8 March 2012
HON NICK GOIRAN MLC, Member for the South Metropolitan Region
— Motion without Notice
I move that the Legislative Council —
(a) recognises that the sexualisation of children has been an important issue of ongoing concern in the community, which has now become urgent;
(b) would welcome the establishment of an inquiry into the sexualisation of children in Western Australia;
c) recommends that any inquiry into this issue take note of and consider the findings of the ―Letting the Children be Children review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood commissioned by the government of the United Kingdom; and
(d) recognises that it would be within the jurisdiction of the Commissioner for Children and Young People to hold such an inquiry.
It is certainly my privilege—if I can use a cricket analogy—to open the batting for government backbenchers for the use of private members‘ business under the new standing orders.
In reflecting on what I might bring to the attention of this chamber, I thought to myself that perhaps some members opposite would be disappointed that I might not be sending a rocket to my own government, or there might be members on my side of the chamber who might be disappointed that I am not sending some kind of interchamber ballistic missile at members opposite! But I reflected on the fact that given this is the first opportunity for private members‘ business, perhaps something that might be more suited to a bipartisan approach would be appropriate.
In the spirit of that bipartisan approach, I want to recognise that on 13 February 2012, a similar motion on the commercialisation and sexualisation of children was moved in the House of Representatives by Labor member Amanda Rishworth, the member for Kingston in South Australia. I commend her for that initiative and note that it received significant support from a number of Liberal members in the House of Representatives.
The first part of my motion asks this place to recognise that the sexualisation of children has been an important issue of ongoing concern. In my past life as a lawyer, were I to have provided evidence to support that proposition, I might have been tempted to tender a number of exhibits. On this particular issue, I regret that we are time-bound because the list of exhibits would be endless. I propose to mention three things that might be classified as exhibits to demonstrate that this is a matter of ongoing concern in the community.
Firstly, I want to look at the national community. There is nothing better to demonstrate that than the motion moved in the House of Representatives only last month. Although the contributions made by members in that place were excellent, I particularly want to take note of the comments of Sophie Mirabella, the member for Indi, whose comments probably best summarise and best resonate with my own position. She stated —
… as a mother of two young preschool girls and a step-mother of two teenage girls, I see that what we have in our society is a very harmful toxin. It is not tangible but it is like a thousand cuts to very small children—that is, the overt sexual advertising out there on the wallpaper of our society.
The debate at times is couched in very superficial terms. It is about the right of advertisers to sell in the easiest way, which is to sell using sex, and the right of one adult not to be offended by it.
This is not about that; this is about our responsibility as adults, as legislators and as parents to look at the very real harm—the physical emotional and mental harm that is well documented—that can result from the premature sexualisation of children.
That is the toxin. If there were a physical toxin harming our children, there would be people marching in the streets; there would be people knocking down the doors of their local members of parliament. But this toxin of early sexualisation of children is just as harmful. There is an increasing weight of research and evidence that shows that exposure to sexualised imagery can be linked to childhood anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders.
The threat of premature sexualisation includes exposure to STDs as children become sexually active at an even younger age. We know that young children cannot process these images and this information. They are children, and they are our responsibility.
It is no longer as easy as just switching off the television, because we are surrounded by it. You can take your child down the street on the way to school, driving them or walking them,and you will see these big billboards. You take them to the supermarket and at their eye level they can see highly sexualised images on magazines, or there are the near-pornographic clips playing at the local bowling alley.
A child—for example, a six-year-old or a seven-year-old—does not possess the ability to recognise that the sexually explicit pose of the woman wearing next to nothing is not a representation of reality but an unfair female stereotype designed to sell a product. Children are not small adults, and we are sending messages. We are sending out messages—in my view, particularly to those who engage in the heinous crime of paedophilia. The more sexualisation is out there and the more children are sexualised in advertising, which is well documented, the more justification paedophiles seek for their behaviour.
The second such exhibit that I might have been likely to tender would demonstrate that this is not just a matter for this nation but is actually an issue relevant to western civilisation as a whole. Members will have heard in the motion I moved that I have made mention of the report out of the United Kingdom. I particularly want to draw members‘ attention this morning to the response by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who responded to the ―
Letting the Children be Children review in a letter dated 6 June 2011.
