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Every Child Counts celebration of children

11am Sunday 2 March

Every Child Counts celebration of children – Government House

Speech by Murray Edridge,
Chair of Every Child Counts

Mihi

Your Excellencies the Governor General, Anand Satyanand, and Susan Satyanand, Children’s Commissioner Cindy Kiro, parents, and most importantly … the children who are here today.

It is a great pleasure to stand here on the grounds of Government House surrounded by so many friends and families, to celebrate our nation’s children.
Happy Children’s Day! Isn’t it great to come together to celebrate this day – and for those parents who are here today with your children; congratulations for making the effort to enjoy this occasion together today.

When Every Child Counts was thinking about the best way to celebrate Children’s Day this year it seemed fitting that we bring children and families to Government House. Not only does coming to Government House provide many people with the opportunity to have a ‘new experience’ and to enjoy these wonderful surroundings, but we believe it is significant because we want to lift children’s issues above the usual politicking that is a trademark of an election year.

By gathering at Government House we are saying that children’s issues are, and should be, beyond politics. Children are more important than political point scoring and we need all political parties to work together to pursue policies that support families and ensure that children in this country thrive.
So, let me thank and acknowledge the Governor General, His Excellency Anand Satyanand, and his wife, Susan, who champion children in so many ways; along with everyone here at Government House, for allowing us to be here to celebrate Children’s Day in this way.

In the past year Every Child Counts has spoken to Members of Parliament in every political party, urging them to work cooperatively to advance children’s interests. All parties have agreed there is a need for more cooperation and they see the value of a cross-party parliamentary caucus for children. We hope the caucus will convene after the election later this year.

We know that working cooperatively together is a relatively rare experience for political parties so we want to make the call again today on national Children’s Day. There are very few issues in our community that are more deserving of the political effort needed to achieve this commitment and agreement than the well-being of our children. This is indeed an investment in the future health and sustainability of our society. We call on all political parties to participate in a cooperative cross-party caucus for children in good faith and in the interests of the nation’s most important and vulnerable citizens – our children.

We also know that great things can be achieved when parties work together. We saw that last year with the passage of the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act. 113 Members of Parliament voted to ‘make better provision for children to live in a safe and secure environment free from violence’.
We have passed a law that means if anyone is charged with assaulting children they can’t claim a legal defence of reasonable force. The law grants a quarter of New Zealanders – or the one million New Zealanders who are under the age of 18 - the same legal protections enjoyed by those of us who are older than this, and our animals. We should all be proud of the stand our parliament has made for children, and the international leadership New Zealand is once again demonstrating.

The new law has been proven, without exception, to be operating effectively and should be a great encouragement to all of us who are parents. There is still some confusion in the community about how the law is working and some groups seem to be intent on actively fostering this confusion in the hopes they can reverse the law change of 2007.

Let’s not go back. Let’s give children a fair go. The law is new and we need to give it a chance. A formal review of the law has been committed to in June 2009 – let’s use that opportunity to properly test the impact the law change is having. I believe we will all look back on the current debate in years to come and wonder why we ever disagreed on this matter or doubted the need to make life safer and better for our children.

Sometimes, making progress on personal and social issues like improving the status and well-being of children is a slow and difficult process - it can take time to change behaviour and attitudes.
Of course, enabling children to thrive is not just the responsibility of government. Every single person in the country can play a role in supporting families and creating a society in which children are valued.
Working together is important for political parties but it is also important in the community sector and in families too.

Every Child Counts is a major coalition of community groups which most of you will be familiar with – trusted names like Plunket, Save The Children, UNICEF and Barnardos. We work together because we know effective commitment to children requires partnership and we work together because we believe the nation’s success depends on our children. We want New Zealand to be a great place to bring up children and we want children to be the priority for investment. Let’s face it, if children thrive then we all do.

In families too, we all know that life is easier, we can get more done, and children have a lot more fun if we adults work together, share responsibilities and support each other. We often see this with the role of Grandparents, Aunties and Uncles, who are actively involved in supporting parents and providing guidance and care for children.

Finally, let me say a few words to the children here today: Children, this is your day. This is the day when communities up and down the country celebrate and acknowledge how wonderful you all are. It’s just great to see so many of you here today. We hope you’ll make the most of this day, have some new experiences in the workshops running through-out the day, and enjoy being here in this special place.
Thank You.

It is now my great pleasure to present some certificates to children who participated in a competition to design a Children’s Day bookmark. The competition was run by Wellington Living Free.

ENDS

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