Adjournment Speech - Top Blokes Foundation


Top Blokes Foundation Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (21:01): I rise tonight to speak about something that's really close to my heart, and in some ways it's connected to what Senator Hanson has just mentioned. If we're serious about making sure that we reduce the incidence of violence against women and men—violence against anyone—in our community, we don't just need to invest in making sure that there are support services for people who experience this terrible phenomenon and we don't just need to make sure that they have safe places to go if the worst should happen. We also need to make sure that we're doing what's necessary not just to put ambulances at the bottom of the cliff but to put fences at the top of it. It's to do the preventative work that's necessary to keep people in the kinds of healthy relationships with one another that underpin a society which is functioning so well that these statistics move in the right direction. I was really encouraged to get to know an organisation called Top Blokes Foundation. Top Blokes do something which is really special: they engage in small group mentoring with young men aged between 10 and 17. During a three- to six-month regular program of meeting up at school, they talk through the hard issues. In an ideal world, everybody would have a strong father or mother figure who could do this for them. In an ideal world, people would have a home environment that has good examples of how to treat one another and relationships with those who raise them which stick together in the best possible way. In an ideal world, people would have parents who can talk about difficult subjects, whether it's about how to treat people with whom they're in a relationship, whether it's about body image, whether it's about work ethic, whether it's about how we present ourselves to the world or whether it's about expectations and what we expect from people of the opposite sex, even as it relates to young people's unfortunate but surprisingly prevalent exposure to influences like pornography. Top Blokes help to bring out the best in some of the most troubled and high-risk young men in Queensland by providing experienced social work guidance from great influencers like Zed and his peers—JT, Jason and the like— who I got to meet recently at Shailer Park State High School. They're transforming the lives of young men and keeping them out of our jails, out of our family court system, in work and contributing to our community in a way that their parents and teachers had almost given up hope of at the time they enrolled in the program. Teachers report young men who are better able to manage their anger and calm themselves; cope with adversity; and manage conflict in healthy ways. They've got clearer and healthier expectations of what a good relationship looks like. And here's something I think we can all be really excited about: instead of turning to influences like drugs and alcohol as a way of numbing or blocking anger, they've got the skills needed to be able to process it healthily and direct their energies in a positive way so that they don't feel the need or wish to use drugs or alcohol. This is transformative for the lives of the young men involved, and it is an investment that I am so proud to see the philanthropic community of Queensland making. They are doing incredible work, and I can only commend it enormously. I remember the stories of one of the young blokes I got to talk with. He was able to greet me with a strong look in the eye and a handshake, introduce himself by name and explain to me some of the things he'd done in past that he wasn't proud of, as well as all the ways he'd changed and the ways in which he looks to the future with positivity. He says he's going to do an apprenticeship, and that he's looking forward to being a mechanic. I have no doubt he's going to achieve that goal. That's partly due to his great teachers at Shailer Park State High, but it has a lot to do with the talented and caring people who are transforming women's safety by giving men the skills they need to flourish.