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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 8 Hansard (4 August) . . Page.. 3431..

MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

services for families; that the ACT can afford the associated costs of the establishment of another service which duplicates many functions of existing services; and that the rights of the family are consistent with the rights and the interests of children and young people.

This premise is fundamentally flawed. It is based on a notion of the sanctity of the family unit and its pre-eminence in all domestic issues. This undermines the reality that the rights of parents are not always compatible with the interests and needs of individuals within the family. Specifically, the territory reports rapidly rising rates of child abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse and neglect.

In principle, this proposed bill has the capacity to undermine the work of child protection authorities and their work with families in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. It must be noted that most child abuse and neglect occurs within the family unit, as defined by section 6 of this bill.

The bill establishes processes of reporting which are flawed. Section 23 allows the commissioner to disclose information on a discretionary basis to a person or member of the public who has been the subject of an investigation. This may be contrary to law and not necessarily in the interests of vulnerable individuals. In addition, section 25 suggests that the commissioner may direct the minister to provide a report to the Legislative Assembly. There is no clear accountability process for the commissioner's actions or appeal mechanisms in response to decisions made under this proposed act.

Furthermore, the commissioner may investigate actions taken by some but not all statutory agencies in the territory. As stated, these include the Office of the Community Advocate, the Public Service Administration Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner and the Discrimination Commissioner, who may presumably have all of their decisions reviewed by this commissioner.

The establishment of a commissioner for the family is at odds with current law and recommendations by review bodies such as the Standing Committee on Community Services and Social Equity's report into the rights, interests and well-being of children and young people, tabled in August 2003, and the current review of statutory oversight and advocacy agencies. Several ACT agencies provided recommendations to the former inquiry in support of the establishment of a commissioner for children or for children and youth. Furthermore, recommendation 26 of the ACT health review in 2002 calls for the rationalisation of advocacy services in the ACT.

In addition, several of the state functions of a commissioner for the family are already within the scope of the Community Advocate's function. The Office of the Community Advocate is an independent statutory officeholder who has a legal duty under the Community Advocate Act 1991 to promote and protect the interests of children and adults with physical, mental, psychological and/or intellectual conditions that result in a need for protection from abuse, exploitation or neglect.

It is also noted that there is an inherent conflict in the establishment of a role that represents the interests of both children and young people and the interests of their parents.

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