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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (17 February) . . Page.. 269 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

The Greens' policy at the last election was for a Children's Court with its own trained staff and dedicated, skilled judicial officers, but at this point a dedicated court is unlikely for costs reasons. I note that the Bill before the Assembly is cost neutral as it does not require a new magistrate, just the designation of an existing magistrate to act as children's magistrate when required.

A children's magistrate is necessary for the reasons outlined by the Law Society in their submission to the children at risk inquiry. The position is critical in coordination of services for children who come before the courts and would allow a specialist magistrate to build detailed knowledge of cases, options and services available. A specialist magistrate would not only have knowledge of a young person's background, but also be able to look for alternatives to assist them, such as diversionary conferencing or placement options. At present, with a number of different magistrates dealing with the area, there may be an inadvertent degree of inconsistency. Magistrates dealing with care proceedings are faced with even greater difficulties in gaining knowledge about what is relevant.

As the committee pointed out, the position of a children's magistrate has the potential to deliver long-term savings to the community by ensuring that at least some of the many vulnerable children who have come before the courts do not continue on the road to incarceration, because their needs will be better and more consistently met. I am also supportive of the amendment that Mr Osborne will move dealing with the timeframe. That is very important.

MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (5.54): Mr Speaker, this Bill, which was introduced by Mr Osborne last year, proposes the designation of a specialist Children's Court magistrate. The Assembly, as members know, referred the Bill to the Justice and Community Safety Committee for examination. The committee supported the appointment of a specialist Children's Court magistrate. It recommended that the Bill be amended to provide for the Chief Magistrate to designate a magistrate as the Children's Court magistrate for an initial three-year period and to allow for reappointment to the position.

The committee also recommended that the Bill provide for the appointment of a deputy Children's Court magistrate. The deputy would be available to take up cases when the designated magistrate was on leave or unable to preside because of a conflict of interest. I note that Mr Osborne has circulated amendments to adopt those particular recommendations of the committee.

In making its recommendations, the committee recognised that we must look to the best interests of children who come before the court. The committee believed that those interests would be best served by the greater consistency in decisions, better application of expertise, improved efficiency, reduced waiting times and better coordination of ACT Children's Services that it expects would flow from the appointment of a specialist magistrate.

The committee recommended that a specialist magistrate be appointed for a three-year term. I acknowledge that submissions to the committee differed on the appropriate length of employment. A three-year term is a majority recommendation. It is relevant that the

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