July 28th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: The message from Aston

COVER: Dumped imports threaten Golden Circle

Trade lessons for small countries

Straws in the Wind

Media: New program, same old ABC

ABARE's export figures 'fanciful' (letter)

Issues lost in barley debate (letter)

The good and bad of the US model

Children already have protectors - their parents!

The lessons of T.G.H Strehlow

Rearming school cadets

What Beijing Olympics Supporters Ignored

Adult stem cell research provides ethical genetic therapy

Taiwan wracked by political infighting

Books promotion page

Children already have protectors - their parents!

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, July 28, 2001
Every so often there are voices heard calling for a children's commission or an office for children. Both at State and Federal levels, the call seems to be made on a regular basis. Indeed, ever since Australia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, various groups have been calling for the establishment of a children's commission or some such body.

For example, in 1994 the National Children's and Youth Law Centre in Sydney issued a paper entitled Why Australia Needs a Commissioner for Children. In 1995 the then Attorney-General Michael Lavarch initiated an Inquiry into Children and the Legal Process. The Inquiry was to "look closely at the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child" and will examine whether Australian law needs to be altered to come in line with the UN guidelines.

More recently the Chief Justice of the Family Court, Alistair Nicholson, has argued that Victoria needs to establish an independent Commission for Children. An article entitled "Why our children need a new and powerful champion" appeared in The Age on June 29.

His article coincided with the release of a discussion paper by the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria. The paper, Are You Listening? - The Case for a Victorian Children and Young People's Commission, claims the rights of children are being denied, and we need a grievance mechanism to air their complaints and act on their behalf.

Of alarm is the stated aims of the Commission: "The establishment of a Children and Young Person's Commission would enable the practical application of the CROC principles and laws." The Australian Family Association, it will be recalled, vigorously opposed the UN Convention, because it overemphasised the rights of children while undermining parental authority. It was nonetheless ratified by Australia and many other countries. America is still considering the Convention.

As one commentator there put it: "The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child will exacerbate the ills it proposes to cure. In raising even the least doubt about parental authority, it undermines the one institution in which children are least likely to be abused, least likely to be poor, least likely to be promiscuous, most likely to be healthy, and most likely to be well educated: the traditional two-parent family."

Such words are more than appropriate concerning the new Victorian proposals.

Indeed, while Alistair Nicholson states that children need a "powerful champion", many would argue that children already have champions - they are called parents. No other people are so devoted to their children and concerned about their well-being as parents.

The overwhelming conclusion of social science research over the past 30 years is that children do best when raised in a stable two-parent family. By every indicator - be it drug abuse, suicide levels, educational performance or criminal involvement - children do much better, on the whole, when raised by a two-parent family. If that is the case, then those concerned about the well-being of children should be doing all they can to promote the institutions of marriage and family.

When the Western Australian Government proposed a similar body in 1995, many people came out against the idea. One of the most cogent and informed voices was that of the then WA Family and Children's Services Minister Roger Nicholls. He argued that such proposals would turn child against parent. He argued that children's interests are best served in the context of their own family.

Support for families must be the priority, he said. Government policy therefore "must focus on delivering support to children through their families, not apart from families. The community can be most effective in helping children only when we direct our support to parents to help them to build better relationships with their family. Any attempt to set up bureaucratic structures - no matter how well intentioned - which even appear to separate children from their families can only be destructive in the long run."

The emphasis must be on strengthening the family unit: "Our entire objective must be to strengthen the functioning of the family ... because when families work effectively, society has very few problems with children, teenagers or the next generation of adults."

Surely he is right: we do not need another bureaucracy, especially one dealing with the very personal relationships found in families. Said Nicholls: "No bureaucratic or legal structure can assume the role of functional parents in 'representing' their children to the community. If a children's commission or commissioner 'represented' children to the Government in ways most parents approved, we wouldn't need it. If it did so in ways most parents objected to, we most certainly wouldn't need it."

The current decline in children's well-being is directly related to the breakdown of families. Any serious attempt to help children should involve tackling the problems, not just treating the symptoms.

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