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Don't rush Children's Commissioner laws, advocates urge

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Social service agencies, children’s advocates and the Australian Medical Association are urging the State Government to amend what they argue is flawed legislation to create a Children’s Commissioner for SA.

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They say the legislation – introduced more than a decade after the establishment of such a position was recommended to the Government – is being rushed through Parliament.

The South Australian Council of Social Services, the Australian Medical Association, the Youth Affairs Coalition of SA, the Guardian for Children and Young People, the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, the Child and Family Welfare Association and the Council for the Care of Children are all urging the Government to pause and reconsider the bill.

Advocates have been calling for the appointment of a Commissioner for Children and Young People since it was recommended in the Layton Review into child protection in 2003. The bill passed the Lower House in September in a debate that lasted barely 30 minutes.

In a letter sent to Child Protection Reform Minister John Rau and Child Development Minister Susan Close early last week, advocates urge changes to the bill, to include the involvement of children in recruiting the Commissioner, as well as the creation of a separate Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People and direct referencing of UN human rights conventions in the legislation.

Council for the Care of Children chair Simon Shrapel told InDaily he and other advocates had been disappointed that “after all this time we have got this unseemly rush”.

He said the bill – due to be debated in the Legislative Council tomorrow – needed changes, but that neither major political party wanted to be seen to delay the passage of the proposed law.

Specifically, he said children needed to have a direct role interviewing any prospective Children’s Commissioner, because “not all people, even if they are very good advocates in other areas, are very good at communicating with children”.

“It’s going to be critical that they [a Children’s Commissioner] can relate to children and young people.”

He said children aged 9 to 16 could be selected – with the help of schools – to be involved in the process.

Otherwise, he said, the process “seems to infer that [only] adults know best when it comes to children”.

In addition, he said, a Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People needed to be established because “Aboriginal children are faring much poorer than their [non-indigenous] counterparts in a number of areas” and indigenous children made up 36 per cent of young people currently in care.

Finally, he said it was essential that the legislation directly link the role of the Children’s Commissioner to the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and should reference the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

He said earlier legislation proposed by both the Government and Opposition had contained reference to UN conventions and that it was strange that “at the eleventh hour … the bill hasn’t actually made reference to those conventions”.

“If we’re going to … get a piece of legislation that’s about children’s rights, we should reference the UN Convention.”

Australian Medical Association SA president Dr Janice Fletcher said her organisation had been advocating for a Commissioner for Children in SA for years but “the current bill does not live up to the understandably high hopes and expectations for this important role”.

“The timeframe for consultation was relatively short, and the subsequent bill did not appear greatly changed from the consultation version, raising concerns about the incorporation of feedback,” she said.

“South Australia has been late to establish a Commissioner for Children and Young People, despite the many voices calling for one.

“Many hours have been spent by many individuals and organisations sharing their feedback, questions and concerns to help inform this bill and the bills that came before it.

“We are urging the Government not to let those voices go unheard by failing to address their concerns.”

InDaily has contacted the ministers for comment.

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