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Wednesday, 19 June 1996
Page: 1867


Senator CHILDS(6.58 p.m.) —The Parliamentary Association for UNICEF met today to elect office bearers for the term of the new parliament. I wish to congratulate the new president of the association, Mrs Kathy Sullivan, a Liberal member of parliament, and I wish her every success in this important role. Larry Anthony from the National Party was elected secretary of the association, and Australian Democrats Senator-elect Lyn Allison is our new Treasurer. I remain with the association in the role of vice-president.

As is traditional, the office bearers reflect the all-party cooperation which has always existed in the association. The Parliamentary Association for UNICEF was formed nine years ago and is a group of parliamentarians who support the aim and the work of the United Nations Children's Fund. UNICEF has a long history of providing practical assistance to women and children in the world's poorest countries and is actively involved in areas such as immunisation, literacy programs and seed loans to allow poor families to become economically self-sufficient.

Often when we see images of starving children on television, or hear the statistics of high infant mortality caused by preventable diseases, we feel helpless. The 30-second news grab that focuses on death or disaster gives us no insight into the good work being done by agencies around the world such as UNICEF, nor do these news grabs convey the fact that not only is progress possible but is actually happening.

Tonight I want to talk about the 1996 UNICEF report, The progress of nations. The report was launched just last week in Sydney by Justice Marcus Einfeld. The progress of nations monitors the achievements of countries around the world in meeting commitments they made at the historic 1990 World Summit for Children. Countries are ranked each year according to the progress they have made in a number of areas including immunisation, poverty, malnutrition, education of girls, health services for women and maternal health.

The good news from The progress of nations report is that immunisation is saving the lives of three million children each year. In 1980, 20 per cent of children in the developing world were immunised. Today the figure is 80 per cent. Oral rehydration therapy—that is, the sugar and salt mixture—saves one million children's lives each year. These sachets are one of the cheapest ways possible to save human life. They cost only $1 for seven packets—seven lives saved for just $1. Yet without this basic care many children die of simple diarrhoea.

The progress made in immunisation and primary health care has occurred in less than one generation. Five million fewer children die each year from the preventable diseases. Fewer children are blinded, crippled or mentally retarded from preventable diseases such as polio.

But, of course, the news is not all good. In poor countries, eight million children still die each year of preventable causes such as measles, diarrhoea, malaria, pneumonia and malnutrition. That is about the total population of New South Wales and Queensland. I must stress that these diseases are preventable. Many can be treated by simple remedies such as oral rehydration therapy, which I mentioned earlier. Others can be inoculated against. Some $75 is enough to save 200 children from blindness with vitamin A supplements, and $26 can buy blankets for 10 small children.

Most children who die, die of five easily treated conditions—measles, diarrhoea, malaria, pneumonia and malnutrition—and 80 per cent of children brought to health centres in developing countries are suffering from one of these five conditions. Eight million children die each year of these causes. Measles kills more people than AIDS. Respiratory infections claim more lives than cancer. Community health workers in these countries can be trained in just 11 days to save these young lives. With 14 basic drugs and referral services, these health workers can successfully meet the needs of 80 per cent of the children brought to local clinics and health centres.

The progress of nations also addresses maternal death. About 600,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth around the world each year leaving one million orphans. Many of these maternal deaths are preventable. The progress of nations report states that `for every woman who dies, approximately 30 more incur injuries, infections and disabilities . . . maternal mortality and morbidity . . . is the most neglected tragedy of our times'.

Malnutrition continues to be a problem. Half the world's malnourished children are in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Some 67 per cent of Bangladeshi children are malnourished. About 700 children can be fed for $105 worth of high protein biscuits, and $45 will buy a week's supply of unimix cereal for 35 children. It is obvious what just a few dollars can do, yet aid spending is at a 20-year low. Each year since the end of the Cold War, $250 billion less has been spent on weapons yet, tragically, little of the `peace dividend' has been channelled to the world's neediest people. Aid has only increased $1 billion per year in real terms.

Much of the public attention given to The progress of nations report has focused on the issue of child poverty. Child poverty in the industrialised world varies from three per cent in the Nordic countries to 22 per cent in the United States. The progress of nations report says, `In all industrialised nations for which information is available, children in solo-mother families are at greater risk of poverty.'

The good news about child poverty is that government action can save children from poverty. In 11 of the 18 developed countries surveyed, government action has cut poverty in half. Currently in the United States groups such as Stand for Children are working towards cutting the child poverty rate in that country. About 10,000 concerned citizens marched on Washington calling for continued government support for welfare programs which address the needs of poor children. Children have become a political issue in Washington.

Australia, along with Canada and Ireland, has a child poverty rate of more than 10 per cent. In Australia, half the children living in poverty have single mothers. We must continue to address poverty in Australia and we must be ever vigilant against attacks on our society or its social welfare safety net. It is shocking that a country with as many resources and as much wealth as Australia has any child poverty. It is an indictment on all Australians that we have such a figure.

I do not have time to develop the issue tonight but we as parliamentarians must continue in our bipartisan search for practical solutions. The future of children is too important for any cheap point scoring.

Finally, as Senator David Brownhill, who is the secretary of UNICEF, is in the chamber, I place on record my thanks for his work for UNICEF in the last nine years. I also thank my colleague from the Australian Democrats, Senator Robert Bell, who for quite a long period of time has had the job of being treasurer of UNICEF and has discharged that duty with great aplomb.