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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2066


Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (12:34): I was drawn to the member for Newcastle's motion, because I think it is important that everyone in this country should acknowledge that they are the one who controls their own health. The decisions that we make impact foremost on our lives. If we eat McDonald's, KFC or Hungry Jack's, or any fast-food options, then that is a personal decision and we can expect that there will be a negative outcome. Similarly, a life without exercise will be a shorter life and an unhealthier life. It comes down to the decisions we make. This motion calls upon members of parliament to take a leading role in the promotion of healthy living, exercise and positive body image in Australia. Having a Prime Minister that can do marathons and triathlons is a very good thing for Australia; I personally will not be able to follow his lead in such events because, after 15 years in the army, my knees are in poor shape. Nevertheless, I agree that there is always a role for us to be examples to others.

However, it is first and foremost up to parents to be good role models for their children. It is even more important for parents to be the lead in this matter—who is it that goes out and buys the food for a home? And who is it that drives the car to fast-food outlets? It is parents who make the decisions on household budgets: fresh food or fast food; wants or needs; even alcohol and cigarettes or milk and vegetables. I hope that it is a rare dilemma, at least for that last question. While some may blame advertising or social media, it is the strength of character of us all that will overcome external influences and win the day. The internal, family influences are the most important factors; they eclipse external factors such as advertising or social media. I am a parent of two daughters, Emily, who is 15, and Rebecca, who has just turned 11. Whenever I look at Emily, I see her getting taller. I call her 'my biggest girl' with reference to how tall she is getting, to which she often says to me, 'Are you calling me fat?' It is a reminder that as parents we must be careful in our terminology, as it is obviously a point of sensitivity with adolescent girls. I am not, however, concerned about Emily's weight as I believe that she eats pretty well. As I previously said, parents are in control. By their example and their actions, they provide that image of normalcy to their children. If a child grows up seeing obese parents, the child will think that is normal and acceptable. If they grow up thinking fast food is a daily or almost daily option, they will think that is normal as well. The same thing goes for illicit drug use, drug abuse or smoking. Children see the examples in front of them and they will mirror those examples. The major factors playing a role in promoting good health are the examples and the actions provided by parents. Parents have the responsibility for providing a safe and healthy environment, and their success impacts on the way their children will then become parents themselves.

On the point of body image, despite setting the example ourselves as parents, and even after setting such a good example, there will be times when, perhaps, we will need to confront our children on matters such as weight gain or even weight loss. We should never say to our children: 'You are fat—lose some weight,' or even, 'You are too skinny.' There are ways to say these things properly, based on what is in the best interests of the child's health. But we should also never walk away from that responsibility. We as parents should not abrogate our responsibility for fear that any engagement could negatively impact upon their body image, and therefore be psychologically bad for our children.

This motion also calls upon the government to commit to the national body image awareness program. All government supported programs will be appropriately examined; however, we remain committed to the support and development of young people. With the record levels of debt run up by the previous government over six years, there are many challenges to be faced. High intergenerational debt should not be a burden we place upon young people.

In closing, I think that social media and the level of immediate communication available to young people sees them faced with pressures that previous generations have not faced as strongly. That being said, the leadership responsibility of parents and families needs to be stepped up. As parents, we must talk the talk and walk the walk—we must buy the right food; we must exercise; we must lead by example. We must be prepared to speak about healthy living and health issues, and we must not be scared off confronting these issues by terms such as body image. As members of parliament, we must be effective examples. But we should not overrate our importance or our level of influence, particularly compared to those in the main position, being parents and families.