Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Statements by Senators

Adoption, R U OK? Day, Juvenile Diabetes, Canberra City Care

12:45 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance) Share this | Hansard source

As disappointed as I am to interrupt Senator Collins, I'm very pleased to highlight for the Senate today that last month I was very proud to attend the launch of the Parliamentary Friends of Adoption group. Unfortunately, my co-chair, Senator Kitching—your good self, Acting Deputy President—was unable to attend the launch. But I would like to thank you for your support of the group in setting it up—a very, very worthy cause.

As of 30 June 2017, 47,915 children were in out-of-home care in Australia. In 2016-17, 32,600 of those children had been in out-of-home care for two or more years, and yet there were only 204 known adoptions in the same year—204 known adoptions with 32,500 kids having been in care for two or more years and 47,900 children in out-of-home care in this country.

Adoption in Australia is in a critical state. We have tens of thousands of children in out-of-home care without, in many cases, the stability of a family to call their own. This is an issue I first became aware of as part of an inquiry into the matter as a senator and also as the Assistant Minister for Social Services. Work has been done and is being done, but it must be said that there is a long, long way to go for us as a nation.

Groups such as Adopt Change, who were kind enough to host our launch, do vital work in this area and should be absolutely praised for their efforts. I want to thank Adopt Change founder Deborra-lee Furness for attending as well as CEO Renee Carter. I want to thank them for their passion and dedication to improving the lot of so many of our most vulnerable Australian children. In doing so, I'd also like to pay tribute to the board of Adopt Change, who do an outstanding job: Catherine McDonnell, the chair; Victoria Buchan; Kerry Chikarovski; John O'Neill; and Helen Baker.

There is absolutely still vital work to be done in this area, and I hope that the establishment of the parliamentary friends group and the current local adoption inquiry will bring this issue into the spotlight so we can see real and meaningful change in this area.

Last week—last Wednesday—I attended the R U OK? Day breakfast here in Canberra hosted by R U OK? Day CEO and my good friend Brendan Maher. I'd like to congratulate him on a job well done for an invaluable cause. Brendan doesn't like the spotlight, but I understand this will be his last R U OK? Day so it's worth reflecting on the work that he has done. Brendan is a significant Australian and a great Canberran. He's been in the not-for-profit sector for over 12 years, spending seven years with Lifeline Australia and now over five years with R U OK?. He brought significant corporate experience, and of course he could have made a lot more money in the corporate sector but he's one of these servants of the people who has chosen to use his great skills and expertise for what is a very worthy cause. I think Brendan and his team have done a great job in spreading the vital message around R U OK? Day, and it's great to be a parliamentary ambassador, along with Ed Husic, for R U OK? Day.

Brendan currently spends his time managing stakeholder relationships, working on campaigns and visiting schools and offices around Australia to build on R U OK?'s mission. Since July, the R U OK? team's Conservation Convoy have tirelessly trekked all over Australia, making 28 stops from Geelong to Darwin and from Alice Springs to Rockhampton, just to name a few, to remind us all that every day is the day to ask: R U OK? I did want to very much thank Brendon and wish him well in his future endeavours. I'm sure he'll continue to make a great contribution.

This year marks the 10th year of this great initiative of R U OK? Day. Anyone who has ever gone through a tough patch knows the very real difference a listening ear makes. While R U OK? Day is advertised most widely on its flagship day, the movement exists to remind each of us that, in fact, every day is a day to support those in our lives who are struggling in their lives. Staying connected and having meaningful conversations is something we can all do. I'd encourage everyone to jump on the R U OK? website and learn their four simple steps to having a conversation that could change and even save a life.

Another issue that is of great importance is the issue of juvenile diabetes. Earlier this week it was my great privilege to meet with some kids and their parents from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I want to thank the following people from JDRF for visiting me at parliament: Amy, Mia and Ethan Jeffress and their mum, Kathryn; Sophie Coulter and her mum, Katie; Lawrence Jovanovic and his mum, Melanie; and Grace Eveille and her mum, Mel. I'd like to particularly thank Mel Eveille for helping organise the visit and for the amazing work that she has been doing for a long time for JDRF in the ACT.

JDRF, as many of you would know, is a non-profit organisation that funds type 1 diabetes research and advocates for regulation favourable to medical research, making it easier to market new medical devices. Those of us who don't have or don't know anyone with type 1 diabetes can have no idea just how much of a challenge it poses to those who have it, and I take my hat off to these kids and their parents who are facing that challenge head-on every day. It's always a bit heartbreaking when the kids share their stories. They are amazing, inspiring kids who sometimes do it tough, but there's a lot of work being done, kids, to make your lives better. We're going to keep working harder to make sure that we get to a cure and that this is something that in a few years time, hopefully, kids will no longer have to grow up with.

Unfortunately, at the moment, there is nothing that can be done to prevent type 1 diabetes, which is most common in children, and its exact cause is unknown. Sadly, type 1 diabetes is also often wrongly assumed to be lifestyle related, which adds to the stigma suffered by those with the disease. That's why JDRF's research is so important to help these young people who are dealing with a disease that is, of course, not of their own making. I'm proud to be part of a government providing access to fully subsided continuous-glucose-monitoring products through the National Diabetes Services Scheme. I'm told that these are an absolute game changer in the lives of those with type 1 diabetes, assisting children, young people and their families to better manage their blood glucose levels, and that they may reduce stress, anxiety and emergency visits to the hospital. It was heartwarming to hear firsthand what a difference these devices are making. Earlier this year, I was also honoured to participate in JDRF One Ride and actively support this worthwhile cause committed to caring for families impacted by the disease whilst conducting research to find a cure.

Today I'd like to also pay tribute to a really significant Canberran, Pastor Sean Stanton, who gave me a tour of his extensive campus of Life Unlimited Church and Canberra City Care last week. He and I were trying to remember how long it's been since my last visit, and, given the number of changes that have taken place, it must have been a while. Canberra City Care is a great story, and the Life Unlimited Church there on the campus in Charnwood has just done an extraordinary job. This was a dilapidated school building that was no longer being used as a high school. It was then sold to the church community a number of years ago—I think more than 15 years ago now—and what they were asked to do as part of that was to not only have the church there but also take on some community contributions. Can I say that Pastor Sean Stanton and his church community have gone above and beyond what anyone could have expected.

Canberra City Care has grown from small beginnings to a busy community hub that offers low-cost food, clothing, IT equipment and debt management to around 300 families doing it tough every week. They operate with the assistance of around 50 amazing volunteers, a number of whom I met, and work in close relationship with a variety of community organisations within the ACT. Their five main services are HandUp Food Care, which is a store stocking a range of affordable food and everyday essentials; the Harvest Garden, which grows fresh fruit and vegetables for the local community; ReRuns Op Shop, which sells a range of preloved clothing and other goods at very low prices; the Tech Shed, which provides affordable computers and technical support; and Christians Against Poverty, which assists people to become free of debt and poverty.

To Pastor Sean Stanton: I can't get through all of the things you do, but they're an extraordinary contribution to our community. The volunteers and the people who come along are helping some of our most vulnerable people. I just wanted to congratulate you for your amazing contribution to the ACT community.

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