Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

ADJOURNMENT: UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (20:22): This year is the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As part of the commemoration and celebration of this important event, the UNICEF Young Ambassadors decided to go to Australian young people and ask them what their rights are, how they see their rights and what they think are important. This afternoon I met with two of this year's team of UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors, Hiba and Catherine. They have a one-year voluntary role where young people work with UNICEF to learn about their voices, perspectives, ideas and times so that they can learn more about themselves and children.

The program, to celebrate the 25th anniversary, was to talk with young people in Australia, with children. The process put in place was with the young ambassadors and advocacy staff. They decided to ask young people across Australia seven questions, which would focus on the core areas of the convention. These are: non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, survival, growth and development, protection and anticipation.

The seven questions were quite straightforward: what's important to you and why? Do you feel safe in your local community and what would make you feel more safe? What worries you? Do you feel included in decisions that are made at home, school and with your family? We know that kids have different lives and experience; are there children in Australia you worry about, and why? We have a National Children's Commissioner. What would you like to say to her? The last question is: what do you think the government should spend its money on?

I do not have every answer from each one of the children the ambassadors spoke with, but across 28 schools in our country, in kindergarten, primary and secondary-1,157 children-the online survey had 285 responses. The wonderful Girl Guides in New South Wales and the ACT actually had 93 of their girls involved. This totalled 1,535 children who told the ambassadors what they thought was important to them.

They have produced a report called Things that matter: children in Australia share their viewsand it is available online. This shows us that young people in Australia do care about what is happening in their world and that they are very complex and special young people. They have different views and different concerns, but what is important to them is safety, their families, and concerns about bullying and the lack of safety in their communities. A number of young people were particularly concerned about the safety of children in Australia, and their rights and protections. They had an extraordinary amount of knowledge on what is happening in our world.

The young people spoke fully about their concerns regarding asylum seekers, refugees and war. These young people knew there was war in our world and they were concerned about it. They talked about issues of children with disabilities. They talked about climate change. They talked about poverty. They knew that young people in our nation were not being treated equally-that there was poverty in Australia and someone should do something about it. This was one of the things they thought the Australian government, their politicians, should spend their money on.

The report came up with 13 major recommendations to government as well as four recommendations to the National Children's Commissioner. I believe the young people have already met as ambassadors with the National Children's Commissioner. They talked about her role, what the people with whom they had done interviews knew about her role and what they thought their children's commissioner should do to listen and respond to the children of Australia.

One major recommendation-they call it the 'big one'; the big recommendation-was that they would like our government to develop a national plan for children. Twenty-five years after the convention was signed and many nations of the world have signed onto the protocols, including Australia, the young people do not feel there is a clear plan developed by our governments to look at the needs of children. We need to ensure that children are happy, healthy, safe and treated fairly.

The fact that we do not have a plan-according to the young people who were talking about the fact that we needed one-makes it difficult for us to measure exactly how far we have come as a nation. So many young people have read the international Convention on the Rights of the Child and can see where they fit into that plan. They want to know how Australia is doing. They see what is happening in their own communities. The young ambassadors were able to visit schools and talk with young people in most states of Australia. Most of this was facilitated through wonderful schools that facilitated the process through visits and sessions in the schools. The inside front cover of the report lists the schools that signed up to be part of it. I would like to commend all of them. I am not going to read all of them into the record but I hope that parliamentarians will find out whether schools in their own electorates were part of that and whether these schools will be part of future activities.

When the young people had the chance to talk, it was important that they felt their voices would be heard, and they wanted their voices to be heard. They did not want this to be just an exercise, just another questionnaire that they filled in. They had messages for us in parliament and for the wider community. They want to see that governments care about making sure children are happy, healthy, safe and treated fairly. That is the goal. The kids understood that not all children in our community have the benefits of being happy, healthy, safe and treated fairly. They had great knowledge and insight into that and they cared, because they wanted to see that children can work together and communicate and make a difference in their communities.

The ambassadors have agreed that they will talk to their parliaments about the recommendations they have, and I hope many, many parliamentarians took the opportunity today to meet with the UNICEF ambassadors who came to see us. They are going to be talking to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. An arrangement has been made for that to happen. They have already met with the Children's Commissioner and they will continue to work in their own communities, through their school communities and also through the wonderful people at ABC Online, who helped develop the online strategy to make sure people understand that young people care and they want to make a change in the community.

More than 1,500 voices were heard in the making of this response. The key concern was to ensure that there was safety in the community. They were worried about this. As we know, so much has been said in here about the need for responses to issues around bullying and child protection. These young people were at various stages of understanding-the young people who were involved were aged between four and 18-and the ambassadors took great care to ensure that people felt as though they were safe when talking with them and that their voices would be heard, so special age groups were engaged.

It is so important that we respond now that we have had this challenge put to us by our young people that they want their parliaments take action-and they are more than happy to be involved in the action that we put in place; they want to be part of that response. So to the young ambassadors, including the two young women I met this afternoon, I say congratulations. To all of the young people who were involved, I thank you for your time and for the range of responses. It really makes fascinating reading, and I encourage people to take the opportunity to look at the report, to see the range of issues that were covered and also to hear the responses of people who care about their community.

UNICEF will continue to do this work, but there is a particular focus this year because of the 25th anniversary of the convention. We do report on our responses to the UN, and this is going to be a particularly important element in our plans moving into the future because when we have the opportunity to listen to the voices of our young people, then the commitment we have to make to them is that they have a voice and it should be loud enough for us to hear.