Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 11 Hansard (21 October) . . Page.. 3507 ..
The Official Visitor, along with the Ombudsman and the Community Advocate, provide components of that scrutiny and advocacy and a degree of transparency in very closed systems.
My amendment ensures that the responsibility of the Official Visitor to present annual reports to the Minister for tabling in the Assembly are not left to a discretionary determination by the Minister, by ensuring that the Official Visitor must provide an annual report to the Minister, who must then table that annual report in the Assembly. I am ensuring that the Official Visitor can fulfil all of his/her responsibilities.
Those responsibilities are, in relation to children, to ensure protection of their rights, wellbeing and interests; to promote their protection from abuse and exploitation; to advocate for them, particularly those in the child protection system. What value is an advocacy in a protection role if, when the occasion requires, the Official Visitor cannot through his/her annual reports draw to the attention of the broader community fundamental problems with the child protection system, abuses within particular services?
These responsibilities are particularly critical, given the therapeutic protection orders specified in the Children and Young People Bill. The substantive parts of my amendment are in subsection 8 (5A) and the schedule at the end of the amendment headed "public authorities", which lists the Official Visitor under the Children and Young People Act 1999. Subsection 8(5A) makes it a requirement that the public authority mentioned in the schedule conforms to the annual reporting requirements of the Annual Reports (Government Agencies) Act 1995.
All other sections and subsections in this amendment are either consequential to these provisions or updates on drafting language. I have been advised that amending the annual reports Act is the neatest, most efficient way to give effect to our amendments. While it does not address whether the Official Visitor is required to table his/her annual reports for Belconnen Remand Centre, it ensures that the Official Visitor as described in the Children and Young People Act 1999 is required to present a report to the Minister. This report is then tabled by the Minister in the Assembly. This ensures the requirement is not left to the discretion of the Minister, but is entrenched in legislation.
MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education) (5.49): Mr Speaker, I was not sure what the effect of this was, so I did take advice, to be properly informed. There are real problems with this. The Government already declares the Official Visitor to be a person who is bound by the annual reporting legislation. The Chief Minister does that by instrument and will continue to do so by instrument.
Also, under the Children and Young People Act, which has just been passed, the Official Visitor may report at any time to the Minister and the chief executive pursuant to subsection 41(4). That is a report not just annually, but at any time. I do not think there would be anyone having qualms about saying that the concern about the Official Visitor is that they will do that. They have done their job very well.