Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Statements by Senators

Starlight Children's Foundation, Zoe Support Australia, Krofne, R U OK? Day

1:12 pm

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

A few weeks ago, I was very fortunate to visit the Starlight space at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children here in Canberra. As I'm sure many will be aware, the Starlight Children's Foundation is a non-profit organisation founded in 1982 that offers support for children in hospital and for their families. Since 1982, Starlight have offered support to tens of millions of children around the world, and so I'm pleased to be able to support them in the vital work that they are doing.

Our hospitals are often daunting places, often for adults but for children in particular. They are places of stress and sometimes of trauma, so it's vitally important that sick children don't let their illness define them. This is what Starlight Express Rooms are all about.

Starlight Express Rooms are unique places filled with laughter, smiles and fun and, more importantly, no medical talk. Kids can watch DVDs, play video games and musical instruments, have their face painted, watch a magic show, make balloon animals, paint, paste and create amazing crafts or just clown around and have fun. It's their choice what they do while they're there, and so Starlight Express Rooms are so vitally important for children who often don't have a choice about being in hospital and what they do while they're there.

The most important part of the Starlight rooms are the Captain Starlights. Captain Starlights travel from Planet Starlight to earth with a big set of keys that open the Starlight Express Rooms in children's hospitals across Australia. Captain Starlights have never been to earth before, and they rely on the kids they meet in the Starlight rooms to teach them about planet earth. Here in Canberra, I met Captains 'Neon' and 'Bluebird', who were given those nicknames from some of the children whose days they were there to brighten. For the kids who are on the wards and can't get to the Starlight room, the Captain Starlights will visit them on the wards, bringing games and fun to their bedside.

When I visited the wards with a Captain Starlight, I met some trooper kids who had been in and out of hospital for quite some time for ongoing treatment. The immediate burst of light in their eyes when they saw the Captain Starlights around the corner would bring a smile to anyone's face. Even if it was only for five minutes, the five minutes of fun and games at their bedside completely distracted them from the machines and goings-on around them. The kids were loud and bubbly by the time we left. They were just being kids, which is invaluable. It is an invaluable contribution that the Starlight Foundation makes to so many lives, giving kids with serious illness a chance to just be a kid. I commend the Starlight Foundation for their outstanding work.

During the recess I was also fortunate enough to be able to visit Mildura. I want to thank the new member for Mallee, Dr Anne Webster MP, for inviting me to visit her electorate and for taking the time to show me around. One of the best parts of my job as Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters is that it gives me the opportunity to see some of the amazing work being done by so many charities, sometimes right here in Canberra but also right around the nation. While I was in Mildura, the member for Mallee was kind enough to take me to visit Zoe Support, which is a charity in Mildura that assists young mums through pregnancy, parenting and re-engagement with education. It's worth mentioning that the new member for Mildura comes to Canberra with the somewhat unique qualification of having founded this organisation. It's great that we have members of parliament who have this amazing real-world experience. Dr Webster is the founding director and patron of Zoe Support.

I was really pleased to visit. Zoe Support helps young mothers in a range of ways. While I was there I saw some of the range of services which Zoe Support offers. I met a number of impressive young women, many of whom were doing it a little bit tough when they came to the organisation, and you could see how they've been able to thrive. I met a young lady, Rebecca, who is a young mum in Mildura. Despite the challenges that she's faced in life, she's an excellent mother and is currently undertaking a certificate III as well as a bachelor's degree and is enrolling in a master's degree. I met other young women with a similar story.

It's an extraordinary thing to see these young women being supported at a challenging time. It's challenging, of course, being a young mum, particularly if there are not the right supports in place, whether it's family or other support. So it is great to have an organisation like Zoe Support. You can see how it transforms these lives. It transforms them in, I think, quite an intergenerational way. It transforms the lives of these young people, and I think that their children will perhaps have much better prospects than they otherwise would have had as they grow up and, hopefully, have all of the great opportunities that this nation offers them. So I really want to commend Zoe Support. I also want to commend Dr Anne Webster, the member for Mallee, for the great job she's doing representing her community but particularly for her work with this amazing organisation.

I also wanted to mention a wonderful Canberra organisation which some people may have had the opportunity to meet or come across—Krofne Donuts. I recently visited with Danijela, Anthony and Remy at a Krofne Donuts pop-up store in the Canberra Centre here in the ACT. Krofne Donuts is an amazing organisation. 'Krofne' is a Croatian word for donuts—but it's Canberra's social donut enterprise. It was started three years ago by Danijela Vrkic. She started the shop to give her son Anthony, who has Down syndrome, the opportunity to learn on-the-job skills. There are now pop-up shops right across Canberra employing young Canberrans with Down syndrome, to give them the same opportunities. Their mission is to provide meaningful employment opportunities and advocate for inclusion of people with intellectual disability. The pop-up stores operate in Tuggeranong, Majura, Queanbeyan, Kingston, Fyshwick, Civic and Gungahlin.

The delicious donuts are baked fresh every day at a store in Fairbairn. Danijela doesn't compromise on the freshness. Any leftover stock at the end of each day is donated to other local charities, such as men's sheds—and I did speak to some of the security guards, who sometimes take away some of the delicious donuts at the end of the day. The Krofne business has 21 staff, and 11 of those have a disability. Danijela is actively recruiting more staff. They're always looking for the support of energetic, positive, hardworking people who can donate their time to help them with their mission of 'baking a difference'.

While visiting the store I was able to meet Remy. Remy is an extraordinary young man who takes great pride in working for the company. He loves Danijela and the other staff who help him at work, and he was able to recommend his favourite Krofne flavour for me to purchase. There's a range of flavours to choose from.

It's a beautiful organisation. Danijela started it—it was the love of a mother—because she wanted to see the best for her son, but she's now presenting that opportunity to many other young people here in Canberra and the region. I think it's fantastic when people can take the challenges they have faced in their own lives and turn them into something wonderful. We are seeing young people with disability getting an opportunity to work in a way that they perhaps wouldn't have otherwise.

Finally, I just want to note that tomorrow is R U OK? Day, and, as an R U OK? Day ambassador over a number of years, it's something that I want to promote. I want to encourage people to be having the conversation and asking the question: 'Are you okay?' R U OK? has been a really successful program and a successful charity. It's all about these simple conversations that we can have with loved ones, be they a family member, a work colleague, or someone we know from a sporting organisation or our local church or community organisation. It's based on a really simple premise, and I think that's one of the reasons it has been a success and is growing every year. R U OK? Day is based around four very simple propositions. We should ask the question: 'Are you okay?' We should listen to each other's responses carefully. We need to listen with an open mind and not be judgemental. We need to encourage people to take action where that is necessary, where people perhaps aren't doing well.

With the scourge of suicide in this country, everyone knows someone who has been touched by suicide. Unfortunately, there are many of us who have had family or friends or loved ones suicide, and we don't want to see that. We want to reduce that. We don't want to see suicide going forward in this country. Yes, there are many great programs that the government is putting a great focus on. I know the Prime Minister has a real, personal passion for youth mental health, for mental health and for suicide prevention. But R U OK? Day is a great opportunity. So I'd encourage people tomorrow to really think about asking those around them how they're doing—asking them, 'Are you okay?'—and to listen to that response, to do it in a non-judgemental way, and then, where needed, to encourage some form of action. I encourage R U OK? on the amazing work that they're doing.