STATEMENTS BY SENATORS - Inglis, Mr Brad, Kulture Break, Ricky Stuart House, Canberra Grammar School, Adoption


 

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (13:36): Today I to rise to speak about some important local events and individuals. I recently had the opportunity to meet an up-and-coming local sports star, Brad Inglis. Brad was recently drafted to play baseball for the Boston Red Sox after being scouted by Australian baseball coach and Red Sox scout Jon Deeble. It really is fantastic to see a young born-and-bred Canberran who has just turned 18 doing so well in his sport of choice and making the transition into playing professionally on the world stage. Brad has played for Australia in numerous international matches and can throw a baseball at a phenomenal 141 kilometres an hour. He is known in Australia as a strikeout pitcher, and Boston liked his ability to throw a fast and strong curveball with good spin and his skill on a changer. Brad will soon be entering spring training in Florida as a rookie and will be training from 6 am till 5 pm daily. While he is there to break into the big league, he will also be training with a goal to represent Australia at the 2020 Olympic Games. I wish him well in that goal.

 

 

Brad started in Canberra and was selected to train at the Major League Baseball Australian Academy. He is an example of someone pursuing an interest and working hard to achieve. The hard work is going to continue. I wish Brad the best of luck, and we all look forward to tracking his progress as he does Australia and Canberra proud. I am not a massive baseball fan, but I had the opportunity to get out to the Cavalry game recently—it was a wonderful experience. I acknowledge that Brad is with us here today in the gallery. Well done, Brad. We look forward to seeing what you do in the future.

 

On 12 February, I was invited by Francis Owusu, a great Canberran and the CEO of Kulture Break, to help launch the Aspire sponsorship program. Kulture Break is a charity focused on providing community and art services to disadvantaged children and youth. In Canberra alone, there are more than 7,300 children and young people living in disadvantage who often feel disconnected and disengaged from their peers. Kulture Break's aim is to provide an environment for these disadvantaged children and youth. They do this by engaging young people in a safe, active and productive environment in a variety of ways. These include dance classes, mentoring programs, motivational speeches and other activities designed to affirm disadvantaged children and young people's abilities and capacities for their lives.

 

The Aspire sponsorship program hopes to sponsor 100 young people to assist them in attending Kulture Break's dance workshops for a year, training, a uniform, ongoing mentoring, an environment to make new friends and belong to a group, and access to tutorship support for their school education. Congratulations, Francis and his team. I think Kulture Break is a sensational organisation, and I am pleased to be one of its patrons. Francis is a person who has a great vision for helping young people with dance classes such as hip-hop and a whole range of other things. It is fundamentally about empowering young people. I commend him to the Australian people. I recommend that people get behind the Aspire program.

 

Another great Canberran I want to talk about today is Ricky Stuart. I had the opportunity yesterday to join with Ricky Stuart and representatives of the ACT government at the opening of Ricky Stuart House, which is a state-of-the-art respite centre for children with autism. The centre caters for children aged five to 12 and is located in the Canberra suburb of Chifley. The centre will be operated by Marymead, a fantastic ACT based community organisation, and will provide short-term respite for families with children with disability.

 

In 2012, we took a policy to the local ACT election to build Canberra's very first early intervention autism school. The school was to provide an intensive, full-time learning program for up to 40 children with autism spectrum disorder aged between 2½ and six years. Similar schools in Queensland, run by the AEIOU Foundation, have had staggering results, with 75 per cent of children who complete the program successfully transitioning into mainstream schools. The Ricky Stuart Foundation has committed to help fund the first Canberra school through proceeds raised by their annual foundation golf day. What has been delivered is not the early intervention program, but it is an amazing facility, and I think the Ricky Stuart Foundation should be commended. Ricky Stuart, along with his wife, Kaylie, have driven this. Anyone who knows Ricky has seen his passion. Ricky is a great footballer; there is no doubt he was one of our greatest footballers. He played for Australia in both Rugby Union and Rugby League, he was a great Raider, he went on to play for Canterbury, he coached the Roosters to a premiership and now he coaches the Raiders. What he doing, as a human being, to raise awareness and funds for autism services is outstanding. We should be very proud that he is one of our own. I am certainly very proud to call him a friend. Congratulations to Ricky and the family, the foundation and all the other Canberra businesses and organisations that get behind the Ricky Stuart Foundation.

 

In the time I have left, I want to make mention of a couple of other issues. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Canberra Grammar School. I was invited by David Tonna from Canberra Grammar School to speak to the year 11 contemporary affairs class about immigration and asylum seeker policy. I was given the opportunity to speak about the government's policy and answer a number of questions on the matter. I was really impressed—I am always impressed when I go to Canberra Grammar; it is a wonderful school—with the quality of the contributions from the boys, the thoughtfulness of their questions and the way that they had really turned their minds to what is a very important, challenging issue in public policy. There were certainly a lot of differing views in the room, but I appreciated the way the boys handled themselves. Congratulations to Dave Tonna and also to the Canberra Grammar School more broadly.

 

I also want to reinforce the urgent need for reform in the out-of-home care and adoption systems in Australia, as I have on a number of occasions and will continue to do. Recently, I put a call out to my electorate as I want to hear from more Canberrans who have had experiences with the out-of-home care or adoption system. Whether they have adopted children, tried to adopt children or been foster carers, I wanted to hear their views to drill down further into this critically important issue. Time and time again, we hear of failings in this area. There have been times when the system has failed foster parents and parents, but, most importantly of all, our children. Only a few weeks ago, we heard the tragic story of a young boy we know as Max, a young boy of only 11 who has been charged with murder in Western Australia. As this case has begun to unfold, we are starting to hear of this child's dysfunctional upbringing. It is devastating to hear these stories and to hear about young people, in some cases, becoming perpetrators. In this case he is only 11, younger than two of my own boys, and he is now in jail.

 

I think back to the cases of Baby Ebony and of course Chloe Valentine, which I have raised in this place before—two young girls who both had their lives taken from them, in cases which have been proven failings of our care and protection system. This is not good enough. How many times do we have to see these tragic cases before we start to do things differently, before we break through the culture that in some cases still says that it is okay to leave a child in an abusive, neglectful or violent situation? It simply cannot continue. Those tragic cases that we read about and hear about which lead to death are the worst cases, but there are unfortunately so many others where kids are neglected, abused and left in those kinds of situations.

 

We as a nation have to do better. We cannot simply say, 'It is too hard.' The policy settings in a number of cases are simply wrong. In many cases we are giving primacy to the biological link over and above the best interests of children. I, for one, say that has to stop. I know that most Australians share that view. The vast bulk of Australians think we should be reforming our out-of-home care system and our adoption system. We should make it easier for children to be adopted and to have a permanent, loving home. That might be a controversial statement in some circles, but I think it is an absolute fact, and these tragedies simply reinforce it.