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Monday, 26 March 2001
Page: 25666

Mr QUICK (10:42 PM) —This evening I wish to address a topic that a number of my colleagues and I believe is crucial to improving the lives of poor people around the world: access of the poorest people to credit. Currently, 1.3 billion people around the world live on less than $A2 a day, and two-thirds of these people are women. It is these very poor women who often miss out when it comes to benefiting from many of the normal aid delivery programs. Yet, as any mother would know, it is these same women who are crucial to the wellbeing of their families and communities. Microcredit—the provision of small loans for self-employment and income generation—is proving to be a most effective way for these women to help lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty. In a time of various domestic demands for increased expenditure and pressures on the aid budget, microcredit represents excellent use of our aid dollars.

The outcomes of the international Microcredit Summit in 1997 have been instrumental in creating the momentum and expertise for the proliferation of quality microcredit programs. This summit launched a goal to reach 100 million of the world's poorest families, especially the women of these families, with microcredit and other business and financial services by the year 2005. Already, 23 million people worldwide are obtaining credit and other services through more than 1,000 programs already up and running throughout the world. Achieving the summit's broad objective is not simply a matter of extending loans to many more people. The Microcredit Summit also set the following specific goals: targeting the poorest people, concentrating on lending to women, building microcredit institutions that are self-sustaining financially and having a measurable, positive impact on the lives of the poor.

These additional goals represent the true innovation of the Microcredit Summit, as lending to poor people through microcredit programs was growing before the summit took place. However, the maximum benefit of extending loans to many more people will only be achieved if the people obtaining loans are the poorest and the impact of the loans on their lives is obvious and positive. The Australian government, like other governments of both donor and developing countries, has recognised the value of microcredit in reducing poverty. Over the last 10 years, successive governments of both political persuasions have increased support for microcredit through our aid program from $250,000 to almost $10 million in the years 2000-01.

The next challenge for the Australian government is to continue to increase its level of support for microcredit and to ensure that the support that Australia provides is serving the specific goals of the Microcredit Summit. Individual members of parliament can play a key role by ensuring that present and future Australian governments meet these challenges. Members of parliament from more than 20 countries, including 17 members of the Australian Commonwealth parliament from different parties in both houses, are members of the Microcredit Summit Council of Parliamentarians. Each member of the council has pledged to take action to ensure that the summit goals are achieved.

Earlier today, I chaired a meeting of members of the Council of Australian Parliamentarians. We reaffirmed our commitment to take action to ensure that Australian aid for microcredit contributes to achieving the Microcredit Summit goals, including raising the issue in person with the Minister for Foreign Affairs upon his return to Australia. We are also seeking to have microcredit as a key issue on the agenda for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting to be held in Canberra in September later this year. Microcredit is fostering enterprise rather than aid dependency. I would urge colleagues on both sides of the House to join with the Council of Australian Parliamentarians to ensure that we and our constituents are aware of this good news story about the impact of development assistance through the implementation of microcredit.