National Children's Watchdog Needs More Bite

30 April 2012
National Children's Watchdog Needs More Bite

The National Director of Uniting Justice Australia Rev. Elenie Poulos has called on the Gillard Government to give its newly created National Children’s Commissioner real power to protect vulnerable children, particularly children in immigration detention facilities.

"The position announced over the weekend appears to have an overwhelming policy focus, and lacks the power needed to properly protect the most vulnerable children in our country," said Rev. Elenie Poulos.

"I am disappointed that the announcement did not reference the needs of unaccompanied minors in immigration detention facilities. Yet again, this group of at risk children has fallen through the cracks."

The Gillard Government has not accepted the calls of refugee advocates to give the Children's Commissioner a guardianship role for asylum seeker children. There is no indication in the announcement that the Minister for Immigration will relinquish his conflicted role as both guardian and gaoler.

The Government also needs to clarify how the role of new Commissioner will add value given the existing requirement for all legislation to be tabled with a statement of compatibility against human right treaties to which Australia is a signatory, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Unrestricted access to all immigration detention facilities needs to be guaranteed and the processes for children and young people to make complaints through the Human Rights Commission need to be spelt out.

"This is at best a stepping stone to a more powerful and comprehensive Commissioner role," said Rev. Poulos.