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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1625


Mr HOLLIS(10.30) —I would like to draw the attention of honourable members to Australia's participation in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Recently the Australian National Commission for UNESCO, on which I am the Government's representative, sent to members of both Houses its report for the three-year period 1981 to 1983. That report illustrates the benefit Australia receives from active membership. Its appearance is timely as UNESCO is very much in the public eye. Australia profits nationally by contributing to the development of solutions to problems in education, science, culture and communication around the globe through UNESCO. Participation in UNESCO's international and regional activities helps build bridges that overcome Australia's geographical isolation. Australians are able to attend conferences and workshops and share in ongoing information exchange networks, and thereby gain scientific and technical knowledge useful to the Australian community. For example, Australia takes part in a UNESCO program which examines how the spread of deserts through pastoral and agricultural misuse of land can be prevented, a subject particularly relevant to Australia's needs.

Australia also shares in the benefits of UNESCO's work in setting international standards in a host of areas. Member states agree to adhere to the standards through the signing of conventions. As a result of one set of UNESCO conventions, for example, Australian writers get copyright for what they have published overseas. Australia's foreign policy is served through UNESCO as links with other countries, particularly in Asia and the Pacific, are strengthened. In March the Federal Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) was able to meet Asian and Pacific Ministers of Education in Bangkok as a result of a regional UNESCO conference. Further, by making Australian expertise available through consultancies and by staging conferences and workshops in Australia, Australia gains a great deal of goodwill. In February the Australian National Commission for UNESCO, in conjunction with UNESCO in Paris, held a workshop in Melbourne for science journalists from Asian and Pacific countries. One product of this was the spread of information about science in Australia through the media in Asia and the Pacific. During the 1981-83 period nine regional seminars were staged in Australia on subjects ranging from protection of historic places to the marketing of information services. Meanwhile, more than 200 Australians contributed to UNESCO programs overseas as consultants or through attendance at seminars. They were concerned with subjects from education of the handicapped and book publishing to solar energy and South East Asian migration.

All these benefits are gained at relatively little cost to the Australian Government. Australia contributes 1.5 per cent of UNESCO's budget, a figure based on the country's gross national product. In 1985 Australia's contribution was assessed at $US1,335,712. This figure was reduced substantially because of unexpected international currency fluctuations in UNESCO's previous budget period. This led to savings for the Organisation and member states, including Australia, and they will have their 1985 contributions reduced. This year Australia will pay only $US86,368.

Membership of UNESCO entails also the funding of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO. This is a 41-member body made up of academics, community leaders, political representatives and departmental representatives. It advises the Government on policy towards UNESCO, links Australians interested in UNESCO's fields of endeavour with the Organisation, and mounts activities in Australia. Its budget for activities in 1984-85 is $139,000. All members serve without honorarium. In addition, there are costs to the Government in the form of a small secretariat for the National Commission and a full time Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. This is balanced, however, by the Australians employed in UNESCO's Paris-based secretariat in professional posts. Australia's quota is eight.

Clearly, the cost of belonging to UNESCO is not great, especially considering the benefits that come to Australia in a narrow national sense, not to mention the obligation Australians have to contribute to the solution of world problems as part of humanity. This should not be obscured by the current political criticism of UNESCO, which may mount as the Organisation approaches its general conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, in October. While the Australian Government recognises that reforms are necessary to make UNESCO a more efficient and effective organisation, it has stated that the best way to achieve these reforms is to work from within the Organisation as a positive participant. I support this statement and urge members to take the time to become familiar with the work of UNESCO.