Page 3095 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 23 August 2005

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As I have already outlined in the in principle stage, I strongly believe that the role of the children and young people commissioner should be broader than that originally set out in the bill. I put forward similar amendments to expand the roles of the other commissioners in this morning’s debate on the Human Rights Commission Bill. However, I think that these changes are particularly important in relation to the children and young people commissioner.

I am concerned that, even with our amendments to the overall functions of the commission, this bill focuses the functions of the commissioner on complaints processes and service delivery issues. Broader issues concerning citizenship and community attitudes are often at the heart of issues impacting on human rights; and, rather than looking only at how this plays out in the service system, commissioners may well identify issues that require a more preventative, whole-of-community approach.

These amendments seek to articulate a broader role for the commissioner in identifying and reviewing issues affecting children and young people beyond a service delivery setting. For example, the ACT commissioner might, as the New South Wales Commissioner for Children and Young People did, decide that research into the experiences of high school students undertaking paid employment is a matter of public importance worth investigating. This is an issue much broader than a service delivery system.

There are also circumstances where addressing vulnerability to human rights breaches for a particular group may lie in providing information and education to individuals, independent of service systems, or promoting participation in decision-making across service systems. The proposed amendments do not make the commissioner responsible for the treatment of a particular group across all areas of community life or broaden their function to address every issue facing individuals.

One of the things that I think is of particular importance is the generation divide. I imagine, in the demographic tendency towards an ageing population and in a smaller cohort of young people, we will always need bridging mechanisms to ensure that understanding between generations is facilitated. That is just one of the broad roles that a commissioner could play in terms of public awareness. I urge fellow members on both sides to support these amendments in the interest of future effectiveness of the children and young people commissioner.

MS GALLAGHER (Molonglo—Minister for Education and Training, Minister for Children, Youth and Family Support, Minister for Women and Minister for Industrial Relations) (5.57): The government is committed to a corporately functioning commission where the powers are vested in the human rights commission rather than in individual commissioners. Commissioners exercise their power as agents of the commission, not as separately empowered statutory entities.

The government agreed to Dr Foskey’s earlier amendments to the objects clause of the commission and, therefore, to the objects to which the commissioners are committed in the exercise of their functions as agents of the commission. To agree to the amendments before us is to confer on individual commissioners their own discrete objects, which is contrary to the scheme the government has proposed.

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