This position paper was developed by SNAICC-National Voice for our Children (SNAICC) and Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak (QATSICPP), with support from Schokman Consulting.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people around the country experience widespread and persistent discrimination and disadvantage, impacting on current and future generations. There is an urgent need and imperative to establish a dedicated national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people to provide improved oversight and accountability for systems and services to improve the protection of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.
A dedicated national commissioner should form part of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on equal footing with the existing commissioner roles. The national commissioner should be established in conformity with the United Nations benchmark guidelines for national human rights institutions, known as the Paris Principles.
Independence and autonomy from government is the first and most essential requirement for the national commissioner. Independence and accountability are essential to be able to advocate effectively for marginalised and disadvantaged groups and to hold governments to account. To ensure independence and autonomy, the role of the national commissioner needs to be established by Commonwealth legislation. Rather than being established as a new stand-alone statutory office, the national commissioner should sit within the Australian Human Rights Commission.
It is essential that the role of the national commissioner is filled by a person with the necessary qualifications, knowledge and experience to carry out the role effectively. A key element of this is that the position must be filled by an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. Only an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person could have the requisite cultural understanding and relationships to understand and promote the best interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people through the commissioner’s role.
Given the significant and widespread issues experienced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, it is important that the national commissioner be granted appropriate functions and powers to promote systemic oversight and accountability.
It is crucial that the commissioner is adequately resourced to perform his or her functions. Establishing the commissioner as part of the AHRC will help facilitate this objective by reducing the costs required to run the office of the commissioner effectively. Ideally, the establishing legislation should make explicit provision for the need for adequate resourcing.