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Former Tasmanian premier David Barlett speaks with abuse survivor, says department secrecy stopping ministers from acting

Former Tasmanian premier David Bartlett has spoken with a victim-survivor of child sexual abuse who fronted a recent inquiry and says he regrets not doing more to protect children during his time in office. 

In a lengthy Twitter thread, Mr Bartlett said he was "dismayed and horrified" hearing the stories of abuse in government-run institutions such as schools, hospitals, detention centres and out-of-home care, which came to light during the recent commission of inquiry.

No current or former ministers or premiers were called as witnesses to the inquiry, but Mr Bartlett said he would have been happy to appear.

He said after hearing the evidence at the inquiry: "I have also questioned myself, felt guilty and disappointed with myself."

In a conversation on Twitter with one of the victim-survivors of abuse who gave evidence to the commission, Azra Beach, Mr Bartlett said he had been reflecting on whether he had ignored warnings, or if they were hidden from him.

"I was a minister and premier for close to seven years. Why didn't I do more? What more could I have done? Did I have the warning signs and ignore them or were the warning signs hidden from me by the public service?" he asked in a tweet.

Mr Bartlett was premier from 2008 until 2011 and had been education minister before that. He is also a former child from the out-of-home care system.

He said that following an initial exchange with Ms Beach on Twitter, they "took the conversation offline and explored some questions and answers", then came back with a Twitter thread on the topic.

"@AzraBeach asks WHAT MAKES IT SO DIFFICULT TO ACT?" Mr Barlett tweeted.

"There is no simple answer to this but I think it comes down to inertia and a lack of transparency, masquerading as privacy."

This morning Mr Barlett went on the ABC's AM program with Sabra Lane and said most ministers would be horrified to learn what was happening in state care, and he therefore believed information was not being passed to them.

He said government departments were far too worried about the political and legal risk of taking action, and not concerned enough about the ramifications of failing to act.

"As minister, you don't get told things, because the public sector wants to go, 'Oh, what should we tell the minister, if we tell the minister there's a risk in that …'.

"If we act to sack or remove someone after multiple — as we saw at the Launceston General Hospital — multiple allegations being made, that puts us at risk … and what is that risk to the government, what is that risk to the minister?'"

Mr Bartlett said he was also concerned there was a tendency in Tasmania to not believe those who make accusations.

"When complainants come forward, I think there's a culture of 'Oh yeah, but is it true?'

"We need much more of a culture of belief, and much more of a culture of action taken rapidly."

He suggested that data on the number of abuse claims, or the number of children in out-of-home care who had not yet been assigned a case worker, should be published regularly.

That way, he argued, it would be impossible for both governments and the public to ignore.

"If we had transparency of data, the cabinet was presented with them every month … and they were made transparent to the public, I think we would have an ongoing deep focus on 'how do we improve these numbers', because they're pretty horrifying."

Ms Beach told the ABC she had respect for Mr Bartlett for answering her questions.

"It takes some balls for someone that's held a pretty high position in Tassie to come out and admit their failings," she said.

"I think he answered my questions very well and he didn't have to, and I came at him from a place of anger, and I was pretty cross when I was dealing with him, and he still didn't blow me off, so I've got so much respect for that man.

"I hope that he continues to speak out because we — kids in out-of-home care both past and present — need somebody who's got a bit of weight behind them to speak out."

Ashley should close now: Bartlett

The former premier was asked whether he was "comfortable" with the Ashley Youth Detention Centre remaining open for another two years, despite it coming under heavy criticism during the commission of inquiry, and a United Nations committee finding it was in breach of the convention on torture for keeping children locked down for up to 23 hours a day.

"No, I'm very uncomfortable about it actually," he said.

"Can the minister walk in there today and say, 'Right, this place is closed?' Probably.

"There's, I don't know, six, eight, 10 kids up there. Let's find them a place so we can shut this place down is my view."

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