Media Releases - 9 April 2024

Listening to children should be our next Parliament’s priority

Very soon, we will know the makeup of the next Tasmanian Parliament. The thirty-five elected Tasmanians who form the House of Assembly will include experienced parliamentarians, but also many elected to such privileged office for the first time.

The voting adults of Tasmania install parliamentarians to make laws and decisions in the best interests of all of us, including our children and young people. Their responsibility to care for everyone is essential given those under the age of 18 do not have a say about who makes decisions for, and about them, in our State Parliament.

Despite children and young people not casting votes, in a post-Commission of Inquiry Tasmania, the next Parliament’s greatest priority must be to uphold the rights of children enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). These rights include the right to be free from all forms of violence and abuse – the right to be safe and to feel safe.

My strong advice to every member of our new Parliament is to read the Commission of Inquiry’s landmark report into the Tasmanian Government’s Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings in full. Taking the time to sit with the uncomfortable truths detailed in this report will help ensure elected members understand the social and economic implications of failing to uphold the rights of children. We must learn from the failures of the past.

If the incoming Government is to successfully implement all 191 of the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations, the Parliament must make upholding the right of our children and young people to be and to feel safe their driving motivation.

If seized, this Parliament has the opportunity to leave a legacy of legislation that creates better systems, policies, practices and approaches to education and regulation, protecting children and young people from all forms of abuse, and responding appropriately if it does occur.

However, legislative change alone will not empower children to raise concerns about their safety. This will require transformational change across our communities, including cultural change that fosters child-safe environments in which abuse is prevented, identified, and responded to appropriately.

To ensure this occurs, our new Parliament and Government will need to re-examine how they engage with and consider the rights and wellbeing of children at all stages of decision-making processes when designing legislation, policies, regulations, projects and practices that affect them. It is my view that there is room for great improvement in this work. Sadly, the views of children and young people are often ignored or worse, not invited at all.

The right of children to have a say, be heard, and have their views seriously considered in decision making is enshrined in Article 12 of the UNCRC.

The right to be heard is a gateway right in that it helps children access all their other human rights, especially their right to be safe and feel safe.

Participation is a right, not a privilege, and upholding the right of children to participate in decision-making about their lives is vital to making decisions which uphold their rights.