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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3460

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (20:35): It is unusual for a member not to be relevant to his own motion, but I would like to support the member for Flinders's acknowledgement of World Plumbing Day and start by highlighting the important work of the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre in my own electorate of Wills. The Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre is a high-profile facility with ongoing promotion both to the general public and industry stakeholders. It is a world-class facility with a high level of water and energy savings and with a commitment to continuing performance improvement. It is a world-class facility in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It is a public building used by diverse stakeholders and it is an educational and research facility.

The establishment of the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre has allowed the plumbing sector in Victoria to keep up with the increasing need of the community for sustainability, in addition to furthering the career options and industry retention of apprentices and plumbers. As the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre has pointed out, an adequate supply of plumbers to meet the challenges of climate change is as important as making sure that our current workforce has the skills they need. Young people enjoy the positive consumer reactions to the new green plumber image, which is particularly relevant to young people considering their career choices. We also need to retain those who are established plumbers, and the green aspects of plumbing add another dimension to their skill base and expand the role of experienced plumbers.

The Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre offers a range of courses not available elsewhere in Australia. This is a centre of excellence supported by all, an initiative that has brought together the plumbers union with other key industry employee and employer groups as well as training bodies so that building design meets key sustainability requirements now and into the future. It is a collaborative project which at its core has had stakeholder engagement essential in delivering effective outcomes for the centre now and into the future.

The vocation of plumbing is at the coalface of sustainability. Whether plumbers are dealing with water, sanitation, gas or solar, raising plumbing industry standards and becoming a venue for innovative research and development of sustainable practices are paramount for the industry and for government. In delivering on this vocation the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre has committed to the construction of a new climate change academy and industry innovation centre that will focus on delivery of green plumbing pre-apprenticeships for Indigenous, female and other students, followed by apprenticeship training delivering dual qualifications in certificate III plumbing and in Green Plumbers Environmental Solutions.

The vision is the establishment of an academy which would see a large number of Indigenous apprentices trained in vital skills for remote communities and to meet the challenges of the mining boom, building on the success of the Indigenous Community Sanitation Program. In an application for financial support from the Australian government, the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre highlighted: 'Whilst the program places great value on the employment and training of Indigenous Australians placed in apprenticeships, the greatest value will be to those communities desperately needing trained generalist plumbers able to maintain proper sanitation and clean water. Australian government funding to assist in the construction of this facility would have a profound impact on real job creation across all areas of the youth population, particularly in mitigating Indigenous disadvantage by increasing the number of Indigenous apprentices to between 20 and 50 over a four-year period.'

I want to turn now to the broader worldwide issue of water and sanitation. I believe it is important that the Australian government take action to provide assistance to transform the lives of people living in poverty, especially in our region. Taps and toilets save lives and transform communities. Investing in water and sanitation is a proven way of achieving results for poor people.

The joint monitoring program of UNICEF and the World Health Organisation released its latest report on 6 March confirming that the millennium development goal target for drinking water has been reached. Improved drinking water sources are now used by 89 per cent of the global population, and this is one of the first MDGs to be met. However, 780 million people worldwide still do not have access to safe water and over 2.5 billion live without proper sanitation. Huge disparities exist between urban and rural areas, rich and poor, and on-track and off-track regions. The human cost of this lack of basic services is very significant. Diarrhoea is the biggest killer of children in Africa and the second biggest killer globally. Whilst the water MDG target may have been met, the sanitation target looks as though it will be the last to be met. That is not to say that no progress has been made, because 1.8 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990. Globally, 63 per cent of the population now use improved sanitation facilities. However, unless the pace of change in the sanitation sector can be accelerated, the MDG target will remain unrealised.

Some of the current issues are: (1) in sub-Saharan Africa, 45 per cent of the population use either shared or unimproved facilities, and an estimated 25 per cent have no facilities; (2) in southern Asia, while the proportion of the population using shared or unimproved facilities is lower, one-third of the 2.5 billion people without improved sanitation live in India; (3) in Oceania, in the Pacific, progress is, once again, slow—access to improved sanitation was 55 per cent in 1990 and some 20 years later, in 2010, it is still 55 per cent; (4) in the 50 countries designated by the United Nations as the least developed, much of the population has not benefited from investment in sanitation. In those countries, only 35 per cent of the population uses improved sanitation.

According to WaterAid and the Water and Sanitation Reference Group, access to water and sanitation have far-reaching positive impacts, contributing to all areas of development, and are one of the keys to achieving all of the millennium development goals:

MDG1: eradicating extreme poverty. The economic returns from investing in water and sanitation are strong. For every dollar invested the World Health Organisation estimates an economic return of $8, mainly through time savings and reducing productive days lost to illness. The benefits are pro poor because the losses are borne disproportionately by poor people and women.

MDG2: universal education. More girls stay in school when there is access to water and sanitation in their school and community. Girls miss school because they must spend hours fetching water for their families and, with the onset of puberty, unisex toilets and a lack of proper hygiene facilities deter attendance. In 2000 a UNICEF school sanitation program in Bangladesh was instrumental in increasing the number of girls enrolling in school by 11 per cent.

MDG3: gender equality and women's empowerment. Access to water and sanitation frees women and girls from the burden of water and sanitation poverty. Seventy-two per cent of the population tasked with water-fetching labour are women and girls. In much of rural Africa and South Asia women and girls spend, on average, two hours a day collecting water, often from dirty unprotected sources.

MDG4: reducing child mortality. Access to water and sanitation addresses the causes of diarrhoea, which is, as I said before, the biggest killer of children in Africa. A recent study of the causes of child mortality, as studied in The Lancet found that diarrhoea was killing more people than malaria, measles and AIDS combined. Some 90 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths are caused by inadequate sanitation, unsafe water and poor hygiene. A World Bank review ranked sanitation as one of the most cost-effective health interventions available.

MDG5: maternal health. Similarly, water and sanitation access is a foundation for improved women's health.

MDG6: combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Access to water and sanitation enables people living with HIV/AIDS and their carers to maintain basic hygiene and to keep healthy.

MDG7: ensuring environmental sustainability. Basic services, such as water and sanitation, are key elements of resilience to climate change. The poor are most at risk because they are already the least able to cope with seasonal change and extreme weather. Water and sanitation access improves their resilience and their ability to adapt to climate change. In a few weeks time the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership is holding a high-level meeting in Washington. Ministers from donor and developing countries will be there to generate the political will, commitments and action to tackle this crisis. Last year, Australia participated as an observer. I believe this meeting is a genuine opportunity to tackle the global water and sanitation crisis and I believe that Australia can play, and I hope it will play, a positive role in making that happen.