Wednesday 1 November 2023 – for immediate release
Progress and challenges for Aboriginal children and young people across the child protection, out-of-home care and youth justice systems have been detailed in the annual report of the Commission for Children and Young People, tabled in the Parliament of Victoria this morning.
‘Systemic advocacy, oversight and reform that centres the voices of Aboriginal children and young people have become increasingly vital in the wake of the 14 October referendum result,’ said Meena Singh, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, today.
‘Our work this year shows we have achieved significant progress, despite remaining challenges, and we must grasp new opportunities for further gains with even greater energy in the absence of a national Indigenous Voice to Parliament.’
Commissioner Singh highlighted evidence given to the Yoorrook Justice Commission as a centrepiece of her work in 2022–23.
In December 2022 and May this year, the Commissioner argued for reform including the necessity for Aboriginal children and young people to have a say not just in decisions that affect them, but in shaping the systems in which those decisions are made.
She also detailed the need for greater investment and more control to be given to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations both to improve the child protection, out-of-home care and youth justice systems, but also to stem the over-representation in them. This work included contributing to specific legislation to achieve this that has now passed the Victorian Parliament.
When the Yoorrook Justice Commission handed down its report on 4 September, its recommendations reflected key positions adopted in Commissioner Singh’s evidence, including the recommendation that the role of Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People be enshrined in legislation and provided with powers equivalent to the Principal Commissioner, Liana Buchanan.
In its report, Yoorrook also recognised the vital role of the Commission by recommending new powers to receive complaints from Aboriginal children and young people in child protection and out-of-home care, and to intervene in legal proceedings relating to their rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act.
‘The lives of Aboriginal children and young people are as precious as those of any child or young person, and they demand equal powers for a Commissioner advocating for reform on their behalf. We welcome Yoorrook’s response to our work, and its recommendation to strengthen the powers of the Commission and entrench the role of Commissioner for Aboriginal children and young people in legislation,’ said Liana Buchanan, Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People, today.
Advocacy by Commissioner Singh through the Aboriginal Justice Forum and in the media also contributed this year to Victoria’s move to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 in 2024, and to 14 in 2027 with exceptions for some offending.
‘Aboriginal children and young people are starkly over-represented in the youth justice system, and, while we are pleased to have seen some progress this year, our position remains that a minimum age of 14 without exceptions should be adopted as a priority,’ Commissioner Singh said.
A minimum age of 14 was a key recommendation of the Commission’s 2021 inquiry, Our youth, our way, and was also reflected in Commissioner Singh’s evidence to the Yoorrook Justice Commission, and in that Commission’s subsequent recommendations.
Commissioner Singh also highlighted the commencement in July 2022 of new Child Safe Standards, including Standard 1 requiring organisations working with children in Victoria to establish a culturally safe environment in which the diverse and unique identities and experiences of Aboriginal children and young people are respected and valued.
‘It’s vital that Aboriginal children and young people feel safe and supported in their culture, and this new Standard will go a long way to achieving that within organisations that work with them,’ Commissioner Singh concluded.
Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People
0437 046 360