Select Committee recommendation to retain role of Children’s Commissioner a start but amendments don’t go far enough

Save the Children today welcomed the Select Committee’s recommendation to retain the important role of a named Children’s Commissioner with the power to report directly to the Prime Minister on important issues relating to the rights of children.

Save the Children was part of an overwhelming public opposition to the proposed Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People’s Commission Bill and in February presented a 10,000+ strong petition to Parliament in support of retaining the role of Children’s Commissioner.  

Advocacy and Research Director Jacqui Southey says it was positive that two out of three of the key asks of the petition have been incorporated into the Select Committee’s recommended amendments to the Bill, in its report released today.

However, she remains concerned the amendments don’t go far enough in retaining the full powers of the Office for protecting the rights of Aotearoa’s tamariki – or addressing the overwhelming public and political opposition to the Bill. 

“The recommended appointment of a Chief Children’s Commissioner is a compromise between the Board model in the Bill and our current model of Children’s Commissioner (Commissioner Sole).

“While we note the Committee supports the continued ability to report directly to the Prime Minister, we are concerned that the role of Children’s Commissioner and Commissioner remains ambiguous, and are not yet convinced that this model is better or stronger than the model that currently exists.

“The Bill in its current form still needs strengthening in relation to child protection; both the sharing of information with appropriate agencies and the ability for authorised personnel to enter care premises without notice.

“Fundamental problems remain in weakening the role of Children’s Commissioner, creating a separated and complicated system that continues to have significant gaps in child protection, and a monitoring system that works independently but is not fully independent of government.”

Ms Southey understands more work is to be done with supporting the Ombudsman to be more child friendly in receiving complaints from children related to the care system.

However, gaps remain in avenues for children to complain about breaches to their rights outside of the care system, for example in education, or in work.

An analysis of 365 independent written submissions by Save the Children and Barnardos found a unanimous opposition to the Bill (some 333 were clearly opposed, and 21 unclear). Three key opposition parties are also unanimous in their opposition to the Bill. 

Says Ms Southey: “The arguments in support of retaining this champion for children are robust, as is the need to consult children and young people on substantive issues contained in this Bill. We continue to advocate for the Government to genuinely consult with children and for children’s voices to inform changes to the Children’s Commissioner, the new Commission, and oversight system.”