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Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Page: 8204


Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (20:25): This evening I rise to put on the record my wholehearted support for the ambitious and worthy Sustainable Development Goals, officially referred to as 'Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.' Together, these goals, which put forward 169 targets grouped into 17 broad areas, provide a framework for a global commitment to reducing poverty, increasing well-being and working to protect the long-term health of the planet.

The final document outlining the goals was adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit that was held in New York in September. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, which preceded them, the Sustainable Development Goals will apply to all countries, including Australia, and Australia must play its part.

Today, I would specifically like to discuss Sustainable Development Goal number 3, which aims to:

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

The World Health Organization has identified that more than 20 million children are under-vaccinated and thus at risk of being infected by entirely preventable diseases. For this reason, I would like to reiterate what an important role immunisation must play in achieving a number of the targets that sit under the healthy lives Sustainable Development Goal. Specifically, I would like to acknowledge the excellent work of the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation, GAVI, and the role they are playing in addressing this global issue.

The GAVI Alliance is a public-private global health partnership single-mindedly focused on saving lives. The mission of GAVI is to save children's lives and protect people's health by increasing access to immunisation in the world's poorest countries. Its enormous buying capacity reduces the cost of the vaccines, allowing GAVI to provide 500 million vaccinations across 73 countries in 15 years. In the process it has saved the lives of seven million children in many countries, including countries in our region like Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, the Solomon Islands and Myanmar. These are enormous numbers, and it is hard get a real grasp of the incredible scale of these achievements.

The human reality behind these huge numbers was really brought home to me in a 2012 visit to Myanmar. Here I saw first-hand the excellent work of GAVI. In Nay Pyi Taw I attended the GAVI Alliance and Myanmar Ministry of Health launch ceremony for the pentavalent and measles second dose vaccines. With one injection, the pentavalent vaccine provides children with protection against five deadly but preventable diseases: diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis B, tetanus, and meningitis. It was heartening at this launch to meet parents and their children who had travelled from the regions surrounding Nay Pyi Taw to get their children vaccinated. Amongst hundreds of babies I found a six month old set of twins waiting for their vaccinations, and I knew that these twins would have a better chance of a life free of disease as a result of their experience that day.

This experience highlights the need for Australia to continue to invest, through our overseas development assistance program, in health system strengthening across the developing world. Australia has been a strong supporter of Gavi since 2006. The former Labor government contributed $250 million in direct funding to the Gavi alliance between 2011 and 2015. To its credit, the current government last year renewed the funding with a commitment to contribute a further $250 million. While this is clearly a cut in real terms, I do acknowledge the government's contribution. However, while the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has voiced her personal support for the alliance, I am still concerned that the ongoing and savage cuts to foreign aid funding may yet impact on their work. We have already seen the government go back on its previous commitments on Australia's foreign aid targets, and this simply cannot happen to Gavi.

This evening, I would like to call on the Turnbull government not to drop the ball on supporting Sustainable Development Goal No. 3 and to quarantine Gavi from any future cuts to foreign aid. When Labor were in government, we maintained a commitment to increase Australia's development assistance to 0.5 per cent of gross national income. This was a bipartisan target right up to the 2013 election. Of course, we now know that the Abbott-Turnbull government has ripped a staggering $11.3 billion from our aid program. That includes a $200 million cut from some of the poorest countries in Africa—a massive 70 per cent drop in the last budget alone. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull now presides over a government which has slashed Australia's foreign contribution to an anaemic 0.22 per cent of gross national income. That is a meagre 22c in every $100.

In 2013, those opposite announced a reduction in funds to The Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria. Last year, the Australian contribution to The Global Fund was at the historic high of $100 million. Instead of increasing our contribution to the expected $125 million per year, the Liberals slashed it to half that—around $67 million per year. The cut is despite countries on our doorstep continuing to battle against the three pandemics, with 21 per cent of the fund's grants being directed to Asia and the Pacific. This history is why I am concerned. This is why I would like to implore the Turnbull government today to continue to appropriately finance the important work of Gavi. We need to quarantine the programs that are working the best, and Gavi is exactly this sort of program.

Since 2000, Gavi has supported over 240 million additional children who might not otherwise have had access to vaccines and prevented over 4 million future deaths. Australia has played an important role in supporting the critical work of Gavi and saving lives by significantly scaling up its contribution to the fund in recent years. This has assisted Gavi in rolling out access to the HPV vaccine, which will be of significant benefit to women in developing nations who do not have access to pap smear screening programs for cervical cancers caused by HPV.

There is also another way that the government can add to the work that Gavi is doing. The Gavi alliance has much to be proud of, and the work they have done is literally world changing. But there is a significant challenge they are currently facing, and that is to keep vaccines cool enough to ensure that they work. Gavi has identified that poor vaccine delivery methods contribute to 1½ million child deaths. Nearly all vaccines need to be consistently maintained at between two and eight degrees. Of course, this presents significant logistical challenges in maintaining what is called a 'cold chain' to ensure the vaccines are maintained at safe temperatures from their origin to their final destination. Gavi has identified a significant need to improve these cold chain systems and equipment, and they have identified that Australia could play a significant role in supporting this goal.

Wherever possible, the government should be looking to invest in infrastructure that would improve the cold chain to support the delivery of more vaccines to rural and remote communities. The government should be actively looking for areas in our current region to support Gavi's move toward the creation of more cold chains so that life-saving immunisation can reach more children in rural and remote areas. I would encourage the government to review its current health programs in this light and look for opportunities to back up the Gavi's work by supporting investment in more cold chain infrastructure. Of course, this must be in addition to the core funding for Gavi, which cannot and must not be compromised.