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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1053

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (19:53): I would like to start by thanking the member for Kingston for bringing this motion to the House. Like her, my coalition colleagues and I are vehemently opposed to the sexualisation of children. We share the concerns raised in our community regarding the negative impact that sexualisation of children can have on their development, including the potential susceptibility of children to develop poor body image, eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem.

We believe that childhood is a time for children to learn, to play and to develop the social skills that are crucial to adult life. Kids should just enjoy being kids. I am sure everyone agrees with me that childhood is the foundation to adult development. It should be a time when kids spend time exploring ways of thinking, feeling and expressing themselves, without a barrage of external forces pressuring them too early into their adult world. I do not think I am alone in thinking that the blatant sexual portrayal of children in any form—regardless of whether it is in magazine articles, in advertisements, on billboards, in multimedia formats or via merchandise marketed to children—is inappropriate. Surely children are entitled to develop at their own pace, without additional pressures on their development from inappropriate marketing and advertising. At the last election, as part of the coalition's platform we made it clear that, in our view, the current classification system was broken. This position has not changed. A coalition government will build on the work of the 2008 Senate inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment and review the current system. We believe that the classification system must take into account new technologies accessible by, and capable of delivering content to, children, young people and adults. It is imperative that we develop a comprehensive new framework not just limited to content but which looks at the platform that it is delivered on.

With this in mind, recently the coalition announced the formation of an online safety working group, an extremely important initiative that I am involved in which is aimed at helping to equip parents and carers with the tools to better protect children from the risks associated with the internet and social media. Recent figures estimate that a staggering 2.2 million Australian children actively engage online. There is a real concern that many parents and guardians are not equipped to deal with this challenge.

Today's children are the first generation of young people who will grow up with the internet and social media as an integral part of the way they live, learn and communicate. The modern online environment now includes interactive activities like social media sites, SMS messaging, Skype, apps and games, to name a few. The internet is no longer accessed just through the home PC. It is accessed through iPods, tablets, game consoles, smartphones and the developing smart TV technologies. It is more likely than not that children will have at least one if not two of these options to access the internet. We know that many children have been the victim of online bullying and that there is the issue of kids having access to sites that are inappropriate for them. In forming this working group the coalition is not seeking to repeat Labor's ham-fisted attempt to put a filter on the internet or to hinder the dynamic nature of the online environment. What we want to do is support and equip parents, guardians and teachers in their work of protecting our children and preparing them for adulthood.

We on this side of the House believe that the family unit is the core element of a strong society. There is no denying that the family is where children should learn values from their parents and guardians. We encourage parents and guardians to help their children navigate a happy and safe childhood before they begin to come to grips with the complexities of sexuality and adult life. It is important that parents and guardians shield their children from age inappropriate material whatever the source, including the internet, as much as they possibly can. There is no doubt that this is a difficult task, but it has to be done to ensure that our children are safe and secure. We want them to have the opportunity to be children for as long as they can. There is nothing more precious than our children. To summarise, I borrow the following from the late Whitney Houston's song Greatest Love of All:

I believe the children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

Give them a sense of pride to make it easier

Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

(Time expired)

Debate adjourned.