Minister Rishworth press conference interview with Sally Sitou, Nicole Breeze, and Penny Dakin


Topics: Launch of UNICEF and ARACY’s Wellbeing Of Australia’s Children Index

SALLY SITOU, MEMBER FOR REID: It is great to be here today with the Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth to launch this really important report about the wellbeing of children. It’s important for me as the local member for Reid, and as the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of UNICEF that we are thinking about those critical early five years. I wanted to bring the Minister down to this centre in particular, the Strathfield One Stop Child Care Centre, because this centre embodies what is the best in our community. It is run by parents, it is a not-for-profit organisation, but it is one where they cater to children from all backgrounds, all cultural backgrounds and they make sure that they are getting the best education possible. So I really wanted to bring the Minister down here to see the amazing work that the educators do. Thank you, Minister.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Thank you and it is so wonderful to join Sally and all the wonderful educators here and also the children. The children have been showing us round today and what is really on show is the engaged, happy, resilient and playfulness that the children enjoy here at this wonderful centre. Of course, I'm very, very pleased to be here at the launch of the Wellbeing of Australia's Children, a really important snapshot of how children are faring in Australia. This work has been done by UNICEF and ARACY and gives us some really important information, but also reinforces a lot of the work the Government is currently doing. Since coming to government, we have had a focus on children and young people and particularly around that nought to five years of age where we know that with the right investment, we can change the trajectory of a child's life.

So our Early Years Summit was the important start of the development of our Early Years Strategy. In this report though, there's some areas that do point out what we need to do better at. And that certainly is in the area of our home care, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Through the work I've been doing with the states and territories on our safe and supportive framework, but also our recent launch of our action plan. That has been done in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about how we can start actually making some progress when it comes to out of home care particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The trajectory for out of home care is going the wrong way. We do need to work with our states and territories to look at how we address this. Of course also, we need to build on what is going well, and in this report there are reports of children being concerned about bullying actually going down. That's really reassuring. There is some really important information here, but this report is once again a snapshot of data that reinforces the work that Government is doing.

But I would like to particularly thank UNICEF and ARACY and actually everyone here at Strathfield Child Care Centre because, of course, making sure that children are a part of the policymaking process is really important. Showing their voices and ensuring their perspectives are incorporated and listened to, as we develop policy, is critical. And so I'm so pleased to have this report that adds to our understanding and knowledge about how Australian children are faring. And I’ll hand over now to UNICEF.

NICOLE BREEZE, UNICEF: UNICEF and ARACY are so excited to be here today in this incredible Early Learning Centre. Thank you to the wonderful educators who are hosting us. And it's wonderful to stand with Minister Rishworth and Sally at this important moment of the launch of the Australian Children’s Wellbeing Index. This index helps us to understand what life is like for children and young people in Australia. It helps us to understand what life is like for them across all of the important aspects, from their health, to their learning to their safety and to the ways in which they're able to participate in the life of their communities. The index helps to tell us what we need to do now and into the future to ensure that every child and every young Australian can reach their full potential. It helps us to focus on what we need to do together to ensure that Australia is an equitable place for children to grow up in. And it helps us to pay attention to the ways in which we can show that outcomes for all children in Australia continue to lift. So this index tells us an important story about Australia. It tells us what it's like to be a child and on the most part, it tells us a good story. The story it tells us is that for the majority of children, across the majority of areas, Australia is a great place to grow up. We know that most children have access to the educational resources they need. We know that most are participating in early learning in places like this, and we also know that Australia has one of the highest rates of immunisations for young children in the world. Positively, young Australians also talk about a sense of optimism for their future, and they tell us that they have someone to turn to when they're in trouble. So life is good for most children in Australia and that's a good news story. However, as the Minister just identified, it's a mixed picture. And the report also demonstrates the evidence that we have for a small subset of children in Australia – persistent and increasing inequality. And the report helps us in the data that informs us to focus on where those levers are to make a difference. So we know that there are some emerging challenges to childhood obesity, informed by diet and sedentary lifestyles. We know, sadly, that rates of psychological distress and suicide amongst our children and young people are growing and we know that poverty in Australia is stagnant and too high and contact with the child protection system, particularly for First Nations young people in out of home care is also a challenge we need to continue to concentrate and address. So finally, this index can help us it can help us all we are all responsible for the future of our children and young people. parents, caregivers, the incredible educators here today, with government we all need to work together to ensure that the future is bright for all Australian children. Thank You.

