Speech by The Hon Larry Anthony MP

Launch of the Australian Childhood Foundation

Location: Ian Potter Centre, Melbourne



  • John Fogarty, former Family Court Justice,
  • Professor Alan Hayes, Chair of the Australian Council for Children and Parenting,
  • Jamie Perrott, President of the Australian Childhood Foundation,
  • Professor Leon Piterman, Deputy Dean of Medicine, Monash University,
  • Associate Professor Chris Goddard, Family Violence Research Unit, Monash University,
  • My colleague and good friend Phil Barresi, Member for Deakin,
  • Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you Tracy (Bartram, Patron and FOX FM presenter), for your introduction.

And thank you Lindsay for that fabulous song.

Last time I was with Australians Against Child Abuse at Luna Park we listened to that wonderful song written by Van Morrison and sung by Rod Stewart “Have I told you lately that I love you”. It had such wonderful lyrics and was so appropriate.

Lindsay your song was just as moving.

I’m delighted to be here in Melbourne this morning to help you celebrate the formation of the Australian Childhood Foundation.

It’s fitting that this event is happening during National Child Protection Week – a time when the pressing issue of child protection attracts the media and public spotlight.

When Joe Tucci first mentioned the name change – I have to admit that I was a little perplexed.

Australians Against Child Abuse has built up an incredibly good reputation for the work they do in the area of child protection.

So a name change will require a lot of work in educating the public about the Australian Childhood Foundation – but I am sure you are more than up to the challenge.

One of the pleasurable things about being a Minister is that you do get to travel and meet people from a broad cross section of the community.

I get to see first hand the wonderful work that people working for community organisations, not-for-profit, child care services and the like are doing to ensure Australian children get the best possible start in life.

One of those people I have always admired is Joe Tucci and the work Australians Against Child Abuse have been doing.

Joe shows tremendous commitment to the cause, he is passionate, but what I really appreciate is – whilst he would always like more money – he also has practical solutions to some of the major problems confronting our community.

That is why I have appointed Joe to the Australian Council of Children and Parenting (ACCAP). This Council will be advising me on issues around the National Agenda for Early Childhood and also a National Foster Care Plan. I have no doubt Joe will make a great contribution.

There is no doubt that child abuse and neglect is a major problem.

I am on the public record saying that if there is one good thing to come out of the media campaign against the former Governor General, it is that it put the issue of child abuse on the front pages of our national papers.

For years we tried to talk about this issue but were always told by the editors of newspapers, people don’t want to read about child abuse while they are eating their cornflakes.

Well there is now a greater awareness but we still have a huge job to do.

Australia as a country is doing well. We have a strong economy, we have low unemployment and low interest rates – many would say we are a lucky country.

Why then are we seeing 20,000 children being removed from their homes each year because of abuse and neglect?

Why are we seeing headlines like this one in the Sunday Age on Sunday, Child Protection System ‘swamped’.

Now this article I admit was over mandatory reporting – but whether you have mandatory reporting or you don’t – the reality is we still have a major problem in the area of child protection.

I believe it is without doubt the hardest policy area State and Territory Governments have to deal with.

They are clearly struggling to find the answers. None has been able to reverse the trend of increasing numbers of substantiated child abuse cases.

I’ve always believed there is no ‘quick fix’ solution to the problems.

But I do believe we have to start with community attitudes.

I believe Joe is going to be speaking shortly about a report they have just received on Community Attitudes to Children.

He tells me that one of the main findings in this report is that the community is prepared to tolerate a level of violence towards children and that we don’t believe children when they say they are being abused.

I am horrified by these findings. Here we are in the year 2003 saying it is okay to hurt kids.

It just goes to show how much work we have to do to change people’s attitudes, and educate them on the importance of those early years of a child’s life.

The research, the statistics, anecdotal evidence shows us that children who have been abused are more likely to end up taking drugs, in the juvenile justice system and unfortunately end up becoming an abuser.

