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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1052


Ms LIVERMORE (Capricornia) (19:48): I want to thank the member for Kingston for proposing this motion. It gives members the opportunity to put on the record our concerns about the sexualisation and commercialisation of children and the pervasive influence of media and advertising that leaves so many parents feeling at best embattled but more often powerless against these forces. Members supporting this motion are reflecting a growing sense of unease in the community about the pressure on children to grow up too fast and the idea that childhood is just another demographic to be marketed to.

One of the reasons I wanted to speak in support of this motion is to give reassurance to parents out there that they are not alone in these concerns and in their desire to stand up for their children's right to grow up in their own time and in their own way. Too often parents are made to feel that they are somehow being prudish or out of touch with the modern world when they raise objections about things their children are being exposed to without being given the opportunity to exercise their judgment as parents. As a mother of an eight-year-old and a five-year-old, I know exactly how those parents feel. Raising my children according to the values their father and I think are important requires constant vigilance and a willingness to be the bad guys when necessary. We like to think this approach is buying us the time we think our kids need to develop sufficient cognitive and emotional capacity—to grow up, in other words—to apply some critical judgment to what they see and hear in the media and to build a sense of themselves independent of media images. All parents would feel the same way, but why do they have to feel so besieged while they do it? Why do they have to feel like they are fighting these forces within our society and having to shield their kids at a time when they should be expanding their world day by day and finding their place in it.

There have been terrible and dangerous times to be a child in our history and in many parts of the world even today. Surely, though, in the developed world we have the ability to create an environment that nurtures our children and that gives them the time and the tools they need to prepare them for adulthood rather than laying traps for them to have to negotiate while they take that journey. Of course, nothing can replace parental responsibility as the primary source of control over what children watch, listen to and buy, and that is a strong theme in the Letting children be children report.

The report also acknowledges the challenges of the wallpaper of modern life that has been referred to by other speakers in this debate—the images, products and electronic content that are all around us—that defies the ability and even denies the right of parents to exercise their control. This was illustrated by a column by Mia Freedman in last weekend's Sunday Mail. She described taking her children to a family restaurant only to have them glued to a TV screen showing a raunchy music video that she would never have shown them in her own home. Her standards and the boundaries she would have otherwise set for her children were completely irrelevant in that situation—and that is a situation that would be familiar to parents all over Australia.

I went to Mia Freedman's blog today to see what the reaction had been to her column. I want to share with the House that I think Mia Freedman's blog also demonstrates one way that parents can reclaim their rights to set boundaries, and that is by asserting their rights as consumers, because it is their money that gets spent on kids and by kids. In amongst the posts—and there were a lot of posts from parents supporting her column—was one from a company that packages film clips and sells them to places like restaurants and gyms. The company rep was very anxious to make it known that it has products specifically for a family market and that public venues can easily choose to purchase and play those. That a company was so quick to defend its product and reputation shows that parents are not as powerless as they might think.

I endorse the comments of other speakers and agree that governments should certainly act on recommendations like those in the Senate report from 2008 and the recent UK report to make it easier for people to make complaints about media content and to give those complaints more weight, to give them real teeth. But parents should also go straight for the jugular—go for the bottom line of companies marketing these products. Parents should take advantage of consumer campaigns and especially social network campaigns to stand up to those who would offend their children's right to be children. Companies and advertisers are seeking to exert their power in the marketplace and parents acting on behalf of their children can exert it right back at them.