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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14833

Ms ROXON (12:40 PM) —The A Better Future for Our Kids Bill 2003 establishes an Australian commissioner for children and young people that could have a lasting, positive impact on the future of our kids.

It makes the basic point that if we do not value our children we cannot ever hope to protect them.

The bill looks at ways of ensuring that children's needs are understood and that their interests, rights and welfare are taken into account by the community and by our governments. It particularly aims to help protect our children from child abuse.

This bill's time has come.

Over recent years, the range of distressing and, frankly, awful revelations of child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, in our community has created a level of anger, fear and mistrust.

We must do something to tackle child sexual abuse.

We as politicians must take some action for the future.

Labor is absolutely determined that some good must come from the Governor-General controversy, and my challenge to the Prime Minister is for him to get on board with this initiative.

Federal Labor announced our commitment to establish a commissioner for children back in May 2002, and since then we have worked to develop the detail of this bill.

I would like to briefly highlight the main purpose and objects of establishing a children's commissioner.

They are:

· To provide national leadership and advocacy on children's and young people's issues;

· To monitor and promote the wellbeing of children and young people, particularly those who are vulnerable or disadvantaged;

· To encourage understanding of the interests, rights and welfare of children and young people; and

· To encourage the participation of children and young people in the community.

An independent advocate for children who listens to, works with, values and appreciates children is vital.

The bill's basic principles are:

· That every child is a valued member of society;

· That the family has primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of its children and should be supported in that role;

· That every child is entitled to be protected from abuse, exploitation and discrimination;

· That every child is entitled to form and express views and have those views taken into account; and

· That in decisions involving children the child's best interests are of primary concern.

Establishing a commissioner would signal an important change in our community.

It would signal to children that we as adults think that they matter—that we value their childhood and that we will listen to their fears and needs.

Building confidence in our children is one of the best ways to ensure that they are not victimised or abused. Once children's voices are truly heard in our community, we have made an important step down the path to building a safer and more child friendly society.

I want to specifically mention two important functions that we have outlined for the commissioner:

· The commissioner will put in place a national `working with children' check to apply across the whole country in all areas of work and volunteering where adults have unsupervised care of our children; and

· The commissioner will develop a national code for the protection of children, including attaching conditions to government funding so that only organisations with adequate procedures for the prevention and handling of child abuse matters can receive public money.

Both these steps will help make our children safer and our organisations better.

Of course, establishing a commissioner is only one part of the action that must be taken—and we do not mind debating better forms or additions or changes that will help.

But our idea to establish an Australian commissioner for children and young people is a good idea and could make a difference.

And a better future for our kids is too important for the Prime Minister to ignore our proposal just because it comes from the Labor Party.

I urge the Prime Minister to take this matter seriously enough to allow a full and proper debate of Labor's proposal in this House.

Australia's children deserve no less.

In the current circumstances, we are looking to the Prime Minister to take some leadership on these issues.

The SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.