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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 888


Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (18:57): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) children in conflict zones around the world are in danger and live in fear within their schooling environments as schools are being attacked or occupied by military forces;

(b) classrooms are being used to house munitions and sports fields are becoming battlefields, denying children their right to education;

(c) 57 countries have already endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration to protect education in armed conflict situations; and

(d) the Safe Schools Declaration aims to build an international community committed to respecting the civilian nature of schools and to develop the best practices for protecting schools from attack and military use; and

(2) calls on the Government to:

(a) work with governments internationally to discourage the military use of schools, and promote security force policies and practices that better protect schools;

(b) consider Australia's participation at the Safe Schools Conference to be held in Buenos Aires on 28 and 29 March 2017; and

(c) condemn attacks on schools and education, particularly the recent incidents in Nigeria, Syria and Yemen.

The Roman philosopher Cicero said, 'In times of war, the law falls silent,' and it is the vulnerable who suffer most when the law is set aside. Two weeks ago Australian kids returned to school in classrooms across our country. We take for granted that our children have a right to a good education and to be safe in their school environment. We expect schools and universities to be safe havens. But children in conflict zones around the world often associate schools with danger and live in fear instead of learning.

Schools are being attacked or occupied by military forces in conflict zones. Sporting fields become battlefields, classrooms become munitions stores, schools are used as battlements and students are used as human shields. This has a devastating effect on children It exposes students and teachers to harm, denies children their right to education and deprives communities of the very foundations upon which to build their future.

According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, since 2009 at least 31 countries have experienced patterned attacks on students, teachers and schools. The majority of these countries are in conflict areas in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East. This is a global problem and requires a global response, which is why 57 countries have already endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, a global statement that aims to protect education from armed conflict.

The declaration came out of the Conference on Safe Schools in Oslo in May 2015. Countries that have endorsed the declaration include war-scarred countries such as Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Nigeria, which have experienced firsthand the terrible effects of attacks and military use of schools. But they also include countries like New Zealand, the Netherlands and Malaysia, whose leaders recognise the importance of global support to keep schools safe.

Countries that sign the declaration not only agree to restore access to education faster when schools are attacked but also agree to make it less likely that students, teachers and schools are attacked in the first place. They seek to deter attacks by making a commitment to investigate and prosecute war crimes involving schools, and they agree to minimise the use of schools for military purposes, which in turn makes schools less vulnerable to attack. Perhaps most importantly, the declaration builds an international community committed to respecting the civil nature of education and developing and sharing examples of best practice for protecting schools from military use.

Australia has previously demonstrated a commitment to protecting children in armed-conflict areas by endorsing the Paris Principles and commitments as well as signing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. When Australia was in the United Nations Security Council in 2014, we voted for resolution 2143, which encourages all countries to consider concrete measures to deter the use of schools by armed forces and armed militias. But Australia has not yet endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. I take this opportunity to urge the government to endorse the declaration and encourage Australia's participation in the next international safe schools conference, which is being held in Argentina in March of this year.

We should condemn, in the strongest possible terms, attacks on schools and education when they occur, particularly in chronic situations like those in Nigeria, Syria and Yemen. Where Australia is providing assistance for foreign military forces, for instance in Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe we should be working with those governments to discourage the use of schools and to promote security policies that better protect schools and students. If we truly believe that education is the key to our future development, how much more important is education in regions of conflict and turmoil? Peace and prosperity only come from education and the empowering of the next generation through knowledge. The alternative is, however, a situation which is now being faced in Syria, where there is almost a lost generation of uneducated children. We owe it to children to act, and we should act now.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hastie ): Is there a seconder?

Ms Vamvakinou: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.