Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People — Fifth Report

Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People — Fifth Report — “From Words to Action: Fulfilling the Obligation to Be Child Safe” — Motion

Resumed from 11 November on the following motion moved by Hon Stephen Dawson (Minister for Environment) —

That the report be noted.

Comments and speeches by various members

Hon ALISON XAMON: I rise just to make a few quick comments about this report, “From Words to Action: Fulfilling the Obligation to Be Child Safe”. I thank the Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People for doing the good work behind this and following through on the themes, as has just been outlined by Hon Dr Sally Talbot, because I know successive governments have been plagued by the issue of how we make sure that we are moving forward with a framework that is statutory as well as governmental and that addresses child abuse.

I particularly want to make some comments about chapter 7, which talks about the need for independent oversight. This is an area that I have spoken about numerous times in this place over the course of the last four years, because there is a significant gap. We have done a good job of ensuring that there are appropriate statutory and funded mechanisms to provide both systemic and individual support for other vulnerable populations. For example, I think of the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services, which is unique in our state and a model that should be replicated around the country. It enables independent oversight of what is happening to people being detained in our prisons and it reports directly to Parliament, using individual advocacy to highlight systemic concerns.

Likewise, we have the Chief Mental Health Advocate and the role that plays for people who are subject to the Mental Health Act, as well as a range of other people in the mental health system who are classified as being in vulnerable populations. These are examples in which we have been able to identify mechanisms to provide both individual support for vulnerable individuals and systemic oversight and to ensure that those reporting mechanisms come back to Parliament.

When we talk about children in particular who are brought into care, it is a significant gap that no similar body has that scope of both individual and systemic advocacy, and that leaves children very vulnerable. I feel absolutely positive that I am not the only member in this place who has been contacted during their parliamentary career by either families who have had children removed or foster carers who have issues that they want to raise but there is effectively nowhere for them to go, other than straight to the department that they see as being the source of the distress and concern and sometimes quite problematic conduct.

The idea of needing to have independent oversight and a clear, resourced agency that has the authority and capacity to report straight to Parliament has been talked about for quite a while. I note that a number of findings have identified existing gaps, how they overlap with recommendations from the royal commission and concerns about the lack of advocacy services. Of course, recommendations have arisen as a result. A couple of simple ones are that attention be given to improving access to independent individual advocacy for children in care as a priority and that consideration be given to the immediate provision of additional resources for the Advocate for Children in Care until a long-term solution is developed. I think these solutions need to be given serious contemplation by government.

The fifth report has managed to encapsulate all the immediate concerns and provide a framework with both a short-term and long-term vision for what we need to do. It will really come down to ensuring that we have the political will to enact that. I hope this report will be referred to by future governments. I may or may not be in Parliament at that point, but I am certainly hopeful that a future committee will, as a matter of priority, go back to the reports that have been issued and pick up on these themes, because I think it would be devastating if this important work were lost.

Comments and speeches by various members

Question put and passed.

Progress reported and leave granted to sit again, pursuant to standing orders.


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