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Thursday, 29 May 2014
Page: 4901


Dr STONE (Murray) (16:51): I am sure that all of us in the House are very much saddened by this news about the failure to find the lost plane.

Globally it remains unlikely that we will meet the fourth Millennium Development Goals of a two-thirds reduction in child mortality by 2015. The Save the Children Fund has just released its Mothers Index which ranks countries from the lowest to the highest in respect of the numbers of preventable child deaths. This index is a part of its annual State of the World's Mothers 2014,Saving mothers and children in humanitarian crises report. Six of the 10 of the lowest-ranked countries in the index are affected by recurring natural disasters, and it is always the poorest mothers who are the worst affected within these countries ravaged by floods, tornadoes or droughts. Of all the countries that have ever ranked in the bottom 10 during the 15 years of this report, 18 of the 28 can be characterised as experiencing persistent natural disasters.

The safest places to raise children—the top 10 countries—include Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Germany and Australia and Belgium are equal ninth. These countries all ranked very highly in scores for mothers' and children's health but also in scores for women's education, economic and political status.

The bottom 10 out of the 178 ranked countries in this index were—not surprisingly—Cote d'Ivoire, Chad, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, finally, Somalia. In the bottom 10 countries, on average one woman in 27 dies from pregnancy related causes and one child in seven dies before his or her fifth birthday.

The 10 toughest places for mother and child survival also have a recent history of armed conflict and are fragile states. The Save the Children report found that contemporary violence and conflict are tearing apart more families than at any time in our history. By the end of 2012 more than 45 million people were forcibly displaced due to conflict or persecution, and natural disasters had in the same year displaced 32 million. We are all very familiar with the terrible trauma that is currently afflicting those in Syria: both the numbers of women and children who have already died and the numbers who are fleeing to neighbouring countries, which are still showing extraordinary humanitarian support in taking in and keeping an open border for refugees. Globally, eighty million are projected to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2014, and over three-quarters of those are women and children.

Australia is more than pulling its weight in trying to address these humanitarian crises. We have more than $5 billion committed in foreign aid annually to be directed particularly to places in our own region, but also to where there is an extraordinary crisis—and we have just heard about the efforts Australia has made to try and locate a lost plane, something that happened out of the blue for us.

In fact, we have two key ways in which we direct our aid. The first is investment in building capacity in a fragile state or in a desperately poor country—an undeveloped country. This will be an investment over a long time frame. For example, it could be in agricultural production support or in ongoing governance development. It could be in trying to improve education and health service provision or systems of provision. Australia works with NGOs, both Australian based and internationally, as well as the governments of these countries and the United Nations to help countries address and overcome their poverty.

The second of our key responses is when there is a humanitarian crisis. For example, the Haiti earthquake, or the Indonesian and PNG severe cyclones, or tornadoes or floods in Bangladesh. This response requires urgent provision of food and water, medical supplies, clothing and shelter. It is a matter of how quickly we can get that support to those countries, how appropriate that support is and how we can make sure that those supplies get to the right places.

This is where I am pleased to say that we are now committed to cash as well as in-kind support in supplying aid, whether it is food, clothing, water purification systems and so on. This is a move from where we were during the previous government, where only cash tended to be sent. It was then used to tender for products being bought—often subsidised products from other countries. I think this is a great move, that we are now making sure that we have best value for money and that we also have the national interest served at the same time as we look after those who find themselves in a dreadful catastrophe.