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Transcript of Child Protection announcement: University of South Australia, Adelaide:19 March 2004.

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Child Protection Announcement

University of South Australia, Adelaide 19 March 2004 - MIN 646/04

Brendan Nelson: Thank you very much Professor Bradley, Denise, for your very generous introduction and your leadership of the University of South Australia, which is outstanding in every sense of the word. Senator Meg Lees, about whom I’ll say a few words in a moment, and her husband. David Klingberg, the Chancellor Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs; my friend, my colleague, and wonderful woman Trish Worth, Member for Adelaide; Stephanie Key, the Minister for Employment and Further Education and Children’s Services, and just about everything that’s really tough in South Australia, so congratulations and commiserations Stephanie.

All of you who are here today from the University, from Social Services, from Health, and Relationships Australia, and my friends and my colleagues in the medical profession, thank you Peter. And like Denise, of course, we’re remembering the traditional Aboriginal people upon whose involuntarily sacrifices this magnificent University and city has been built, largely due to the hard work of many of you that are here today and those who came before us.

If you’re wondering why I’m under-dressed it’s interesting. When I was 25 my wife bought me a suit. I got home one day and she’d bought me a suit. I was a young medical graduate at the time and I said ‘what on earth did you do that for, what a waste of money, I’ll never need a suit’. Now I’ve got ten. But I left my suit coat in Sydney, so if you were wondering why I’m under-dressed (inaudible)!

Today is a critically important day and it marks a significant milestone in what is perhaps the most important challenge and responsibility that our society has. And that is the extent to which we nurture the idealism of our children, and we protect their vulnerable transition to adulthood, and perhaps that’s the most critical measure of a caring society.

The 19th Century novelist, George Elliott, once that “the beautiful and happy time of childhood is only one in retrospect and recollection, but to the child it is filled with deep sorrows, the meanings of which (inaudible) know.” And perhaps the 19th Century, and for almost all of the 20th Century, that was probably the case. But thanks largely to the hard work, dedication and a lifetime commitment by Freda Briggs and many of you here today, we now know what in fact the foundation of many of those deep sorrows really are, and that is the abuse of children.

We know that last year some 200,000 notifications were received throughout Australia, and I’m sure that is the tip of a veritable iceberg. In South Australia, I think we had 13,500 notifications, of which 2,500 were confirmed. But there are many things that shape the life of all of us, and I’m 45, my eldest daughter reminded me when I had that event, that means I’m half dead apparently. My Mother was impressed when I passed that on, my Grandfather even less so. But there are many experiences, like all of us, that I’ve had.

When I was a fourth year medical student at Flinders, Flinders in those days was at least for a quarter of the first four years of a degree you would do an elective, so you could go and do anything that you like. So I spent a bit of time at the College of Advanced Education at Sturt, and then in fourth year I decided I’d spend six months working with the Crisis Intervention Unit. If I ever thought throughout my medical and now my political life I was having a hard time, I think back to what those extraordinary men and women did. I never forgot one night, early hours of the morning, we knocked on a door to be met by a man who was brandishing a shotgun, where a drug intoxicated woman was inside this house, having restrained her six year old daughter who had been sexually assaulted by this man.

And similarly in my subsequent medical life to spend time, at 1.00 o’clock in the morning, with a woman who has discovered her husband in bed with their twelve year old daughter, and to realise that no matter how much training or experience you think you’ve had in your life, but you are ill prepared for what is so difficult to understand in terms of mans inhumanity to man and those who we should love.

We, all of us, are shaped by many things, we’re moulded by a poetry of life I suppose, by bedtime stories, by Sunday dinners with our families and by I guess the embrace of loving parents. But for several hundred thousand, and I suspect perhaps a million or more adult Australians, their adult lives have been shaped by grief, and by fear and by the horrors of macabre cruelty that they have experienced throughout childhood.

What we’re doing today is, and as the Minister for Education, Science and Training, which is an enormous privilege, I argued successfully - and it was the easiest discussion I’ve ever had with the Prime Minister - to see that we would commit $10 million as an endowment. A million dollars a year to the University of South Australia to establish this Chair in Child Protection, which will be holistic, multidisciplinary, it will have very much a practice basis to it, to research the origins, (inaudible) the impacts of the prevention of and obviously how we deal with child abuse, both physical and emotional, and it will make a significant difference, and an expert advisory group will be established to recommend, in relation to the person who will be appointed to this Chair. It will have a

significant impact, not only in South Australia, but indeed throughout the entire country.

I suppose the nature of politics is that I should stand here today and say to you “Wow, this is something the Government has done and I, as the Minister on behalf of the Government”, and yes - we have. It’s $10 million of your hard earned taxes and it will be, I suspect, the best $10 million invested in the time that I’ve had the privilege to be in this position. But you should know it would not have happened without this woman. Senator Meg Lees has spent, I think all of her public life, and Senator Lees and I go back a long way into a previous life, when I was practicing medicine and I was going through the ranks of the Australian Medical Association, and even then she was a tireless advocate for child protection issues. More than a year ago Senator Lees said to me that this was something that she was determined to see happen. And all credit should be given to Senator Less for what we are announcing today. And subsequent generations will benefit enormously from the establishment of this Chair.

We have many challenges that we face as a country, particularly for those of us who profess to lead. Sometimes you could be forgiven for thinking our biggest challenge is not to connect our children to the internet, in fact it’s not that at all, important as that is. But in this world of fundamentalist intolerance, where we live in vast ignorance of the consequences of the decisions that we make, that what we need most is one another.

And of all the research which I have read, including Freda’s, perhaps the most disturbing is that of the Victorian Centre for Adolescent Health, which in surveying children over a decade through the Gatehouse Study, for example in 1999 2,600 Year 8 students, 12 to 14 years of age that were surveyed, 90% said they didn’t know a single person who knew them well - their deepest fear, their aspirations, favourite music, name of their pets, but a quarter could not name a single adult who they said that they could trust. Not a parent, not a teacher, not a single person. And if we are to build resilience into the lives of young people, to give, to not so much prepare young Australians for the future, but to give them the confidence that they can create the kind of future that they want, rather than the one in which they inherit from our generation, it is absolutely important that they establish and maintain supportive and hopefully loving relationships with at least one adult, preferably a parent.

Secondly they should be a part of a school community which gives them a sense of belonging and identity, where they feel that they are understood. And our society needs to project not only technological and economic objectives for our future, but human and social ones which we consider to be just if not more important. Because ultimately the health and integrity of human life is ultimately, as I said, the standard by which we will all be judged.

I pay a great tribute to Senator Lees for her advocacy for this. You should also be aware, as I say, the Prime Minister was extremely enthusiastic in his support for this and I have every confidence the University of South Australia will do a remarkable job with it. The first Research Unit in Child Abuse was established here and this will be the foundation of driving our understanding of child abuse, the prevention of it, and its consequences for every Australian.

Thank you.


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