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National launch of research reports at the fifth meeting of the National Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse, Hobart, 26 February 1999

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Hon. Warren E Truss, MP

Minister for Community Services









Thank you Kim (Oates) for your kind introduction.
I'm delighted to be here today at your fifth Council meeting for a number of reasons. Firstly, I am particularly interested in spending some time with you to learn first hand about the work you do in the very important area of preventing child abuse.  


I am also here to officially launch the reports of the two extensive research projects you heard about earlier today. And thank you Graeme (Russell), Margarita (Frederico) and Cathy (Davis) for sharing your findings with us this morning. 


As you know, the research results relate to the work of your Council and I'm sure they will help tremendously to plan and shape the future policies and programs for families. 


Before I talk about the reports in more detail, I would like to say something about this Government's commitment to helping Australian families. 


I would also like to announce the approval of over $500,000 in special funding for a series of projects to promote good parenting and the prevention of child abuse. This funding forms part of an overall package of $12 million aimed at fighting child abuse. I have given approval for 14 one-off projects dealing with a range of subjects which challenge Australian parents everyday. These projects include community education programs, programs for parents of children with a disability, parenting for diverse populations and parenting in the face of domestic violence.  




The Government's commitment to families is grounded in all levels of public policy, in macroeconomic policy, in microeconomic reform and specific family reform interventions. The creation of the Department of Family and Community Services is a major statement of our purpose as a Government. The new portfolio brings together responsibility for most of the Commonwealth's payments and services for families under the one administrative umbrella.  


For example, the inclusion of the Family Relationships Services Program from the Attorney General's Department to the Department of Family and Community Services reflects this Government's commitment to better integration of policies through all life stages. The new Department is forging powerful collegiate partnerships with Centrelink, across governments at all levels and with the broader community and business sector. It goes well beyond just bringing together some related income security and service delivery functions that previously belonged to a range of departments.  


I know Wayne Jackson, from my Department, is going to speak to you about the new department and its new role after morning tea. 




Underpinning these new arrangements is our belief that strong families are crucial to maintaining a stable, cohesive and compassionate society. This belief is the bedrock of our whole social welfare system.  


Most of us rely on our families, both immediate and extended, to give us the strength and motivation we need to carry us through difficult times. And if we lose this link through family break-up, our sense of belonging, our sense of self-confidence, can be seriously threatened.  


I am the first to admit that no government can legislate to make families strong, but we can deliver a range of services that provide support to families. The driving force behind this Government's social and economic policies is to boost and target this support and to simplify access to it. 


I see this support for families - and, in particular, preventing family breakdown - as a major priority for our second term of government. During the last election campaign we promised, through the tax plan, to ease the financial burden placed on families. And we said we would help families to stay together and to support each other.  




How parents care for children and how they demonstrate their love and support can have a great influence on the development into adulthood. It's parents who are their children's most influential role models. 


But good parenting cannot be taken for granted. It is something that requires an immense amount of discipline, commitment and plain hard work.  


All parents deserve recognition and encouragement from a society that understands the difficulties, the importance and the contribution made by parenting. 




Turning now to the two reports that I'll be releasing today. 


Both research projects were commissioned by the Government in 1997. At the time, we talked to the States and they all agreed it was important to get the research underway because there was so little up-to-date information at the national level about parenting of adolescents and about men as parents. 


The report about Men's Role in Parenting, called Fitting Fathers into Families , paints a positive picture of present day fathers. But the research also shows that many fathers feel they do not spend enough time with their children. It also found that being a father is a challenging yet relatively unsupported role in contemporary Australia. 


The other report about parenting adolescents, called Growing Up in Australia , also has some very encouraging results. The report says that, contrary to some popular stereotypes, the vast majority of Australian adolescents are happy and well adjusted. 


The report recognises that even though the period of adolescence can be a time of stress for some families, most family members get along well and find ways to successfully negotiate issues and to support each other. 


However, tragically, there are still many young people in this country who, for whatever reason, do not have supportive family relationships. So we must help to tackle the problems, for instance, of youth homelessness and suicide. 


The Prime Minister is determined that this Government will respond to the very special needs of these young people. In December last year he announced $60 million for a new early intervention program for young people at risk of homelessness, and their families. This was in response to the main recommendation of the Youth Homelessness Taskforce. 




I'm pleased to say that both reports sit well with some recent government initiatives to support parent and family education. And I just want to mention a few of these:

  • $10.5 million to help men in their family relationships, through new support networks and services
  • $6 million extra for marriage and relationship education
  • $16 million for extra counselling and mediation services to help families resolve disputes outside of the court system

All this is on top of the $37 million we are spending on other family relationship education, counselling and training. 




It's through the Government's parenting education initiative in particular that, I believe, we can go a long way towards revitalising and improving family relationships and social networks. 


I see funding for parenting education - and helping people to become better parents - as a long-term investment by Government. It complements the other financial assistance we give to families through the welfare safety net - help when people are sick, when they are caring for a disabled child or when they are unemployed. 


But our greatest challenge will always be to try to prevent family breakdown in the first place. Our support should help people through difficulties, such as financial or emotional troubles, and through major changes in family life, such as marriage and childbirth. Government services are targeted toward preventing family breakdown - but should breakdown eventually occur in spite of attempts to avoid it, we should also be prepared to help people through the problems associated with separation and loss.  




Before I finish, I want to say that while I believe all our government programs for families are headed in the right direction, these two reports will assist us with the work we continue to do in refining and improving them. The findings will also influence future government policies and programs designed to help parents raise their children. Most particularly, they will help shape and guide our parenting education programs.

So it gives me great pleasure today to launch these reports and to congratulate the research teams on their efforts. 


And thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to be at your meeting today. It's been a pleasure to talk with you and to find out about the very important issues the Council deals with. I look forward to meeting and talking with you again.  


I wish you well for the rest of your meeting.  


Thank you.