Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Child Protection

Senator Bartlett, I do not think you are going to get a lot of debate around your motion. Listening to anyone who has spoken this afternoon and looking at any review of the literature would show that the words 'child abuse' can be linked very clearly to commitment, outrage and anger . Over the years, there have been very many reports, debates and times that all levels of government, politicians, churches and institutions have come together and had the kind of discussion that we have just had in this place. The literature is dripping with statements about how terrible child abuse is and about the need to have reform and cooperative operations to work together to effect change.

One of the very difficult aspects of this discussion is about how you can appropriately balance the need for hope with the overwhelming frustration that in 2006 we are talking in very similar ways to those who spoke in these kinds of debates before. In some ways, I suppose, there is hope, in that people from all sides in this place can get together and restate that we need to accept that child abuse must be a national priority and that it should not be dismissed or pushed aside by whatever the next national priority is going to be. One of the failures of our system is that we tend to be provoked by sensation-that whatever is the sensation of the moment in the media gets the reaction not just of this place but of the wider community. The message for us-and I am sure it is the message in Senator Bartlett's motion-is that this issue should not be displaced or stimulated by sensation. It is bigger than that, it is more important than that, and there is an opportunity for us to effect real change.

This year, 2006, we have seen a number of national conferences which have been stimulated by the work of a range of people in our community, including those in NAPCAN to whom Senator Nash has just referred. The people who formed that organisation did a wonderful job for us all. And, through the Senate Community Affairs References Committee process, which has already been mentioned, a series of reports was delivered in this place, stimulated very much by the hard work and tenacious efforts of Senator Murray.

By that process, we have come up with significant reports. I refer again to the report Forgotten Australians. I think there were 39 recommendations in that August 2004 report, and the supplementary report of March 2005 came forward with another 17 recommendations, not all of which were picked up by the government. Certainly, when the government response came out later, in 2005, there was the almost inevitable response that a great deal of the constitutional responsibilities for the area of child abuse lie with state governments. That was clearly pointed out by the national governmental response. But I think there has been a move forward, beyond that kind of national shaking around over who is mostly responsible. I think that out of that process has come an acceptance that there will be an effort at the national level to coordinate responses that can address the issues that end up in the horror of child abuse. There have been two conferences this year. One of them looked specifically at the issues of those people who were victims of institutional abuse. Those issues were covered in the Forgotten Australians report. That report talked about kids who were in care who had survived that process, many of whom have gone on to be victims throughout their lives. They actually talked about how they could move forward and address their ongoing concerns. But that also stimulated the issue of the ongoing problems of people in foster care-families that are damaged in many ways and the kids who are the most immediate victims of that kind of process. We are awaiting with interest the government's responses to those conferences so that once again we can work together to see what the next step should be. Senator Bartlett's goal of making this issue a national priority can be a living reality rather than just another talking point. I hope that, out of the process, this place could perhaps have some kind of ongoing role. It is not enough that we deliver a report, move away from it and not know where to go next; we tick that box. I think there is some hope that this parliament could have an ongoing responsibility to monitor the range of programs that are introduced, how they are going and whether they are working. It could ask: 'Has there been an actual response to the heaps of commitment and rhetorical media-covered statements about how, this time, we are going to work together?' I am hoping that, perhaps through the Senate Community Affairs References Committee process and back through the Senate, we can have regular updates-not just at Senate estimates time-where we talk to, in particular, the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to see how the programs that have been mentioned today are going. But that should be done in a much more coordinated way so that we can do a snapshot of how these processes are working, what advances have been made and what still needs to be done. That would put some action into Senator Bartlett's statement about working well together and making this a real national commitment and priority.
There are very many people who are looking to this place for a response, and I think that we owe our community the respect of saying that we have heard what they have told us and that we accept our responsibility as people who are representing them in parliament. I think we can move together. I think there is a genuine opportunity arising out of the need of the community and also out of the wonderful commitment of organisations like NAPCAN and the various community agencies around the place that are working in the field on this issue.

We cannot just have another speaking opportunity or media release. This issue demands that there be action, not just another series of pilot projects. I think that 'pilotitis', the condition of giving short-term funding to areas, does more harm than good. This needs strong, systematic change and commitment. It also means bringing the people who most understand these processes into the discussion. Then, maybe, prevention of child abuse as a real national priority will be a reality and not just something that we can talk about in this place to release our frustration.

12 September, 2006