5 Childrens' Issues That Need Strong Voices - and that Aren't Voting No

14 September 2017
So the expensive, unnecessary, non binding national plebiscite on marriage equality is underway. Other nations just legalise marriage equality, but not us; we have to have a national postal vote, with the accompanying noisy and worrying campaign, and for what? Politicians are still going to have a vote on it in Parliament once the ballots are in - the same vote they could be having right now.

Instead, the nation "get to have their say", except after a bitter and hurtful campaign the votes will just get put in a drawer or something, and politicians can still ignore the will of their electorate and vote however they like.

Talk to opponents of marriage equality though, and want you to know they're in no way bigoted or homophobic. They like gay people! They're just really worried about the kids. (Apart from that being able to marry won't affect the ability of gay couples to have children, and they're not depriving children of a mum and dad, unless they go around stealing babies from straight couples.)

But since these sorts are so worried about the well being of children, here are five children's issues that could really use some of the time, money and loud voices being put into the "no" campaign:

1. Education funding

Apart from parental care, there's nothing more important for a child's start in life than the quality of the education they receive. And when parents are unable, for whatever reason, to provide the resources a kid needs - quality education becomes even more critical for those kids.

That's why it is so vital that public schools - especially those in lower socio-economic areas - are provided with quality resources and staffed with devoted, talented teachers who are supported to maintain morale and commitment.

And why we need to take a long hard look at funding elite private schools so they can build orchestra pits whilst kids in public schools swelter in demountable classrooms for years on end with outdated books and technology.

Gonski 2.0 legislation passed earlier this year, and it's a good start, but more needs to be done; more voices need to speak up for public school students.

2. Child protection services

For a society that claims that children's welfare is the main concern, that the gross underfunding and overwork of child protection agencies is almost never spoken of, never an election issue, makes liars of us all. I'm not condemning the SSM "no" campaigners here, we're all a little damned. If I sound judgemental here, so be it. Child abuse is a sad and ugly reality in our society, which is why I didn't lead off with this at number one, so as not to have people clicking out of here to get to The Onion.

But we need more. More funding, more staff, more people making noise over this, holding governments and agencies to account. NSW Minister for Community Services Pru Goward has said it is only in a perfect world where we could investigate every report of child abuse; but in this world, where reports of serious abuse cannot be investigated due to lack of resources whilst sworn police officers ride on the transport network to catch fare evaders, we could do a lot better.

3. Minister for Children

We don't have one. We should. Victoria has a Minister for Families and Children, but apart from that not only do we not have a federal minister for children, I couldn't even see if there is a federal minister with responsibility for children and their welfare (and considering we have an assisting minister for the centenary of ANZAC and another assisting minister for Digital Transformation, I'm sure they could squeeze a children's portfolio in there somewhere). If we're going to be advocating for children's welfare, we really need to put someone in charge of it.

4. Conviction & Sentencing for Child Abusers

Any judge will tell you the public don't really understand the factors that go into sentencing, and that sentencing in the court of public opinion is wildly misguided.

But without digging up a litany of depressing examples, I can't be the only uninformed pleb who is dismayed and angry that convictions for assault - especially non sexual assault - of children are exceedingly rare and sentences for people who actually kill children woefully disproportionate to the crime.

5. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Australia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child - CRC - in 1990, recognising the human rights of children, especially in light of their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation.

But we're failing to protect the rights of all children - particularly Aboriginal children, children with disabilities and children in immigration detention.

How badly are we failing? Well, in 2012, the UN issued a list of concerns where Australia isn't living up to its commitment to protect its children. And it got almost no attention.

I've only been able to skim the surface of these very complex issues. I don't have answers. But if people are talking about voting no because of some perceived risk to children, maybe we should be talking about this stuff as well.

But if any or all of this is too hard, you're too busy - I understand, and I thank you for reading this far. May I just respectfully ask you to protect the rights of children in same sex families, and the children afraid of being attacked for their sexuality, and vote yes.


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