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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1044

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (19:07): I am really pleased to stand in the chamber this evening to support the motion by my colleague the member for Kingston. One of the things I have seen since I commenced my teaching career 25 years ago, and certainly as a mother of two young girls who are now aged 20 and 18, is a real shift in the way young girls are portrayed in the media and a shift in the way they are encouraged to represent themselves in public. I think we can see, even from school uniforms at a very early age, a clear contrast between the sexualisation that is happening for girls and for boys. Girls uniforms are getting shorter and shorter and shorter. A simple code might be that the girls' uniforms must be at least as long as the boys' shorts. We might have an attempt at a bit of equity there in terms of a little more discreet exposure.

These sorts of pressures that girls are under in all sorts of contexts, including in the school context in how they wear their uniforms, is being informed by those very powerful visual images of what we see on the newsstands as we walk by, what is increasingly coming before us through the media and in particular the images that flash across websites. I would like to talk a little bit about the phenomenon of Facebook and the cybercommunities it creates. The reality is that, more and more, technology provides us with the opportunity to use cameras. I have to say that I was astounded, while on holidays with my young niece, by how many photographs she took of herself for Facebook and how quickly she attempted to upload them. She in fact used my own daughter's phone to take some photographs of herself. A bit of a contest arose out of that, because I think there was about a $3 fee each time to send a photo to her Facebook, which was different from the plan that she was on. So, consequently, the whole issue of taking photos of oneself—the kinds of images that you publish of yourself, where you might choose to publish them and the long-term implications—was something we discussed this very summer. Therein lies one of the recommendations that the member for Kingston has put forward here:

… urges governments, industries, regulators and the wider community in Australia to take note of the Letting the Children be Childrenreport and to work together to address the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood …

On that issue, I really do want to speak about the importance of the industry coming to some sort of understanding of their responsibility as important corporate and social citizens. Businesses do not exist outside and beyond the ethical practices; businesses sit within communities and they rely on communities to succeed. We need an ethical response to what we can see is an increase in eating disorders, an increase in challenges to a sense of body image, increases in students' and young people's sense of identity, at a particular time they are growing in their understanding of sexualisation. These are pressures that should not be brought to bear on young people unnecessarily. Some businesses are very much responsible for pushing the envelope way too far.

In terms of the community, I do recall that several years ago, when I was heading over a beautiful drive that we have on the Central Coast, the Ridgeway, which takes me from the seat of Robertson over into the seat of Dobell to the university, I was caught behind a bus and on the back of the bus was an image of a four-year-old girl in a very short dress, knee-high stockings and extreme amounts of make-up. This was something that really alarmed me. It was even more alarming when I contrasted the image of this young girl with the young boy who was her play partner in the picture. He looked very free, very comfortable, hardly made-up at all, in a regular pair of play shorts. When we are starting to project images such as that one on the back of buses, moving around our communities, we are really starting to have a massive impact on the kids who are sitting behind those images on the buses and on the whole community who see them. There is no way we can get away from these really enlarged public images. But when we see that as a community I think this report reminds us of the damaging impact.

Then we have to think about our responsibilities as active citizens, in terms of putting out our response to those people who are advertising. On that day I did feel a little empowered. I did take the opportunity to ring the advertiser and put to them my concern about the images that I saw before me. They contacted the provider of the service that created the ad and they were actually happy to take my feedback. Perhaps there is something to be learnt from that. I was certainly satisfied with their response, and I did not see any more ads of that nature for that company. There is perhaps a laxity in the community in terms of using our voices in ways that we can. It took only a couple of phone calls. I was actually able to raise my concerns and make my point, and I was heard quite tolerantly on the other end of the phone. If more of us look around and see this as a problem—particularly if the young, who are the most subjected to it, begin to sense that they have a voice and can ask for things to be different—then we have not only improved some outcomes in terms of the way they may be portrayed and sexualised but we also have a chance to communicate to them that, as a citizen, you have a right to speak to businesses, to speak to government and to be a voice in your own community for improving things for yourself, for your peers, for your family, for your friends and for your community in general. I think the Letting children be children report is another important document that adds weight to this whole field of research that has been undertaken in the last several years. The American Psychological Association and also Australian agencies, psychologists and people who write in that field have been writing about this issue for some time. We can no longer continue to just let these reports be written and have no response. We need a collective and informed response.

I also want to put on the record my recognition of some of the incredible heavy lifting that has been undertaken by Melinda Tankard Reist to bring this debate to the public. She has been writing on this issue for some years. In the last little while she has really increased the profile of the issue in the mainstream media. This is no longer an issue that is sitting around on the edges of conversation; it is coming right to the heart of our talk about images and the mental health aspects of what images construct, convey and destroy in our own community at this time. Congratulations to Melinda Tankard Reist for her work in that area. I have been quite horrified to see some of the vilification that has been levelled at her for daring to have views on this matter and others and for putting them forward in the public space.

In terms of who should take the greatest responsibility, I have argued here this evening that young people really need to have a voice in this. They are the ones who are affected and their voice should be prominent. But we should never forget that there is a moral responsibility for those who have power—adults, businesses and governments—to take the lead in making sure that the environment for young people is safe. We are very good at thinking about physical safety and we have managed through all sorts of legislation to increasingly make life safe for young people. I recall reading with horror a newspaper article from 1910 or so where a child had been killed under a tram. The commentary in the media was that this is something you have to expect; this is the way our community is. There would be horror and outrage now because we have figured out we can engage in conversations and think about how we legislate and operate to make the world a physically safer place for young people.

In terms of images and the incredible sexualisation that is going on for young people, particularly women, we have the opportunity right now to take responsibility as the adults in the room, as the ones with power and agency, to make sure that we continue to talk about it. But the time really has come for us to do more structurally about making sure we make a psychologically safe place for young women and men to grow up in.