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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 11 Hansard (20 October) . . Page.. 3409 ..

MR OSBORNE (continuing):

Unfortunately, we are now in a position where we have to amend the original legislation. I accept that; but, like Mr Stanhope, I intend to pursue this issue. I think it is a very important one. I suppose the situation could have been resolved earlier if the Government had appointed another magistrate to fill the role, but Mr Humphries chose not to do that. I am hopeful that that is an option that will be pursued some way down the track. Once again, I am encouraged that a majority of members still see this issue as something which is not finished. I put the Chief Magistrate on notice that it is not finished as far as I am concerned and I will work with other members of this Assembly to try to move forward. I will be supporting reluctantly Mr Rugendyke's legislation.

MS TUCKER (5.26): The Greens will be supporting this amendment to the principal Act, although slightly reluctantly as well, because it retains enough of the original intent of the amendment which the Assembly agreed to in March and is likely to improve the situation for at-risk children who come before the courts in the ACT. The current amendment introduces flexibility to the selection of an acting Children's Court magistrate in recognition of the complaints from the magistrates and their unwillingness to work with the previous arrangement of an assigned deputy.

The Bill describes the conditions under which the Chief Magistrate can assign an acting Children's Court magistrate, which is when there is no Children's Court magistrate, when the magistrate is away or when, for another reason, he or she cannot carry out the duties of Children's Court magistrate. Obviously, the last phrase "for another reason" is intended to cover the situation where there is a genuine problem. If this change is just about practical work arrangements in the Magistrates Court, as it has been presented, that is fine and we have accepted it as a compromise to meet this practical need.

In light of some of the reactions to the previous amendments, which I will outline, I would like to remind the Assembly of the original reasons for having a specialised Children's Court magistrate and why it matters and why it is important. I will do that later, but I want to point out that the success of this Bill will depend on its interpretation and application. That is why I think people have been concerned about the politicisation of this issue by the Chief Magistrate. I was also concerned to see the letters from other magistrates circulated by Mr Humphries to members of this place. I am not sure why Mr Humphries actually did that. In a way, if anything, he was complicit in the politicisation of this issue by actually forwarding those letters.

The Chief Magistrate asked other magistrates for their views. That, in itself, is interesting. It was not just whether they would take up the position, but for their views. Most of them, not all, were very willing to give their views, and they were certainly political views, about this piece of legislation. Mr Humphries, for his own reasons, chose to circulate those views, making them widely available, thereby politicising the whole matter even more. I do not intend to go into the detail of those political comments, but I am very concerned, I have to say, to have seen that reaction. For that reason we are, quite legitimately, concerned and, as Mr Osborne said, we will be keeping a watching brief on this issue because it has been seen to be definitely in the interests of children to have a specialised children's magistrate.

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