The Mullighan Inquiry Task Force

First posted on 31 March 2009 under Mullighan Inquiry.
This article has been updated and archived.
Tags: child protection

Summary

In 2008, the South Australian Government established a Task Force to “drive” its response to the Mullighan Inquiry into child sexual abuse on the APY Lands.[i] During the first six months of its establishment, the Task Force met on nine occasions.[ii] ¬†After that, it met much less frequently.

The Paper Trail

When the then Premier of South Australia (Hon Mike Rann MP) released the report of the Mullighan Inquiry into child sexual abuse on the APY Lands on 6 May 2008, he also announced the establishment of a Task Force to respond to its recommendations.[iii]

The Premier explained that the Task Force would:

  • be located within the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division (AARD) of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC),
  • comprise State and Commonwealth representatives, and
  • be chaired by the Executive Director of AARD.[iv]

Placing the Task Force within DPC was a further demonstration of the government’s earlier commitment to “raise the importance” of issues on the APY Lands “to the highest level within the public sector.”[v]

The Paper Tracker notes that when the State Government previously created an APY Task Force in 2004, it:

  • met fortnightly,
  • comprised around 25 persons, including a senior advisor to the Premier,
  • reported to the Chief Executive of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, and
  • was overseen by a Cabinet Subcommittee.[vi]

Senate Inquiry and Ministerial advice

On 4 March 2009, the Paper Tracker advised a Senate Inquiry of its concern that government responses to the Mullighan Inquiry’s recommendations appeared to have diminished over time and, particularly, that the Task Force responsible for driving these responses had “not met for some months.”[vii]

The Paper Tracker urged the Inquiry to consider asking the South Australian Government representatives appearing later that day for “detailed information” on the Task Force’s status and priorities.[viii]

In response to this request, the Hon. David Johnston (Senator for Western Australia) asked the State Government for information on the Task Force, particularly the frequency of its meetings.[ix]

In reply, the Chair of the Task Force (Ms Nerida Saunders) indicated that:

  • since taking up her position in November 2008, the Task Force had only met once,[x]
  • she had a “limited understanding” of how often it had met before then, and
  • the Task Force was due to meet “in the next fortnight”.[xi]

On 16 March 2009, the South Australian Government advised the Senate Inquiry in writing that the Task Force had met ten times since May 2008.[xii] The Paper Tracker notes that nine of those meetings occurred in the first six months after the Task Force was established (May to November 2008) and that only one was held in the next four months (November 2008 to March 2009).

On 16 April 2009, the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Hon Jay Weatherill MP) advised the Paper Tracker that the Mullighan Task Force:

  • comprises representatives of 17 State and Federal government agencies and organisations,
  • had “met eight times since May 2008, and usually meets at least every quarter,”[xiii] and
  • “last met on 15 April 2009.”[xiv]

The Minister further advised the Paper Tracker that:

  • meetings of the Task Force are chaired by the Executive Director of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet’s Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division (AARD) “on behalf of the Department for Families and Communities,” and
  • “any questions regarding the implementation of recommendations arising from the [Mullighan] Inquiry” should be directed to the Minister for Families and Communities.[xv]

Such statements seemed to suggest that the responsibility for driving the Government’s response to the Mullighan Inquiry’s recommendations was split across two departments (i.e. the Department of the Premier and Cabinet and the Department for Families and Communities). The Paper Tracker is concerned that this arrangement might undermine the government’s ability to implement key recommendations in a timely, comprehensive and coordinated fashion.

Taskforce meetings (2010)

A meeting of the Mullighan Task Force was held on 12 May 2010. This was its first meeting for almost nine months (since 16 September 2009).[xvi]

The Taskforce met on another two occasions in 2010 (i.e. 18 August and 17 November).[xvii]

Taskforce meetings (2011)

On 5 August 2011, the Government advised the Paper Tracker that:

  • the Task Force was expected to meet three times in 2011,
  • its most recent meeting had been held on 11 May 2011, and
  • it was next scheduled to meet on 17 August 2011.[xviii]

Taskforce meetings (2012)

On 16 March 2012, the Chair of the Task Force (Ms Nerida Saunders) advised a Parliamentary Committee that the Task Force met “on a quarterly basis” and that this arrangement would be continued.[xix]

