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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1065


Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (20:39): I am very pleased to be able to speak on this motion moved by the member for Shortland. It follows on from the earlier motion on the sexualisation and commercialisation of children. They are incredibly important issues, and they certainly are important to constituents in my electorate who have raised them with me, including specifically the circumstances of the beauty pageant that was held in Melbourne last year—and that has already been noted by the member for Chisholm during the course of this debate. Certainly it caused concern for the parents of a lot of young children within my own electorate; the parents went along and voiced their concerns on the day and expressed their views in the media.

I know that this debate raises questions about parental responsibility and what each individual parent, carer or responsible adult sees for their own child, but it is an incredibly important issue for the broader society and it is appropriate that we raise it in this place and escalate it to a matter of importance that we consider here, because it is certainly not an issue about prudishness. It is an issue about the exploitation or potential exploitation of very young children who really do not have the capacity to express their own views about what happens to them on a day-to-day basis or about whether or not they will compete in these events. I know that we encourage competition amongst children in a range of areas, but this is a matter which is not about any usual competition. It is a matter which bases competition only on one's appearance and cosmetic issues.

I know that children's beauty pageants have attracted quite a lot of media attention. They certainly did in Melbourne during the course of the last year. The reason for that is the potential for negative body image arising amongst those children who compete and amongst children who observe these competitions taking place. The reason why that is so important and has been the subject of comment by government, and a range of bodies set up by and in conjunction with government, is that they are amongst the key issues that are raised by our young people themselves.

There is a wealth of evidence, and I cited some of it during the earlier debate today, on the sexualisation and commercialisation of children and young people. I would mention a couple of figures that I found quite extraordinary. I know that the Victorian Centre of Excellence in Eating Disorders has published a few statistics about children and body image and research that has been undertaken relatively recently. It describes a survey of pre-adolescent Sydney children and notes that 50 per cent of primary school children surveyed wanted to weigh less and 25 per cent of seven- to 10-year-olds have dieted to lose weight. I found that quite extraordinary. I also found extraordinary the comments in an international study which was documented in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology in December 2010. It noted that half of the participants aged between three and six years were worried about their weight. It says:

Although nearly all girls liked the way they looked, self-report data indicated that nearly one-third of the participants would change something about their physical appearance and nearly half of the girls worried about being fat.

That is really quite an extraordinary occurrence in relation to children of that age, so it is appropriate that this evening, and through governmental policy and governmental action, this broad issue of body image has been escalated to an issue of national concern.

I would say in relation to that that the Commonwealth government has made a commitment to taking action on body image, and that led to the establishment in 2009 of a National Advisory Group on Body Image, which consists of representatives from the health sector, young people, NGOs and academia. It had a significant role in providing advice and recommendations on how best to tackle this very challenging issue. I know that there has been a significant effort put in by the Commonwealth government in response to the issues raised by that group.

I must say that, despite the significance of this issue, I am somewhat disappointed that it is solely members of the government who have chosen to comment on it and contribute to debate on this issue this evening. I would hope, given the apparent interest in this issue that was raised in the earlier motion today, that there might be more comment on this matter in future from members of the opposition.

Debate adjourned.