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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 4 Hansard (26 March) . .

Page.. 1191..


In addition to extending the operation of part 5A to the right to education, the bill clarifies the operation of section 11 of the Human Rights Act by including a note that indicates that children have all rights in the Human Rights Act, not just the protections afforded under section 11. This reinforces that children are to be treated as individuals in their own right and enjoy the full range of rights in the Human Rights Act. When assessing and justifying potential limits on rights resulting from legislative amendment or policy changes careful attention must be paid to the nature and extent of the impact on children.

This amendment will serve to provide an important reminder, in the context of the government's new 2015-20 out of home care strategy, that children and young people are capable and must be respected as equal holders of all the rights that adults have, plus additional rights that take into account their special developmental needs. At the same time, a key reason for requiring the protection of family is that family is the natural environment for the growth and wellbeing of its members, particularly children.

The focus of the out of home care strategy on keeping children and young people with their birth families and assisting children to grow up in secure, loving and permanent homes is supported by this reaffirmation that children enjoy all human rights. Service providers looking to provide out of home care services must be mindful of their obligations as public authorities under the Human Rights Act to act and make decisions compatible with all the rights of children and young people.

The out of home care strategy notes a particular concern with the growth in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in care. Around one-quarter of children and young people in care in the ACT identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. In 2012-13 this equated to 140 children and young people in care. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are significantly overrepresented in the ACT's child protection system, as they are in other Australian jurisdictions. Disruption in the homes of children and young people is likely to lead to the health and wellbeing problems that are also prevalent among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Last week, on Close the Gap Day, we were reminded once more of the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in morbidity and mortality indicators. It is a disturbing, and remains a deeply disappointing, fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can expect to live 10 to 17 years less on average than non-Indigenous Australians. One of the factors that influence the poorer outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including in terms of health and overrepresentation in the justice system, is the impact of disconnection from country and cultural heritage. The government is therefore taking action with this bill to provide for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their cultural rights, including the importance of relationship to country, in the Human Rights Act.

In developing these new amendments, the government has benefited from the expertise and considered input of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected


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