Anna Burke: Community connection is the key

1 August 2012

Written by: Stephanie Pradier

Anna Burke (Source: APH)

‘I’m here to help’ is her motto and help she does.

Federal Labor MP and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Anna Burke believes that ‘the reason MPs exist is to represent their community’.  They are the spokesperson for their neighbourhood, aiming to please as many people as possible, no matter how big or small their problems.

Anna Burke was elected as the Federal Member for Chisholm, Victoria, in the 1998 Federal Election and has held this seat ever since. In the 2010 federal election, Burke was re-elected, with a first preference percentage of 44.53 and a percentage of 56.11 in the two candidate preferred over Liberal candidate John Nguyen.

Her involvement with the Australian Labor Party began ten years prior to the 1998 election when she ‘saw so many injustices that she wanted to help resolve’.

Burke believes that it is important that everyone be treated fairly. She exemplifies this value in the way in which she regards her community. From an ageing population, pockets of poverty and high-income earners to ‘a large and diverse non-English speaking population’, Burke’s electorate is a great cross section of the Australian population.

‘In order to raise a happier Australia, all campaigns must connect to the community’s values and concerns,’ she says.

According to Burke, one of the best things about being a Federal MP is the great feeling it brings that she is ‘able to make a real difference to peoples lives’. ‘

It is highly satisfying and one of the most important parts of my job,’ she says.

In her role as MP, Burke’s office receives many phone calls from people in the community. Burke said: ‘These people need assistance with various matters. I will always do the best to help — regardless of how big or small their problem is.’

Throughout her career Burke has been praised for her efforts to raise awareness of eating disorders which she believes is a serious issue in Australia. ‘Eating disorders and mental health are important and often overlooked issues.’ Burke believes one should either ‘stand on the sideline and be silent or get involved and make a difference,’ she says, acknowledging that she falls under the latter.

In 2010, Burke made a speech in Parliament about approving the motion concerning the sexualisation of girls in the media and the impact it has on the mental health of Australians.

Burke believes that ‘eating disorders are serious psychiatric illnesses’.

‘This sexualisation and constant bombardment with what you are meant to look like, has serious negative consequences. Not only on young women, but also on young men,’ she says.

Burke believes the government needs to do something about regulating the media to be more suitable for young people.

‘The Australian Medical Association states: one in 100 adolescent girls develop anorexia nervosa, and it is the third most common chronic illness in girls, after obesity and asthma,’ she says.

As a mother, Burke has experienced the pressures of the media on her children, especially her daughter, through Bratz dolls, Total Girl Magazine and High School Musical 1, 2 and 3. She believes that her daughter ‘like all children, deserve to enjoy adolescence and not have the mass media take it away’.

According to the motion, the government treats the illness with ‘contempt’, does ‘not take it seriously’ and does ‘not fund its research’ or ‘treat it as an illness, which it is’. Burke believes that it is a serious issue and ‘more needs to be done’ about it to create safer, happier and healthier communities.

Burke says that her ‘life has been greatly enhanced by (her) children’ and this resonates with the work she does for her electorate. A major concern she has focused on is the issue of Americanised Beauty Pageants in Australia. After many years pursuing issues of body image and eating disorders, Burke is concerned about children being physiologically harmed by the pageants.

‘Every child is beautiful. They don’t need to dress up like adults and get a crown to instil this into them,’ says Burke.

She believes that parents need to take more responsibility over their children’s welfare, however, it is up to the government to lead the way by banning these beauty pageants in Australia.

The community of Chisholm would benefit from such banning. These beauty pageants can create major issues for society. In a national survey conducted by Mission Australia, the number one issue of concern in children and young adults is body image.

Burke herself recognises the issue and is pushing for the government to recognise it as well.

‘I think we need to recognise that it is not just a bit of fun, it is actually quite harmful and it is actually quite damaging. It is teaching them that everything is about image.’

Burke continues: ‘I do not want my children to think that they are judged by their beauty. That this beauty is how they make their mark on the world.’

The welfare of her electorate is important, and she believes in standing up for, and fighting against things that affect her community at present and into the future.

From body image and eating disorders, to banning beauty pageants. Burke believes that connecting to her community is the key and tackling these issues is the way to keep connected.

As she says herself in her motto, she is here to help.

Nicola Conroy is a journalism student at La Trobe University.

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