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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 11 Hansard (19 October) . . Page.. 3290 ..

MR RUGENDYKE (3.59): I view this Bill as an extremely important step in the area of care and protection for children in our community. As my colleagues are aware, children's welfare is an issue in which I have a great deal of interest and I look forward to the implementation of this Bill. This Bill is a significant move in the advancement of child welfare matters in the spirit of best practice, with the paramount consideration being the best interests of the child.

Overall, I am supportive of the Bill. I am supportive of the intentions on the basis that this area has to be looked at, reviewed and updated to ensure that we have the best possible laws and procedures to protect our children, particularly children at risk. I view this Bill as a means of implementing flexible and responsive approaches to dealing with cases, rather than simply labelling and categorising children.

Mr Speaker, I will be looking with interest at several matters once this Bill is implemented, one of those matters being the distinction between 12- and 18-year-olds, which is dealt with in clause 7. I am told that 18-year-olds simply do not like to be called children. I will watch with interest how that clause is interpreted by others. I will be interested in seeing how the concept of parental responsibility pans out. Apparently, there are other new concepts, some of which are modelled on the Law Reform Act.

I foreshadow that I will be introducing amendments which refer to the role of carers in child welfare matters. The thrust of those amendments is twofold. The first part of my amendments mirrors the Children's Services (Amendment) Bill (No. 2) which was debated in the Assembly last week. These amendments relate to the provision of a children's magistrate. They are primarily administrative and are designed to give the court more flexibility in the day-to-day running of the children's magistrate cases. I believe that that will help us overcome the teething problems that have occurred in the introduction of the children's magistrate.

The second part of my amendments refers to carers. They define, enhance and clarify the role of carers in the context of the new Bill. The amendments recognise for the first time that the child welfare system is built around carers and carers are an integral part of the child-care system. In fact, in lots of ways the carers are the ones who make this system work. These amendments ensure that for the first time the status of carers is recognised.

I am also seeking to open up the ability of carers and other people with a significant role in the life of children to make applications to the court. That is possible under the existing Act. Under this Bill, that provision is being removed and only the chief executive of Family Services can make application orders. I propose to open up court access to give carers and other relevant parties the right to be heard, with the power remaining with the court to decide whether it is appropriate for such a person to intervene.

Mr Speaker, I must draw attention to the people that have worked on this Bill. The process has been a long one. There has been a lot of consultation and the provisions have been considered by many people. A number of people provided input on the Bill. I mention Jo King, who was involved early in the discussions, and Stephen Goggs, with whom I have had a great deal of negotiation in this matter. I mention also Julie Field of

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