Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 07 Hansard (Tuesday, 1 July 2008) . . Page.. 2504 ..
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (4.57): This amendment is, I believe, to clarify that every decision made must be in the best interests of the child. In light of the recent publicity, I would just like to seek assurance that this applies to all agencies that are involved with children who are at risk. I wonder if ACT Policing’s decision, for instance, to put out a media release about the situation in Ainslie was actually in the best interests of the children involved. I seek the assurance of the minister and the Attorney-General that ACT Policing and care and protection will always act with the best interests of children as paramount and especially that they will liaise in any cases where this is in question. I want to be assured that there are proceedings in place to ensure this interaction.
I believe it was the choice of ACT Policing to make that situation public, but it is going to be very difficult to work out whether or not that was in the best interests of the child, because we do not have a control situation. It is all out there. I am concerned to find out what procedures are in place and, if they are not in place, if they can be put in place. If there are no such procedures, perhaps the Attorney-General could direct ACT Policing to liaise with care and protection in cases such as these before any decision is made in relation to the media.
MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (4.59): This is the important crux of the whole bill and it represents the signpost for a change of attitude to legislation regarding children and young people. It says that it is no longer appropriate for officials, parents and people acting in loco parentis to make patronising—in the literal sense of the word “patronising”—decisions on behalf of children in the system.
The way in which this rolls out is going to be extremely difficult but also crucial to the good operation of this legislation. The paramount test in everything that we do under this legislation is that it is in the best interests of the child. That means that from time to time the obvious course of action is not going to be the right course of action. I touched on this briefly at the end of my comments this morning when I spoke about the provisions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. I expressed very briefly my concerns that the intent to, as far as possible, ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children if given out-of-home care or in difficult circumstances are accommodated within the Aboriginal community may not necessarily be in the best interests of the child and that we have to work very carefully in that instance, for example, to ensure that one test does not overwhelm the other test. That will be a very difficult thing to do and it will be a matter of some finesse.
I also want to comment on the remarks made by Dr Foskey about the current case that has been in the media. Dr Foskey has expressed here in the Assembly some of the concerns that I expressed yesterday to the departmental officials and members of staff from the minister’s office about this matter. This became such a prominent issue because the national media had access to some pretty salacious footage and it helped to make the story and give the story considerable legs.
I have not had a satisfactory explanation about this. Neither minister today could give a satisfactory explanation as to how it came about that the Australian Federal Police issued a press release on this matter and how the identity of the children was revealed,