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Tuesday, 13 September 2005
Page: 157

Senator MOORE (11:27 PM) —Last week in this place I talked about the Millennium Development Goals and the importance of sexual and reproductive health in meeting those goals across the world. Last Thursday in this place a motion was brought forward which talked about exactly the same things that I had mentioned in two speeches earlier in the week. The whole agenda was changed, and I am not quite sure of the reason. It had been a straightforward issue looking at basic information. That agenda has now been changed. That has resulted in quite a disappointing campaign, which has led to many of the people in this place being hit with emails and phone calls from people who are deeply concerned and upset. I am really disappointed that people have been concerned about and angered by something that was not on the agenda.

For everybody’s information, this evening I want to put a few things on the record about exactly what we mean when we talk about sexual and reproductive rights in the context of the Millennium Development Goals. I want to do that particularly because this week, at the UN, the world has the opportunity to make a real difference. I will not go over those things that I said last week. My anger and my disappointment are because those issues have been diverted by attempts to turn this into another debate. If the debate is going to be held in the future on the issue of the right to choose, let that be done in its own right. Let us not use other agendas to get people’s particular issues on the program.

The general definition of ‘reproductive health’ has been around since 1994. At an international conference on population development in that year there was a program of action prepared and definitions made. There are differing views across the world. People’s varied views need to be accepted. Reproductive health was defined as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing in all matters relating to the reproductive system, its functions and processes’. Implicit in this is the right of men and women to be informed, to have education and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well to other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against the law and to the right of access to health care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth.

Reproductive health care can encompass a wide range of things. I want to get them on the record. It includes: family planning and birth spacing service; antenatal care; safe, skilled services—and help—for people when they are going through this very difficult time; management of obstetric and neonatal complications in emergencies; and prevention and treatment of reproductive tract infections and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS.

One of the core issues of the Millennium Development Goals is the issue of the widespread horror of HIV and AIDS across our world. It is absolutely critical that we as a world community acknowledge this threat and do everything within our power to face it down. That must mean that effective and safe health care is brought into play. We need to ensure that people have a complete education such that they feel confident in their choices and they understand that they have support.

The process that we faced last week means that people within our own community have become confused. I am angered by that. We should at least have the confidence to be able to talk among ourselves and have appropriate debates. That would be what I would consider the democratic practice. If we have confusion over core principles and debates are taken over by other issues we will not be able to work together to achieve any kind of outcome.

I am particularly upset that this has happened within the context of the Millennium Development Goals, because we can do better than that. We can acknowledge the issues that are on the international agenda in the area of poverty. Key in that is the empowerment of women. Key in that is education. Key in that is combating disease across the world. Within that context, the least that we can expect in this place is that people will take the effort to understand the issues, seek out clarification and focus on what is on the agenda. In terms of where we go from here, we can continue to work through the issues to get more information and to try and make sure that when there are issues up for debate we at least understand what they are.

The Millennium Development Goals must be considered in the context of cooperative activity across the world. Kofi Annan, when talking about these issues—and they are on the agenda so clearly this week—said:

The Millennium Development Goals, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, cannot be achieved if questions of population and reproductive health are not squarely addressed. And that means stronger efforts to promote women’s rights, and greater investment in education and health, including reproductive health and family planning.

This is not an attempt to put free abortion on demand on the agenda, and I think that is a core issue. We say that the issue of abortion belongs to the legal processes in each country, and all countries have processes where they work through whether or not things are legal. In this debate we are saying that we want to have open support for reproductive education and health and that, where the processes are legal—which is an issue for those countries—people should be able to have the confidence that their rights will be supported and protected.

Many of the people who have emailed me have a completely different agenda. It is not just the issue of abortion which offends them; they are opposed to all elements of protection, including condom usage and any form of protection which is not total abstinence. For those people, what I am suggesting would be difficult to accept, and I understand that.

But what was not clear from what happened on Thursday is that what the international community defines as reproductive health is clearly understood. In the definitions that were published in 1994, and which we still hold to—and I emphasise this—it says:

In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning. All Governments and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are urged to strengthen their commitment to women’s health, to deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major public health concern and to reduce the recourse to abortion through expanded and improved family-planning services.

That cannot be much clearer. In terms of our commitment as a community, I think that we should at least give each other respect by knowing what we are talking about and asking questions appropriately. People should in no way attempt to divert debate on such a critical issue as the eradication of world poverty because of a lack of understanding of exactly what is being talked about.

I hope that through the discussion people will consider where we are moving to in the next 20 years through the Millennium Development Goals. I hope that we can do this in a cooperative way. I hope that any confusion over the issues of sexual and reproductive health in this context has been removed, because we must be clear on the issues about which we are talking. We must understand that it is not helpful to cause people to be afraid and scared. If we disagree, we do. If we have to have a debate on different issues, we will. But let us make sure that we have the context correct.