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Monday, 20 October 2008
Page: 9663

Mr SYMON (9:19 PM) —My grievance today relates to the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by developed countries and particularly Australia. Many people and organisations have contacted my office in regard to this issue over the last few months, and I feel it is important that their concerns are recorded in this place.

In the year 2000, all 191 member countries of the United Nations, including Australia, committed to eight targets, the Millennium Development Goals, to halve poverty by 2015. However, with only seven years to go until 2015, progress has been slow. Urgent action must be taken by all nations if they are to fulfil their promise to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. There are eight UN Millennium Development Goals and, for those who may not have heard them, I shall briefly list them before going on.

Goal 1 is the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, with targets of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 per day and, in the same time frame, halving the number of people who suffer from hunger.

Goal 2 is the achievement of universal primary education, with a target of ensuring that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

Goal 3 is the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, with a target of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005—which has already gone, of course—and at all levels of education by no later than 2015.

Goal 4 is the reduction of child mortality, with a target of reducing by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the mortality rate of children under the age of five.

Goal 5 is the improvement of maternal health, with a target of reducing by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.

Goal 6 is the combating of HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases, with targets of having halted the spread of these diseases by 2015 and of having begun the reversal of the spread of HIV-AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

Goal 7 is ensuring environmental sustainability, with targets of integrating the principles of sustainable development into countries’ policies and programs and reversing the loss of environmental resources, and halving by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. This goal also includes the target, by 2020, to have achieved significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

Goal 8 is the development of a global partnership for development, with targets in many areas, such as financial and trading systems, tariffs, the debt problems of developing countries, affordable access to essential drugs and access to new technologies, especially information and communications technologies.

On 7 July this year, I received a delegation from the Holy Saviour Parish in Vermont South, a church outside of my electorate but with many members from my electorate of Deakin. This group, led by Joe Annetts, brought in a local petition with 186 signatures in support of the Make Poverty History goals, with a particular emphasis on maternal and child health. Joe Annetts has since written to me and informed me that over the last weekend more than 800 people stood up to pledge ongoing support for the Millennium Development Goals as a part of the Make Poverty History campaign’s global ‘Stand Up and Take Action’ event.

On 16 July this year I met with a group of constituents representing Parents Against Poverty, a campaign organised by Make Poverty History and led by Natasha Staunton. The group was accompanied by several very well behaved children, who presented me with two oversized baby bottles full of petitions in support of faster action in implementing the MDGs, particularly in the area of child and maternal health. Whilst pleased with the increased overseas aid development budget and commitment in Australia’s 2008-09 budget, the group noted that a lot more remains to be done in a short period of time.

On 9 September I was visited by Melissa Boyle, also a member of Parents Against Poverty, and her daughter Alexandra. They were also very interested in making sure that developed countries like Australia commit to increasing foreign aid to improve maternal and child health.

On 19 September I met with a delegation representing the Micah Challenge. Lyn and Daryl Jackson, and Jan and John Shattock brought with them a sample of a home-birthing kit that is distributed, as an example that aid is not just about large amounts of money but also about practical assistance to individual people. They stressed that having people trained to help is in many cases as important as the aid itself and spoke about their personal experiences in Nepal. They also want to see Australia commit more resources to supporting our Millennium Development Goals pledge. I also attended the Micah Challenge launch on 14 October here at Parliament House, although I am yet to sign the special painting that was commissioned by the artist Nell Potter.

In relation to child maternal health, the Make Poverty History campaign provides the following statistics. It is estimated that around the world almost 10 million children under the age of five will die each year, mainly from preventable and treatable causes. Add to those approximately 500,000 women who will die each year from illnesses related to pregnancy. As an example, the rate of maternal mortality in East Timor is 80 times that of Australia. In South-East Asia and the Pacific, 16 of the 22 developing countries in the region are not on track to achieve goal 4, which is reducing child mortality by two-thirds. Another seven countries are behind in achieving goal 5—that is, reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters.

Increasing the percentage of international development aid was a commitment that Labor took to the 2007 federal election, with the aim of reaching 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015. In the 2008-09 budget we increased Australia’s funding of official development assistance to 0.32 per cent of GNI. This equates to a figure of $3.7 billion. It is the highest GNI ratio since 1995-96 and is much higher than the amount of $3.17 billion spent in the 2007-08 budget. When this is increased, as forecast, to 0.38 per cent in 2011-12, it will be our highest percentage of funding to GNI since 1986. On reaching 0.5 per cent in 2015, this will be Australia’s highest percentage of official development assistance since 1974.

It is worth remembering that we are starting so far behind many other developed countries and, even with the massive increase, Australia will still not be in the group of leading nations in terms of the proportion of our GNI going to development assistance. This is a great improvement on the efforts of the Howard government. However, it will need more to get Australia up to the level of 0.7 per cent as targeted by the United Nations. The MDGs should not be treated as some pie in the sky ideal. They can and should be treated as modest and achievable goals.

Although not contained in the MDGs, the issue of child slavery is in many instances a product of poverty. I listened with great interest tonight to the private members motion regarding the cocoa industry moved by the member for Sturt. I followed the debate and was pleased to see the bipartisan support that was put forward without reserve in revealing the evil trade of child slavery in West African cocoa plantations. It reminded me that in May this year I was visited by Chloe Morfoot, Alice Burgess, Lauren Grounds and Madeline Armstrong, a group of secondary school students from two local schools in Deakin: Tintern Girls Grammar School and Ringwood Secondary College.

The students came as representatives of the Oaktree End Child Slavery campaign and provided a very thorough briefing on the terrible problem of child slavery in West African cocoa plantations. They also informed me of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, as signed by all the major chocolate corporations in 2001, and the subsequent delay in its implementation. The effect of the protocol, when finally in operation, will be to certify that all cocoa sourced from the Ivory Coast and Ghana is free from child slave labour. The students were also concerned that it was nigh on impossible to buy such certified chocolate in Australia at the present time except from some very specialist shops. I really do commend their initiative and concern and I encourage others to join in this cause and to keep the issue alive in the public eye.

The interest and concern of so many local constituents fills me with great hope that Australia, through the power of its citizens, will one day soon be contributing its fair share to eliminating poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—There being no further grievances, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.