How much danger can a 77-year-old woman pose to a school assembly?
It’s a legitimate question, given Barbara Kavenagh and her 1963 classmates were informed they were not allowed to sit in the back of her old school’s assembly hall without each of them holding a current Blue Card.
And yet today, we are making headlines around the globe over the arrest of 45-year-old man accused of 1,623 sex offences against 91 girls in childcare; a former childcare worker who police say passed all background checks required for his job.
In Queensland, anyone who works or volunteers with children needs to have a current Blue Card, which carries with it specific checks.
That is a minimum requirement, and it is regularly reviewed and renewed. If an applicant fails to do that at the end of each expiry period, they are subject to a “no Card, No Start” clause, which means they cannot work.
This alleged offender is charged with crimes committed at a dozen different childcare centres in Brisbane, NSW and overseas over 15 years!
That, in Queensland, would require a minimum of a five ongoing Blue Card approvals.
So let’s contrast that with Barbara’s story.
She’s a tad shy about talking; she doesn’t want to make waves – but it is 60 years since she sat her senior school exams.
And she, and a band of school mates – decided that required a special celebration.
People across the Class of 63 were contacted, one by one. “We talked about it for 12 months,’’ Barbara told InQld. “This was going to be our 60th anniversary’’.
A tour of their old class room, was top of their list. A simple request. Perhaps a morning tea, with scones and jam, too?
Then one of Barbara’s school peers raised the idea of sitting in on a school assembly and seeing how talented young students spoke today. How different would it be to an assembly more than half a century ago?
The others jumped at the idea. Perhaps they could even do a Q & A with a couple of year 12 students, another suggested.
And then, with a single notification, it all came crashing down.
The tour would be allowed, but Barbara says organisers were told, that on legal advice, they would not be able to sit in on an assembly. And certainly speaking to year 12s would not be an option.
Everyone in the Class of 63, now all heading towards 80 years, would require a Blue Card, under Queensland law, she was told. “The world’s gone mad,’’ Barbara says.
And she is absolutely right.
Her point is this: today, we have to be so careful about the language we use in every day conversations, so that we don’t offend others.
“I’m talking about pronouns and all those sorts of things,’’ she says.
“But is anyone concerned that I’m offended being told I’m too dangerous to sit in on an assembly and just listen?’’
“We didn’t want to talk. But because we didn’t have Blue Cards, we weren’t allowed to do that.’’
Meanwhile, the case of a man charged with 136 counts of rape, 110 counts of sexual intercourse with a child under 10 and 613 counts of producing child exploitation material, will soon travel slowly through our courts.
A royal commission into how we protect children, the checks that run alongside that, and how childcare centres will still attract good male and female workers should be announced today.
It won’t be a ticket for Barbara to attend assembly at her old school, for her 60th high school anniversary.
But it might be the road to fixing a system that has loopholes we can drive through, and a means of keeping our children safe into the future.