Response to health report criticised

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 07/03/2014

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The Government has missed an opportunity to tackle high rates of child abuse with a half-hearted response to a parliamentary report, critics say.

In a response yesterday, it accepted or "partly accepted" 109 of the 130 recommendations in a wide-ranging parliamentary report prepared by the health select committee.

Another 14 recommendations were noted, while seven were rejected outright - including taxes on sugary drinks and the compulsory addition of folic acid to bread.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said the Government was already investing heavily in almost all of the areas identified, and that "substantial progress" had been made since the inquiry began in 2012.

He hinted that this year's Budget could see the announcement of initiatives to tackle some of the recommendations.

But critics say the Government's response is weak, with no clear action to come out of a report two years in the writing.

An overhaul of sexual health services provided to teenagers and a more cross-sectoral approach to reproductive health were among recommendations.

The Government accepted these in part, saying the Ministry of Education would review the sexuality education guidelines in 2014. It acknowledged there was room for improvement.

But Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond said she was "really disappointed", and it appeared the status quo would remain.

"We were very pleased with the report, but it appears very little is actually going to happen as a result.

"Most of the statement talks about what is happening now, rather than committing to the future. It feels like a missed opportunity."

Children's Commissioner Russell Wills said there was a lot to like in the report, and alongside the Children's Action Plan and Vulnerable Children's Board it was hoped change would happen.

"We are likely to see improved outcomes for vulnerable children, and I like that Government is exploring new ways of getting better outcomes from existing investments, like social bonds."

Labour health spokeswoman Annette King said it appeared the Government had decided what it was doing was already enough.

"There's no commitment . . . it's pretty much business as usual for them. It's made little impact on their thinking."

Changes that would really make a difference - such as a suggestion to create a new national target to book 90 per cent of all pregnant women in with a maternity care provider by their 10th week of pregnancy - were simply being "considered", she said.

Greens health spokesman Kevin Hague said it was disappointing a report that had such cross-party buy-in had basically been ignored.

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But committee chairman Paul Hutchison, a National MP, said the response was overwhelmingly positive and showed a Government devoted to children's needs.

"The Government has accepted a considerable number of recommendations, it supports the report and is prepared to move in this area.

"I know that I have personally lobbied hard within the Government to see that some of these will come to fruition, and I'm confident that over time it will."

Clear actions included a campaign to tackle fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and considering a star system of food labelling.

- Fairfax Media

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