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Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Page: 8441

Mr FARMER (3:24 PM) —Mr Speaker, in advance, can I apologise for my voice. My question is to the Minister for Youth and Minister for Sport. Minister, I refer to the tragic incident that unfolded in Finland yesterday where, it is reported, a gunman shot and killed 10 of his fellow students and then turned the gun on himself. More chilling is the fact that he had allegedly posted warnings of this on the internet just previously. Minister, as the Minister for Youth, what action have you taken to ensure that the parents of Australian children have confidence that instant communication tools like the internet and mobile phones are being used appropriately and not for cyberbullying, social grandstanding and virtual menace?

Ms KATE ELLIS (Minister for Youth and Minister for Sport) —Thank you very much to the member for his question. I am upset that you had to move back there to be able to get a question up! But it is a very serious issue, and I would like to answer this, because I think that what this parliament needs is to be spending more time talking about issues affecting Australian young people. That is one of the reasons why this government recreated the portfolio of the Minister for Youth after the previous government abolished it. And it is one of the reasons why we have been working very hard to set in place programs to make sure that we can look at the impacts of a whole range of different issues on young people in Australia.

In regard to the particular issue that you brought up about communications, obviously the minister for communications has a very important role, also, in monitoring these issues, because we know that it is not only young people who are using the internet or who are the victims, sadly, of cyberbullying and a number of other issues. But what we are doing is working right across government to make sure that we can see that every portfolio is tackling how that particular area is impacting on young people. In fact—though I would not like to pre-empt the announcement—tomorrow we will be having some more to say about the creation of the Office for Youth.

As I mentioned earlier, the previous government abolished the position of minister for youth. They also de-funded many of the operating programs when it came to young people and cut back on the departmental resources to make sure that young people were getting a fair go from the government. What we will be announcing tomorrow is the creation of the Office for Youth. Their role will be to look across government—whether it be the health department, the communications department or the education department—to make sure that we can see, right across government, all the programs that are being put in place for young people—

Opposition members interjecting—

Ms KATE ELLIS —I realise that the opposition do not want to hear about what we are doing for young people—so much so that, when we had the last round of estimates, do you know how many questions were asked about young people? Not one. The opposition could not bother turning up to estimates and asking one question about young people. We have got a question; I am trying to answer it, and I am trying to outline the fact that this government—

Mr Schultz interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Hume! The minister has the call.

Ms KATE ELLIS —takes very seriously making sure that young Australians have access to resources and making sure that we have adequate programs in place right across the board. We, on this side, recognise that there is a massive generational divide when it comes to the issues affecting different groups of Australians and that young people are actually facing a whole range of issues, like those that you mentioned, with the internet, with cyberbullying and with text messaging, and we need new responses to that. That is why we need a bureaucracy that is set up to cater for it, and that is why we need a portfolio allocated to addressing these issues. Your government abolished it; ours has put it back in place. We are setting up the Office for Youth so that we can work on this particular issue—

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister has the call.

Mr Robb interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Goldstein!

Mr Robb —It is a genuine question.

Ms KATE ELLIS —If you can perhaps just zip it for a minute, then I will answer your genuine question.

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order!

Ms KATE ELLIS —If the member opposite wants to play politics with this, that is fine; I will tell you the genuine answer.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —The House will come to order!

Mr Farmer —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It is only truly to aid you. This is a very serious issue and I truly want to hear the answer to this question.

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr Farmer —From both sides of this House. Could I ask the minister to please refer her points to, in particular, cyberbullying and mobile phone access being used for bullying.

The SPEAKER —I have some great sympathy for the member for Macarthur. He at least has been trying to sit there and listen to the answer. I hope that his colleagues on both sides will do the same.

Ms KATE ELLIS —You are right. This is an absolute tragedy, what has happened recently in Finland. We want to make sure that we put in place every mechanism to prevent any similar tragedies in Australia. That means that we need to tackle this at a number of levels. We need to tackle it within communications and we need to make sure that we have got protections in place, but also we need to make sure that we are regularly engaging with young Australians and that we are making sure that we give them a voice in these public discussions about the issues confronting them, which are quite unique to their generation and which many members of this parliament did not have to deal with when they were growing up. That is one of the reasons why this government has acted to establish the Office for Youth. We will be next week launching the Australian Youth Forum, which is a way that we can have continual dialogue with young people so that we can—

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting

Ms KATE ELLIS —‘Another talkfest’ says the member for Macarthur.

Honourable member—Mackellar.

Ms KATE ELLIS —Mackellar, sorry. I apologise to the member for Macarthur.

Mr Melham —She’s nothing like the member for Macarthur!

Ms KATE ELLIS —I take that on board. The member for Mackellar says, ‘Another talkfest.’ We on this side of the House think it is hugely important that we include young people and that we hear firsthand from them what it is that is happening within their own communities, that we give them credit for the fact that they have a number of different problems and different experiences and different perspectives to what we have had before, so that we can ensure that there are government programs and policies in place to react to them.

Mr Pearce —What are you going to do?

Ms KATE ELLIS —I have just outlined two things that we already have done which the previous government never did, and we are going to ensure that we continue to work with young Australians to make sure that we can respond to the changing issues that they have before them, something which the previous government was never able to do because it abolished the portfolio and then took away all of the resources which had been allocated to it.