ADJOURNMENT;White Balloon Day – 23 Sep 2014

There are a few months before the next Queensland state election, but if I have to sit here every night and hear about it in adjournment from the government side of the Senate, I will probably end up saying something I should not. That is obviously what the tactic is and I cottoned onto that pretty quickly tonight.

Maybe we can talk about serious things, though. Tonight I have a very serious issue to talk about. I am going to talk about White Balloon Day and fundraising and awareness around the issue of child sexual abuse. This is an area that I take a very special interest in due to my previous work in the childcare industry for over a decade and for many years as the co-convener of Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect, or PACAN. It is extremely upsetting that in this day and age in Australia child sexual abuse is still occurring. But it is and the statistics around child sexual abuse are truly horrifying. The fact is that one in five Australian children are sexually assaulted in some way before their 18th birthday.

I know this is a fairly unpleasant topic. Some people have told me that I stand up and talk about too many unpleasant topics. Well, guess what: for the six years at least that I have remaining here, I will be standing up and talking about these unpleasant topics because we cannot keep brushing these issues under the carpet. Twenty per cent of Australian children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. We just cannot ignore that. It is a figure that is scarcely believable but it is true. Research has found that children are most vulnerable between the ages of eight to 12 years. These are awful figures which show that child sexual abuse is happening in your community and possibly to children that you know. It is pretty pervasive and it is entirely preventable.

Friday, 12 September marked the 18th annual White Balloon Day, which is organised annually by the organisation Bravehearts. Bravehearts’ aim is to raise awareness and funds for Australian children affected by sexual assault. I am proud to have supported this organisation for many years. White Balloon Day coincides with and is a key feature of National Child Protection Week, organised by the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, more commonly known as NAPCAN. As I said, this year was the 18th annual White Balloon Day. I am pleased that the event continues to grow and is strongly supported by the community, although of course I would really like no need for it. I would like for there to be no child sexual abuse. In fact, I would really love that to be the case.

This year community groups, schools, businesses, councils and passionate individuals worked with Bravehearts to deliver its largest campaign, with more than 1,000 fundraising events held nationally. A large number of events were held right across Australia, including events as diverse as world record attempts in Coffs Harbour, walkathons in Tasmania, ‘wear white’ days in Victoria and a gala event in Brisbane. The Bravehearts White Gala event in Brisbane raised over $100,000 for this worthy cause thanks to the generous support of corporate sponsors and individual attendees.

Although White Balloon Day was on Friday, 12 September there are still some events to come. These include a couple running seven marathons in seven days in seven states and a cycling time trial. On Friday, 12 September, on White Ribbon Day itself, I held a fairly simple White Ribbon Day afternoon tea in my electorate office in Kingston to raise funds and awareness of what Bravehearts does. I brought together around 20 members of my local community, and the federal member for Franklin, Julie Collins MP, attended as well. I invited these people and they all came because they understood the importance of raising awareness and funds for such an important cause. In just a couple of hours, that afternoon tea raised just under $400 for Bravehearts. I am really glad that I could play my own small part ,and I thank all those who attended for their generosity that afternoon in putting their hands in their pockets to raise funds for this organisation.

There were many people that helped to make this event happen, but I would like to thank two people in particular—Edna Penicott and Lorraine Walker—who are stalwarts of the Kingborough and Huon area. When I invited them they said to me straight off: ‘Don’t worry about any catering; we’ll do it all’—and they did. And I have got to say that it was a beautiful spread, so their overwhelming generosity in doing the vast majority of the catering has to be noted.

For anyone who wants to get involved next year, White Balloon Day fundraising events can be as simple as hosting a morning or afternoon tea and asking people to come. You can have a ‘wear white’ day at your child’s school or at your workplace. You can encourage people in your community to take part in a ‘wear white’ walk. You can be creative, be inventive and have fun in how you raise this money. But, most of all, I really want people to be more involved in this sort of thing.

White Balloon Day has an annual campaign theme, and the campaign theme for 2014 is ‘#whoRUprotecting’. With this theme, they are urging all Australians to act for the children in their lives. Thousands of people took part in the ‘#whoRUprotecting’ social media campaign, including celebrities such as the Veronicas, The Living End, The Footy Show’s Beau Ryan, Channel Nine’s Lisa Wilkinson, the Wiggles and politicians from across the sphere. Thank you to all of those people. I am glad that the campaign had such overwhelming support from celebrities and the wider community as it helps spread the campaign’s message further. I encourage everyone to have a think about who they are protecting. We all have responsibility to ensure that children around us are safe from sexual abuse or any abuse.

Bravehearts, the organisation that facilitates White Balloon Day, is a non-profit organisation that operates on Australia’s eastern seaboard. Its key purpose is to educate, empower and protect Australian kids from sexual abuse. Funds raised go toward education, prevention and case management programs. Bravehearts has a wealth of information for parents, including information to help keep children safe. Remember, it is never too early to sow the seeds of personal safety in young people.

I would like to outline one aspect of Bravehearts’ information campaigns—the Bravehearts’ Ditto Keep Safe Adventure Program. I have participated in events with Bravehearts in previous years and with their mascot Ditto. This program teaches children the five basic principles they need to know to keep safe. These are: to trust their feelings and to distinguish between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ feelings; to say ‘no’ to adults if they feel unsafe and unsure; that they own their own bodies; that nothing is so yucky that you can’t tell someone about it; and if they feel unsafe or unsure run and tell someone they trust. These are fairly simple guidelines even for very young children. Bravehearts provide helpful tip sheets on the best way to discuss issues with your child to develop protective behaviour. Bravehearts also provides services if your child has been sexually assaulted. These services include counselling; crisis and advocacy; the Sexual Assault Disclosure Scheme; court support; and other information and resources.

I have been asked why the white balloon is used as the symbol for child sexual abuse. The white balloon is considered symbolic of the issue of child sexual assault following a public demonstration held in Belgium in 1996. In that year, 300,000 people gathered with white balloons and white flowers in a show of public sympathy and support for the parents of several young girls who were either murdered or abducted by a notorious repeat sex offender.

As co-convenor of PACAN, I organised a special event in parliament during the last sitting week to mark National Child Prevention Week in the form of a briefing by NAPCAN. NAPCAN gave the members present a briefing on the important work they do. We also heard an inspiring story from Ms Kris Teece. Kris suffered from neglect as a child and teenager when she lived with an alcoholic father. She has turned her life around and now is a child protection worker who fosters children, as well as having four children of her own. I thank all the senators and staff from this place, and the members from the other place, who took the time to attend that meeting. I thank NAPCAN CEO Richard Cooke, NAPCAN Deputy CEO Leesa Waters and guest speaker Ms Kris Teece.