Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (28 August) . . Page.. 3340 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
extent to which they can make decisions about their own lives and the extent to which they can participate in society's general decision-making process. Children under the age of 18 cannot vote and are very rarely involved in consultation undertaken by decision-making bodies. They do not necessarily play a part in the political processes, which determine the policies that affect their lives. These policies are determined by adults.
Mostly, politicians are under pressure to devise and present policies in a way that reflects the interests of various constituent groups. As a result, the impact in policies on children and young people receives less care and attention as they are not technically constituents. As a result, the impact of policies on children and young people tend to not reflect their views and their voices. Children might be the subject of a large amount of political rhetoric but unfortunately the rhetoric tends to be empty and unconnected to the practical work on the ground. Children and young people are not only cut off from law making and policy making; they also cannot fully participate in decisions about practices which directly affect them. These were the concerns that were in my mind as we looked forward into this inquiry
This inquiry was not sparked by deaths or allegations of corruption and did not just focus on care and protection, as did recent inquiries in New South Wales and South Australia. Both of those jurisdictions conducted very focused inquiries on child protection. They sparked a wide range of reforms in those states and led to quite a lot of heated political debate about what was going on in those systems to actually result in the quite traumatic instances that children are being put in. While we did not have the same evidence of those problems, we were quite mindful that what was going on in care and protection was not an issue facing just the ACT but was a nation-wide concern. We did find that there are many problems in how we are looking after our most vulnerable. I believe Mr Hargreaves focused on those.
I draw the committee's attention to the report, for further detailed examination of the issues that were put to us that the committee found most concerning. They are that the most vulnerable people in our community, children who had been placed into care, were not having their needs met, were not having their voices heard and were being placed under continual strain. There is anecdotal evidence that if a child is in care, they will almost likely end up being part of the juvenile justice system. That is a cycle that we must work to break so that we are actually protecting our children who need the protection and not leading them into a situation where they feel that they need to participate in criminal activities to feel a part of this community.
With every inquiry and every horror story we hear, the government needs to be reminded that, every time history repeats itself, the price goes up and the cost of the government's ignorance on mismanagement of children and youth affairs is rising daily. Hopefully, this report will provide a stopgap on that. Even though I understand that things are going on within the department to address the concerns that have been raised with the committee, I hope that this report will lead to greater reform and greater focus on how we are looking after our children and young people.
Many systemic issues were raised with the committee by the submitters, and the committee discussed how we could address systemic issues. The issue of a commissioner for children and young people was presented as a way to look at the concerns. I believe that the role of a commissioner for children and young people is vital for the ongoing