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Speech by The Hon Larry Anthony MP

Keynote Address to the Kid Power 2003 Conference

Location: Boulevard Hotel, Sydney

E&OE

Ladies and gentlemen

Introduction

Thank you Paul (Paul Oh, Conference Producer) for your introduction.

It’s a great pleasure to speak on the second day of this very important conference.

It is not often I am invited to speak to a group of advertisers. My normal schedule involves talking to not for profit and community organisations or peak associations.

I was amused to read Miranda Devine in her Sun-Herald column back in May writing about this conference and she said I was billed as the grumpiest speaker. I hope I’m not too grumpy.

I have to say the colourful titles of your conference brochure captured my attention – headlines like:

  • Kidz speak: understanding the mind of a child?
  • What makes them tick? This is the golden question on every kid marketer’s lips”.

The one that I am really interested in is “Kidz Family: Mum’s the word! – this is a chance to interact with the most important people in kids lives and test the extent of pester or parent power!”

Let me say to you as a parent – it is pester power and we hate you guys!

But on a serious note I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you about some of the key initiatives the Coalition Government is doing in the area of children and specifically where I think you can help.

I was absolutely thrilled to be appointed by the Prime Minister as the first ever Minister for Children and Youth Affairs – it has taken 102 years to have a dedicated Minister.

My primary focus is to develop a National Early Childhood Agenda.

Why are we developing a National Agenda? When it comes to our kids there are many areas where we are getting it right, but there are also areas where we are not.

Think about some of these issues:

  • Economic growth has increased the choices Australian people can make. Yet as a society we are choosing to have fewer children
  • Technology has made life much less demanding physically. We are becoming overweight and sedentary.
  • Technology has also revolutionized entertainment. Children now spend long hours on the computer and in front of the TV.
  • We know more about the human body than ever before. But the incidence in young children of asthma, insulin dependent diabetes and eating disorders are on the rise.
  • Our schools are having difficulty keeping up the changes around them, too. Teachers are not just teachers but social workers as well.
  • Mental Health is becoming a major problem worldwide and is predicted to grow.
  • There are about 15% of Australian children 4-12 years of age who have identifiable mental health problems.
  • One in four Australian children aged 12-17 have a significant mental health problem.
  • In a wealthy modern society we still have 20,000 children removed from their homes each year.
  • We have 800,000 children growing up in families where neither parent works.

Some of it is not a pretty picture is it? And people should be concerned because we are talking about our future economic resource.

There is a very important fact that you as advertising marketers need to consider – currently the working age population grows by about 170,000 per year (more entering than leaving). However by 2020 this will reduce to just 125,000 over the whole decade – 12,500 per year.

All the more reason why we have to get it right with out kids now.

In Canada, their major bank got involved in selling the importance of getting it right for children from the start.

Why? Because it new that if the kids didn’t grow up to be resilient, healthy, vibrant adults, contributing to the economy than they were going to have less customers.

It makes good business sense for you to get involved in the discussion about Australian children’s health and well-being.

Obesity

Today I want to focus on the how the issues of nutrition and health affect our children.

In Australia, we have some urgent work to do in these areas.

Obesity and Eating Disorders – two ends of the unhealthy eating scale – are emerging as big problems among children and young people.

The cold, hard facts on obesity are frightening.

In Australia, 20 to 25 per cent of children – that’s around 1 million Australian children – are now overweight.

The Australian Government, and the state governments, are taking this very seriously. We are determined to do something to reverse the trends.

However ultimately the problem rests with parents and carers so we need to ensure that they are aware of the potential consequences of obesity and encourage them to take action.

Studies show that children and adults who:

  • are overweight
  • or do not do enough physical activity
  • or have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • or have a family member with diabetes

… have a high risk of developing type 2 Diabetes. This can lead to complications like heart disease, stroke, limb amputation, kidney failure and blindness.

Apart from the social impacts of obesity, there are serious economic consequences.

Obesity puts huge demands on our health budget.

