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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17188


Mrs MOYLAN (3:29 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges the suffering and hardship experienced by the Iraqi people from years of neglect of essential services and the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein;

(2) notes the grave consequences of this neglect to human health, contributing to the second highest infant and child mortality rates in a list of some of the poorest countries in the world;

(3) notes the consequent poor state of essential services in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq and commends the efforts of the coalition, the United Nations and non-government organisations to provide emergency services to the people of Iraq;

(4) notes the major ongoing challenges facing the people of Iraq including the need for continued rehabilitation of essential services such as sewerage and sanitation and notes that a major effort is underway to improve these services;

(5) commends the Australian Government for the substantial contribution to humanitarian aid and recon-struction in Iraq, notably in relation to agriculture, where Australia is taking the lead with the United States;

(6) notes that Australia's contribution of $100 million is the 5th highest of the 15 main contributing countries; and

(7) acknowledges the contribution of AusAid and Australian non-government organisations in the delivery of health services, water and sanitation work, co-ordination and logistics, food distribution, refugee preparedness and mine action and agriculture.

The reason for this motion is that I had the opportunity to travel with the Minister for Foreign Affairs through the Middle East; specifically, to Amman and into Baghdad. That provided me an opportunity to meet with aid workers in both areas. They included mostly Australian aid workers, UNICEF, the Save the Children fund, CARE International, World Vision Australia, World Vision International, Operation Mercy, AusAID officials and the UNOHCI. It gave me an opportunity to look at some of the pressing aid issues in Iraq post war. We also had the opportunity, along with the minister, to meet with the Australian defence forces, Major General William Webster and the new United States administrator, L. Paul Bremer. I was able to take with me a list of missing Iraqi relatives of Australian-Iraqi families, which was provided to me by the member for Murray. This was passed on to AusAID Deputy Director-General Charles Tapp, and handed on to the Red Cross for tracing.

This motion addresses a number of points. First of all, it acknowledges the suffering and hardship experienced by Iraqi people from years of neglect of essential services, part of which was due to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. It notes the grave consequences of this neglect for human health; it has, sadly, contributed to one of the highest infant and child mortality rates in a list of some of the poorest countries in the world, second only to those of children in sub-Saharan Africa. It notes the poor state of essential services in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq. It commends the efforts of the coalition, the United Nations and non-government organisations, who are providing emergency services to the people of Iraq. It notes the major ongoing challenges facing the people of Iraq, including the need for continued rehabilitation of essen-tial services such as sewerage and san-ita-tion, and notes that a major effort is under way to improve these services. In fact, I had the privilege of meeting with Percy Stanley, our AusAID officer in Iraq, who is responsible for restoring these services. I must say that the work he is doing is very impressive.

The motion commends the Australian government for its substantial contribution to humanitarian aid and reconstruction; notably, in relation to agriculture, where Australia is taking the lead with the United States. It notes that Australia's contribution of $100 million is the fifth highest of the 15 main contributing countries to Iraq. It acknowledges the contribution of AusAID and Australian non-government organisations in the delivery of health services, water and sanitation work, coordination and logistics, food distribution, refugee preparedness, mine action and agriculture. I was greatly moved by the work of Australian aid agencies, both government and non-government—whose staff are working under the most dangerous conditions and are also very much deprived of any creature comforts—and the amount of effort and deep concern they have for their work, particularly those working with children. I would like also to acknowledge my colleagues who have agreed to take part in this debate today to support this motion.

I have prepared a detailed report, which I cannot present in the short time available to me. That report highlights the issues raised by the number of aid agencies that I spoke with and also makes a list of recommendations. I will try to touch on a few of those. I must say that our Minister for Foreign Affairs was at the forefront in urging the United Nations to purchase the local crops. As we flew into Baghdad—we flew in very low, in a military aircraft—you could see people out in the field working to bring in the harvest. Our minister was very concerned that part of the food aid incorporate the Iraqi crop to try to help get the economy flowing again.

There is no doubt that, since the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq has become, increasingly, a very difficult place to live. The Iraqi people have suffered the most terrible deprivations. It is deeply saddening to see and hear of the plight of children in a country that had such a high living standard and has such a high level of education. For Iraq to have one of the worst infant and child mortality rates in the world, even when measured against some of the most difficult and poorest countries, is not something any of us can feel proud of. Two wars, sanctions under the oil for food program and maladministration have contributed to the terrible state of Iraq and the hardship experienced by the Iraqi people. It is really terrible to see the amount of expenditure on the construction of the 82 palace complexes in Iraq and many large elaborate monuments; the extraordinary stockpiling of weapons, arms and ammunition; and the stockpiling of medicines. These expenditures seemed to take priority over decent standards of living for Iraqi people.

As I said, the UNDP Human Development Report 2002 listed the mortality rate of infants and children, and it is certainly very shocking. Children have been particularly vulnerable due to poor nutrition. The lack of medicines, appropriate health care, clean water and sanitation has been a major problem. Essential services in Iraq have been deteriorating for over a decade, and they were in a parlous state prior to the war. In fact, only about 70 per cent of the population of Baghdad—a city of something like six million people—has access to sewerage. The monitoring of 177 water and sanitation treatment plants across the country by UNICEF and CARE found that 19 per cent were functioning, 55 per cent were unacceptable and 26 per cent were in poor condition. The lack of electricity supplies was also of great concern.

Because of the shortness of time, I will go to some of the recommendations that came from the meeting with government and non-government aid agencies. One was that priority must be given to restoring civil order because at the moment lack of order is seriously hampering the humanitarian aid and reconstruction work; it just cannot take place in a safe environment. It is stopping children from going to school and stopping hospitals and health services from operating.

Other priorities are to secure route 10 from Amman to Baghdad to allow for a free flow of supplies and manpower. It has been difficult getting in help by air, and aid workers and materials need to come by road. We need to ensure clean water being trucked in is not being sold at prices that are exorbitant and unaffordable for average families. We need to move as quickly as possible to restore communications and establish a security line similar to that in East Timor and, I believe, in Afghanistan so that NGO staff can register, warn others of dangerous situations and get timely help in emergencies. We need to work quickly to clear unexploded ordnance because many children are suffering from coming into contact with unexploded devices and losing their lives or their limbs or having other serious injuries. We need to ensure a smooth transition for schooling by either replacing textbooks or allowing current texts to be used no matter how inadequate they are. We also need to ensure that major hospitals can continue to provide health services.

There are many other issues that need to be raised in relation to Iraq, but I know our government will continue to keep a close watch on the aid and recommendations. I think tomorrow there is a meeting in New York, which I know Australia will be participating in. The situation is grave indeed, and it will take a lot of work now and in the future to restore Iraq to a standard where people can expect a decent standard of living and where we can be assured that children will be well and adequately cared for. (Time expired)


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Is the motion seconded?


Mr Bartlett —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.