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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7443


Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (11:05): I think it is fitting that, at the conclusion of the last contribution to this debate, I set the record somewhat straight on the question of housing and this government's commitment to social housing. It was clearly the last speaker's contention that we should be focusing on developments in housing that would assist families and people living rough to find a home or adequate housing. It is somewhat ironic that we are having this discussion when, as part of the stimulus package that this government—and this government alone—committed to, we have a commitment in my home state of Victoria for more than 4,500 social housing units, the vast majority of which have, in fact, been constructed. I visited one in recent weeks and saw the practical benefits that this government has delivered to people, to families and to children who were living in unacceptable circumstances. This was one of the first acts taken by this government, so I will not countenance any comments being put on the record in this place about the commitment of this government to ensuring that people have adequate housing in this country going unchallenged. Clearly, there is much more to do, but it is this government that, after more than a decade of neglect and disregard by the Howard government, made housing and social housing a national priority and backed it with funding. Those opposite simply cannot claim to have the same kind of record on these issues at all. That is the first point. The second point is that, as a member of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, I was pleased this morning to be able to be part of the review of the report which has now been tabled in the House in relation to and in support of the National Children's Commissioner. I certainly do not see this as a token measure. I see this as an important measure which ensures advocacy for children in this country and it is something which is long overdue. It has been called for for a considerable time. I know that many advocates from a progressive policy view, and certainly many Labor people, have advocated for a National Children's Commissioner for some time.

Indeed, in 2009 we delivered the first-ever national framework for protecting Australia's children, and all of the policy measures that we have put in place—from education to mental health care for children and young people to early intervention to ensure that children are protected through early learning, through health measures that we have put in place and through education—go to our core beliefs that children should have a good start in life and be supported in their infancy to ensure that they have an opportunity to succeed in life. So it is consistent with those objectives and those policy measures that we today see debate on the National Children's Commissioner.

In 2009 and 2010 the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs conducted considerable public discussion on a national children's commissioner. The debate and discussion about this issue have been going on for some years in a formal sense and, prior to that, informally. Due to the variety of stakeholder views on the issue, the government conducted further targeted consultations about it. In December of last year the department produced a discussion paper on the question of a children's commissioner and, indeed, the matter is the subject of not only the House standing committee's deliberations on the matter but also the Senate committee's considerations about the establishment of a children's commissioner. And through those processes we have seen some 59 submissions to the Senate inquiry overwhelmingly supporting this bill and the concept of a national children's commissioner. Because we see that around Australia there is a piecemeal approach, it has to be said, to protecting the safety and wellbeing of children, it is important that we have a national framework and a national advocate for children. This is by no means the tokenistic measure that the coalition has referred to in its dissenting report to the standing committee's report earlier today. It is not the tokenistic measure that was alluded to in the previous member's contribution in this place.

Indeed, we have had comments from the Australian Human Rights Commissioner and the commission itself in relation to the establishment of a national children's commissioner, particularly in relation to the question of interoperability with state and territory agencies, which was mentioned in the previous speaker's contribution. At the Senate hearings on this issue the commissioner noted the considerable planning and consultation processes that had taken place on the development of the proposal for a commissioner. She said: 'There has been quite long-term consideration of the relationship between a national children's commissioner and the guardians and children's commissioner at a state and territory level. The topic of the possibility of establishing a national children's commissioner has been under consideration for some time.' She went on to note that state and territory commissioners and guardian representatives had made a combined submission to the Attorney-General's Department supporting the establishment of a commissioner. It was her view that there would be an opportunity for enhancement of the work of those respective agencies and advocates and that that work would continue.

So there is a high level of interest in the establishment of a national children's commissioner. It presents an opportunity to provide advocacy for children and young people right across the spectrum of issues affecting them, from welfare and safety considerations to the ongoing and important issue of 'closing the gap' of Indigenous disadvantage and issues like infant mortality. I see the commissioner as having a significant role to play and I fully support the objectives of the bill before us today. As a consequence, I am very pleased to be able to commend the bill to the House.