At the start of the month, Guardian for Children and Young People, Shona Reid, travelled to Darwin on Larrakia country to meet with colleagues from Aotearoa and across Australia, and attend SNAICC’s 10th Annual Conference, Voices at the Top!
The week started with a face-to-face meeting of the Australia and New Zealand’s Children’s Commissioners, Guardians and Advocates (ANZCCGA). As the co-chair for the ANZCCGA, Shona led the meeting through discussion of new learnings, shared challenges and joint advocacy opportunities to make our communities better spaces for children to grow. Members also provided updates on key jurisdictional activities, including progress against agreed collective advocacy priorities for 2023.
Key focus areas during the meeting included:
Human rights breaches in youth detention: Members called on all governments to immediately cease serious human rights breaches against young people in detention, including detention in police cells and isolation practices. These practices continue to expose children as young as 10 to serious and foreseeable risks of physical, emotional and psychological harm.
Respect for children during the Voice Referendum: Members discussed some disturbing experiences they have heard from young people in the lead-up to the Voice Referendum on 14 October 2023, with serious impacts on their mental health. The ANZCCGA affirmed the importance of placing the rights, safety and wellbeing of children and young people at the centre of our thinking during this time, including engaging in respectful discussions and supporting young people to be free from harassment and seek help if they are struggling.
You can read the ANZZCCGA’s meeting communique on the Guardian’s website, here.
For those who know Shona, you’ll understand that she doesn’t sit still for a minute – so, in addition to learning and sharing at the SNAICC conference, a jam-packed week also involved various joint activities with ANZCCGA members including a media conference, panel presentation and visit to the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.
A key message flowing through all these activities was the importance of establishing independent, legislated Commissioners for Aboriginal Children and Young People in each jurisdiction (noting that SA already has established this), including at the Commonwealth level.
As the national peak body for First Nations children in Australia, SNAICC has been a strong advocate for establishing these positions for many years. So it was fitting that Australia’s First Nations caucus for the ANZCCGA gave a joint media conference outside the doors to the conference on the urgent need for a National Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People to promote the voices, rights and best interests of First Nations children. This was followed by a joint panel presentation on the unique perspectives that each of the First Nations members bring to their roles, including their lived experience and understanding, ability to engage with communities and create safe spaces for First Nations children.
Establishing these roles in each jurisdiction and at the national level is the first of 11 joint advocacy priorities for Australian members of the ANZCCGA in 2023, which were developed by the First Nations caucus in January this year and later adopted by other members. This advocacy priority is a key step to full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, with the rights, voices and futures of children at the core of this statement and other advocacy from First Nations leaders around the country.
Reflecting on the week and this important topic, Shona told us:
“It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and enthusiasm at a conference such as SNAICC. There are so many like minded people that are keen to play their part in creating a fairer and safer Australian community for First Nation children and young people. The job that I and my fellow Commissioners, Guardians and Advocates have now is to bring that same energy to our jurisdictions, where the reality of overrepresentation and inequity really does confront us on a daily basis. What it says to me really is, we need to flip the script – First Nation voices and perspectives are the key to redefining the how we support and build strength for First Nation children and families. If we truly are to create equity…. We need to create places for voices to speak and ears to hear.”