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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 225

Senator REYNOLDS —I address my question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Earlier today the minister announced membership of the Australian delegation to the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, as well as winners of the national secondary schools essay competition on this theme. Given that there is considerable interest in the global issues of population and development, can the minister inform the Senate of the priorities of the Australian delegation in Cairo?

Senator BOLKUS —At the outset, I thank Senator Reynolds for her question and place on record her interest in this area and the fact that she will be a member of the delegation. She will bring to it a wealth of experience and interest in the issues, particularly those affecting women. I am sure that her contribution in Cairo will be invaluable. As Senator Reynolds said, I made two announcements this morning. The first was in respect of the prize winners of the national secondary schools student essay competition; and the second related to the members of the delegation to Cairo.

  I am pleased to say that two of the students who won prizes are in the gallery now with their teachers. I am very pleased that the student who won first prize for her essay on `Australia and World Population Growth', New South Wales year 12 student Jeanne Chong, will accompany the delegation with her mother. The second prize winner, Daniel Hemli from New South Wales—who is also in the gallery—and the third prize winner, Sally Cameron from South Australia, also deserve congratulations for their impressive essays.

  The UN conference is held every decade. As Senator Reynolds points out, it offers an unparalleled opportunity for the world to focus on and find solutions to a range of critical issues facing humanity. Australia will be one of 180 countries taking part. Our delegation will be working closely with the other countries to achieve international consensus. Our first objective in Cairo will be to work vigorously for international consensus on a program which is forward looking, action oriented and achievable.

  We want a program which will respect cultural and religious differences while honouring internationally accepted human rights. If consensus cannot be achieved, the Australian delegation will seek support for disputed elements of our program. Secondly, we will seek to ensure that the conference retains its focus on the integration of population and development issues in the light of its overall theme of population, sustained economic growth and sustainable development.

  A third and important objective will be to promote agreement on strategies to improve the status of women and to enable them to enjoy, equally with men, a full range of human services. In that context, it is worth noting that some six out of the 14 members of the delegation are women. In this context it is also worth noting that one of our objectives is to promote access to the widest possible range of safe, effective and acceptable family planning services to enable both women and men, as a right and a responsibility, to choose the number and spacing of their children; and to reduce the maternal and infant mortality associated with high risk pregnancy. The delegation will promote the provision of comprehensive family planning and health services to minimise world demand for abortion, address the serious problems of unsafe abortion and limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

  Another high priority for the delegation is to seek explicit recognition of the special needs of indigenous peoples. Further, we have an objective of securing the continued commitment to the principle that all economic activity in developed and developing countries alike should be environmentally sustainable, and building on the outcomes and agreement reached some years ago at the UN conference on environment and development.

  Finally, we will, of course, work to retain national sovereignty over immigration policy within the framework of international law. As honourable senators can see, this is a wide agenda, but already this government, this country, has made a huge contribution to it. We have had a committee set up to advise the government on our participation. That committee has worked effectively. I wish to thank its members for their work. I particularly thank Richard Woolcott, who chaired the committee, and Ambassador Richard Butler, our ambassador to the United Nations, who together on an international level with officers and other committee members have worked effectively to drive a very important and constructive agenda for Australia and also for this conference.