I do not envy the job State and Territory Governments have to do in this area.

I have tried to not get political and beat up on them over the poor job they are doing in this area – kids are too important to fight over.

I actually want to help them.

How am I going to do that?

I am in the privileged position of being Australia’s first ever Minister for Children.

It has taken us over 100 years to recognize that children are important. They need their own Ministry.

I know many of you here believe there should also be a Children’s Commissioner. I for one would much rather spend taxpayer’s dollars on prevention than more bureaucracy.

My job is to speak on behalf of kids.

When the Prime Minister rang me to offer me the Ministry he said “Larry, Early Childhood is going to be a major part of our third term agenda, I want you to develop a National Agenda for Early Childhood“.

I don’t think at the time I realised the challenge he was giving me.

Early this year I launched with the Australian of Year, Professor Fiona Stanley, the Consultation Paper – Towards a National Agenda for Early Childhood.

We have now received the feedback from these consultations.

As well as the consultations we conducted parent focus groups – because let’s face it they more than anyone else have the primary responsibility for children.

Whilst we received a lot of feedback it was the feedback from the parent focus groups that I have been most interested in.

Discussions with parents centred on their changing roles and responsibilities.

They also emphasised the links between the well-being of parents and the well-being of their children.

The main message from parents was that because many no longer have extended family networks to lean on, they need more support.

They know there is information and services out there, but they don’t know how to access them.

They acknowledge there’s already a lot government and community support for families – including schools, social workers, community nurses, single parent programs, parenting programs, playgroups, mothers groups, child care, and so on.

But they also said they weren’t getting the most out of the help available. They said that, among other things, parents weren’t aware of what’s on offer, and there is a lack coordination and consistency across services.

As well, parents were concerned that not enough was being done to prepare people for parenthood, and that they need to know more about how to monitor and manage their child’s development and health.

All this feedback is going to make a big difference when it comes to shaping and developing the Agenda.

It’s important that we get it right, and that it responds effectively to the needs and concerns of Australian families, their children, and their communities.

While I see the Agenda as having a universal focus, clearly we are most interested in those children that have outcomes worse than others.

This has to include children who have experienced child abuse and neglect, especially Indigenous children and children with disabilities.

The Agenda is a long-term strategy and it needs to involve the states and territories.

We want to talk more with them and work cooperatively. There are some early signs of goodwill and I am determined to build on this.

But at an Australian Government level – we have put a down-payment.

We recognise the excellent past work of the Australian Childhood Foundation and therefore I was very pleased that in May, the Prime Minister announced $1 million to roll-out the Every Child is important campaign across the country.

The money comes from a $10 million National Agenda for Early Childhood initiative. This funding is for projects that help parents build skills and support vulnerable children in our society

We have invested heavily in the Australian Childhood Foundation – and I am confident we will get a good return.

I firmly believe the planets are aligning when it comes to Australian children.

We have:

  • A Prime Minister talking about the importance of Early Childhood.
  • A Prime Minister talking about the importance of balancing work and family issues.
  • An Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Stanley talking about the importance of children and particularly their early years.
  • The Development of a National Agenda for Early Childhood.
  • A House of Representatives Inquiry looking at the issues around family separation and child support – all designed to put children’s interests first.
  • The Prime Minister talking about indigenous child abuse and seeking direct input from community leaders.

And of course as I said before there is now a dedicated Minister for Children and I am absolutely committed to making a difference.

So I am confident that you will see Australian Government policy that will have a real and lasting contribution to lives of all Australian children.

But as I have said before Governments can only do so much – we need organisations like yours and indeed the entire Australian community to commit to achieving a safe, nurturing and supportive childhood for Australian children.

As 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 looking forward to joining Tracy and Vince (Colosimo) in a few minutes, to officially launch the symbol of your new role and identity – your new logo.

Congratulations to everyone involved in establishing the Australian Childhood Foundation.

Thank you