The role of the Children’s Commissioner in Tasmania is being reviewed following criticism from the departing Children’s Commissioner that she lacks the power to initiate own investigations and is unable to investigate child protection matters without ministerial direction. Since 2000 when the position was created all of Tasmania’s Children Commissioners have called for their role to have greater powers with the Children’s Minister Michelle O’Byrne recently conceding that the Children’s Commissioner is currently a policy advice role. Concerns have also been raised that the Children’s Commissioner tenure of three years should be brought into line with every other jurisdiction in Australia where tenure is at least five years. The government will delay the appointment of a permanent Children’s Commissioner until the powers of the role have been reviewed.
Developments around the country
DownUnderAllOver is a round-up of legal news from both State and federal jurisdictions, and contains topical articles and short pieces from Alternative Law Journal committees around the country.
In April 2013, Tasmania’s House of Assembly passed a Bill that removes abortion from the Criminal Code and allows abortion up to 16 weeks if the woman provides her consent, and after 16 weeks if two doctors say it is medically, psychologically and socio-economically justified. The gestation limit had initially been set at 20 weeks, but the Reproductive Health (Access To Terminations) Bill 2013 threatened to be defeated by conservative Labor MPs Attorney-General Brian Wightman, Denison Labor MHA Graeme Sturges and Braddon Labor MHA Brenton Best. It was supported by them with the reduced gestation limit.
The forests in Tasmania have divided the community for many years. Industry leaders and environmentalists have been called on for decades to find a long lasting solution and it appears that one has finally been found. Signatories including major environmental non-government organisations and forest industry bodies signed off on a compromise late last year.
Harsh prison conditions while on remand were taken into account as a factor in sentencing in the Victorian County Court, with particular reference to the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
Police in Victoria had been monitoring ‘Middle Eastern’ crime gangs, including family feuds which had included a house bombing and drive-by shootings during 2011. Three men from one of the families involved in these feuds, the Tiba family, were arrested in relation to drug dealings in July 2011. The three men were held on remand in high security units in Port Phillip and Barwon Prisons. The cases finally came on for hearing in June 2013, with guilty pleas from the three men to offences including armed robbery and car theft.
In the case of Re Beth  VSC 189 (23 April 2013), the Victorian Secretary to the Department of Human Services applied to the Supreme Court for orders enabling the Secretary to place Beth (a pseudonym) in a purpose-renovated secure and lockable house staffed with 2:1 carer support for Beth’s care and protection.
Beth is a 16-year-old girl with intellectual disabilities who has suffered significant sexual abuse. The Secretary has guardianship and custody of Beth pursuant to a protection order made under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic). The Victorian Secretary has been Beth’s guardian since she was 4 years old, Beth being removed from the care of her parents by Queensland authorities when she was an infant.