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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20545

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (9:40 AM) —This morning I rise to touch upon something very important that the CFMEU have made happen. We very often hear from the government that unions, in particular unions like the CFMEU, are not in the best interests of this nation—of course we know that is not true. However, what we rarely hear about are some of the things they do beyond their core interest, which, of course, is directly representing their members in their industries.

I would like to bring to the attention of the House the fact that eight years ago the International Labour Organisation established six schools in a one-year pilot project to determine whether an education program to teach illiterate and semi-illiterate children from disadvantaged families in India could succeed. The CFMEU responded to the call and contracted with the International Federation of Building and Wood Workers to provide recurrent funding for the continued operation of three of the schools established by the ILO for a six-year period. The objectives of this project obligate local communities and national and international unions to raise awareness amongst communities, governments and industry of the need to seriously address child labour exploitation, to develop a capacity for parents and local project partners to financially contribute to the schools' operation, to lobby state governments for recognition and funding of the schools, and to develop financial self-sustainability for each of the schools.

About 100 million children are currently exploited throughout the world. Child labour is an endemic problem that has not been properly confronted by us as a nation or, indeed, by the international community at large. I will just cite one example. This year a four-year-old child was removed from a brickmaking industry in a child labour exploitation workplace in the Bahir state in India. With the support of her parents and the Child Labour Schools Company, which is one of the companies that are being sponsored by the CFMEU and others, this child is now enrolled in a school and is learning to read and, indeed, is now gaining basic literacy and numeracy skills as a result.

I bring this matter to the attention of the House because I think it is a worthy cause. It is something that I think all members would be interested in. I also do so to balance the argument against what quite often is an attempt to vilify people who work in the trade union movement and, in particular, in unions such as the MUA and the CFMEU. I think this is a worthy cause. We have to stamp out child exploitation and this is one way to go about it.