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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 104


Senator BARNETT (5:28 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I want to pass on a very hearty ‘congratulations’ to the Australian Sports Commission for their leadership in promoting healthy and active lifestyles in Australia, particularly for young Australians. In doing so, I note that this particular policy of the Active After-school Communities program was launched by the Howard government at a healthy lifestyle forum which I organised in Launceston in June 2004, where the Prime Minister, together with the then sports minister, Senator Rod Kemp—a very fine senator and a wonderful advocate for healthy lifestyles and the sports community—announced the funding package and the initiative, the Active After-school Communities program.

It is a fantastic program and it works. It ensures that children—Australian boys and girls across the country—have an opportunity to be more physically active doing things that they enjoy. It is not at all one-dimensional; they can play different types of sports. I just think it is tremendous. It is organised by the Australian Sports Commission. It is using government owned facilities and educational institutions otherwise left vacant during this time after school. It usually runs from about 3.30, I think, until five or thereabouts, and it uses those facilities.

It is a great idea. At this stage there is an estimated 150,000 children that are benefiting from this particular program. Initially it kicked off with $90 million in funding over three years to establish the Active After-school Communities program in over 3,000 primary schools and out-of-school-hours care services. As I said, that was for 150,000 children.

I also want to acknowledge the wonderful work of the volunteers—those mums and dads that are out there saying, ‘Look, I’ll give up my time and my resources to say: “Yes, this is a good program.” I’m going to help the Australian Sports Commission and their representatives’—whether they be in Tasmania or any state or territory across the country. I want to say thank you to the volunteers, because their volunteering should be recognised for what it does. They help make this program a success.

Of course, the program is designed to address the very serious obesity epidemic—not just in children but across the population. I will say more about that shortly. The then senator Rod Kemp gave a presentation at the time of the launch and his speech is included in a book that I released 18 months ago called The Millennium disease: responses to Australia’s obesity epidemic. At page 23 Senator Rod Kemp outlined the philosophy behind the importance of an Active After-school Communities program and also some of the details of that policy initiative that was announced by Mr Howard and him in Launceston in June 2004.

In the Active After-school Communities program performance survey it was found at that time that 88 per cent of parents said that their children were previously inactive. It is fantastic. Isn’t it great to think that so many young children were inactive and are now active in those programs? The report also revealed that 81 per cent of children surveyed said they had fun; 75 per cent said they wanted to continue in the program; 89 per cent of school centres and deliverers believed that fundamental motor skills were being improved; 76 per cent of deliverers said that the program was stimulating local community involvement in sport and physical activity, and 88 per cent of school centres were satisfied with the program’s performance. Well, that is a very good survey result, in anybody’s book. Those are 70- to 80-plus per cent responses. Yes, that was some time ago, and I have not seen the latest figures, but I would imagine they would be similar. Those sorts of percentages and high satisfaction rates are very rewarding indeed, and encouraging for all of us.

The Auditor-General’s report sets that out and notes that in 2007-08 there were a total number of 150,000 participating children, the total number of participating sites was 3,250, and the total funding in that year was $43.1 million, with a total of $121.4 million over the four-year period from 2004-05, when it was first launched. The Auditor-General’s report also notes that it is continuing into the future. I just hope that the program will continue, and that it will continue to be a success. I am sure that if it is operated by the Australian Sports Commission it will be. I want to commend all those involved in the Australian Sports Commission, particularly in Tasmania—Ralph Morris and his colleagues. They are a wonderful group of people. They get on well with the families and the schools involved. The Campbell Town program, I know, has been particularly rewarding for the local community.

The program is definitely designed to address the obesity epidemic. It is very serious when you have one in five children in Australia that are overweight and one in 10 that are obese. It is a very serious issue, and we saw the news flash, just a few days ago, where there were recommendations for children that are morbidly obese to be removed from their families, as a last resort. I think all options should be on the table with respect to how we look after our young Australians. We have a duty of care, as members of parliament—federal and state members in particular—and we need to ensure that their best interests are protected.

Let us be clear about this: obesity leads to type 2 diabetes, it leads to cancer, it leads to heart conditions and it leads to a whole range of other health conditions. Obesity will certainly lead to early death, so this is very serious. And that is why this sort of initiative should be supported 100 per cent across the board, by all sides of parliament, to ensure that our children get the best possible start in life so that they can reach their full potential.

One thing I am concerned about is that the federal Labor government, with much fanfare, made obesity a national health priority. We all thought: ‘Well, this is good. They’re going to back that up with action, with strong decisive initiatives to help implement the policy that must be properly addressed.’ Here you have the big-picture, flashy PR, headline stuff: obesity a national health priority. But what has happened? They have been in government over 14 months—nearly 15 months—and very little has happened. In fact, no major initiatives have occurred with respect to addressing the obesity epidemic. This is something that should be noted by all members of the Senate and by members of the public. We need action.

I commend the obesity prevention task force, Professor Rob Moodie, Professor Paul Zimmet and their colleagues. They are doing a good job taking on advice and consulting around the country—but we need action by government. You cannot just say that it is a national health priority and then sit back and do nothing. We are not going to stand for that. It is not right. The interests of Australian children need to be protected and supported. They need to be encouraged to live healthy, active lifestyles. You cannot just say that obesity is a national health priority and then do nothing. It is not on. They are having further consultations, devising further strategies and taking advice—but it has been 14 months. I call on the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, to act and to implement the much needed action with respect to addressing the obesity epidemic.

In conclusion, the Active After-school Communities program is an excellent one. It has been commended in the 2008-09 Auditor-General’s report. I commend it to the Senate. I commend it to the public. I know it provides good outcomes for young, healthy Australians.

Question agreed to.