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Anglicare Australia 2002 Conference, Brisbane: speech.



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Hon. Larry Anthony, MP Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

SPEECH FOR THE HON LARRY ANTHONY MINISTER FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH AFFAIRS TO ADDRESS THE ANGLICARE AUSTRALIA 2002 CONFERENCE, BRISBANE 16 September 2002

Introduction

[ The Most Reverence Dr Peter Carnley ● Bishop Philip Huggins, Chair of Anglicare ● The Reverend the Hon. Pat Comben, Chair of Anglicare Brisbane ●

Ms Nicola Roxon, my Shadow ● Senator John Cherry ● Ladies and gentlemen ● Thank you Bishop Huggins for your introduction.

It is a pleasure to speak at your National Conference this year. I'm only sorry that I can't stay longer. Looking at your Program � there are some interesting sessions planned. Unfortunately, Parliament beckons this week.

Your theme � "Valuing our future" is an excellent theme.

But one of the reasons I wanted to be here today is to support the great work that Anglicare does.

You deliver a much-needed service in a caring and compassionate way to some of the most vulnerable people in the community.

The magnificent work you do to help so many Australians � children with special needs, the homeless, young people with disabilities, people in hospitals, prisons and aged care � is extremely well known and respected.

The insights that an organisation like Anglicare has � insights born out of working at the coalface � can greatly assist me and the Coalition Government in creating policies which make a difference in people's lives and especially children's lives.

And it's children's lives that I want to focus on today.

Your theme "Valuing our Future" is the perfect springboard for us to talk about our most valuable resource - our children.

The Prime Minister has put children firmly on his agenda because he has appointed me as the first ever Commonwealth Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. It has taken us 102 years to get there but Children are firmly on our Agenda.

The new Ministry sends a strong signal that this government is determined to tackle some of the difficult

problems head-on, at the national level.

Many social issues are complex, and can't be solved overnight. But the important thing is to realise that we need to include children and young people as part of our thinking about solutions.

This is because we know that many of our most pressing social problems have their roots very early in life � whether we're talking about health, crime, drugs, school failure or welfare dependence.

That means working with my Ministerial colleagues, whether it be the Attorney-General, the Minister for Health or the Minister for Education to look at possibilities for early intervention as part of larger strategies.

I'm putting my hand up to say that when we look at new policies, from right across government, we must place the interests of children and young people high on the agenda.

For instance there is a lot of debate, which I applaud, around work and family issues and paid maternity leave.

As the Prime Minister said in the Sydney Morning Herald last week about helping people balance work and family:-"It really is the biggest game in town in terms of a mainstream political issue because it touches every base".

Why is it important to have this debate � because if we get it right for the families then we will be getting it right for the children?

I will be putting my hand up as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to ensure that children are very much in the forefront of this current debate.

It is timely to be looking at the delicate balance of work and family because we all know there are many challenges facing Australian families today that were not there in the past.

Australia is a wealthy nation. With wealth has come capacity to choose. As a society we are choosing to have fewer children. ●

The latest ABS statistics show the crude birth rate in 2000 was 13.0 live births per 1,000 population compared with 21.7 per 1,000 in 1971. Quite a drop. ●

Technology has made life much less demanding physically. We are becoming overweight and sedentary. ●

We know more about the human body than ever before. But the incidence in young children of asthma, insulin dependent diabetes and eating disorders are on the rise. ●

Children spend long hours on the computer and in front of the TV. Childhood obesity and poor physical fitness are at record highs � next to behavioural problems this is the single biggest issue raised with me by our leading paediatricians - 1 in 5 children overweight and 1 in 10 obese � frightening. I note the recommendations coming out of the NSW Obesity Summit last week and I know my colleague, Senator Kay Patterson will look at them closely.

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Our schools are having difficulty keeping up with the changes around them, too. Teachers are not just teachers but social workers as well. ●

Mental health problems among children and young people is becoming a major problem and the numbers are likely to increase. ●

In a wealthy, modern society, why do we still have 20,000 cases of child abuse each year? ● Apart from the tangible benefits like better health and education, it's in everyone's interests to see today's children doing well, for some very practical reasons.

As they grow up we need them to take up the opportunities and become tomorrow's workforce.

The population is ageing. Fertility rates are falling, as is the proportion of children in our population. That means our pool of workers is shrinking.

There are, according to the latest census, 4,713,179 people (nearly 25%) under the age of 18 in Australia, including 1,243,969 (6.3%) in the crucial under 5 years old age bracket. ●

That means there are nearly twice as many people under the age of 18 as there are over the age of 65 (12.3%). ●

That's one very good reason to invest wisely now in children's early development.

We will all be depending on their energy, resourcefulness and competency in the years to come.

I think one of the best investments we can make is in a young child's early years. This is not to say that what happens during school years and into adolescence isn't important. It is.

But I am impressed by the weight of evidence that says we need to start early � as early as during pregnancy � to give parents the skills and attitudes and the practical supports they need, and to help start new life from a base of adequate nutrition and health.

My vision for children involves getting to a place where children are helped to meet their full potential by having everyone contributing a part of the solution.

At the Commonwealth level we have already started to work on whole-of-government approaches to early intervention and prevention. A very high-level Task Force on Child Development, Health and Wellbeing is working on this, and focusing especially on the 0 to 5 year-old group.

A very important part of their work is to look at the scope for a National Agenda for Children and a national plan of action. I want to pinpoint some key areas where we could really give them extra support and attention.

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It is a slow process and I will be depending not only on the assistance of my Ministerial colleagues but also the States and Territory Governments because so much of what they do impacts on a child's early years.

