Thank you Margo for your introduction and good evening everyone.
To begin, I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
I would also like to give a special mention to a few people in the audience tonight.
My friend and parliamentary colleague, who is also the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, and the Assistant Minister for Women and Industrial Relations,
Senator Amanda Stoker – welcome to you.
From the Queensland Government we have Bart Mellish and Jonty Bush – thank you both for being here.
To all of the senior leaders in the AFP and the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, it’s wonderful to see so many of you here - because I just want to mention that following my visit to your new facility in Brisbane a few weeks ago - I am just awestruck by your dedication to keeping our children safe. The AFP is leading the world when it comes to this kind of work, so thank you.
And to the CEO of Bravehearts, Alison Geale, and all of the Bravehearts ambassadors - congratulations on hosting this amazing event.
But of course, I especially want to recognise and say a few words about Hetty Johnston.
As we all know, Hetty is standing aside after 24 years at the helm of the organisation that she formed back in 1997.
Hetty – you have made a truly enormous contribution to child safety in Australia. On behalf of the Federal Government, thank you so much and congratulations on everything you have achieved.
As you have said, you broke the silence, and generations of kids will thank you for that.
Ladies and gentleman, I am absolutely delighted to be here with you, as we celebrate another year of the crucial work of Bravehearts.
And I think that tonight is a particularly important occasion to do this, because over the past 15 months, our nation, our families, and our children, have been challenged like never before.
We can see that the worst global pandemic in a century has presented additional demands on child safety.
I’m thrilled to say that last year, Bravehearts stood up to this challenge. Your industry-leading training and education programs, specialist counselling and advocacy support, all continued. You adapted with great success.
I can assure you that the Federal Government is also stepping up – and as the Assistant Minister for Children and Families I’m pleased to say that there is a lot of important work currently going on when it comes to protecting Australia’s most vulnerable kids.
One of the most significant is the development of the next 10-year successor plan that will replace the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, which ends in July.
Negotiations with each state and territory are ongoing, but we are aiming to finalise the successor plan by the end of July, and have the first five-year action plan ready by November.
As an update, I’m very pleased that the successor plan will have a big emphasis on strengthening child safety across four of our most disadvantaged cohorts of children, which are:
- One - Indigenous children;
- Two - Children and young people who have been abused or neglected;
- Three - Children with a disability; and
- Four - Children and families with multiple and complex needs.
We have also agreed that the successor plan will be underpinned by priorities such as consistent early intervention approaches, improved workforce capability across the sector, and better information sharing.
Of course, this will be difficult. But I am committed to getting this successor plan right.
We can’t escape the disturbing reality that despite some excellent achievements, and lots of funding across Australia, the rate of kids involved in child protection has remained way too high.
The latest figures released by the AIHW just this week lays this out. In 2019-20 about 174,000 Australian children received child protection services, and about 46,000 are in out-of-home care. This is a challenge for all of us to confront.
Despite these stats, there have recently been some major positives - and I wanted to quickly mention one of them – the Connect for Safety program.
Connect for Safety is important because previously, we had no nationally agreed approach to sharing child protection data between states and territories.
In fact, this gap led to tragic results when kids at risk of harm moved across borders – all because of a lack of information.
To address this, the Federal Government worked to secure a world-first online platform which allows state and territory child protection agencies to share info across their borders, and better identify and respond to at-risk kids in “real time”.
Connect for Safety went live in October last year, and I’m pleased that Queensland was among the first states to get on board.
It’s breakthroughs like this – achieved despite the huge challenges of last year – which give me real hope that the next successor plan can make an effective difference, on the ground, in keeping our kids safe.
There’s no doubt that in child safety the challenges remain huge, but good things are happening. And that’s why occasions like this are so important.
So to the team at Bravehearts, thanks again for having me here tonight, and for bringing us all together to celebrate your organisation’s achievements and Hetty’s enduring legacy.
Enjoy the rest of your night and all the best. Thank you.