The primary objective of the Commission, as set out in the Act, is to hold conferences with community members. Conferences are held to encourage clients, individuals and families to engage in socially responsible standards of behaviour whilst promoting the interests, rights and wellbeing of children and other vulnerable persons living in the community.
The Commission may conference a community member who is a welfare recipient living in an area prescribed by regulation as a welfare reform community if the person, or their partner, is in receipt of certain welfare payments. The full list of payments subject to income management under the initiative is available at the Australian Government Department of Social Services website – Income Management for Cape York Welfare Reform.
The Act, passed by the Queensland Parliament on 13 March 2008, sets out the statutory obligations of relevant Queensland Government departments to notify the Commission when a community member is not meeting pre-determined obligations. Agency notices are received for the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Doomadgee*, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge in the following circumstances:
* Agency notices for the community of Doomadgee are presently received from DET and DCCSDS only.
Once an agency notice is received, a determination is made as to whether the person/s notified is within the jurisdiction of the Commission in accordance with the FRC Act. Section 49 of the FRC Act provides that the Commission can deal with an agency notice relating to a community member. Section 7 of the FRC Act defines a community member as being a person who is a welfare recipient and who also lives in one of the five welfare reform communities, or has lived there for a period of at least three months. On a determination that the matter meets the relevant criteria it is deemed to be within jurisdiction. The matter is then referred to the Local Commissioners for a decision as to whether the client should be ordered to attend a conference and if other associated persons should be invited to attend the conference.
Following a determination to proceed to conference, and prior to actual conference, the client is served with a ‘Notice to Attend Conference’ at which time he/she is informed of the time, date and place of the conference, the purpose of the conference, what they can expect to occur and the ramifications if they fail to attend. In the event that a client fails to attend as per the notice, the Commission may re-schedule the conference and again a notice is served prior to the rescheduled conference.
At the conference Commissioners discuss with the client the matter/s subject of the agency notice and any related problems the client wishes to raise. The conference is held in an atmosphere which is informal and confidential.
Where the client’s first language is not English, the conference is conducted in the local language of the client with Local Commissioners translating as required. Conferences are convened either with a panel comprising of the Commissioner (or Deputy Commissioner) and two Local Commissioners, or with a panel of three Local Commissioners. All Commissioners have equal authority in the decision-making process. The Commissioners must attempt to reach a unanimous decision. If a unanimous decision cannot be reached a majority decision is acceptable, however, the reasons as to why it was not unanimous must be documented.
Decisions made at conference are made fairly and with the best interests of the client and their family in mind.