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Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Page: 5476

Senator ARBIB (12:45 PM) —I would like to take this opportunity to bring to the attention of the Senate an organisation that is doing outstanding work and providing positive solutions to one of the most important challenges facing our society. The National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, NAPCAN, is a charity organisation, as the name suggests, that is committed to bringing about changes in individual and community behaviour to stop the abuse and neglect of children. NAPCAN believes that the best way to reduce incidents of child abuse and neglect is to prevent them from happening in the first place. NAPCAN works directly with children and young people to strengthen protective behaviour, to build resilience and life skills and to assist ‘at-risk’ parents through face-to-face programs.

Some of the NAPCAN programs being undertaken include ‘KiDS CAN’, a participatory program that helps build resilience and social inclusion skills for adolescents; ‘LOVE BiTES’, a program that provides anti-sexual violence assistance for 14- to 16-year-olds; and ‘Smart Online Safe Offline’, a program that works within the cyber social networking sites to raise awareness and strengthen protective behaviours. It is so important in this technological age, where kids are online almost non-stop, to have programs like these. We have seen all the predators that are online, and we have seen the networks that the paedophiles have set up, and it is crucial that our children have the training they need to build up a resistance to that. These programs are important in curbing the high rate of child abuse and neglect in our community. If you can equip children with the skills and confidence they need, you build the best possible shield to abuse and you allow children to recognise abuse when it is happening to them.

Two weeks ago, in case members of this chamber have not heard, was National Child Protection Week. The aim of the week was to increase public awareness of child abuse and neglect. The theme of the week—’Children see, children do: make your influence positive’—was aimed at educating parents and adults about their behaviour in front of children and how their behaviour influences their own children. Children watch and copy what adults do. We all know that; we all say that, but what that means is that adults can really make the difference. Currently in Australia our children see two million adults drinking at high, risky levels and over 450,000 women being abused by their partner. If we are to break the cycle and prevent future child abuse and neglect, adult behaviour must change. It is not just the parliament’s responsibility or the responsibility of policymakers; it is the responsibility of everyone.

During the week there were a number of events and promotions held around the country. This was done with the help of many community sponsors, the help of government and the help of a number of corporate donors and sponsors, and I would like to thank a few of them. I would like to thank commercial TV stations Channel 9 and Channel 7 and also pay TV channel Foxtel for the assistance they provided in running commercials for the week. It was a fantastic donation, a very generous donation that they made—coming out of their community service obligation—and a very important part of the campaign. I would also like to thank two of our members in the other place, the member for Fremantle, Melissa Parke, and the member for Macarthur, Pat Farmer, who organised a very successful function in the parliament with representatives of NAPCAN, which went very, very well, to raise the awareness of this issue with our parliamentary colleagues. At the time, a number of speakers came forward, and the most moving one, to me, was a victim of abuse in the past, and she spoke very eloquently to the assembled parliamentarians. Speaking comes very easily for people such as us, who speak for a living, but to see someone who had been abused as a teenager and who did not have the skills or the confidence to speak stand up and speak to 30 or 40 politicians and policymakers blew me away. It was fantastic and just showed the success that programs such as these are having and why they are so important and why government must be there to support them financially.

I believe that child abuse and neglect have, in a number of ways, historically been ignored by society. I consider it to be an issue that many still believe should not be spoken about. Unfortunately for victims, they suffer from feelings of guilt and shame. Sadly, it is a problem that is more common than most people believe or give credence to. I would like to provide the chamber with some facts about child abuse. In 2007 there were more than 58,000 substantiated notifications of child abuse and neglect in this country. Also in 2007, almost 35,000 individual Australian children were found to have been abused or neglected. These figures are astounding, and it is a shame on us, on all of us as a society. When we see one child abused or neglected is a shame but when we see figures as high as this, the issue must be taken more seriously at every level.

The long-term personal and social burden of child abuse is horrific. There is evidence that child abuse is a significant factor in mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, physical ill-health and difficulties that children have in education, leading to criminality. Many children that have been abused indeed go on to abuse their own children or even other children, thus trapping them and their children in a cycle of abuse. No child deserves this sort of treatment. Children have a right to safety in their own home and in care.

The economic costs of child abuse are something that rarely gets talked about either. These costs are significant. According to the Productivity Commission, the cost of child protection and out-of-home placements alone was approximately $1.7 billion. And, unfortunately, not enough is being done on early prevention. It is estimated that for every $300 spent on child protection only one dollar is spent on prevention. Because of facts like these, sadly child abuse and neglect are increasing in this country. In a rich and prosperous country like Australia, it is horrifying that so many children are vulnerable to risk and the damage it is causing them.

This is an issue that affects all of us, and all of us have a role to play in eliminating it from our society. Much more must be done, and it has to be done in cooperation: government working with community organisations and with law enforcement organisations; policymakers making a difference to help vulnerable children in need.

Mr President—Acting Deputy President, I am sorry; I have given you a promotion today—

Senator Bernardi —He deserves it.

Senator ARBIB —That is right. He is doing a great job. There have been recent incidents in the media that I am sure many of you have read. You only need to open up a Sunday newspaper to see how many incidents are happening against our children. The recent spate of events, including neglect in the Blue Mountains where a number of children were left for two or three weeks by their parents, have shocked me. Going further, the stories of abused children photographed and displayed on the internet have upset me greatly. In this digital age stringent laws are required to prevent abused children being exploited by nefarious individuals on the internet. As I said, the recent case of children living in squalor without parents in the Blue Mountains is so difficult to understand. How can a parent leave their children in a situation like that, especially children who had serious medical difficulties? How can we as a community not recognise these children living on their own without parents? I found it difficult to understand that reports had been made to the RSPCA concerning the dog on the premises rather than reports to child welfare authorities. The question you have to ask is: why is it easier to ensure the welfare of our pets than the safety of our children?

NAPCAN is not a huge organisation. It is a small team who work long hours and who are dedicated and committed to the importance of this great cause. To this end I would like to congratulate NAPCAN, its staff and its board for the fine work they do in delivering these programs and raising the awareness of the general public to this very important issue. I would especially like to congratulate Maree Faulkner, the CEO of NAPCAN, someone I have been working with over the past month. Maree is a fine and decent person who works tirelessly in promoting fundraising and developing programs for the NAPCAN organisation.

I cannot overemphasise the importance of this issue to me as a senator. As a parent I find these issues abhorrent. The welfare of my own children and the welfare of all our children is of critical importance. This parliament and the members in this chamber and the other place in the past had a committee that dealt with the issue of child abuse and neglect. Unfortunately it has fallen away and does not operate at present. My belief is that this parliamentary group should be re-formed as a matter of urgency, and that is something I will be working towards. I have had numerous discussions with members on the other side of both chambers, including Pat Farmer and Helen Kroger. It is something we will be working towards very soon, to get the parliamentary group re-established to raise awareness of members of parliament and to raise awareness of the policymakers to ensure that this matter receives the serious attention and the funding that it deserves.