PENNY DAKIN, ARACY: Thank you to the One Stop Child Care Centre for having us. ARACY is delighted to be here today with our colleagues at UNICEF and our partners from the Australian Government to launch this report. I just want to back in the things that Nicole said. This report does tell a really good story for the majority of young people and children in Australia. It's a powerful story and I guess that's one of the things that's really important to remember. The data points that are in this report, every statistic that is going to be quoted, is actually the story of a child who lives in a family, who lives in a community. This report tells the story of those children and their families and the communities that they live in and by large it is a good story. We are delighted that the Minister and the Australian Government, in particular the Treasurer, have decided that it's really important to create better definitions of what matters and so they've asked us as a nation to define what is wellbeing in this country through the measuring what matters process. And I think it's really important to remember that our responsibilities to our children and our national wellbeing is at the core. We can't have national wellbeing if we don't recognise our responsibilities to our children. It’s a delight that the Treasury is starting to think about how we measure the wellbeing of this nation beyond just GDP. I want to back in the comments around diverse stories. Today is Closing the Gap Day and it's really clear to us that it is not an equal story. Not all children and young people are doing as well as we would like them to be to be doing. But the importance of a report like this is that it allows us to see that and to see what we're doing well, and to see where we have worked harder. And I know my colleagues and the Coalition of Peaks have called today for an increase in acceleration and efforts to achieve the Closing of the Gap targets. And we just want to back that in. And we know that with this data that that's possible we have a better understanding of what we can do to drive better and more equitable outcomes across the entire Australian population. Thank you for being interested in this data. As the Minister said the voices of children and young people really, really matter and they don't get the airtime that they deserve. And I'm so grateful that people are here listening to the voices of children today. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Minister. Now that you have this report, what do you think change might look like and when do you think that we can expect to see that change?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: One of the really clear messages from this report but also across the board is that we need to start considering children at zero years of age. Making sure that the early years, often it's been seen as children are seen and not heard, that we do need to be ensuring that zero onwards are actually catered for and that's why the Commonwealth has undertaken an Early Years Strategy. This is about bringing health it's about education, it's about their parents and along with all the other community supports to make sure that children from zero to five are getting the best start in life. I think also, what this does clearly say is that in places where there's entrenched disadvantage, that hasn't moved for some time. So we do need to look at how we do things differently, how we do things better, how we involve community, families and children in that process. So these are the sorts of things we will certainly be looking at going forward from this report.

JOURNALIST: So is there any sort of timeline as to what that might look like?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: In terms of our Early Years Strategy, we are, at the moment, gathering information from right across the country; submissions, viewpoints. We hope to have something launched by the end of this year to talk about how the Commonwealth can best support that really early stage in life. But you've already seen action from the Government. We've already looked at how we make early education cheaper. We've already taken steps around paid parental leave to support that time with a parent and a child. So we are already taking steps to support children and families in this country. But more needs to be done and we will continue to work towards that.

JOURNALIST: This might be a question for you Nicole? How do you think Australia ranks I guess, in a world when it comes to early childhood?

NICOLE BREEZE: I think what we what we're benefiting from at this moment in time is increasing focus on children at all levels, including from the Minister and the Federal Government. The fact is that we are probably lagging behind some of our OECD peers overall when it comes to children's wellbeing in fact, there was a study conducted by UNICEF in 2019, and it ranks Australia in the bottom five, looking back, historically at children's wellbeing outcomes. And this is something we need to pay specific attention to, to change the game.

JOURNALIST: What would a UNICEF, I guess, ideal learning centre look like in five or ten years’ time?

NICOLE BREEZE: So I think what is absolutely key is that we put children in the centre of the way we design policy and the way that we design programs and infrastructure. For too long, we have had disintegration between education and health and social services. So what really matters is that we put a child in the centre and we really build for them all of the aspects of wellbeing and ensure that it's connected and wrapped around.