Speech by Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Address for National Child Protection Week, Australian Parliament House


I’d like to begin by expressing my appreciation to the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) and Senator Bilyk for convening this event.

Child protection is above politics – it is bipartisan.

And rightly so.

This past March I had the privilege of launching the 2nd Annual Child Aware Approaches Conference.

And on that occasion I noted the obvious reality that adults create children in the biological sense.

But it’s equally true that children create adults in the emotional sense.

As the parents amongst you surely know first-hand, there’s nothing that will cause a person to grow-up more quickly than staring into the face of one’s newborn infant.

At that moment, the reality of parental responsibility hits home with its full force.

No more spur-of-the-moment trips to the beach.

No more partying to the wee hours of the night.

The free and easy life is supplanted by one that is costly and complex.

From that moment onwards – and over most of the following two decades – you bear the joyous burden of preparing sons and daughters to assume their place in the world as happy, healthy adults.

In the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandberg:

“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.

Yet as imperfect mortal beings we labour in the realm of humanity rather than divinity.

And this inalienably flawed nature of the human condition means there will always be those who fail in their sacred parental duty;

Those who shower their sons and daughters with abuse rather than affection;

It was Dietrich Bonhofer who said:

“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”

When that sacrosanct relationship between parent and child is profaned through maltreatment or neglect, we must step in to shield the weak from the strong and protect those unable to protect themselves.

This governmental ‘duty to protect’ must always be exercised with a sense of humility and discernment.

But at the end of the day, the best interests of the child must always be preeminent and paramount.

There should never be ambiguity about on this question.

This inviolable principle is well-reflected in NAPCAN’s motto:

‘protecting children is everyone’s business’.

And so it is.

In this respect I’m particularly looking forward to hearing the personal insights of Ms Kris Teece, whose story exemplifies how a bit of love and compassion can heal even the most broken human heart.

There’s been considerable social science research about the downstream economic impacts that child abuse impose on society.

Literally gallons of ink have been spilled on the publication of academic studies that quantify the costs of mental health, incarceration and other medical or social pathologies that flow from this scourge.

Yet while in one sense this research is important, in another sense it’s entirely inconsequential.

Inconsequential because child abuse is a moral abomination.

So even if child abuse costs society nothing in dollars and cents, we still would be mandated to fight it with all our vigour, with all our power and with all the determination we can muster.

I believe it is the role of state and territory governments to ensure laws are constantly monitored and assessed to ensure the expectations of the community are clearly reflected in the legislation that exists to protect our most vulnerable citizens – children.

And equally, the states and territories must do all they can to safeguard children by ensuring we properly resource child protection workers, the agencies and the system as a whole.

The unconscionable nature of child abuse must be driven home on every possible occasion and at every possible opportunity.

National Child Protection Week from the 7th to the 13th of September provides an excellent platform to that end.

Since 1993, NAPCAN has used Child Protection Week as a bully pulpit to raise a clarion call about the dangers of this social scourge.

Public awareness is also a key objective of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.

NAPCAN has been strong supporter of the National Framework and has worked hard to highlight the blight of child abuse in Australian society.

At the outset of this address I said that child protection is a unifying issue in a place where we are so often divided.

It’s one of those things that should be bigger than to-and-fro of partisan politics.

I said at the outset that child protection is a uniting issue in a place that so often divides us here at Parliament House; to that end, I acknowledge to the work of Ministers in the former Labor government in this important area.

The Coalition always provided our bipartisan support on such issues, and the Labor Opposition should be acknowledged for now providing us that same bipartisan support in return.

My Department is privileged to support NAPCAN in its campaign to combat child abuse.

But in the end the campaign to enhance the safety of every Australian child must be a collaborative effort.

The Government certainly can’t do it alone in remote control from Canberra. Nor can practitioners accomplish real results on an independent basis.

This initiative will have to be a grass roots effort to address a grass roots problem if it are to achieve any real measure of success.

Success will require all of us – government, academia, civil society organisations and local communities – working together in an integrated, multi-disciplinary manner.

So let’s build on our strengths;

Let’s draw upon our collective resources to fill the gaps left for our individual limitations.

Let’s work together respectively and collectively to provide safe, happy and nurturing environments for all children.

They deserve no less.

And we are obligated to provide no less.

Thank you very much.