Birth certificates a sign of citizenship

OPENING a bank account, enrolling in school, getting a job - for many people such activities are taken for granted.

But for those without a birth certificate, these everyday tasks can be challenging, prompting a campaign for the automatic and free issue of birth certificates to every child by University of New England students and the Community Mutual Group.

The group wants a National Partnership Agreement between all states and territories to ensure all children receive their certificate within 60 days of birth.

Primary teaching student and member of student group Enactus, Jason Artuso, said a birth certificate not only opened the doors to such tasks as obtaining a tax file number and getting a driver's licence, but was a symbol of citizenship.

The campaign began when Enactus and New England Mutual ran a financial literacy program at Armidale's Minimbah Primary School.

But when they tried to set up bank accounts for the students, they found 95 per cent did not have birth certificates and 60 per cent had not even had their births registered. When the group delved further into the issue, they found it was a nationwide problem.

A project last year that funded birth certificates for Aboriginal people living in the New England attracted significant demand.

Australian Bureau of Statistics studies indicate Australian indigenous children are particularly at risk of not having their births registered within the first year of life.

In 2009 just 69 per cent of all Australian indigenous births were registered, compared with 80 per cent for the general population.

But it is difficult to know just how many people do not have birth certificates.

Mr Artuso said the cost, which was $48 in NSW, was one reason people did not receive birth certificates.

"It is expensive for a certificate and a lot of people don't see the value in it," Mr Artuso said.

The process can also prove to be an impediment in all states - when a baby is born, parents must complete a form for registration of the birth, which is free.

But a certificate is not automatic and is only issued once a separate form and payment have been received.

Mr Artuso said many people were also reluctant to deal with government agencies.

This week delegates from the group met with a number of federal politicians, including Health Minister Tanya Plibersek and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

Mr Artuso said they had all been supportive and was hopeful the group could make "some real change".

The group also has the support of New England MP Tony Windsor.

In addition to the free and automatic issue of certificates, the group also wants application processes to be revised and streamlined, and possibly integrated into the National Immunisation Program.

It is also recommended the Commonwealth funds the issue of certificates through existing registration bodies, and registration and certificate application be further integrated into Health Department processes, ensuring they are completed before the mother and infant are discharged, and issued with the immunisation program information.

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