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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16421

Ms GAMBARO (4:32 PM) —I am greatly honoured to speak on this motion on women and children in Vietnam, and I thank the member for Fowler for proposing it. I have had the opportunity to visit Vietnam on two occasions. Vietnam has a population of 77 million across 60 different ethnic groups, which produces some great challenges. While a vast majority live in cities, a large proportion live in rural and regional areas. In considering this motion, any call for changes to social and health policy in Vietnam really has to be viewed against the cultural forces that impact on what is very much a patriarchal society and against the changing economic conditions in Asia.

Since 1988 the growth in tourism and the spread of consumer cultures across Asia have contributed to the commercialisation of the sex industry. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of drug users and people infected with HIV-AIDS. A study published in 2001 by the World Health Organisation noted that HIV cases were found in 57 of 61 Vietnamese provinces and that 67 per cent of the known infected cases were among drug users, while the incidence among sex workers remained low. Any program that aims to target HIV-AIDS must therefore reflect the increase of this disease among drug users. In an article appearing in The Lancet in 2001 a World Health Organisation adviser noted:

When sex workers are heavily penalised, implementing effective prevention programmes is extremely difficult

I include this statement as a reminder of the very different cultural paradigm towards sex workers that exists in Asia and of the need for positive dialogue.

At the upcoming Australia-Vietnam Dialogue on International, Legal and Human Rights Issues to be held in Canberra on 27 June 2003, this will be one of the areas that will be discussed, and the government will offer technical assistance to the Vietnamese government with regard to women's rights and also HIV-AIDS prevention. This is in addition to the substantial efforts which are being made by, in particular, the Australian government to tackle HIV-AIDS through existing programs.

It is estimated that the global sex industry is worth $US20 billion a year, of which $5 billion is believed to come from child prostitution. It is estimated that there are still almost one million children in child prostitution in Asia, living in conditions which are akin to slavery. In many cases, even in those poorer regions, poverty and the profitability of prostitution are the two factors sustaining an otherwise illegal industry and one that suffers as a result of its clandestine nature.

The Vietnamese government has recently ceased its two-child policy and subsequent penalties. I believe this will have a very positive impact on the influx of children, particularly in regional Vietnam, entering the people-trafficking industry. We welcome this move and support the implementation of this policy. We will also continue to support an approach to family planning that is based on freedom of choice and access for all to the widest possible range of safe and effective family planning methods. I support the member for Fowler in her call for that.

In addressing people-trafficking the Australian government has developed an integrated program, valued at $15 million, which includes victim support and projects that provide appropriate regional responses by police and authorities. It also includes a small pilot project in a northern border province of Vietnam for returned trafficked women.

But, in addressing these issues, we must not shy away from the paradigm shift that must occur to address issues such as child prostitution, people-trafficking and the spread of HIV-AIDS. It is for this very reason that projects sponsored by the Australian government must incorporate the cultural elements of Vietnam and work with the local authorities; otherwise they will not work. Australia is involved in assisting Vietnam to address the issues of both domestic violence and people-trafficking. Two separate studies on domestic violence among the Vietnamese both stressed how authority was gender based with males dominant.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Order! The time allotted for private members business has expired. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 104A. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The member for Petrie will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.