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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 12 Hansard (Wednesday, 24 November 2021) . . Page.. 3643 ..


Children fleeing violence are not the only ones that I worry about. As I have mentioned many times before, our youth justice system is ripe for reform. This budget commits $795,000 over two years to help develop service redesign to allow the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the territory to be raised. But a broad range of stakeholders, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and university researchers, have shared with me their concerns that legally changing the age before fundamentally reforming the system will just create worse outcomes for children.

In consulting with these stakeholders and others, I had compiled a list of minimum reforms needed. I was satisfied to see that the commissioned review tabled by the government in August identified almost exactly the same gaps as those on my list and likewise called for “comprehensive systems reform”. I will be carefully watching this development because the last thing we need to do is tick a box on raising the age without filling in all of the known issues in our youth justice system.

I will speak now on the topic of child protection. I took the opportunity during budget estimates hearings to seek an update on the implementation of external merits review for child protection decisions in the ACT. I first moved a motion calling for this reform 4½ years ago, and I am grateful that the Human Rights Commission then followed my lead and confirmed that our current system is not human rights-compliant without an external merits review mechanism in place.

On this point, I am reminded that ANU academic Valerie Braithwaite’s paper, published earlier this year in the International Journal on Child Maltreatment, relies heavily on research conducted right here in Canberra to explore resistance to reform in the child protection space. (Second speaking period taken.)

Nine months ago, it looked like we may actually be on the verge of finally having an external merits review mechanism. Sadly, I was informed last month that those contracted to design this system had changed circumstances, so there is more delay to come. As a major stakeholder pointed out to me earlier this year, other Australian states implemented external merits review without outside assistance, but it appears that this is too hard for this government, so we must continue to wait.

Canberra families have been waiting for far too long for this human rights necessary reform to be implemented. They are the ones who are suffering because of this government’s complete incompetence when it comes to reforming legislation.

On the topic of child protection, I raise the matter of the promised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner. This recommendation was made by the Our Booris, Our Way committee in 2018, but a commissioner is still not in place. Instead, this budget provides a bit of funding for a temporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families advocate, pending the actual implementation of a commissioner.

In hearings, I tried to find out what powers this temporary advocate will have and, importantly, what powers the new commissioner will eventually have. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have clearly insisted that the new


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