It is a big agenda and it won't happen overnight, but I am confident with the good will in the community amongst politicians from both sides, researchers, practitioners that we will come up with a workable framework to benefit our children.

In large measure, helping children means helping their parents. We need to be sure we continue to include parent support in strategies to improve child outcomes.

That is why a major concern of mine is those children growing up in jobless families. I know it is of concern to Anglicare as well given your State of the Family report earlier this year.

The latest figures I have are that there are more than 435,000 families, with children growing up where no adult works. Single parent families contribute the bulk of this number.

From the point of view of the children, it really worries me that young people whose parents stay on social security for long periods, are more likely to end up on social security themselves.

Jobs bring financial security. And an improved standard of living opens up more opportunities for the whole family. This is the best way to end child poverty.

The Government has created a million jobs but we not rest on our laurels.

My role is to keep the needs of the child part of the picture that gets considered when Government weighs up the policy options for getting families back to work. On the other hand, a parent staying home to look after children is making a substantial contribution.

Our Australians Working Together package of welfare reforms aims to strike a balance between these two perspectives.

As I said before parents are the key to the well-being of children, and whilst my comments recently about parenting might have sparked some controversy I am pleased that it started the debate about the importance of parenting.

Governments and NGO'S like Anglicare can do much to help children but really in the end I believe it comes back to the parents.

As the Editorial in the Daily Telegraph (not to be scoffed at when it has a circulation of 411,000 copies and read by more than 1.1 million ) said last Thursday regarding the Summit on Obesity �

· "It is parents � not television advertising or school canteens � who determine the diet of their children. It is parents who allow their children to sit for hours in front of television or a computer screen instead of getting necessary exercise. It is parents who fail to instruct children of the need for proper nutrition and a balanced diet, and it is parents who fail to give their children breakfast before they leave for school." "Unless this is acknowledged and acted upon by government and health authorities our children are destined to remain overweight and unhealthy".

I'm not about bashing up on parents. I'm a parent as well. It is not easy in this changing world but I do think some parents need to take more responsibility for the children they bring into this world.

That is why I do want to assist parents in some way. Just how, I'm opened to suggestions, but from all of the correspondence I have received in the last few weeks � there is a need to help our parents become better parents.

If we do this then just maybe we might be able to reduce the number of notifications received by the States for child abuse and neglect � at last count it was 115,000 a year.

I am pleased that the Primate of the Anglican Church, Dr Carnley has written to the State and Territory Ministers urging them to implement a working with children check. It is an important issue and I also acknowledge the work my colleague, Nicola Roxon has been doing in this area, however when you look at the figures � we have more of a problem in the home.

The stark reality is that in Australia:

96% of substantiated cases, the person causing harm to the child is a family member, friend or neighbour. ●

71% of substantiated cases the person causing harm to the child is a natural parent of the child. ● I think we all recognise that child protection is not an issue owned only by governments. It is owned by many others - especially teachers, child care workers, child health professionals and, of course, the parents.

Without doubt, child protection is one of the toughest areas that governments have to deal with.

Historically, the debate about protection has been on how to fix the State government bureaucracies that pick up the pieces, after the event.

While there is great room for improvement there, surely we need to do more about preventing the abuse happening in the first place.

But what follows from these notifications � we then have 20,000 children who are removed from their homes and where do they end up.

Well currently we know that we have 17,000 children in foster care being looked after by 8000 foster families who do an enormous service for Australian society.

Unfortunately, despite the excellent care that most foster carers provide, children leaving foster care are much more at risk of poor outcomes than other children. Foster carers are also under increasing pressure emotionally and financially to provide the best care for these children and need to be given as much support as possible. As a community we can do better.

A study recently released by the Social Policy Research Centre estimates that the cost of raising children in foster care is significantly higher than for raising children under other circumstances.

Although support for these children and their carers is the responsibility of State and Territory governments, I believe there is scope for the Coalition Government to work cooperatively with the States and Territories to enhance support and services for these families.

For this reason I have convened a meeting later this year of all State and Territory Ministers responsible for foster care to discuss ways we can better support foster children and the families that care for them.

Since coming to office, the Government has done a lot more to help families with children � it is all about valuing the family, whatever form that might take.

Spending on parenting support, family payments, health services, childcare and high quality education has increased. ●

We have made unprecedented commitments to helping families financially: ●

Family Tax Benefit � over $11 billion a year to more than two million Australian families ● $6 billion each year on Parenting Payment, to support parents looking after young children at home ● $8 billion over 4 years for quality, affordable and flexible child care. ●

We have also given record support in other areas, like.

strengthening families and communities ■ relationship support and parenting services ■ the fight against drug abuse, and ■

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helping to prevent family and domestic violence, homelessness and gambling. ● Anglicare is involved in delivering many of these programs on the ground. The good news is that many of them are starting to produce some positive results.

I am sure many of you here today will say we need to do more but governments alone cannot change the world.

Real and lasting change will only happen if we combine forces with others, and take on a shared responsibility for our children.

As well as government, we need input from businesses, community organisations and service providers like Anglicare, and parents themselves.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that to truly value our future, together we must:-

Keep focusing on the needs of children and young people. ●

Invest early, especially in our children, to give them the best start in life. ●

Take a national approach and work with others. ● Finally, thank you to Anglicare for all the work you do towards improving the lives of so many Australians, especially to the lives of our children and young people. As your Mission Statement says you " promote a just and caring society through the Christian Ministry of the Anglican Church and its agencies .".

Let me just end with one of my favourite quotes � Nelson Mandela said "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way it treats its children"

And how appropriate that is for your theme "Valuing our Future".

Thank you

ENDS

For further information or feedback on this site email us at minister.anthony@facs.gov.au

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