Page 2506 - Week 08 - Thursday, 30 June 2005

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The commissioner’s functions relate to the oversight of services for children and young people in the ACT. This bill puts into action the vision and words of the children and young people who participated in consultations over the role of the commissioner. Children and young people had strong views on this. Some saw the commissioner as a person who “can change the lives of children in the ACT” and a person “who needs to look at current services to see if they are doing the right thing by young people”.

Children and young people represent around a quarter of the ACT population. The establishment of a commissioner acknowledges the importance of supporting and respecting these members of the community, and working to address their unique needs. That is why they must be given special representation. Children and young people have limited economic or social power, no right to vote and limited influence over the choice or composition of bodies responsible for decision making. Children’s and young people’s dependence and developmental state make them particularly vulnerable, as they are more affected than adults by the conditions in which they live, such as poverty and poor housing.

This bill builds upon section 11 of the Human Rights Act 2004, which expresses the paramount importance of protecting the family and children, and seeks to put into practice article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. As a member of the Human Rights Commission, the functions of the commissioner are to consult with children and young people to promote their participation in decision making; investigate complaints about services for children, young people or their carers and establish processes for the resolution of these complaints and contribute to the review and improvement of these services; ensure that the Human Rights Commission is accessible to children and young people and sensitive to the linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds of children and young people; work with other commissioners to ensure that the rights and interests of young people are taken into account in the matters before them; and request that the Public Advocate individually advocate for children or young people in care.

The commissioner, as a member of the Human Rights Commission, will have particular responsibility for statutory oversight of matters to do with services for children and young people. As the Public Advocate has had functions relating to the protection of the rights of children and young people in the care of the chief executive, it is clear that there will be some areas where the functions of the commission in relation to children and young people and the functions of the Public Advocate will intersect.

When a child or young person is not legally capable of taking action on his or her own behalf, the parent or guardian can represent the child or young person. A child’s or young person’s parent or guardian may make a complaint if they believe the child or young person is aggrieved by the way in which a provider or other person has acted and, as a result, the parent or guardian thinks there are grounds for making a complaint. Children and young people also will be able to make a complaint to the commission through the provisions if they wish.

The Human Rights Commission has discretion to handle matters differently on occasions, if it considers it is appropriate to do so. For example, the bill allows the Human Rights Commission to consider important matters regarding services without the

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