STATEMENTS BY SENATORS - Adoption, Focus ACT, Australian Capital Territory: School Awards


 

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (13:48): Again, I would like to bring to the attention of the Senate the issue of the need for reform in the area of adoption and out-of-home care here in Australia. It is an issue that I know that many in this place feel strongly about, and an issue that I and others refuse to put in the too-hard basket.

 

At the end of last year the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released the Adoptions Australia 2014-15 report, and it was damning. The report shows we had the lowest number of adoptions on record last year, with only 209 Australian child adoptions recorded as finalised. Two-hundred and nine adoptions last year—that is all we could manage as a nation, and I think it is an unacceptable state of affairs and one that is desperately in need of meaningful reform.

 

It is time that we streamlined the adoption process across all states and territories. It is imperative that children in the out-of-home care system be placed in stable environments where they can experience the permanency they need in their early years. It is time we put the rights and welfare of children before the rights of adults.

 

 

During 2013-14 there were over 50,000 children in out-of-home care—50,000 children. On average, those at-risk children experienced up to six different placements during their time in the system. It is a story I hear time and time again when I meet with constituents here in the ACT and well beyond. It was only last Friday that the coroner's report was handed down on the death of four-month-old baby Ebony in South Australia, a baby who was 'mercilessly and serially brutalised' to her death by a father who was known to care and protection authorities. Our care and protection systems around the country failed this innocent child and have failed many more like her. Of course, there was the case of Chloe Valentine, which was also in South Australia. I think we had a coronial report handed down there last year, where the coroner in that case talked about the need for reform in this area—including adoption reform.

 

Of course, there has been some wonderful advocacy work done by Adopt Change in this space. And this chamber, along with the other chamber, passed a motion late last year in favour of adoption reform. That was carried without dissent. I know there are some who do not agree, but overwhelmingly this chamber and the other place said that we need adoption reform in this country. I think it is critically important that we now get on with it—with the states and territories—to actually deliver meaningful adoption reform.

 

We know what the problem is and we know that there are no simple solutions, but one very important reform is to see adoption made a more realistic prospect for many would-be parents—many who are willing and able to take on children who are growing up in very difficult circumstances. The alternative in many cases, unfortunately, is children going from placement to placement to placement and, in extreme cases of course, being put in severe danger—in some cases even leading to death.

 

This is not good enough. This is a national tragedy and we now need to act, so I would encourage the state and territory governments. I know that Minister Christian Porter is committed to this issue and I look forward to the opportunity for the minister, this parliament and state and territory governments to work toward meaningful change in this area.

 

I want to get on record the 25-year anniversary of Focus ACT. On 4 December I joined with Torrien Lau and Wilhelm Harnisch, the chair, to celebrate a key milestone for the organisation at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. Focus ACT has delivered service to the community for some 25 years. It is a local organisation dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with intellectual disabilities. The event was a resounding success and a great opportunity for me, as the Focus ACT ambassador, to meet with the Focus board of directors and key stakeholders as well as clients, staff and family members. The event allowed the Focus team and their clients to celebrate a record of excellent service to some of our community's most vulnerable.

 

As a key player in the disability sector, Focus prides itself as one of the leading providers of accommodation support for people with intellectual disabilities. Focus's portfolio consists of over 60 clients residing in more than 30 homes, 17 of which are headleased by the organisation. It provides six of these homes with 24-hour support to its residents.

 

Focus is an example of the important service which our support workers deliver to the ACT. Their commitment to helping others through a vocation as a support network is something that is rightly applauded. It was a privilege to join with Focus ACT for such an important occasion. I congratulate them on their service to our local community. The event saw long-service medals awarded to staff who have been with Focus for more than five, 10 and 15 years. I commend Torrien, Wilhelm Harnisch and all the team at Focus for their efforts in organising such as successful event; but, more importantly, I commend the many, many people who have made Focus such an important and successful part of our community for over 25 years.

 

Each year, I have the privilege of giving to various schools across the ACT academic excellence and community service awards. Whilst academic excellence is a crucial aim of our education system, participation in community service is another important opportunity and another important learning that our kids get from going to school. It is in the spirit of these two objectives of schooling that the awards recognise achievement, effort and distinction.

 

The Academic Excellence Award is awarded to a student who demonstrates exceptional academic performance, whilst the Community Service Award is awarded to a student who demonstrates leadership amongst their peers, demonstrates excellence in attitude and achievement, exhibits a commitment to the ethos of the school and is a strong and consistent participant in school and community activities. It was a privilege to attend schools across the ACT and deliver these awards to some outstanding students.

 

I want to make mention of some of the award recipients. From Erindale College in Wanniassa, the Community Service Award went to Grace West and the Academic Excellence Award to Georgina Evans. From St Monica's, the Academic Excellence award went to Indya Stirling. From Mount Stromlo, the Community Service Award went to Vivien Clarke and the Academic Excellence Award went to Emily Neuendorf. At Lanyon High School down in the southern part of Canberra in Tuggeranong, the Community Service Award went to Rachel O'Brien and the Academic Excellence Award went to Niraj Adhikari. From Hughes Primary School, community service awards were awarded to both Hannah Drew and Christopher Baker. At the Gold Creek School, the Community Service Award went to Nicholas Hodson and the Academic Excellence Award went to Tara Swanton. Finally, at Brindabella Christian College, the Community Service Award went to Sallianne Shelton and the Academic Excellence Award went to Katherine Thomson.

 

These students, like so many others, are outstanding examples of leadership in our schools here in the ACT. They are an absolute tribute to themselves, to their families and, of course, to the wonderful teachers who have helped to give them such great opportunities in so many wonderful schools in our community here in Canberra. I commend each of those students and I commend the wonderful school communities that they are a part of.