6th East Asia and Pacific Ministerial Consultation on Children
[Ministers, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen]
The UN General Assembly Special Session on Children, which was held in New York in May last year provided a unique opportunity for us all to not only reaffirm and restate our commitment to improving the lives of children but to focus on practical ways to achieve the objectives of the World Summit on Children.
The Special Session enabled us to re-focus the global agenda on those critical areas that require our attention most such as nutrition, sanitation and access to education. It also provided us with an opportunity to agree on concerted global action on the impact on children of preventable diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
This meeting allows us to examine our progress against the goals of the UN Special Session on Children Outcomes document and to consider what we have done since we last reported on Australia’s progress at the 5th Asia-Pacific Ministerial Consultation on Children, in Beijing in May 2001.
Since the Beijing meeting, Australia:
- has continued to devote significant resources to help strengthen and support Australian families, recognising the central role that the family and the community plays in the development of healthy, resilient children and cohesive societies;
- has begun to work towards the development of a National Agenda for Early Childhood;
- has expanded Government funding to support more childcare opportunities and has introduced new quality assurance systems to ensure higher levels of care for school age children and children in Family Day Care;
- has introduced a range of initiatives and policies for young people, including supporting them to make successful transitions to independence; and
- is working constructively to address some of the health and wellbeing issues that are present within our society.
While Australia is currently considering how it can best progress the goals of the UN Special Session outcomes document—A World Fit for Children—significant progress has been made on a number of fronts to improve outcomes for Australian children.
The Australian Government has identified early childhood as a priority area for action in its third term of government and has recently begun to work towards the development of a National Agenda for Early Childhood.
A National Agenda for Early Childhood aims to harness the considerable investment already made by the Commonwealth, state and territory and local governments and the broader community.
By promoting a road-map to help guide planning for the future, we hope to bring together the many areas and levels of government that impact on children’s outcomes in a more joined-up way, and for governments to work more constructively with the wider community.
We know that a child’s early experiences set the stage for later development in many ways; that positive experiences provide a firm and stable platform for growth and development, whilst a difficult beginning makes this platform far more shaky.
By focusing on three key areas: early child and maternal health, early learning and care and child-friendly communities, we have begun to develop a more consistent and coordinated approach to improve outcomes for children.
While Australian children generally experience good health by world standards, there are a number of areas where our children are not doing so well, or where our children’s physical, social and emotional health and wellbeing is of concern.
Early school leaving, bullying, disruptive behaviour in schools, teenage substance abuse, depression, youth suicide and the incidence of child abuse and neglect provide the most disturbing illustrations of where we need to do better by our children and young people.
The situation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children also requires greater attention, and the Australian Government is therefore placing special emphasis on improving the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians.
Our aim is to ensure both the accessibility and responsiveness of the mainstream health system, and to address issues such as maternal health, child nutrition, hearing, immunisation, quality childcare, and substance use amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth through targeted programs.
Australia is also striving to create a school system that is socially just, free from discrimination, and provides better outcomes for students who are educationally disadvantaged, including Indigenous students.
In 1999, the Australian Government introduced a set of national goals for schooling, ensuring nationally comparable reporting of educational outcomes.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy and National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy seeks to achieve the same level of educational access, participation and outcomes for Indigenous Australians as are achieved by other Australians.
Australia’s robust and transparent commitment to children is also evidenced by a Parliamentary inquiry into children’s health and well being, which is due to report this year.
The activities of the last decade have taught us all some important lessons. We have seen the need for accurate data to inform policy making for children and young people. That is why the Australian Government is undertaking the first ever comprehensive, national longitudinal study of Australian children and their families. This study will provide us with a better understanding of the pathways of Australian children and families, and where policy attention needs to be directed.
At the international level, Australia is actively working with partner governments and aid agencies to improve data collection.
Australia is supporting actively, and in a practical way, the needs of children globally. Australia’s development cooperation programme benefits children through its poverty reduction focus, which aims to improve access to the basic health, nutrition and educational services that every child needs in order to survive and thrive.
Australia recognises health development as a key factor in poverty reduction. Improving health is central not only to reducing mortality and morbidity rates, but also to achieving long-term national economic growth and sustainability.
In 2002-03 Australia will provide around $230 million of direct health assistance to developing countries. This constitutes an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year and will account for 13 per cent of Australia’s overseas aid program.
In 2002-03 direct expenditure on population and reproductive health is estimated to be around $35 million in developing countries in Asia, Southern Africa and Pacific island countries.
We know that investing in the capabilities and skills of the people in our region lays the groundwork for productive and thriving populations, and ensures the poor can expand their range of choices and participate more fully in society. The education sector, including scholarships, is the largest sectoral allocation in the Australian aid program.
Australia’s aid activities in education are aimed at increasing access, promoting equity and improving the quality and relevance of education and training for the most vulnerable in the developing countries of the Asia pacific region.
Increasing emphasis is being placed on basic education, while maintaining assistance for tertiary education (mostly through scholarships). Since
1996-97 expenditure on basic education has increased from 6 per cent up to an estimated 31 per cent of expenditure on all education through the aid program in 2002-03.
The continued subjection of children to the worst kinds of child labour, sexual and other physical abuse and exploitation, reminds us how much more we need to do to give our children a better future.
Australia has contributed generously to activities addressing the needs of children in the Asia Pacific region, supporting initiatives to address the needs of children in humanitarian emergencies, street children, families separated by conflict and the problem of the trafficking of women and children.
The new $8m Australian-funded project to assist in combating the trafficking of women and children in South East Asia commenced in April 2003 and will run for three years. Initial activities are being established in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar and Thailand, and will assist those countries to develop effective prevention mechanisms that will then be shared with other regional partners.
We know the devastating impact that HIV/AIDS has had throughout the world.
Australia is supporting regional initiatives in Asia and the Pacific to deal with cross-border issues including the four-year, $9 million Asia Regional HIV/AIDS Project, which began in July 2002.
This program will play a key role in developing a regional response to the epidemic of HIV amongst drug users, a central feature of the AIDS epidemic in South East and East Asia.
On a bilateral level Australia has several substantial HIV/AIDS projects in Asia and the Pacific. For example, in 2002-03 Australia is committing over one quarter of its international HIV/AIDS resources to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia will receive around one seventh of Australia’s HIV/AIDS international expenditure.
There is much goodwill at the local, regional and global level and it is this goodwill that will support and strengthen us in the challenges ahead.
While we continue to take huge strides in our goal to give every child a better future, we must not lessen our resolve to make this happen.