In late May the Federal Labor spokeswoman on children and youth, Nicola Roxon, introduced a child protection Bill into Parliament. The Bill, entitled A Better Future for our Kids, proposes the establishment of a Children’s Commission and a Children’s Commissioner. The 23-page document outlines the need for the proposal, and details the role and functions of the proposed Commission and Commissioner.
On the surface it sounds like a helpful proposal. Indeed, it even has pro-family rhetoric sprinkled throughout. For example, in the “Principles underlying this Act” we read, “the family has the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of its children and should be supported in that role”. And one of the functions of the Commissioner is “to promote and support the role of the family and parents in the development and well being of children”.
But we must bear in mind that during the 1994 International Year of the Family the Labor government in power then could not even bring itself to define what a family is. Indeed, it has on many occasions given support to various feminist and homosexual measures and bills which are not in the best interests of marriage and family. So one has to be cautious when reading such words.
But other parts of the Bill are much more clear in their negative potential. In fact, immediately following the principle on family care, there are three principles which may well undermine parental authority. The three principles are:
-“every child is entitled to be protected from abuse, exploitation and discrimination”;
-“every child is entitled to form and express views and have those views taken into account in a way that has regard to the child’s age and maturity”;
-“in decisions involving children the child’s best interest are of primary concern”.
Now these three principles are at best vague, nebulous and open to a wide range of interpretation, and at worst are a direct threat to the role of parents and their authority in the home.
For example, if a ten-year-old child in a devout religious home declares himself or herself to be an atheist, and the parents insist on taking the child to religious observances, will the child have the right to sue or take legal action against the parents? If a twelve-year-old decides to bring a friend home for a sexual encounter, is the parent expected to stand by mute, for fear of a visit from the Children’s Commissioner?
Later on child abuse is defined as “exposing or subjecting a child to behaviour that psychologically harms the child”. If a child gets emotionally bent out of shape because a parent says his or her room looks like a rubbish tip, is that child abuse? If a child takes umbrage at being told that he or she has poor penmanship or could do better at dressing neatly for school, is that abuse? If a child becomes embarrassed or resentful when told that his or her drug-taking friends are not allowed in the home, is that child abuse?
Of major concern is another function of the Commissioner: “to monitor programs and initiatives for compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child” (CROC). It will be recalled that the 1989 CROC was ratified by Australia soon thereafter. The Australian Family Association and other concerned family groups strongly lobbied against CROC, as it has some very worrying anti-family and anti-parent provisions. Indeed, Articles 12-16 of CROC were (and still are) a major problem.
For example Article 14 declares the “right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” while Article 16 includes protection of the child’s right not to be “subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy”.
The negative implications of these and other Articles in CROC for parents are of great concern. If a parent suspects that drugs, pornography or other improper materials are stashed away in a child’s room, it seems like they cannot do anything about it, at least according to CROC. And if Australia establishes an official body to monitor and enforce the provisions of CROC, the family unit will come under further stress and disintegration.
As I said in the accompanying article, if we really care about children and their protection, we should be doing all we can to promote families and parental authority, not undermining them as this Bill seems to do.