He wrote, in part —
I particularly welcome those recommendations to:
- make public space more family-friendly by ―reducing the amount of on-street advertising containing sexualised imagery in locations where children are likely to see it.
- ensure children are protected when they watch television, are on the internet or use their mobile phones by ―making it easier for parents to block adult and age-restricted material across all media.
- stop the process where companies pay children to publicise and promote products in schools or on social networking sites by banning ―the employment of children as brand ambassadors and in peer-to-peer marketing.
The social response is not something we can leave to chance. We need to make sure we hold businesses and regulators to account in a transparent way.
These issues, are not just relevant to the nation as a whole and to international western civilisation. I happen to agree with the British Prime Minister‘s view on making public space more family friendly by reducing outdoor advertising containing sexualised imagery.
Members will be pleased to know that in February of last year I was joined by my colleague in the Legislative Assembly, Michael Sutherland – the very hardworking member for Mount Lawley in authoring a joint submission to the inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs into the regulation of billboard and outdoor advertising.
That submission would have been my third exhibit to demonstrate that there is a local level of concern. A portion of the submission that the hardworking member for Mount Lawley and I put together reads —
As members of the Parliament of Western Australia we are very concerned about the current inadequate and ineffective restrictions on outdoor advertising. We believe that the protection of children and the civility of our society are adversely affected when sexually explicit and inappropriate material pervades our outdoor advertising.
Sexually explicit material displayed across outdoor advertising, in particular through billboards, raises particular concerns due to the inability of members of the public to avoid such material. Of particular concern is the inherent inability of parents to restrict exposure of children to such inappropriate images and slogans.
The steady increase of complaints about outdoor advertising is a direct indication that the self-regulation scheme currently in place is not sufficiently protecting the wider community, in particular children, from advertisements which are inappropriate.
We are dismayed to find that the degradation of women portrayed by a selection of these billboards, is acceptable in accordance with the Advertising Standards Board‘s Code of Ethics. In particular, sexually explicit material displayed in public areas continues to impact and contribute to the sexualisation of Australian children.
We strongly recommend that the current self-regulation scheme is reassessed and further restrictions placed on outdoor advertising with the intention of preventing the display of material that is sexually explicit, offensive and/or inappropriate for children.
In relation to this ongoing matter of concern to the community, which has now become urgent, it is appropriate that we recognise some people who, in my view, are modern-day heroes in this debate. As a member of the Parliament, I am particularly grateful for their inspired efforts. They have taken on the vested corporate interests of those who profit by the increasing sexualisation of children. I want to particularly make note of three ladies—perhaps that is appropriate given that today is International Women‘s Day.
In particular, I draw attention to Melinda Tankard Reist, the convenor of the grassroots women‘ protest movement called Collective Shout. She has endured vicious personal attacks for her efforts in exposing the interests of the pornography industry.
I also recognise Julie Gale from Kids Free 2B Kids, who almost singlehandedly forced the bureaucrats to acknowledge the failure of the magazine classification system that has allowed child pornography to be sold in corner stores and petrol stations.
I recognise also Barbara Biggins and her colleagues at the Australian Council on Children and the Media who have campaigned for decades for better television and media standards. These women deserve our respect and support as legislators.
As I conclude my remarks this morning, I want to move to the fourth element of the motion that I have put forward, particularly making reference to the jurisdiction of the Commissioner for Children and Young People. On page 118 of the commissioner‘s recent report into the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in Western Australia, Michelle Scott, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, noted —
Several submissions raised concerns regarding the negative impact of media, including violence and the sexualisation of children, on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.
The commissioner further observed —
This issue illustrates the need for whole-of-community engagement in promoting positive mental health in children and young people. A collaborative approach between parents, legislators, marketers, advertisers, the media, and children and young people is needed that will ensure the healthy and positive development of children in the contemporary media environment.
I note in particular that when one turns one‘s mind to the relevant section of the Commissioner for Children and Young People Act 2006, one will see that section 19(f) empowers the commissioner — to initiate and conduct inquiries into any matter, including any written law or any practice, procedure or service, affecting the wellbeing of children and young people;
This motion recognises that the Commissioner for Children and Young People has the jurisdiction to hold an inquiry into the sexualisation of children in Western Australia, and for my part I would be very pleased if she were to do so. I commend the motion to the house.