In 1998, the direct cost of treating the major obesity-related illnesses in Australia was over $464 millionaround 2 per cent of national health care spending.

The latest estimates suggest that the true costs of obesity could actually be anywhere from just under $700 million to just over $1200 million a year.

As a nation, we simply can’t afford to leave that unchecked. We need to turn this problem around.

But it is important that we make sure our efforts are balanced.

In discouraging obesity we need to be very sure that we do not begin to promote unhealthy dieting, obsession with slimness, to the point of illness.

Being overweight is unhealthy but so is thinking you are overweight when you’re not.

Millions of people around the world – mostly women, but lately men as well – regularly look in the mirror and hate what they see.

The obsession with appearance, with body image, is spreading to our schools and even to smaller children.

And a lot of it is down to advertising.

Surely we don’t need to be selling provocative clothes and padded bras designed for girls as young as eight. Many of you may remember my call to parents last year to boycott such items.

What do you say to a little girl who comes home from school and announces that she’s never going to have a baby, because she doesn’t want to get fat?

As a parent, you want to emphasise good health and speak about things that make a person lovable.

But if your child watches TV or reads magazines, you can really be up against it.

Often the media blurs the division between appearance and personal value.

Did you know that 25 per cent of women with eating disorders remain chronically ill, and 15 percent will die prematurely. Increasingly, these are our school childrenin hospitals, dying.

Thankfully larger-size modelsnormal-size womenare starting to appear in fashion spreads, and readers will be relieved to see women their size who look terrific.

So the message I really want to convey today is the need for balance.

Promoting a culture where people are not too fat, not too thin; healthy and active; and valuing themselves for qualities other than their appearance.

Early Intervention

As I mentioned the Government is currently doing significant work in this area.

Our efforts are underpinned by the belief that prevention is better than cure.

It makes good sense to make so-called investments now, to try and prevent problems happening in the first place.

I’m a very strong supporter of this preventative approach. Let me give you some examples of what we are doing.

We are now into our third issue of a new magazine called Healthy Kids Australia.

Put together by my departmentthe Department of Family and Community Serviceswith help from other departments responsible for sport and health, the magazine gives parents practical ideas about healthy meals and snacks for kids, and tips on how to include exercise as part of everyday life.

The newsletter goes out to a large mailing list, which includes all child care services across the country, including after school care.

We distributed it this way because we wanted to reach the parents and carers of the millions of children who now spend time in formal care, at an age when their habits are forming.

I’ve got copies of the magazine with me today, but I’m afraid I can’t give you the mailing list!

The Department of Health and Ageing have a number of initiatives:-

  • They are in the process of developing guidelines for doctors for the treatment and management of people who are overweight or obese.
  • They have just released some updated National Health and Medical Research Council dietary guidelines for adults and children. These are targeted to professionals who work in the children’s health field. But they’re also useful to both food manufacturers and food marketers.
  • They have started work on physical activity recommendations for children.

There is data out there on children’s fitness and habits, which I know you all find very useful from a marketing perspective.

But as a father of three young children, they really worry me:

  • Some Australian kids spend a full working week35 hoursin front of a TV or video.
  • More than 40 per cent of children play no sport or participate in any physical activity

Fewer parents are sharing the fun of play and exercise with their children.

I’ve said it many times beforewe 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.

Since last year, a National Obesity Taskforce, set up with the agreement of all Australian Health Ministers, has been working on a national plan of action on obesity to operate at all levels of government and involve all sectors.

In this context, I want to mention the cooperation we are getting from McDonalds with the task force’s work. Senator Kay Patterson, the Minister for Health is very pleased about this.

McDonald’s has committed, for instance,

  • Looking at ways to reduce salt, fat and sugar in its food
  • To introducing Australia-wide a new, healthier range of breakfast products, which have already started in New South Wales
  • In the second half of this year, to launching a Lighter Choices range (including salads, veggie burgers, apples, and low fat muffins), and
  • To telling customers about the nutritional content of McDonald’s standard menu items.

To promote community fitness, they have also signed up their 56,000 employees in Australia to a fitness program.

