Speech by The Hon Larry Anthony MP

Opening of the Healthy Lifestyle Forum

Location: Hadley's Hotel, Hobart


Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you Senator (Senator Guy Barnett) for your welcome and introduction.

Good morning everyone.

I’m pleased that so many distinguished speakers and people could come along today for Guy’s Healthy Lifestyle Forum.

I’m certainly delighted that I was able to be here.

Unfortunately I missed Senator Barnett’s last forum in Launceston, held last November and I was told it was extremely successful.

And I’m sure the Senator will keep the ball rolling on combating obesity with many more events like these.

Today’s forum builds on work the Coalition Government has been doing to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians.

As the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and as a father of three, I am very concerned about the increasing rate of childhood obesity.

For those of you who may not know the extent of the problem in this country, let me repeat the alarming statistics:

  • One in five children are overweight
  • One in ten is obese
  • Australia has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the developed world
  • And only 40% of Australian children participate in organised sport

These facts are shocking, and I’m sure you’ll hear more about these today from the other speakers.

If childhood obesity continues at this level, we will have a big problem on our hands.

Not only will there be increased pressure on our health system, there will be millions of Australians physically unable to live a life as fulfilling as it should be.

They will have health problems and Australia will not have a strong workforce.

In recent decades, we have become complacent. And as far as unhealthy lifestyles are concerned, too many children are following in their parents’ footsteps.

We live in a wealthy society. However, we are time poor.

We often turn to foods of convenience, which are frequently high in fat and sugar.

We have grown dependent on television for entertainment and information.

We work and play with computers and there is a world available at our fingertips.

Exercise is not an automatic part of everyday living. Our cars take us everywhere and we have labour saving devices to do what was once physically taxing.

Fewer parents are sharing the fun of play and exercise with their children. I’ve said it many times before, we need to get our kids off the Playstation and into the playground.

The bottom line is we must become healthier, fitter adults and we need to raise healthier, fitter children.

I believe tackling obesity has to be a joint responsibility – for governments, the media, businesses, health professionals, child care providers, teachers, school canteen workers and parents alike.

For my part as the Minister responsible for children’s issues, I’ve been working with other Ministers on a number of fronts to try and get a ‘cross-government’ approach to meeting some of the challenges head on. For example,

  • With Kay Patterson on many aspects of children’s health,
  • With Tony Abbott on balancing work and family, and
  • With Rod Kemp on promoting the benefits of sport and keeping children physically active.

On a smaller scale, too, my own department is funding some one-off children’s health initiatives.

For example, with two issues published so far, and the third to come out in June, the Healthy Kids Newsletter is put together by my department with help from other departments and nutrition experts.

It offers practical advice to get people off the couch and onto their bikes, and provides suggestions for things like healthy lunches and snacks.

The response has been overwhelming. Children, parents, carers and teachers have been writing or emailing in their suggestions for future issues.

We are also seeing some exciting projects involving the business sector.

Today, I believe, you’ll preview the first stage of a major, joint venture a national advertising campaign pitched to help prevent childhood obesity. The campaign is a first, involving The Australian Association of National Advertisers and the Australian Food and Grocery Council, and a coalition of advertising and media organisations.

Perhaps the most exciting development for Australian children, from my point of view, is the Government’s strong commitment to a national vision for children and an agreed agenda for action.

The Prime Minister himself said this is a key priority for the Coalition Government.

Developing a national agenda, I’m pleased to say, has bi-partisan support across the political spectrum.

In February I released a consultation paper, which outlines what a National Agenda for Early Childhood might include.

The paper was endorsed by several of my Ministerial colleagues.

This is important because, although they work in other areas like health, sport, education, employment, the environment and so on, they all have some responsibilities for polices that affect children.

So, having this joint approach to the agenda, from the start, is a significant first step in driving the cross-government effort on children’s issues.

The reasons for an agenda are well known in the children’s sector. We recognize now that the first few years of a child’s life are important – that children’s early experience sets the stage for their later development in many ways.

As well, there is strong evidence that points to the early years as the best time to build a foundation for children’s later competence and physical, social and emotional wellbeing.

We also know that investment in children provides a high rate of future return.

Studies in the United States have shown that each dollar invested in supporting families up-front has the potential to save up to seven dollars on policing, health and welfare in the future.

From a Government perspective, it therefore makes good sense to respond to the evidence by ‘investing’ in early childhood.

As with many of our social policies we want to do more to prevent problems happening in the first place.

While there are many areas for potential action, however, we must focus our efforts.

That’s why the consultation paper on the agenda suggests national action in three areas.

The priority areas are

  • Early child and maternal health
  • Early learning and care, and
  • Supporting child friendly communities.

The issue of childhood obesity relates to all three areas, directly or in some other way.

I want to emphasise that I’m not writing the agenda, nor is my department, on our own. No one has that much wisdom. Early childhood development is a complex field.

So, to make sure we get expert input, since March and up to the end of this month, we are consulting with peak bodies from across the children’s sector and with state and territory governments, in several metropolitan and regional areas.

My department’s state and territory offices are also running their own discussions with service providers in the areas of family and children’s services, childcare, health, education and justice.

I’ve been to several meetings and heard from people who have experience and ideas they want to contribute to the discussion. I hope people here today will decide to make a contribution as well, if they haven’t already.

It’s not too late to get a copy of the consultation paper from my department’s website and to have your say.

Moving on now, to the official part of my job this morning.

Once again, congratulations, Guy, for organising today’s important event.

It gives me great pleasure to officially open this Healthy Lifestyle Forum.

I’m sure everyone will have a very productive and stimulating day.