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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 3528

Senator TROETH (5:43 PM) —by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the United Nations and other international agencies in Europe and the 121st Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva, which took place from 7 to 24 October 2009. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator TROETH —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I have great pleasure in presenting the report of the delegation of which I was deputy leader, with Mr Roger Price from the other place as the leader. I should also mention Senator Crossin, sitting across from me, who was the other senator who was a member of this delegation.

The international agencies in Europe which we visited and had in-depth discussions with were the World Food Program; the Global Crop Diversity Trust, about which I will have more to say later; the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, more commonly known as the FAO; the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; the International Atomic Energy Agency; the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty Organisation; and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, known as the OECD.

The particular item that I would like to stress as being very important to this delegation was the global diversity trust. The reason is that not only did we visit this trust but it had a particular place to play in the discussion at the IPU. At the IPU Australia was instrumental in moving a resolution on food security which was adopted by consensus and was, I believe, the first in which Australia played a very constructive role, and we issued a press release to mark this.

The Parliamentary Action to Ensure Global Food Security was adopted by the assembly, as I said, and in particular spoke about the way in which governments can assist to free up both the production and the movement of food. The assembly recognised that the world is experiencing various natural and man-made disasters ranging from drought, famine and floods to locust invasions, and of course all of that affects agricultural productivity and the macroeconomic status of countries, particularly developing ones. We recognised that these severe weather patterns have become so common globally that they have led to the loss of life and property and the destruction of farmlands and transport infrastructure and we reaffirmed that, although obviously each country has primary responsibility for its own sustainable development and poverty eradication, there is a great deal that can be done by developed countries to enable developing countries to achieve their sustainable development goals, particularly those that arise out of the relevant UN conferences and the United Nations Millennium Declaration.

It is interesting to note that the number of malnourished people in developing countries has unfortunately increased to more than one billion. Food prices have fallen from their recent peaks but they remain volatile. That is due, among other things, to speculative trade in futures markets in food grains, and they are expected to remain relatively high in the foreseeable future. Armed conflict, of course, also causes a steep decline in socioeconomic conditions, and the international community’s capacity to respond to the growing demand for food is constrained by increasing urbanisation—a topic that we have often discussed in this chamber—water scarcity, the decline in investment in agricultural research and development, distortions in global food markets, increasing energy prices, environmental degradation and climate change.

Our visit to the Global Crop Diversity Trust pointed out several ways in which Australia can help to achieve the millennium goals by the work that we do. The global diversity trust ensures the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide. Australia was an inaugural donor to the trust and is now a leading donor. It has also managed to attract large donations from private sector corporations, but Australia is the fourth biggest contributor behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Kingdom and Norway, and we have guaranteed our future contribution by announcements in various budgets. I was very pleased to note that the Grains Research and Development Corporation, a body for which I was formerly responsible as parliamentary secretary, has pledged US$5 million to the trust, of which US$3.25 million has been paid to date.

As well as funding the endowment fund, AusAID funds a three-year seconded position to the secretariat of the trust, and we have had an officer from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in that role. We are also represented on the trust through various members of the board, including in particular Professor John Lovett, who is a former executive director of the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

The global diversity trust, along with the Norwegian government, funded the high-profile Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, which means that, increasingly, rare seeds and other biological resources can be kept so that the most important collections of priority food crops can be built on in the future and kept in order that agricultural research can be further developed to be the main source of genetic resources for the world’s plant breeders. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was opened in February 2008 and will eventually store virtually every variety of almost every important food crop in the world. It is essentially the world’s agricultural insurance policy against disaster so that food production can be restarted should it be threatened by a regional or global catastrophe.

When delegations such as this one visit institutions they very rarely make recommendations, understanding that the organisations that they visit are best fitted to run their own business. But in this instance the entire delegation was of the view that Australia could be doing more to ensure the safety and protection of its seed bank. So we recommend in this report that the Australian government work cooperatively with state governments to ensure that their stocks of seeds are securely held in seed banks and that they are duplicated and safely lodged with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. That is something that I would particularly like to see happen, and it was an integral part of the delegation’s work.

I also want to particularly mention the outstanding work of Mr Neil Bessell, who was secretary to the delegation and accompanied the delegation throughout. He was absolutely assiduous in seeing that every detail that we needed—particularly at the IPU meeting in Geneva—was provided for us and that our every comfort was looked after. In other words, he ensured that all delegates were completely looked after from the start to the finish. His company was excellent and I do want to extend to him the very sincere thanks of the delegation for the work that he did on that delegation and in every other activity that Mr Bessell carries out.

We went on to develop another resolution at the 121st Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and that carried over to the 122nd assembly, which was held in Bangkok, Thailand, earlier this year. I was chair of the drafting committee for that particular resolution, and I hope to report on that process when we table the report of the 122nd assembly in the future. This was the most interesting delegation to go on in terms of learning more about Australia’s role in international organisations and playing quite an important role in the resolution on food security at the IPU assembly.