Senate debates

Thursday, 10 September 2009


Child Protection

6:24 pm

Photo of Dana WortleyDana Wortley (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on a subject of extreme importance: that of keeping our children safe. As we have heard already in this chamber, this is National Child Protection Week and Tuesday was National White Balloon Day, which aims to raise awareness in the specific area of child sexual assault.

It may seem that every week of the year recognises, remembers or raises awareness of some cause or other, each with its own ribbons, badges, wristbands, logos and slogans. This cause, however, is one that attracts broad-ranging support across the political divide. Our own children; the children of our families, friends, neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances—our nation’s children and the children of the world—should all have the inalienable right of growing up in a safe, loving and caring environment.

The National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect—known as NAPCAN—tells us that in the past year more than 30,000 Australian children were found to have been abused or neglected. This independent charitable body goes on to say that over the same time frame, ‘hundreds of children died, thousands were seriously injured and tens of thousands of children were physically, psychologically and emotionally damaged’, and these numbers are growing every year. They said:

… the long-term, personal, social and economic costs of child abuse and neglect are immense.

Accounts of child neglect and abuse cases rightly shock, anger and sadden us. In the face of this issue, many people feel helpless; the question often posed being: but what can I do? The safety of children is everyone’s business, everyone’s responsibility—that of politicians, businesspeople, community groups, the media and of course families and schools. Even as individuals there are things we can do. I am pleased to be among the senators and members from across both sides of chambers who stand alongside NAPCAN as members of Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect, or PACAN.

NAPCAN advocates for the prevention of child abuse and neglect before it starts. The organisation is currently: working directly with children and young people to strengthen their protective behaviours and to build their resilience and life skills; assisting at-risk parents through face-to-face programs and, via an extensive network of professionals and practitioners, providing practical support and guidance; working in local communities, strengthening social connectedness and building the support and resources available to families and children; raising public awareness of child abuse and neglect and engaging the whole community in prevention; and facilitating the sharing of knowledge and expertise and the promotion of best practice.

One practical measure each of us—not just members of PACAN—can take today is to complete a simple online survey launched this week by NAPCAN. Developed through collaboration with six of Australia’s top social researchers, this survey is part of a community engagement strategy funded by the federal government under its COAG endorsed National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children. The campaign theme is: there are many walls in our society that hide child abuse—physical walls and walls of fear, ignorance and disinterest. These walls protect child abuse, not children. The survey aims to uncover abuse and stop it from happening. Businesses, community groups, unions and government departments have committed to completing the survey and it is hoped it will become the largest-ever community study undertaken in Australia. This survey is a major tool in an effort to gain a greater insight into child abuse and neglect and to develop effective strategies to prevent it. It went live at this week and will be available until the end of Children’s Week, on Sunday, 1 November 2009. It looks at community attitudes on the safety and wellbeing of children and I commend it to you.

Another group working in this area whose efforts I will highlight tonight is Bravehearts. Since being founded in 1997, this counselling and advocacy body has worked with thousands of Australian children and their families. Its members are abuse survivors and their parents, friends and partners, as well as other community members committed to wiping out child sexual abuse. It aims to:

... ‘break the silence’ on child sexual abuse, provide healing and support, engender child sexual assault prevention and protection strategies, advocate for understanding and promote increased education and research.’

The work of Bravehearts in the community includes: counselling; advocacy and support; educational programs and products including CD-ROMs, booklets and information packs; training workshops; research, policy development and lobbying; the online information forum Respect MySpace; and the White Balloon awareness campaign. Its website,, contains valuable information for parents and carers of children, including indicators and effects of child sexual assault, parenting tips, how to respond to cases of abuse, online safety and much more.

White Balloon Day, which was recognised on Tuesday this week, originated in Brisbane during Child Protection Week in September 1997. Founded by Hetty Johnston, it was created as a result of the revelation that a formerly much-loved member of her family was a paedophile with a 40-year reign of terror. It was a brave seven-year-old child who finally brought four decades of abuse out into the open. Backed by her family, Hetty broke the silence. Silence has for years been the friend and protector of the abuser, while children have remained vulnerable and, often, without a voice. The humble white balloon was chosen as the symbol to spotlight child sexual abuse due to its dramatic and effective presence a year earlier at an emotional public gathering in Belgium. On this occasion, 300,000 people used white balloons and flowers to demonstrate their sympathy and support for the parents of young girls murdered or missing at the hands of a convicted and subsequently released paedophile.

White Balloon Day is now a yearly national event run by Bravehearts and supported across many sectors of the community. The problem—the tragedy—of child abuse is a weighty one. It can prove a paralysing weight on young lives. But it is a weight we can lift from young shoulders together if only we talk about this issue, raising awareness as we go, if only we take the trouble to educate ourselves with the resources available, if only we keep our eyes and ears open, listening to the children we have contact with, if only we support those taking practical steps to eliminate child abuse and neglect, if only we demonstrate that we care.

I commend to you the NAPCAN survey and the resources on the Bravehearts website. I sincerely hope that, by working together as a community, we can make a difference to the lives of the children of yesterday, today and tomorrow.


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