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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 1 Hansard (29 April) . . Page.. 116 ..

MR OSBORNE (continuing):

In 1997 the Department of Education and Training issued a public consultation paper reviewing the Children's Services Act. In its discussion of the issue, the department makes the case for a children's magistrate, but takes a bet each way when it comes to making a choice, falling, it seems, at the hurdle of "resource implications for the Territory". I ask this, Mr Speaker: What greater resource does this Territory have than its children? What value, what price, do we place on ensuring that the most vulnerable among them get the best treatment and the best system that we can buy?

To continue the Cook's tour, Mr Speaker, this issue was taken up again by the Assembly's Standing Committee on Social Policy, chaired by Ms Tucker. In the committee report, "Inquiry into Services for Children at Risk in the ACT", the committee recommended that the ACT Government appoint a children's magistrate. I believe that that report was unanimous, Mr Speaker. In evidence before the committee, the Law Society identified the lack of a children's magistrate as a critical factor in the coordination of services that come before the Children's Court. At present, all magistrates deal with children's issues, and the Law Society said that, while they do generally do a good job, a specialist would be able to build up a detailed knowledge of cases, options and services available.

Mr Humphries: When was this?

MR OSBORNE: In the evidence of the Law Society before the committee, Mr Humphries. You raise your eyebrows.

The Law Society argued that a specialist children's magistrate not only would have knowledge of a young person's background but also would be able to look at the alternatives to assist the young person. The society said that the variety of magistrates making decisions in the Children's Court had led to an "inadvertent degree of inconsistency" in judgments. The committee concluded that the appointment of a children's magistrate would have resource implications, but the position had the potential to provide long-term savings to the community by ensuring that at least some of the children do not end up leading a life of crime.

Mr Speaker, with this weight of evidence from the experts, you would have thought that, by now, the Government would have moved to implement this idea. But it has not. It has sat on its hands. I do not pretend to know why. Perhaps I do; perhaps I do not. But perhaps it is counting its pennies. Perhaps it is loath to direct the court on how it should be structured. Whatever the reason, I have decided that it is high time that this issue was brought into the public spotlight and debated in this place. If the Government's reason for not doing this is a lack of resources, then let it argue that in this place. Let it say that money is of greater value than the welfare of the most vulnerable. As I said at the start, Mr Speaker, the evidence is overwhelming, the support is overwhelming and the case is compelling. Let the Government now answer the charges. I commend the Bill to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stefaniak) adjourned.

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