Speech given at the CREATE Biannual Conference
Date: 9.25am, 10 August 2017 at the International Convention Centre, Sydney
Thank you to CREATE Foundation for the invitation to provide an opening address. I too would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to elders past and present.
Finally, I would also like to acknowledge Taz, the CREATE Young Consultant for the opening address.
I would like to warmly welcome you all and begin by saying how wonderful it is to see so many adults and young people here today who have travelled from all across Australia to explore together ways for young people with a care experience to have a voice and to create positive change in their lives.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Megan and I am the National Children’s Commissioner. That means that my job is to ensure that all children and young people in Australia have their rights as met. Rights are really pretty basic things that we all need to be ok in life - things like a right to education, housing, to feel safe, to be healthy, being treated fairly and with respect - and to have your voice heard, among many other rights. You have these rights just because you are a human being.
You are going to hear many words over the next few days like - ‘empowerment’, ‘change’, ‘participation’ and ‘inclusion’. These words may be new to you, or they may not be.
But, what is important about them is that they are all about you – having a voice, making a difference and making sure other young people are supported to say what they think and feel as well.
That is what is so great about being here and participating in all the exciting activities that CREATE has in store for you over the next three days.
Participation and change
As I know that you are all aware, children and young people in care face many challenges and often do not have their rights met. Not having stable housing, being moved from placement to placement, having to move schools and having gaps in education are all common problems that young people have spoken to me about.
One of the ways that we, as adults, can help solve these problems is to learn from you – the experts. It is only you who knows what it feels like to be you, it is only you who knows your story.
You always have the right to participate in decisions which affect your lives and say what you think, especially if something that is happening in your life is not OK or does not make you feel good. It doesn’t mean you will always get your way, but you should always have a say.
So how can you have your say? Well, participation is one of the special rights for children and young people under 18 and is one of the key principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - an international treaty Australia signed up to many years ago, where we committed as a nation to protect your rights.
The Convention is a very important document that sets out all the special rights for young people under the age of 18. But don’t worry if you’re over 18! You also have human rights which include many of the same rights. These are set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and are for everyone.
The right to participation means that you are included in any discussions and decisions that affect you and that you are asked about your thoughts, ideas and perspectives. For a young person with a care experience, this includes everything from where you live and who you live with to what contact you have with family members.
While the Convention empowers you to claim your rights, it also says that adults have a responsibility to create spaces and places that make it easy for you to do this. Adults also have a duty to act if they know that your rights are not being met, and to speak up for your rights. These adults could be teachers, case workers, carers, neighbours or other people that you know in your community. Part of my job is to make sure more adults understand your rights and their responsibilities to protect your rights. You can play a part in this too.
But it’s important to remember that children and young people also have each other. There are 5.2 million young people under 18 in Australia – that’s a lot of young people and together, you can be very powerful! Both collectively and individually, you can use your voice to speak up for what is right, what you want and need, and by doing this create positive change in your lives and the lives of other young people.
Language is also powerful. Take the word CREATE - It is about what you can do to make changes in your worlds, it is about your imagination and how you express yourself, and it is about what you can become. It is about all the possibilities that are you.
Congratulations on coming to this conference today. I look forward to learning about what happens over the next three days and getting your advice on how we can work together to ensure we can support Australia’s young people to create positive change.