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Child protection bill could 'undermine international law'

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The State Government’s proposed law aimed at implementing key recommendations of the Coroner in the Chloe Valentine case could undermine the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Law Society says.

Law Society President Rocco Perrotta said the Children’s Protection (Implementation of Coroners’ Recommendations) Bill – introduced into parliament by Attorney-General John Rau last Wednesday – could remove important safeguards reflecting the UN convention from current child protection law.

The convention requires that, if a child is capable of forming views about matters which affect her or him, that child must be allowed to express those views.

Australia is a signatory to the convention, meaning the country is obliged to reflect the convention’s content in domestic laws.

However, part of the State Government’s bill would remove section 4 of the Children’s Protection Act, which currently, among other things, ensures that courts must consider the views of the child in child protection cases.

The bill aims to give effect to key recommendations of Coroner Mark Johns in the case of Chloe Valentine.

It would change the rules for the removal of a child from her or his parents by the state, in particular, requiring that children be automatically removed from parents who have been convicted of murder or manslaughter.

Perrotta wrote to Attorney-General John Rau late last week, warning that: “the repeal of section 4 removes … basic principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and, as a consequence, it diminishes the child’s best interests from being a paramount consideration”.

“The society suggests that further consideration be given to retaining some, or all, of the fundamental principles of the Act, and that it should be a matter open to public consultation.”

Perrotta told InDaily this morning that, as a general principle, the voice of the child should be considered in matters that affect them.

“We are concerned that the proposed amendments could significantly alter the way in which child protection matters are dealt with, and believe there should be wide consultation on the Bill,” Perrotta said.

“There has been almost no discussion on the proposed removal of Section 4, which sets out the underlying principles of the Children’s Protection Act.

“Considering the best interests and wellbeing of the child is entirely compatible with keeping children safe from harm, which is the first fundamental principle in Section 4 anyway.”

Perrotta also said it was vital that the State Government create a children’s commissioner – a key recommendation of the review of the state’s child protection system by former judge Robyn Layton over a decade ago – to ensure child protection agencies follow the law.

“There is no question that SA’s child protection regime needs reform,” said Perrotta.

“However, the Law Society considers that the protection of children in this state would be best served by improving systems and procedures that ensure child protection agencies comply with their obligations under the law and their policies.

“This is why we consider that the establishment of a children’s commissioner, who could oversee the performance of such agencies, as a key component to child protection reform.”

“We are seeking a meeting with the Attorney General to discuss the proposed changes.”

Rau said he was yet to consider Perrotta’s letter.

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