About the National Children’s Commissioner
There have been calls to establish a National Children’s Commissioner since Australia took on obligations in relation to children’s rights by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in December 1990.
Legislation establishing the position was passed by the federal Parliament on 25 June 2012. I was appointed as the inaugural National Children’s Commissioner on 25 February 2013. I commenced my role on 25 March 2013.
The selection process for the position of National Children’s Commissioner included children’s views about the criteria and characteristics required for the role. Children who participated in my interview process, from Kingsford Smith Primary School in the Australian Capital Territory, were 9 to 11 years of age.
Section 46MB of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) (the Act) describes the functions that are to be performed by the National Children’s Commissioner, as follows:
- to submit a report to the Minister as soon as practicable after 30 June in each year. This report must deal with matters, relating to the enjoyment and exercise of human rights by children in Australia, as the National Children’s Commissioner considers appropriate; and may include recommendations that the Commissioner considers appropriate as to the action that should be taken to ensure the enjoyment and exercise of human rights by children in Australia
- to promote discussion and awareness of matters relating to the human rights of children in Australia
- to undertake research, or educational or other programs, for the purpose of promoting respect for the human rights of children in Australia, and promoting the enjoyment and exercise of human rights by children in Australia
- to examine existing and proposed Commonwealth enactments for the purpose of ascertaining whether they recognise and protect the human rights of children in Australia, and to report to the Minister the results of any such examination.
In performing these functions, I may give particular attention to children who are at risk or vulnerable. I may also consult with children; Departments and authorities of the Commonwealth, and of the States and Territories; non- governmental organisations; international organisations and agencies; and other organisations, agencies or persons as I consider appropriate.
I must, as appropriate, have regard to the following human rights instruments:
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
and such other instruments relating to human rights as I consider relevant.1
I am also responsible, along with the President and all other Commissioners, for performing a range of statutory functions that are conferred on the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) as a whole. Section 8(2) of the Act states that I, as a member of the Commission, must act in a way that promotes the collegiate nature of the Commission.
The Commission is able to receive complaints from or about the treatment of children in relation to discrimination and breaches of their human rights. The complaint handling role is vested solely in the Commission President and, accordingly, I do not have a complaint-handling role or a role in dealing with individual children. This includes individual children’s cases in the context of child protection or family law. Nor do I have any guardianship role. However, in court cases that involve human rights, including children’s rights, I may seek leave of the court to appear as an intervener or as amicus curiae.
All Australian states and territories have Children’s Commissioners and/ or Guardians. The legislative functions of these Children’s Commissioners and Guardians differ between jurisdictions. Some have a broad focus, which includes all children, whereas others have specified responsibilities relating to children who are at risk or who are vulnerable. Their primary focus is state laws, programs and issues affecting children.
I will be working collegiately with the state and territory Children’s Commissioners and Guardians through the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians group. The existence of Children’s Commissioners and Guardians explains why my functions to examine laws, and compel the production of documents, are limited to the Commonwealth level.
I have extensive experience working with children from all types of backgrounds, including undertaking significant work with vulnerable children. I have practical expertise in child protection, foster and kinship care, juvenile justice, children’s services, childcare, disabilities, and early intervention and prevention services.
My previous roles include NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People, Executive Director of the ACT Office for Children, Youth and Family Support, Executive Director for Out-of-Home Care in the NSW Department of Community Services, and CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service.
I hold qualifications in social policy, psychology and education, having completed a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney (1979), a Diploma of Education from the Sydney Teachers College (1980), a Master of Arts (Psychology) from the University of Sydney (1982), and a Master of Arts (Social Policy) from the University of York (1989).
On my first day as National Children’s Commissioner, I said ‘I want the views of our youngest citizens, who make up a quarter of our population, to be sought, heard and taken up by adults in our community. I want children’s participation to become the norm.’2
For information on the work of the National Children’s Commissioner, please visit: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/childrens-rights.
Note: when the draft bill for a National Children’s Commissioner was considered, concern was expressed by the Australian Human Rights Commission and non-government organisations at the lack of explicit recognition of the International Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘Children’s Commissioner outlines key priorities as she begins her new role’ (Media Release, 25 March 2013).