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Monday, 25 June 2012
Page: 4304


Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (10:54): I was involved in the inquiry conducted by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee into the Australian Human Rights Commission Amendment (National Children’s Commissioner) Bill 2012. One of the recommendations we have strongly made to the government is that, in the event that it intends to proceed with this legislation, it assures that the children's commissioner is known as the National Children's Commissioner. We need to make sure we have a very strong distinction between the roles that need to be conducted by state and territory children's commissioners and by a national children's commissioner. I think we can all appreciate that the dissenting contributions made to the inquiries conducted into this report were not based on any lack of concern for the rights of children; they were based on a caution about the need to ensure that a national children's commissioner position complements and supports the work of the state and territory children's commissioners, who currently vary—I think we could say—in terms of the funding they receive and the cut-through they get in state support and funding of their roles.

So I think we need to consider very carefully the role that will be undertaken here. I appreciate what the government has said in the legislation itself, but we are talking about the expenditure of $3½ million. We need to be monitoring very carefully (a) that the money is spent effectively and efficiently on a national children's commissioner and (b) that what often occurs when the states think they can shove something back at the federal government does not occur—that we do not end up with cost shifting whereby states and territories cut back their expenditure in the area of the children's commissioner, thinking that perhaps the federal government will pick up the tab for it. This, of course, would lead to some very serious concerns, because the national children's commissioner is not designed to undertake specific advocacy work.

I hope that if the government proceeds with this we will have a very effective, efficient system that can work in a federated way. But, given the long-term record of COAG and COAG-type agreements, there would be concerns about how efficiently this worked. I know that the best outcome we could get for our $3½ million would be if the state and territory children's commissioners were seamlessly feeding the information to a national children's commissioner so that we could end up with some nationally systemic advocacy in the area of children's rights. I certainly think there would be some fertile ground for a children's commissioner and a current disability rights commissioner to cooperate to ensure that some of the extraordinary cases of the children with disabilities not being met that currently exist—and therefore cases of the rights of their parents as ordinary citizens in Australia not being met—are examined more carefully and examined within a rights framework. If this starts to occur, once a rights framework is put around the needs of people with disabilities—children, carers and others—we could have a situation whereby we will get some national consistency, where there will be an impetus to get things right and to get real funding delivered into the areas where it is needed.

There are some shocking cases, as I said, of the rights of children being completely overridden, almost to the extent of their life being threatened by the lack of available benefits. I think this is a genuine human rights issue that genuinely needs to be taken into account. I hope that if this national children's commissioner legislation is to proceed that this is the area on which the government would be concentrating to ensure that policies are clearly set out and adopted for the marginalised children of Australia. I hope that it would be based on very good research and good advocacy that has come through the states and territories at the practical level and then used to develop good national policy and funded properly to ensure that this is an effective use of funds.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Edwards ): Order! The time allotted for consideration of this bill has expired. The question is that the bill be now read a second time.