Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (10 December) . . Page.. 3444 ..
MR OSBORNE (continuing):
Mr Speaker, I thank all members of the committee for their input to this report. As chair of the committee, I have to register my displeasure at the way the dissenting report was handled in relation to this inquiry, but I will get to that a little later.
At present the ACT has a Children's Court but does not have a specialist Children's Court magistrate. Instead, each of the eight magistrates rotate through the Children's Court every two weeks. In recent years there have been repeated calls for a separate Children's Court magistrate from bodies such as the Community Advocate, the Law Society, and the Assembly's own Social Policy Committee. In response to those calls, I tabled legislation earlier this year which would formally establish this position and the committee has been considering the content of that legislation over the past few months.
In considering whether the ACT ought to have a specialist Children's Court magistrate, the committee recognised that this decision must be taken completely within the context of what is in the best interests of the children involved. The opinions and experience of those who work in the daily affairs of children were widely drawn upon for this inquiry. Naturally, not all of those who made representations to the committee will agree with each of the recommendations that the committee has made in this report. However, almost all recognised in their submissions the potential benefits of greater uniformity of sentencing and being able to provide more meaningful assistance for those children who come before the court with the appointment of a specialist magistrate. Included in that group were the Chief Magistrate, the Community Advocate, the Minister for Education, the Law Society, the Children's Services Council and a retired New South Wales Children's Court magistrate.
The committee believes that the appointment of a designated specialist should result in more consistency in court decisions, greater application of expertise, improved efficiency within the court, reduced waiting times, and better coordination of ACT children's services. It was recognised that many of the children who go through the Territory's care and protection system end up, unfortunately, in the juvenile justice system. Having one magistrate who dealt with a child from day one should improve that situation and, hopefully, reduce that trend. It should also raise the standard of care, with the incumbent investing a lot of energy, commitment and pride in the job.
Mr Speaker, it was very disappointing for me to learn of the low regard which is held in some circles for Children's Court work in general. The Community Advocate noted that the Children's Court is sometimes perceived by the judiciary as the "lowest desirable jurisdiction to be sitting in", while the Chief Magistrate characterised working in the Children's Court as being seen as something of a "sentence". The committee endorses the view that presiding over the Children's Court should not be considered in any way as a "backwater" but, rather, an opportunity to assist the young people of our community, and believes that the appointment of a specialist magistrate should improve the status of the court.
Mr Speaker, the committee made five recommendations in the report, to which the government member formally expressed reservations about Nos 1 and 2 and dissented from No. 3. Recommendation No. 1 confirmed the need to appoint a specialist Children's Court magistrate and considered that a minimum three-year appointment would be the most suitable. While the whole committee did not believe that the alleged