Address at the launch of eSmart cyber safety program, Sydney
MON 27 AUGUST 2012
I’m very proud to be here this morning for the next stage in the journey of the Alannah & Madeleine Foundation.
I’ve had a long term association with this Foundation, and I’ve always admired the way in which it’s pursued its mission of keeping our children safe from harm.
We are people who live in an age where we are challenged, both by old problems and new problems when it comes to keeping our children safe from harm.
We all know that if our children are to have a great future, if they’re going to get the best possible education, then we need to make sure that they feel safe and are safe.
I’m absolutely passionate about ensuring that every child in this nation gets a great education and a great opportunity in life.
It starts with feeling safe at school and beyond school.
Now that confronts us as a community – parents, teachers, school communities, people of goodwill, policy makers with some challenges to think about.
One of them is the old challenge of bullying, the kind of traditional bullying - if I can use that terminology - that we all know that kids have experienced at school and have experienced across the ages.
The picking on the new kid, the different kid, the child with the funny accent, the one who can’t keep up during school sports, the one who’s not keeping up with the rest of the class as they learn.
We have an obligation to keep our children safe from bullying and to be explaining to children why bullying is always wrong.
But that traditional challenge has now been magnified by the challenges of the new age, by the digital age in which we live.
And this generation of children – today’s children – are the first generation who in every way are going to be steeped in this new technology.
Who indeed can’t imagine being without this technology, can’t imagine the world that many of us gathered here today can all too clearly remember, the world before the internet, the world before the ubiquitous mobile phone, the world before this kind of technology.
Today’s children can’t imagine that world. They live in that world and they are in many ways the masters of that world.
And it gives them tremendous learning opportunities, it gives them the ability to access more information and more learning resources than any generation of children in human history has had available to them.
But it also brings new dangers. It means that we do see cyber-bullying and even worse dangers on the internet.
People who stalk children, people who mean children very, very real harm. And we as a community are now challenged to try and keep our children safe in this new environment too.
We as a Government have worked with the Alannah & Madeleine Foundation because they’re doing such ground-leading work in this area.
I’ve been proud to support their work first as Education Minister with $3 million, and then the Government itself has been investing money - $4 million into a new safe schools framework helping educate parents and teachers about the dangers of this new world.
And that is a real challenge. You can imagine a child who goes home and speaks to their parents about being bullied in the playground, and most parents would instinctively have a sense of what that would mean.
They may have suffered it themselves at school, they may have seen other children suffer it, and so they would have full knowledge of what that can be like, feel like and the ability to offer sympathy and support for their child.
But for many parents and indeed many teachers, when a child talks about what is happening to them on Facebook, what is happening to them through the mobile phone, people won’t feel the automatic sense of connection.
Many parents wouldn’t know what it is like to be on Facebook, let alone to feel that you are being picked on in that environment.
It is because of that that we are working to get new information and resources, help and assistance into our schools and school communities so the parents and teachers in school communities can be ready to support children with all of these challenges, including the challenge of cyber-bullying.
Now the Alannah & Madeleine Foundation is taking the next step.
We are a nation with a wonderful network of public libraries, and for many they are places of great delight, great engagement and great learning.
For many they are instinctively identified as safe spaces – somewhere that you can go, that you can hang out, that you can read, that you can be on the computer; somewhere that is warm and open and welcoming and supervised – instinctively viewed as a safe place.
But only truly a safe place if we are also dealing with any of the dangers that are coming into the library through the use of new technology.
Alannah & Madeleine Foundation has rightly identified this as a new challenge, and that is why we are here today.
We’ve all got a lot to do and we’ve all got to keep working together with goodwill if we are going to keep our children safe for the future.
I am determined that as we work on our national school improvement plan, as a Government we take the next step.
That we are ensuring that those who teach our children, that their teacher training at university includes the learning that they will need to help children in the age in which we live.
Help children in better managing classrooms; help children through making sure that they can manage disruptive behaviours; help children by ensuring that they are fully aware of the challenge of bullying.
We also want to make sure, as a Government, that our teachers can access ongoing professional development.
What they need to know changes, and so how we support them must keep up with that.
And we want to provide effective feedback to our teachers through an annual performance review including looking at the effectiveness of their skills in dealing with bullying and disruptive behaviour.
So, we’ve got a lot to do as a Government, we’ve got a lot to do as a nation. And the Alannah & Madeleine Foundation has set itself a big work program as well.
This big work program is supported by the Telstra Foundation and it is incredibly generous – almost $8 million over five years to support this work.
That means that eSmart is coming to a library near you. It is going to help with the safety of children in that library as they engage in the digital world.
Today is a moment that we should all remind ourselves that the safety of our children is our responsibility.
Whether they’re on Facebook or in the playground; whether they’re on Twitter or in the library; we want to make sure that we are keeping them safe.
With eSmart we will be creating an environment that is safer for them; with eSmart we will be supporting children so that they can be safer and more responsible as they engage in the digital environment.
So it’s a very great privilege to be here, as Prime Minister but also as patron of this great Foundation, and it is a very particular pleasure to be able to declare eSmart libraries officially launched and to wish it every success over the years to come.
Can I echo John – I believe he’s absolutely right – when he has said we will look back on this moment and the launch of this campaign as a very significant change for our nation’s children.
Thank you very much.