Anne Hollonds, who became National Commissioner for Children in 2020, says Australia is not creating the conditions to allow all our children to live well. The 2021 census showed that those under 19 make up almost a quarter of the population, but Hollonds says that cohort is rarely central to political considerations.
“We need to elevate children’s health, development and well-being to a national priority because children are not a national priority,” she says. “I have observed that the policy is designed for the concerns of adults.”
If we had a more child-centric approach to public policy, earlier decisions on infrastructure, environmental protection, and combating climate change might have been quite different.
The childcare debate illustrates how adult-focused policy discussion can be even when children are directly affected. Federal and state promises to provide cheaper and more accessible child care services have been framed primarily as a way to enable women to work more (an adult need) and help with cost-of-living pressures (also a need). need of adults).
The issue of high-quality early learning, which is crucial to children’s long-term well-being, has received far less attention. A more child-centered policy approach would focus more on ensuring that child care providers have well-trained and adequately paid staff to support high-quality care and education.
There is now convincing evidence that investing in early childhood education and care yields substantial long-term economic returns and is especially beneficial for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Dr. Alicia Mollaun, a policy analyst at the consultancy Equity Economics and Development Partners, says that one way to improve outcomes for children is to follow the money trail. “Governments often boast that their budgets have something for everyone,” she says. “However, it is rare for Australian budgets to pay specific attention to children.”
Mollaun points out that when the previous treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, gave the most recent budget speech in March, he only used the word “children” three times, twice in the context of announcements about women’s safety. She argues that the way to address this policy gap is through a child-sensitive budget.
A detailed assessment of how budget decisions will affect children would be a good first step. This should start with the Albanian government budget due in October and subsequent state budgets. But simply publishing a list of children-related budget measures or a children’s budget statement will not suffice. The needs of children must be taken into account at the earliest stages of any policy development.
Hollonds says Australian governments need to find better ways to listen directly to children and meaningfully respond to their concerns.
“What I’m trying to build are systematic ways of listening to children and giving due weight to their views,” he said..
Mollaun suggests setting up a Commonwealth Children’s Bureau to oversee a more child-focused policy approach, similar to the Women’s Bureau. The federal government could even create a “Minister of the Future” tasked with carefully assessing how policies implemented today will affect people in 10, 20 or 30 years. “Once we see children at the center of policy making, the way we see the future is different,” says Mollaun.
Given its great wealth, Australia should be one of the best countries in the world to be a child. Putting children front and center in policymaking will help ensure that we translate that wealth into well-being for every child in the nation.
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