Page 2508 - Week 08 - Thursday, 30 June 2005

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provisions that were in the Community Advocate Act 1991 have been transferred to this bill, with a more modern drafting style. This will ensure that the Public Advocate continues to do the same excellent job, supporting vulnerable members of our community, as the Community Advocate has done to date.

FEMAG recommended that the name “Community Advocate” be changed to better reflect the role of that office in the community. The name “Public Advocate” is intended to reflect the wide range of advocacy roles that the office carries out. It is important that we, as a community, provide for more vulnerable members to have someone who can advocate on their behalf when they need to deal with service providers or bureaucratic processes. The Public Advocate Bill provides for the Public Advocate to be there to advocate on behalf of individuals.

At the same time as it is introducing this bill, the government is introducing the Human Rights Commission (Children and Young People Commissioner) Amendment Bill 2005, which will create a new commissioner within the Human Rights Commission to have particular responsibility for statutory oversight of matters to do with services for children and young people. As the Community Advocate has had functions relating to protection of the rights of children, it is clear that there will be some areas where the functions of the Human Rights Commission in relation to children and young people and the functions of the Public Advocate will connect. There will be a similar connection in relation to people with a disability.

The Public Advocate Bill makes clear that the main focus of the Public Advocate is to promote the interests of individuals. This is individual advocacy that ensures that the Public Advocate will work to achieve the best outcomes for individual clients in their unique circumstances. Experience tells us, however, that the cumulative experience of a number of individuals may point to systemic concerns. Those systemic issues are the things the Human Rights Commission will focus on dealing with, so a new requirement has been included in this bill for the Public Advocate to refer those issues to the commission for consideration. Complaints about services for children and young people will become the responsibility of the Human Rights Commission but the Public Advocate will continue to be able to investigate concerns, complaints and allegations about matters relating to the functions contained in this bill.

Another minor but important change has been to provide for the Public Advocate to listen to the concerns of children and young people. This is because, although there was a provision allowing people to make complaints or allegations, research indicates that children and young people are reluctant to make complaints. Instead, they are more likely to want to talk about concerns. The new provision allows the Public Advocate to hear those concerns and deal specifically with services for children and young people.

The Public Advocate Bill now contains a provision that was previously located in the Children and Young People Act 1999 which protects people who, for genuine reasons, give information to the Public Advocate. This ensures that people who believe that they have information the Public Advocate ought to have in order to properly carry out the task of protecting the rights of children and young people and people with a disability will not be committing a breach of confidence, professional conduct rules or ethics. The aim is to ensure that the Public Advocate has access to all available information to work in the best interests of its vulnerable clients.

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