New Children's Commissioner confident he can balance roles

Newly-appointed Children's Commissioner Russell Wills says he is confident good people will help him to juggle the demands of two busy roles.

Dr Wills, whose appointment was announced today, will take on the role part-time, allowing him to continue part-time in his current job as head of paediatrics at Hawke's Bay District Health Board.

He replaces John Angus, who has spent almost two years as a temporary appointee.

Labour leader Phil Goff said Dr Wills' part-time appointment was "undoubtedly" a cutback.

"I think it's another example of cutting back on protections for the most vulnerable, children. It's a full-time job being children's commissioner," he said.

United First leader Peter Dunne said if the arrangement did not work out it should be looked at.

Dr Wills, who has a strong clinical background and a history of advocating for children, said he was confident the role could be handled as a part-time position.

He will appoint a deputy commissioner to strengthen the role, but said it would be difficult to juggle his two positions.

"I think it's going to be quite hard. I've got a lot to learn in this role, but I've been surrounded by some really supportive and smart people," he said.

"The other thing is, the two roles complement each other. Remaining practising as a paediatrician keeps me grounded."

Dr Wills said his appointment was a real opportunity to address the needs of New Zealand children.

"The role, as I see it, will be one of particularly bringing good people and good ideas together and supporting the development of the agenda for children."

Experts already had a good handle on the issues facing children, he said, including child poverty, parenting, family violence, and teenagers.

"Every child who's injured, every child who dies is a terrible tragedy. But we can make a difference to those kinds of things -- I'm completely confident about that," Dr Wills said.

Napier MP and National Party whip Chris Tremain, who helped select Dr Wills, said he was a Hawke's Bay figure who had made "a huge contribution" to paediatrics throughout the country.

"He's got that hands-on experience with at-risk kids -- day in, day out, Russell is dealing with it," he said.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she approached Dr Wills because she wanted someone from a health background.

"I just felt as I said it was time for another perspective. Each commissioner brings their own flavour and perspective to the role," she said.

"It was an important step for not just the commission, but actually for children in this country."

Dr Wills had been "staunch" about staying on at the DHB, Ms Bennett said.

"There is a shortage of paediatricians and doctors working with children in this country, so for that reason you sort of had to respect that he wants to keep working," she said.

Dr Wills will take up the five-year appointment from July.

He will be paid a part-time salary and will have a travel budget of about $30,000 a year to allow him to commute between the Hawke's Bay and Wellington.

Outgoing commissioner Dr Angus came under scrutiny earlier this year after it was revealed he commuted between his Central Otago home and Wellington at taxpayers' expense.

Ms Bennett said she was being "quite up-front" about the costs.

"I think that's a small price to pay for keeping someone connected to their community, to their own family, and for the good work that he does as a paediatrician," she said.

Ms Bennett thanked Dr Angus for his work, saying he had done an outstanding job.

Hawke's Bay DHB chief executive Kevin Snee said the appointment was a reflection of the quality of paediatric services in the region.



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