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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19962

Mrs MAY (12:46 PM) —This week is National Child Protection Week. Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse were asked to show their support for ending child abuse in our communities. It is important that there is bipartisan support to stop this horrendous abuse against our most precious asset—the children of Australia. There was a 42 per cent increase in the number of substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect between 1991-92 and 2001-02. That is a staggering increase and one which should cause all of us to hang our heads in shame. These statistics are a national disgrace. We are talking about the children of Australia, the future of our country.

A recent survey indicated that child abuse was rated 13th as a matter of concern on a list of community issues. The Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Childhood Foundation, Joe Tuckey, described the results of the survey as shameful. He suggested that the results indicate a community in denial over the true extent of child abuse. I agree with Mr Tuckey—it is shameful that our communities are in denial over the extent of the problem.

In the short period of time available to me today I cannot canvass all the issues relating to child abuse—the long-term effects of child abuse on the individual, and the social costs and long-term costs to government of negative outcomes for abused children. I cannot stress too strongly the need for communities and state and federal governments to work together on prevention and intervention programs. I was alarmed to read that state governments have previously rejected federal support in the area. And then the state premiers walked out of the 2003 COAG meeting before the issue could be raised and discussed. The issue was on the agenda for discussion. That is no way for state governments to behave.

This is an issue we must all work together on. I know that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is committed to national abuse prevention strategies, and his department has allocated $10 million for these strategies. The Prime Minister demonstrated his concerns about child abuse by putting the issue on the agenda for COAG. The state premiers should have stayed at the meeting and not walked out. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has demonstrated his willingness to work with the states on what is a difficult issue. The minister wants to engage the states, not beat up on them. He wants to work with them and develop strategies and agendas that put first the needs of kids at risk.

It is about education—about educating families. The federal government showed its commitment to child abuse by providing $6 million in funding for early intervention parenting programs. Those programs were announced in February 2001. Over 40 projects were funded around Australia. I understand that the early intervention parenting programs are currently under review, but the programs are still receiving interim funding until the review is complete. I believe parenting programs are essential. I encourage the government to continue funding these programs if the review outcomes determine that the focus continues to be relevant and makes a difference.

I have a friend in Queensland who is child protection worker. She and her colleagues work very hard in this area with little or no support from the Queensland state government. They work with poor resources in an area of immense need. They are overworked and understaffed. Earlier this year child protection workers in Queensland considered industrial action. Those front-line people, who work very hard with few increases in support or resources, had every reason to take industrial action. In Queensland, during the 2001-02 financial year, there were 27,592 child protection notifications. That is 79.6 per cent more than during the 1995-96 financial year. During the same financial year there were 10,036 child protection substantiations in Queensland—an increase of 115.3 per cent since 1995-96. During 2001-02, the number of front-line staff increased by only six per cent. Clearly that was not a big enough increase to cope with the growing demand.

Communities and governments at all levels must take responsibility for educating families. In particular, parenting programs such as the Early Intervention Parenting Project must continue. The Prime Minister also announced funding for 12 child-care neighbourhood hub centres. Family links offices will be located within child-care services in disadvantaged areas to link families to services and resources. These are practical programs that will have some impact. Without targeted programs, the social cost and fallout from child abuse will continue to rise. Research certainly indicates that early intervention programs in the area of child abuse can work. I call on the state governments and the Commonwealth to continue discussions and work on strategies to assist the most vulnerable people in our communities, our children.