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Rankine leaves portfolio in limbo

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A new state minister will be left to fix South Australia’s “breaking down” child protection system, with Jennifer Rankine retiring to the backbench today.

Rankine’s retirement – to spend more time with her family – coincides with the closing of written submissions to the Royal Commission into Child Protection Systems in South Australia, being overseen by former Supreme Court Justice Margaret Nyland.

Weatherill will announce a new Education and Child Development minister this week as part of a reshuffle of portfolios.

The reshuffle had been mooted over the summer break, as first reported by InDaily in January.

The options to take over the major portfolio are limited, with the most senior Cabinet ministers – John Rau, Tom Koutsantonis and Jack Snelling – unlikely to change ministries.

The portfolio is traditionally held by Left faction members, leaving the likes of Susan Close a possibility to step into the role, with a new face, possibly Upper House member Kyam Maher, to come into Cabinet.

A Caucus meeting this afternoon will decide on the new minister, with the new portfolio allocations and swearing in ceremony to happen tomorrow morning (Tuesday).

Whoever Weatherill appoints, a key task will be fixing the mess in scandal-plagued and demoralised Families SA.

In an interview with InDaily late last year, Royal Commissioner Nyland said Families SA wasn’t working.

“The story’s out there that Families SA is just not working – that things are going very badly wrong,” she said.

“We’ve got to try and work out where the system is breaking down and how we can fix it, really, because it’s such an important role that they play in the community.”

Nyland described an agency where workers felt “under siege”.

“There are a lot of very good workers out there in Families SA, who I think are probably feeling very threatened now because of the Chloe Valentine situation. But they’re the sorts of people we need to talk to, to come forward and say ‘this is what I think might be wrong’.”

The continuing problems in the child protection system have sparked calls from the Opposition and professionals in the area to split the education and child protection functions, which are both housed within the Education and Child Development  mega-department.

Rankine said today that the idea of having services for children together in one agency was the right decision.

She said Families SA was a “tough portfolio” and the allegations of abuse against a Families SA carer that emerged last year were “personally and emotionally traumatic”.

However, she denied she was walking away from a department in crisis.

“There is already massive reform underway,” she said.

“There’s never really a right time … But I think I leave the department now in well and capable hands.”

Rankine promised to serve out the full term as a backbencher.

Weatherill said the reshuffle would be more substantial than he had expected.

He wasn’t aware of any other ministers who were planning on leaving.

– additional reporting by Bension Siebert

 

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