Health, nutrition: big platform issues for Independent Ruby O’Rourke in election lead up
Ruby O’Rourke, Independent for the inner-east Melbourne seat of Macnamara, is calling on the major parties to implement minimum nutrition standards in early childhood services, using the Early Childhood Australia election forum, held last week in Melbourne, to champion minimum nutrition requirements for children in early childhood education and care (ECEC) services.
According to Ms O’Rourke, there are up to 800,000 children per year who are fed in ECEC settings ,some of whom are fed on 33 cents per day for three meals while attending ECEC services, and there are no regulations for minimum nutrition requirements.
“Health isn’t a silo. Health is a very, very important part of a child’s day,” she said.
As the former CEO of Healthy Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that developed Commonwealth Government-funded nutrition and child protection programs that integrate into the early childhood sector, Ms O’Rourke is so passionate about this issue that resigned from the organisation to run for Parliament, claiming that the Government is “refusing to act on the data from those programs”.
Along with the data on poor-quality food being offered in early childhood services being ignored, Ms O’Rourke says the Federal Government is not acting on advice regarding children who are at risk of abuse.
She cited 11 children who she believes are “at very high risk of abuse and neglect” who remain at risk because “the Commonwealth Department of Education is saying it is not their problem, the Department of Social Services is saying it is a state problem, but it all comes through a Commonwealth system.”
Ms O’Rourke remains concerned that “less than 2 per cent of the early childhood education budget goes into health and welfare”.
“We are not addressing the human rights of young children when we’re not addressing health and welfare,” she said.
In a statement about her concerns, Ms O’Rourke outlined conversations held with Amanda Rishworth, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development, who “says she will consider how to include better nutrition in early childhood services”, outlining that “it is an issue several people have spoken to her about”.
According to Ms O’Rourke, Ms Rishworth cited the Australian Labor Party’s health program for the first 1,000 days of a child’s life as one avenue for achieving better nutrition for children.
She says the party’s National Childhood Strategy will integrate the Departments of Social Services, Education and Health on early childhood issues.
Ms Rishworth reportedly also said that the ALP is “considering appointing a Chief Paediatrician for the Commonwealth, to advise departments on achieving the best health outcomes for children.”
Ms O’Rourke closed her statement by calling for a holistic perspective to be taken “everyone working together, taking a holistic picture for our younger citizens”.