Advocacy powers may grow

STRONGER investigative and advocacy powers could be awarded to the Children's Commissioner if Labor wins the March election.

A report obtained by The Examiner of an inquiry into the role of the Children's Commissioner recommended the job be updated to meet "contemporary expectations", including the power to initiate investigations without the request of the Minister, a broader oversight and advocacy role in the youth justice system, and an enhanced co-ordinating role between agencies.

It also recommended that the commissioner's powers be set out in separate legislation, citing a "lack of clarity" over what the job was supposed to entail dating back to its introduction in 2000.

It said public debate over the role since the resignation of former Children's Commissioner Aileen Ashford had been "unhelpful if not destructive".

Ms Ashford quit six months before the end of her contract in April last year, saying she was frustrated at the lack of investigative powers and lack of movement in child protection complaints. At the time, Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne said the job was to offer policy advice not investigate.

Ms O'Byrne requested the inquiry by Dr Maria Harries after Ms Ashford left.

In her report, Dr Harries recommends:

•- Replacing the Children's Commissioner's visits to Ashley Youth Detention Centre with an official visitor program, as operates at Risdon Prison;

- •Creating a position of independent child advocate in the Department of Health and Human Services to monitor complaints from children in care;

 -•Reviewing existing advocacy systems to identify any gaps; and

•- Extending the role to five years.

Ms O'Byrne said Labor would pursue the recommended reforms if re-elected, starting with the addition of "own-motion" investigative powers.

"The role of the Commissioner is to be the voice for children and young people in decision-making that affects them throughout the government and non-government sectors," Ms O'Byrne said.

"Legislative amendments will clearly set out and clarify this original role while also ensuring contemporary expectations around the Commissioner's role in holding systems and services to account are met."

Interviews for the new Children's Commissioner are under way.

The appointment will be made by the next government.

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