Topics: Daniel Morcombe Foundation; child sexual exploitation; online safety.
TED O’BRIEN: We have with us today Karen Andrews – the Minister for Home Affairs – who is responsible for the Australian Federal Police and issues relating to child sexual exploitation; an insidious set of issues that really does require leadership and that’s what the Minister provides.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, thank you very much. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here today with my colleagues Ted O’Brien and Andrew Wallace. Today is actually the first day I have had the opportunity to meet Bruce and Denise Morcombe and I have to say I was a little nervous about meeting them because I have followed this story for many years – I was really not sure what I was going to say to two people who have been through the consequences of such an insidious crime.
They have been particularly welcoming to me here today; they’ve told me the story of the Foundation and the absolutely fantastic work they have been doing. It is a credit to them that they have continued to carry out and conduct the great work that is needed to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation. The work being done by them and by the people who are working here at the Foundation – quite frankly – is second to none. Not only has their work had an extraordinary impact on the local area, it has had an impact right across Australia. Everyone is very familiar with the ‘Day for Daniel’ and the great work done to remind people about how important it is for us to always be vigilant.
Recently, I launched a program with the Australian Federal Police that talked about ‘stopping the stigma’. One of the things we understand is necessary is to make sure people are starting to speak up, and to speak out; about their own circumstances; what may have happened to them, in some cases many, many years ago. That is a very important part of the story. The work that the Foundation is doing to raising awareness at schools, to talk to students, to talk to teachers is vital work.
We know there is an increasing amount of time that people have had to be online during COVID. We know that a lot of the perpetrators out there are getting younger and younger and it is a matter of serious concern to us. The statistics tell a very real story about the incidence of child sexual exploitation. There have been – just over 12 months, up until 30 June – over 22,000 reports that have been made to police. That is a significant number.
We’ve also seen an increasing number of people who are being charged with offences. In fact, over that same 12-month period there are about 235 people who were charged with well over 2,000 offences. These are significant numbers but – importantly – of those statistics there were 232 children who have been removed from harm’s way, both in Australia and internationally. I commend the great work that they have done, and I’m very committed to working with them over the coming months and years and supporting them in the great work that they have done.
I will invite now Mr Bruce Morcombe to come and say a few words.
BRUCE MORCOMBE: Thank you. Well, today at the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, it’s a very special day. We have some very high-profile politicians at a Federal level that are assisting at the Foundation to ensure that Australian kids keep safe, and there is no more insidious crime than child sexual abuse. Here at the Daniel Morcombe Foundation we are front and centre about ensuring that those terrible statistics decline. Primary prevention is what the Daniel Morcombe Foundation is all about and, at the end of the day, funding some other important programs; educating kids on how to keep safe; repairing through therapy these unfortunate damaged souls; and also Changing Futures – a pilot scheme that is revolutionising the identification of youngsters that are harming children of their own age or younger, so we can repair these young lives and ensure they do not become adult monsters. That’s what Changing Futures is about. It’s about identifying harmful sexual behaviour and repairing it before it becomes an insidious problem for the rest of their life, and hopefully it will reduce the statistics of child sexual abuse within Australia.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you, we’ve had some sort of disturbing things come out last week with Sunshine Coast meme pages directed at students, coming up with certain ideologies that wouldn’t be safe – like white supremacist and anti a lot of things. It comes into what you’re talking about with being safe online because you’re dealing with COVID. Do you have any idea about that or advice for parents who are watching their kids go online a lot more?
BRUCE MORCOMBE: Honestly, it is a parent’s responsibility to look after their kids. What the youngsters are doing online – you must be vigilant as a parent or carer or grandparent. Start that conversation; what is it that you’re watching? Who are you chatting to? What is the nature of that conversation? This is ordinary, everyday conversation but sadly often it does not happen. So as routine as that should be, please continue and start that conversation. It’s vitally important. Talk early. Keep talking and that’s what we want you to do. Certainly, if you feel something’s not quite right, report it. We have three keywords: ‘recognise’, ‘react’ and ‘report’. So if you recognise potential danger, whether it’s yourself or your youngster, react by perhaps shutting down that device, keeping some records, taking some screengrabs etc., but most importantly go to the authorities and report any unsavoury activity or suspicions you may have.
JOURNALIST: You’ve been one of the leading workers on child safety for such a long time. How does it feel now to get such investment from this government?
BRUCE MORCOMBE: The growth of the Foundation has not been overnight. We’ve been around for 15, 16 years. Certainly Denise and I – and the Daniel Morcombe Foundation – have grown over that period of time. We were gifted a profile; it was a profile we didn’t ask for, but certainly every Australian is very familiar with Daniel’s story and the tragedy around that. So, of course, people sympathise with that, they want to assist us where possible, but at the end of the day they don’t want to see another Daniel case out there. So wherever possible – please – remain vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour.
JOURNALIST: Just on a different topic – blue card safety laws – there’s a bill to change a few of them coming into Queensland. When you apply for a blue card, you will now have to declare that that was domestic violence conviction. Do you think this is going to be helpful?
BRUCE MORCOMBE: Well, it can’t hurt. At the end of the day, one of the measures that we personally have, is that the public should have access to a certain level of material – it could be through a public accessible sex offenders’ website; it could be through a public accessible domestic violence website. These are all things to be explored in the years ahead. At the end of the day the public has a right to information: who is dating my daughter? Who is my neighbour and what are their past convictions? I think at the end of the day if they pose a threat to children, I think it’s a good thing that we all should have the ability to check on that.
JOURNALIST: Just on funding as well, does the Foundation have enough? Are you looking for more?
BRUCE MORCOMBE: To continue and expand our Changing Futures program, of course. The current Changing Futures program is two-thirds through its three-year program and in earlier discussions we reflected upon the enormous interest nationally on that program and the statistics from people within the child protection industry is staggering; their thirst for information about child sexual abuse and identifying youngsters that are displaying harmful sexual abuse, and what can be employed to correct that behaviour – through therapy and counselling etc. We see that as something really positive, and certainly we hope that in the months ahead there might be a continuation of that program beyond the last 12 months. We certainly made a pitch for another three years. So, we’ll see what happens.
JOURNALIST: Was that in the meeting today that you made that pitch?
BRUCE MORCOMBE: Yes.
JOURNALIST: Could we ask the Minister what your response is to that pitch?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I’m actually delighted that I have the opportunity to meet with the Morcombe’s to speak about the issues here. Yes, they’ve told me in detail about the work that they have done, how the $1.8 million that the Federal Government has already provided to them has been spent and yes, they did say that they were very keen to continue the work that they were doing and they are looking for Federal Government support. I would have to say that there is very widespread recognition that the work of this Foundation has been extraordinary and I’m very keen to hear more from them about what the future options are for them to expand the work that they are doing. I have indicated to them that I would be more than happy to listen to what they have to say.
JOURNALIST: So no major decisions just yet?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, it’s not as easy, obviously, to deal with that – but I think the discussion has started. I’m aware the work of the Foundation is well supported by the Federal Government already. There’s some outstanding advocates working on their behalf. So I think we’ll work through what the process is going to be. Thank you.