GAMMY: WA child protection department knew about Farnell's child sex convictions since May

Baby Gammy remains in Thailand with his surrogate mother.
Baby Gammy remains in Thailand with his surrogate mother.

The West Australian Parliament has heard that the niece of convicted paedophile David Farnell contacted the Department of Child Protection to report that her uncle had a child in his custody months before the baby Gammy saga hit the headlines.

The West Australian opposition has called for the state's child protection minister to have her portfolio stripped over revelations her department was aware Mr Farnell had a child in his care for months before its staff made contact with the family.

Bunbury man David Farnell was thrust into the international spotlight last month after a Thai surrogate mother alleged he and his wife had abandoned his Down syndrome son Gammy and returned to Australia with the twin sister Pipah.

Questions were raised over Mr Farnell's suitability for surrogacy after it emerged he was jailed in 1997 for indecently dealing with three girls.

On Tuesday night, Child Protection Minister Helen Morton was questioned in WA Parliament about when she learnt of the case.

Ms Morton told Parliament the state government was aware of Mr Farnell's 22 child sex offences in mid-May.

Mr Farnell's history of child sex offences surfaced in August but when questioned, Ms Morton made no mention of having prior knowledge of the situation. Her department only made contact with the Farnell's after the media attention.

Ms Morton told parliament "on the 15th of May, 2014, information was provided to the Department of Child Protection and Family Support that a Mr Farnell had been previously convicted for child sexual abuse offences and had a child in his care through an unknown arrangement".

"However at that time Mr Farnell's address and circumstances were unknown," she said.

"After ascertaining Mr Farnell's whereabouts, attempts to contact the Farnell family commenced immediately via home visits on the 4th of August 2014, on the 6th of August 2014.

"Telephone contact occurred between Mr Farnell, other family members and the department."

After opposition child protection spokesman Stephen Dawson asked when the department first made contact with the Farnell family, Ms Morton said their home was visited on August 4.

On Wednesday, Premier Colin Barnett revealed in Parliament that it had been one of Mr Farnell's nieces who provided the information about Mr Farnell having a child in his custody to the department.

He said the department "should have acted in a quicker way and in a higher priority".

Mr Barnett said while department staff should have "acted more swiftly" he dismissed calls to remove the child protection portfolio from Ms Morton, saying while the department was aware of the report in May, Ms Morton herself was not.

Member for Armadale Tony Buti said the fact that it was a relative who made the report meant it should have been acted upon and taken seriously, and that if it didn't, "heads should roll".

Ms Morton told Channel Nine that her department was not given a lot of information in the report received in May.

"We didn't have very good information about anything, we didn't have any understanding about the baby or how it was there or who it belonged to, where the Farnell's live, weren't given an address or anything but that again isn't necessarily a major cause for delay," she said.

Opposition leader Mark McGowan said Ms Morton had "kept knowledge from the public" and "said contradictory things" in May about what she knew of the case.

"I think that warrants the removal of the minister, she has failed in her core responsibility of protecting children in Western Australia," he said.

"When a report is provided of a convicted known paedophile having custody of a child, you would think an investigation would be undertaken, and then when it appears that that person has abandoned another child, you would think that the department would go and look at removing that child in that person's custody, that would be ordinary practice."

Mr McGowan said he was "pretty confident that the report that came in would've given details of where Mr Farnell was and the circumstances".

A Department of Child Protection investigation into the circumstances of the case is ongoing.

The department has been contacted for comment.


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