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Children's Commissioner's Powers To Be Strengthed

Commissioner For Children's Powers To Be Strengthened

New legislation to significantly increase the roles, functions and powers of the Commissioner for Children is to be introduced to Parliament this year, Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey announced today.

Cabinet has agreed to the introduction of legislation in September to strengthen the Commissioner's powers, give better effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) and increase the independence of the Commissioner. Both Labour and the Alliance committed to increasing the Commissioner's powers in their pre-election policies. Additional funding of $2.8m over four years for the Commissioner's Office was provided in the Budget to enable him to take on the expanded role envisaged in the bill.

The bill incorporates Select Committee recommendations on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Children Bill, a members bill currently before the House introduced by Alliance MP John Wright.

Mr Maharey said the bill would give the Commissioner a greater ability to be an effective advocate for children and young people.

"The Government wants to see the powers of the Commissioner strengthened in order to give children and young people under 18 years of age a strong voice when decisions that affect them are being made.

"The new legislation builds on the very good members bill introduced to Parliament by John Wright and incorporates most of the provisions of his bill and the recommendations made on it by the select committee.

"The Bill will include the following new functions and powers of the Commissioner:

- raising awareness and understanding and of children's rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC), monitoring the implementation of the Convention and advocating for children generally;

- the power to present reports to Courts, on their request, where there are issues relating to UNCROC or the interests of children generally;

- promoting the participation of children in the making of decisions that affect their lives;

- establishing of an accessible and effective complaints mechanisms for children and monitoring the nature and level of complaints;

- extending the Commissioner's current investigative function beyond the present limitation of coverage to the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989 is removed and cover 'rights' as well as 'interests and welfare'; and,

- the right to report, with or without request, directly to the Prime Minister on matters affecting children's rights.

"The bill will not make the Commissioner for Children an Officer of Parliament. Submissions received by the select committee on Mr Wright's bill generally did not support this proposition.

"An additional $2.8m over four years was provided in last month's budget to enable the Commissioner's Office to take on these increased responsibilities.

"The bill will be introduced to Parliament in September. It is my intention to refer it to the Social Services Select Committee for public submissions and their consider with a view to seeing it enacted into law during 2002," Steve Maharey said.


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