The Official Visitor Amendment Bill 2019 (the Bill) was introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly by the Minister for Justice, Consumer Affairs and Road Safety, Shane Rattenbury (the Minister) on 15 August 2019. In general terms, the Bill proposes to amend the Official Visitor Act 2012 (ACT) (the Act) and the five operational Acts that fall under the ACT Official Visitor Scheme, namely the:
According to the Minister's presentation speech, the purpose of the amendments proposed by the Bill is to give effect to the legislative recommendations of the 2017 Review of the Official Visitor Scheme by the Justice and Community Safety Directorate.
In his presentation speech, the Minister described the "official visitor scheme" as an "independent monitoring scheme" for people who are being held in government institutions or staying in community facilities, and who are dependent on service providers. The people in this accommodation are described in the Act as “entitled people” and places (institutions etc) that can be visited by official visitors are known in the Act as “visitable places”.
An Official Visitors is to be an independent statutory office holder, who is usually appointed for their skills and expertise in the areas involved in the places they are visiting. Their function is to meet and talk with "entitled people" in visitable places to hear their concerns and to assist with and help resolve any complaints.
As part of their job, Official Visitors make reports to the Minister with responsibility for a visitable place about any issues of concern that they hear or observe, giving those Ministers "valuable and direct insight into what is happening on the ground in these places".
Examples of places visited by Official Visitors are: Bimberi and other residential out of home care facilities for children and young people; correctional facilities such as the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC; mental health facilities; accommodation for people with disability; and accommodation for homeless people.
It is a requirement also for some Official Visitors to be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background, so as to better meet the needs of Indigenous people, who are according to the Minister "over-represented in many visitable places".
The Justice and Community Safety Directorate review of the scheme involved consultation with Official Visitors, Government Directorates whose legislation was covered by the scheme and community stakeholders. While the review confirmed that the Official Visitor Scheme was a valuable scheme and that "official visitors are highly trusted by clients and service providers alike", the review did, according to the Minister, identify opportunities to improve the operation of the scheme. In particularly by increasing the consistency in the way official visitors work in their different areas, the reports that they produce and the level of support they are provided.
Amendments proposed by the Bill are as follows:
Commenting in a media release on the Bill and the changes it proposes, the Minister is quoted as saying:
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Official Visitor Amendment Bill 2019 [ACT] and Presentation Speech and Explanatory Statement, available from TimeBase's LawOne service
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