bureaucracy to collect and monitor information on every child in Victoria and their families, most of whom are not at risk. And at what cost?

The Children Sharing of Information Act is not just about sharing of information to protect children at risk of harm. It can be a Trojan horse for unnecessary and intrusive invasion of the privacy of all Victorian children, their parents and families under the cloak of protecting children from violence and neglect.

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