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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7683

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (21:45): This evening I would like to update the House on some of the things being done by children and young adults in my electorate and some of the things that this government is doing to help support children and young people in their education. I was very pleased to recen­tly attend Upwey High School's 'Closing the Gap' presentation. I heard speeches from students, who presented me with a 'Closing the Gap' card from the school, reinforcing their message to me, and indeed to all of us here, that young Australians are very much dedicated to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I was very pleased to have an opportunity to talk about the actions being taken by this government to close the gap in Indigenous health, education, housing and employment. I really commend the school's students on raising awareness of such an important issue at a national level in a very local way.

I also recently attended the junior school of Hillcrest Christian College in Clyde North, in my electorate. Students in grade 4 of the school had contacted me to voice their concerns about the protection of our natural environment, and I was very pleased to visit a week ago to answer their questions about the variety of things this government is doing to better protect our environment for future generations. Again I was struck by the thoughtfulness of the children and their concern about issues of such national significance.

This government very much values the opinions of young people and it very much values the opportunities that a good education and good educational facilities can provide to the next generation of thinkers, workers, inventors and educators. In speak­ing of new educational facilities, I was really very pleased to attend last month the celebration of the opening of new gym facilities at the Belgrave Heights Christian School. Belgrave Heights received just over $2 million under the government's BER program, which helped it to build the new facility. I know it will get tremendous use by both the school and the broader community. We all know that the government's program was determined to support local jobs, and that is exactly what it did at this school. In particular, it was very pleasing to know that the project supported the employment of over 40 workers. The architect and the builder were from the Belgrave community and one of the children's parents also worked on the project.

I was also extremely pleased to attend the opening of a new multipurpose hall and classrooms at the Selby Primary School earlier in June. This school also received just over $2 million under the BER program and I know that its principal, Mr Justin Butler, was very pleased with the new building, which will be used largely by junior classes. The project supported the employment of around 44 workers, and I also saw the very creative and excellent work of parents who had put a great deal of effort into the refurbishment and development of the surrounds of the new building.

The fifth local school that I would like to mention, which I also visited last month, is St Bernadette's Primary School in The Basin, which now has a fantastic new library which was built with funding under the BER program. I know that the school is absolutely delighted with the project results and that it will get great use by the school and the broader community.

With all of these things in mind, the opportunities in education that this government and local schools are trying to offer to children and young people, I have to say that it is regrettable and very disappoint­ing that this week I heard from a constituent of my electorate about a child beauty pageant scheduled to be held in Melbourne at the end of the month. I know that various people have commented on this and I would like to add my voice. Pageants such as this have gained quite a lot of media attention in recent years, and particularly have focused appropriately on the potential for detrimental impacts of these events on childhood development.

I find it really very hard to fathom that, in Australia in 2011, there are people in our community who believe it desirable to encourage young girls to engage in compet­ition based on their physical appearance. This emphasis on appearance, with the demand for things like cosmetics, spray tanning and other procedures to seemingly 'beautify' children, is terribly hard to understand. We know that negative body image and self-esteem can affect children's confidence and wellbeing and that it can also contribute to the development of serious health concerns such as eating disorders, depression and anxiety. I consider that these kinds of events show a lack of respect for children and their dignity and I consider that, in particular, they show a lack of proper respect for girls and young women. I object to the commoditisation of children and I know that constituents of my electorate have voiced the same concerns.

As I said at the outset, there are a great many very good things being done by, and for, children and young people in my electorate and, I am confident, right around the country. So let us continue to aim high for Australian children. Let us value the abilities, the potential and, most importantly, the dignity of Australian children.