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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17192


Mr BARTLETT (3:44 PM) —There are many countries where people experience terrible suffering. Sadly, this is too often exacerbated by brutal, uncaring dictatorships which siphon off resources to go towards military expenditure and extravagances for the elites; in doing so, the provision of essential services to the majority of the people is neglected. This was clearly the case in Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Even more appalling has been the discovery of mass graves—evidence of the persecution, oppression and brutality of this regime.

For too long, the people of Iraq suffered. In the area of health, for instance, one million children under the age of five suffered from chronic malnutrition and four per cent of children suffered from acute malnutrition. There were infant mortality rates of 107 deaths per 1,000 live births—the second highest rate in the world. Maternal mortality rates were 122 per 100,000 births in the north and up to 294 per 100,000 births in southern and central Iraq. There were widespread health problems, including malnutrition, anaemia, vitamin A deficiency, goitre, malaria, poliomyelitis, tetanus, meningitis and tuberculosis. Health was not the only area where there were long-term problems over the last couple of decades particularly. Inadequacy in water and sanitation were big problems. Only 46 per cent of the rural population of Iraq, for instance, had access to safe water. High levels of salinity and pollution clearly had effects on health.

For far too long, the people have suffered these unacceptable conditions. Clearly, Iraqi people continue to suffer from the shortage of essential services. The short-term damage caused by the war, civil unrest and looting has temporarily added to these problems. However, that will be rectified and there is no doubt that, in the medium to longer term, people will be better off as resources are shared more equitably under a new government. Resources need to go into these essential services rather than being diverted by a corrupt, indulgent regime. This is in addition, of course, to the freedom from oppression and fear that people in Iraq are now experiencing.

There are many challenges. There are challenges relating to the ongoing health problems in Iraq. Health facilities have been targeted by large-scale looting, decimating the stocks of necessary medicines and equipment in Iraq. Medical supplies entering the country have not been able to get adequately to the areas of need because of a breakdown in the distribution and transportation systems. These areas do need to be addressed. In the area of power generation and fuel, something like only 20 per cent of the power needs of Iraq are currently being generated. This is being improved but there is a lot more work to be done. A lot needs to be done in terms of providing clean water by addressing the appalling pollution and sanitation problems. There is a great need in the area of education. Even before the recent war in Iraq, school attendance levels were very low. Over the past decade, one-quarter of primary school aged children did not attend school for economic reasons. Education is currently being disrupted further, and there is a great need to place attention on getting children back into school.

Australian NGOs, AusAID and the Australian government are making a big effort to assist Iraq in addressing these very important needs. The Australian government has committed over $100 million—the fifth highest of over 30 countries contributing to the efforts in Iraq—and is determined to assist with agriculture, food and health. UNICEF and Care International, assisted by AusAID, are doing a lot in tackling emergency water, sanitation, health, opening schools and so on. I want to commend UNICEF, Care, other NGOs and aid workers for their outstanding efforts. I want to acknowledge as well the efforts of the Australian government to assist in a very substantial way. There are real concerns. The people of Iraq have been freed from the grip of a brutal regime; the challenge now is to ensure a return of essential services, adding substantial material improvements to their standard of living. I am pleased that the Australian government is able to make a very substantial contribution to that end. (Time expired)