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Thursday, 15 May 2014
Page: 3994


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:22): Last month more than 300 girls were kidnapped in the middle of the night from the safety of their beds. Nearly all of them are still missing, and this week we saw a video from Boko Haram, their captors, showing 77 of the girls in a frightened group. Some parents were able to identify their daughters in that group, and I can only imagine the anger and pain that they suffered. Perhaps the only people suffering more were the parents who could not see the daughters in that group and would be wondering what has happened to them.

Defending the right of girls to an education is a responsibility for us, not an aspiration. Keeping girls in school leads to happier and healthier families, fairer and more equal societies and more prosperous economies. It is good for the girls as individuals and it is good for all of us—for their families and their countries. In developing countries one extra year of primary school boosts a girl's future wage 10 to 20 per cent and an extra year of secondary school increases that earning potential by 15 to 25 per cent. Each additional year of female education reduces child mortality by 18 in every thousand births. An estimated 65 million girls are not in school worldwide, and 31 million of those schools are of primary school age and 17 million are expected never to attend school. The Australian aid program has been working successfully to reduce that number. Aid keeps more girls in school; it improves maternal health; it reduces domestic violence. The Australian aid program has made a very real and measurable impact on the lives of women and girls.

These are just some of the contributions of aid. Since 2000 the GAVI Alliance has immunised 440 million children against preventable disease. The Global Fund has provided 6.1 million people with antiretroviral therapy and detected and treated 11.2 million cases of tuberculosis. Since 1990, 2.3 billion people have got access to better quality drinking water from improved sources and 700 million fewer people lived in extreme poverty in 2010 compared with 1990. So for all those people who say, 'What is the point; aid does not work,' remember that figure—700 million fewer people lived in extreme poverty in 2010 compared to 1990.

These achievements are not accidental. They have been driven by the Millennium Development Goals. The goals were agreed by the international community and all of the leading development institutions around the world in an effort to end extreme poverty. It was the Howard government that first signed Australia up to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in an agreement under which Australia committed to aid spending with a target of 0.5 per cent of gross national income. It is not an arbitrary target, as suggested in the Commission of Audit. It is an international commitment signed up to by the Howard government with bipartisan support from Labor, guided by the OECD and the United Nations and agreed to by all of the world's leaders.

Under Labor, the aid project was on track to reach that GNI funding target of 0.5 per cent in 2017-18. Overseas aid increased every single year during our time in government. It doubled in fact during our time in government. In March Prime Minister Abbott described aid funding targets for 2017-18 as an 'aspiration'. He walked away from the growth funding detail in his own MYEFO document and, following his $7.6 billion cut to aid in this budget, the foreign aid budget will decline from 0.33 per cent of GNI in the current financial year to 0.29 per cent in 2017-18. It will fall.

Just as aid funding growth under Labor had a real and measurable impact, cuts under this government will have a real and measurable impact on the world's poorest people. This government does not understand that our aid program has been built on commitments not aspirations. As Australians, we come from a generous and a prosperous nation and we can afford to have a strong aid program. We can afford to protect the rights of girls to education, the right for children to feel safe in their schools, and the right for parents to send their daughters to school knowing that they will see them again that night.