Mallesons Stephen Jaques had the rights of Australia's children at heart last night (26 July) at a forum dedicated to debate about what can be done to better protect them.
Coinciding with the lodgment of the 2011 NGO Report on the Rights of the Child with the United Nations earlier this month, the forum included speeches from The Hon Catherine Branson QC, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Benson Saulo, the 2011 Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations, and associate professor Judith Cashmore AO from the University of Sydney.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly today, Mallesons lawyer Sarah Hoff, who took an integral role in compiling the report, said there is still plenty to be done by the Australian Government when it comes to adhering to its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"The bottom line is that most Australian children are doing really well, but there are certain groups who are continuing to fall behind," she said. "The main focus is on Indigenous children, children in out-of-home care and children in immigration detention. For example, children make up almost 50 per cent of people seeking services for homelessness, the number of children entering out-of-home care has increased by over 50 per cent in the last five years and, as of April, there were still over 1000 children in immigration detention, despite government policies to the contrary."
Hoff also pointed to the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have a mortality rate three times that of their non-Indigenous peers.
"This highlights the fact that while the Government has made some progress, there is still a long way to go. There shouldn't be that kind of disparity in a country like Australia," she said.
Mallesons has had a 10-year relationship with the National Children's and Youth Law Centre and it was here that Hoff was seconded for six months in order to work on the report, which is compiled every five years in response to a report submitted by the Government.
"I was the project manager for the report which basically meant coordinating consultations with the NGOs as well as with children, and also coordinating the drafting and editing of the report itself," she said.
Hoff will fly to Geneva in October as part of an NGO delegation. The delegation will present the report to the UN Committee, which oversees the convention, in order to establish a set of issues that will be raised with the Government during its official review in January 2012.
A team of around 15 Mallesons graduates and solicitors worked on the report, which Hoff said was a remarkable experience.
"It was incredible, just the opportunity to talk to such a range of organisations, academics and, most importantly, children," she said. "I met some incredibly resilient children. Listening to these children, knowing what they have been through, and yet seeing how they have turned out at the other end is quite inspiring."