On 3 July 2012, a Parliamentary Committee asked Ms Saunders how many times the Task Force had met that year and the date of its next meeting. Ms Saunders took both of these questions on notice.[xx]

On 10 July 2012, Ms Saunders advised the Paper Tracker that:

  • the Mullighan Taskforce meets three times a year (i.e. not quarterly as previously reported),
  • its last meeting had been held on 21 March 2012, and
  • its next meeting was “being scheduled for early August” with a date yet to be confirmed.[xxi]

This article was last updated in July 2012. It has been archived and will no longer be updated. It will, however, remain accessible online as a source of background information for anyone wishing to undertake further research on this issue. Information included in the article was current at the time it was archived. Keep in mind, however, that Ministerial changes and names of departments, among other things, may have since changed.


[i] Rann, M. 6 May 2008, “APY Lands Inquiry,” Ministerial Statement, Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia.

[ii] See: Government of South Australia. 16 March 2009, “Senate Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities, SA Government Response to Questions on Notice,” p6.

[iii] Rann, M. 6 May 2008, “APY Lands Inquiry,” Ministerial Statement, Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia.

[iv] Rann, M. 6 May 2008, “APY Lands Inquiry,” Ministerial Statement, Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia.

[v] See: Rann, M. 6 May 2008, “APY Lands Inquiry,” Ministerial Statement, Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia.

[vi] Parliament of South Australia, 2005, Annual Report of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee 2004/2005, PP235, p48-50.

[vii] Nicholls, J. 4 March 2009, Hansard, Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities, Senate, Parliament of Australia, p4.

[viii] Nicholls, J. 4 March 2009, Hansard, Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities, Senate, Parliament of Australia, p4.

[ix] Johnston, D. 4 March 2009, Hansard, Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities, Senate, Parliament of Australia, p64-65.

[x] The Paper Tracker notes that Ms Saunders was formally appointed as the Executive Director of AARD in October 2008 but had been acting in the position for over two months prior to this appointment (see: McCann, W.¬† 27 October 2008, “A message from the Chief Executive: Senior Appointments in the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division,” email to departmental staff).

[xi] Saunders, N. 4 March 2009, Hansard, Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities, Senate, Parliament of Australia, p65.

[xii] Government of South Australia. 16 March 2009, “Senate Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities, SA Government Response to Questions on Notice,” p6.

[xiii] The Paper Tracker notes that this figure contradicts information provided by AARD who, a month earlier, informed the Senate Inquiry that the Task Force had already met 10 times. (See: Government of South Australia. 16 March 2009, “Senate Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities, SA Government Response to Questions on Notice,” p6.)

[xiv] Weatherill, J. 16 April 2009. Letter to Rev P McDonald. The 17 agencies and organisations listed in the Minister’s letter are: Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division; Courts Administration Authority, Department of Health – Country Health SA; South Australia Police; Cabinet Office (DPC); Department of Treasury and Finance; Department of Education and Children’s Services; Children’s Youth and Women’s Health Service; Attorney General’s Department; Commissioner for Victims’ Rights; Department for Further Education Employment Science and Training; Department of Health; Department for Correctional Services; Department of Health and Ageing; and Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

[xv] Weatherill, J. 16 April 2009. Letter to Rev P McDonald.

[xvi] Gillam, A (FaHCSIA). 14 May 2010. Email to J. Nicholls.

[xvii] Starkie, R (DPC-AARD). 5 August 2011. Email to J. Nicholls.

[xviii] Starkie, R (DPC-AARD). 5 August 2011. Email to J. Nicholls.

[xix] Saunders, N (DPC-AARD). 16 March 2012. Transcript of evidence presented to the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, Parliament of South Australia, p33.

[xx] Ms Saunders was asked this questions by Hon M. Lensink MLC on 3 July 2012 while giving evidence to the Budget and Finance Committee, Parliament of South Australia (see: Lensink, M. 3 July 2012. Email to J. Nicholls).

[xxi] Saunders, N (DPC-AARD). 10 July 2012. Email to J. Nicholls.

The Paper Tracker works hard to provide accurate and up-to-date information. We will correct any inaccurate information as soon as it is brought to our attention. Please contact us if you have additional information or can provide us with an update.