These McDonalds initiatives are what I mean about tackling the problems at the prevention end of the scale.

I commend these initiatives by McDonalds and I think it is an example of what you and your organizations can do to ensure that our kids have healthy, nutritional lifestyles.

But I am realistic enough to say that I do not think McDonalds has done this out of charity.

I believe that they have read the writing on the wall and understand that unless they are proactive they are not going to have a business.

I commend their understanding of how important this issue is to the Australian public.

I say to you and your industry perhaps you need to be proactive as well.

I have with me a folder of articles that have appeared in the mainstream press since I agreed to address this seminar.

They are all on childhood obesity. You have articles from former Olympians, dieticians, you have editorials, there are articles about kids gyms; there are calls for a fat tax and the one that really would interest you are the calls to ban the advertising of some foods and drinks.

The Government is a strong advocate of individual responsibility and does not favor heavy regulation.

But you have to be smart.

If you are not prepared to act responsibly then community pressure will force the Government to regulate the industry.

On the very positive side, I understand there are some interesting things happening in the private sector as a result of this growing concern around obesity and specifically childhood obesity.

The Australian Association of National Advertisers with Commercial Television Australia is working on an advertising campaign that stresses the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

I also understand that various food advertisers are also looking at their advertising codes.

This is a good thing – the industry being proactive and looking to be socially responsible.

You are not removed from social responsibility just because you are advertisers and out to make a dollar.

There is nothing wrong with making a dollar but I ask you to also remember you do have a social responsibility.

And that leads me back to the National Agenda for Early Childhood that I mentioned earlier.

We have had tremendous feedback from the consultations and are currently now running parent focus groups. The results of these will be very interesting.

But the most pleasing thing as a result of the consultations so far is that I actually had a public servant say “Minister you were right”.

Not ‘Yes Minister’ but ‘Minister you were right’ – we need to do more to help parents. We need the Australian community to value parenting and particularly to value children.

I have said many times before in NSW you need a licence to fish, you need a licence to own a dog, but what do we do to ensure that parents are good parents.

How do we get parents to understand that so much of what they do in a child’s first 5 years has a lasting impact on their lives.

As advertisers I am asking you to assist. If we were to run a media campaign how would you pitch it? Would you do it like the “life be In it” Campaign”, would you do it like the “Do the right thing” campaign or would it be shock treatment like the “Grim Reaper” campaign.

Wouldn’t it be good to see instead of the Big Brother reality shows if we saw one on good parenting. We could ask Russell Crowe and Danielle Spencer to take us through their trials and tribulations – do you think you could sell it?

May be I could even be so bold as to suggest that the companies who make money from children – put something back and fund such a campaign. Your thoughts would be welcome.

Today also I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Australian Toy Association on their initiative, Kids Day.

Kids Day raises money for children’s charities by participating toy retailers donating a percentage of their sales of toys during a particular week – this year it was the first week of June.

Over the past 4 years I understand $1.2 million has been raised and donated to a number of children’s charities. This is a great effort and the Toy Association is to be congratulated.

This is a great example of corporate philanthropy and will the money raised will go to assist many needy children.

Nelson Mandela said:

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.

How true! I believe society as a whole including governments, businesses, communities, families, the media, advertisers, health professionals, child care providers, teachers and parentshave a joint responsibility when it comes to nurturing and protecting Australian children.

As the first-ever federal Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I think a key part of my job is to persuade Australians to put children first, whatever the issue.

I’m a realist. I know you can’t legislate to make parents behave in a particular way, or tell them how to bring up their children, and what to feed them.

What I can do though, as the minister directly responsible for children’s issues, is to keep saying publiclyloud and clearthat children are the future of this nation, and their care and well being is the responsibility of us all.

Gabriel Mistral said “Many things we need can wait, the child cannot. Now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, his mind is being developed. To him we cannot say tomorrow, his name is today.”

I’m told people here today are among the top marketing professionals in the country. I’m sure that some of you are parents as well.

Between us I am confident that we can make a difference.