MEDIA RELEASE 25.01.22: COMMUNITY LEGAL SECTOR CALLS FOR A DEDICATED COMMISSIONER FOR ABORIGINAL CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA

 

Led by Aboriginal Family Legal Service WA (AFLS), the community legal sector has today published its ‘Call for a dedicated Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People in Western Australia’.

Developed in response to the persistent and severe disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal children and young people in Western Australia, the report calls on the State Government to urgently create a separate, independent statutory position dedicated to the advocacy of Aboriginal children and young people.

AFLS CEO Corina Martin said the complex and systemic nature of the issues affecting Aboriginal children and young people across the state merited the establishment of such a role, which would be critical to improving the outcomes of Aboriginal children across the health, justice, education, and care and protection sectors, and to achieving outcomes under Closing the Gap.

“Aboriginal children and young people in Western Australia experience disadvantage at disproportionate levels” Ms. Martin said.

“They are 16.7 times more likely to be removed from their families by child protection services than non-Aboriginal children, 36 times more likely to be in detention than non-Aboriginal children, and 17.8 times more likely to be subject to a community-based supervision order than non-Aboriginal children. They are also at higher risk of mental health problems than their non-Aboriginal peers, experience 3 times the incidence of developmental vulnerability upon entering primary school and have significantly lower school attendance than non-Aboriginal students.

The Closing the Gap Jurisdictional Implementation Plan for Western Australia from September 2021 reveals that Outcome 4 (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children thrive in their early years), Outcome 6 (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students reach their full potential) and Outcome 12 (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not overrepresented in the child protection system) are all considered by the State Government to be ‘highly aspirational’. There is a clear need for assistance from a Commissioner dedicated to Aboriginal children and young people to enable these outcomes to become achievable.”

The report calls for the Commissioner for Children and Young People Act 2006 to be amended to:

  • Include the appointment and selection of a Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People by the Governor by commission under the Public Seal of the State on the recommendation of the Premier.
  • Specify that the appointment must involve an Aboriginal Reference Group and Aboriginal children and young people in the selection process.
  • Include that the remuneration and allowances of the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People must be the same as the remuneration and allowances of the Commissioner for Children and Young People, subject to the Salaries and Allowances Act 1975.
  • Specify that the Commissioner must be an Aboriginal Person with an adequate understanding of the various Aboriginal cultural groups, languages and respective protocols across Western Australia, and their own obligations to adhere to those cultural protocols when undertaking their functions in respect to any Aboriginal child or young person.
  • Specify that the Commissioner has, at a minimum, statutorily entrenched equitable functions and powers with the current Commissioner for Children and Young People.
  • Specify that the Commissioner is independent of the Government of Western Australia.

Ms. Martin said the recent appointment of an Aboriginal woman to the Commissioner for Children and Young People role in Western Australia was a good first step, but the requirements for the Commissioner to represent the best interests of all of Western Australia’s children and young people meant that a more dedicated focus was required.

Ms. Martin urged the State Government to follow the lead of South Australia, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and New South Wales in establishing dedicated Aboriginal Children’s Commissioner roles and said it was the obvious next step for a government genuinely committed to improving the lives of its Aboriginal children and young people.

Media Contact – Laney Gould, 9355 1502