Page 3088 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 23 August 2005

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to see the commissioner given a broader role from the outset; and, to this end, I have circulated an amendment to the functions of the commissioner to expand the role to be more proactive. I will talk about this in more depth at the detail stage of the debate.

I would also like to see the children and young people commissioner given a reasonable amount of autonomy within the human rights commission. I have raised similar concerns regarding the autonomy of the other commissioners earlier today. I believe that the bill, as it stands, would go too far in placing responsibilities and decision-making power with the commission rather than the individual commissioner. I will therefore move an amendment to give this commissioner greater autonomy and responsibilities, as I have done in relation to the other commissioners.

I believe that it is important to avoid the human rights commission’s becoming overly bureaucratic and essentially stifling the work of individual commissioners by inadvertently restricting access to resources and timely decision-making. It is equally important that the commissioner has appropriate working relationships with other statutory oversight agencies, in particular the public advocate.

Through the community consultation, stakeholders generally supported a model in which individual advocacy for children and young people remains with the public advocate, whilst systemic advocacy be provided by the commissioner—with the two offices liasing on matters of mutual interest. However, the bill before us sees the Community Advocate only taking on individual advocacy when the child or young person is under the guardianship of the territory, while all other individual advocacy is handled by the commissioner.

This effectively sets up a distinction and a division between children in care and those who are not, which I do not agree with. It could also be confusing for children and young people who may move in and out of care at various times and may then be uncertain about which office to approach if they have a complaint or an issue requiring advocacy.

There is also a concern that individual advocacy will absorb much of the resources available to the children and young people commissioner, leaving little time to systemic advocacy and broader advocacy. This point leads me to an item that is greatly supported by the community but not the government—child advocacy.

The public submissions strongly supported the commissioner undertaking child advocacy—a strategy aimed at changing social systems, institutions and structures in order to maximise children’s possibilities of self-determination. Advocacy is not just about services and service complaints and not just about individuals or systems; it is about looking at the much broader issue of children and young people’s rights and advocating for the improvement of these rights.

There appears to be broad support for the commissioner having a role that includes providing education on children and young people’s rights as well as examining issues of children and youth participation in our community beyond the confines of service delivery settings. The bill, as it is drafted, does not preclude such activity but neither does it provide an adequate platform.

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