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Launch of National Child Protection Week 2021 [virtual ceremony]

[E&OE]

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their elders past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.

Good morning.

Linda and I (Linda is here but off-camera) are pleased to be with you for this important event on our national calendar – the launch of National Child Protection Week 2021.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare informs us that the number of children receiving child protection services from 2016-17 to 2019-20 increased by 38 per cent, substantial investigations remained at nine per 1,000 children, and care and protection services at 11 per 1,000. Approximately 175,000 Australian children received services in 2019-20. These statistics will not be a surprise to today’s audience, but they do remind us of why we are here.

The public is rightly concerned with the current increased risk to our children, especially the potential risks to education outcomes and mental health. Linda and I share that concern.

Over the past three weeks we have held a series of virtual meetings with representatives from the mental health sector, the national secondary education sector, the national early childhood sector and with the National Children’s Commissioner, Anne Hollands. We have found these meetings to be extremely beneficial. They allowed us to gain a first-hand account of what is happening on the ground, including the chance to speak with those on the front lines who are assisting those in need.

Child protection has the aim of intervening in a family setting that is placing a child at risk of experiencing neglect or a set of defined abuses. Child protection removes children from harm or potential harm, which in itself is absolutely necessary, but it also does so to create opportunity. In that context, this year’s theme for National Child Protection Week is particularly apt: ‘Every child in every community needs a fair go.’ Every child needs to be able to grasp the opportunities that life provides.

I often remark that creating opportunities for people is not about opening doors for them but showing them how many doors there are available to them and the pathway to each door. I believe that an essential part of your work must be to illuminate the possibilities that exist for each child.

Prevention is a major factor in child protection and critical to creating opportunity. Primary, secondary and tertiary prevention strategies are difficult to implement under normal circumstances. Add risk of unemployment, confinement at home, financial losses, fatigue, and anxiety to the normal causes of child abuse then we have conditions that greatly concern us. Addressing those conditions is of course the highest priority at present but in doing so please bear what I consider to be the other important purpose in mind, creating opportunity.

Your conference theme has two elements: that all is not well for some children, and that we need to develop and implement actions to address the risks they face. To achieve the latter is why we’re all here today. It is why I am particularly pleased that I accepted the Patronage of the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. 

From my recent conversations I am reassured that the risk to our children is well understood and that there is the will and enormous energy to provide solutions. Mitigating the risk to our children will require policy that is child-centric and the application of appropriate resources. You don’t need my urging to lead on this matter, but I am confident that you will do so. Changing the course of a life for the better is a powerful motivator. National Child Protection Week is about changing many lives.

I am an optimist by nature. I believe in the best in people. And I have seen the best in Australians repeatedly. Linda and I could talk to you all day and all night about the richness of spirit that exists in communities all around the country. We have seen the Australian willingness to take on big issues and succeed. You are all examples of that richness of spirit and aspiration that gives me confidence.

In 2021, National Child Protection Week comes at a critical juncture. It provides an opportunity to raise awareness and to remind us all that the welfare and safety of our children is a joint responsibility. This week is about turning a general agreement with the theme that ‘all children deserve a fair go’ into action. Action at an individual, community and national level to protect the welfare of our children.

I commend all of those already working hard every day – as workers and volunteers all around the country – who help create communities that support families and children.

To all of you – who work tirelessly in the interests of our children – on behalf of all Australians, thank you.

We, as a nation, take great heart from the commitment, passion and expertise that this group and many thousands of others bring to the table.

Your efforts, leadership and compassion are inspirational.

It is now my pleasure to launch National Child Protection Week 2021.

[Ends]