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Children's commissioner bill flies through Lower House

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Legislation to establish a children’s commissioner for South Australia flew through the House of Assembly this morning in less than half an hour – 13 years after the establishment of the role was first recommended to the State Government.

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Attorney-General John Rau introduced a package of legislative reforms today to begin enacting the recommendations of the Nyland Royal Commission into the state’s troubled child protection regime.

The first bill, to establish the post of Commissioner for Children and Young People, passed rapidly with the support of the Liberal Opposition.

A sticking point in a previous Government attempt to introduce the post – first recommended in a report on South Australia’s child protection regime by Robyn Layton in 2003 – has been overcome.

The Government has been opposed to Opposition demands that the commissioner be able to undertake individual investigations, but the Bill passed today will allow such inquiries in certain circumstances, in line with the recommendations of the Nyland commission. Disagreement over this point sunk a previous government bill in 2014.

The bill will allow the commissioner to investigate individual cases where he or she believes there are systemic issues involved.

However, Rau insists the post won’t become a “clearing house” for individual complaints.

The legislation was passed swiftly, with Opposition Leader Steven Marshall declaring that the Liberals were prepared to sit as long as possible to pass all of the Government’s child protection bills. The bill will progress to the Upper House where it is likely to receive similar swift treatment.

Rau confirmed this morning that the government had accepted – so far – 38 of the royal commission’s 260 recommendations.

He said the second bill introduced today – the Child Safety (Prohibited Persons) Bill 2016 – was designed to strengthen the state’s system of working with children checks.

Amendments to a third bill – the Public Sector (Data Sharing) Bill 2016 – extend the reach of the legislation which was introduced in August.

“In line with recommendations by Commissioner Nyland, the amendments will allow the Government to make data-sharing agreements with the Commonwealth, other states and territories, local government and non-government organisations,” Rau said.

He said the legislative reforms represented a “fresh start” for the child protection system.

“These Bills create the framework to establish key elements of the new child protection system,” Rau said.

“While further work is needed on the full response to Margaret Nyland’s analysis of this complex area of public policy, the initiatives proposed in these Bills begin the task of giving a fresh start to the system.”

Marshall echoed these sentiments and promised strong bipartisan support for reforming the system.

“The symbolism of passing this legislation at the very first opportunity cannot be underestimated,” he said.

“It was 13 years ago that the Layton Review recommended the establishment of a Children’s Commissioner.

“The procrastination on the establishment of Children’s Commissioner for 13 years left vulnerable children at increased risk.

“Today marks the beginning of new era in child protection in South Australia.”

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