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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 58

Senator NETTLE (4:29 PM) —The scale of the tsunami disaster is heart wrenching and overwhelming, with more than 300,000 people killed, many more injured, and lives and communities shattered—many of which will probably never recover. The Australian Greens express our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the victims. We must commit to working long term to address this disaster and help people to recover and rebuild their lives.

Indonesia, particularly Aceh, was the worst hit, with the toll of missing and dead now almost 240,000; but almost every country on the Indian Ocean has shared in this tragedy, including Australia. However, amongst the tragedies there are stories of hope and tales of personal courage and heroism. The willingness of ordinary citizens around the world to show their support is heartening—not least the enormous financial donations made by Australians—and points towards the growing international consciousness that we are the one planet and we need global cooperation.

There are many stories and examples of people affected by the tsunami. My colleague in the New South Wales parliament, Greens MLC Ian Cohen, was in Sri Lanka on the first day of a surfing holiday when the tsunami struck. He described what happened in comments to the ABC. He said that he was in front of a little hostel right on the beach and the waves started to pound at the walls. He had to retreat behind a pillar and the water was running like a river down the side of the building where he was. Then the sea retracted right back, but 30 minutes later exactly the same thing happened again, and this time there was a lot of timber and furniture—and that was the big danger because it was swirling around. One or two more waves would have pulled the wall right down over him and he would be dead now. Ian stayed on in the village of Hikkaduwa to help with the relief effort, working with local environmental groups that were among many NGOs that quickly began assisting victims. He has continued to help back in Australia, supported by the Greens and particularly by his home community on the north coast of New South Wales. The Byron Bay community has raised over $300,000 to support the relief effort in Sri Lanka. The Australian Greens are encouraging Australians to support the Indonesian Civil Society Coalition for the Victims of Earthquake Tsunami, which is made up of Indonesian environmental and human rights organisations which are part of the aid assistance delivery project.

Whilst this was a natural disaster and, according to the United Nations, the worst tsunami in recorded history, the scale of the devastation was exacerbated by human activities. The lack of warning and the inadequacy of early warning systems and civil defence resources around the Indian Ocean is shocking, and it should not have taken a disaster of this magnitude to be addressed. Why is it that only rich countries have early warning systems? And why, according to reports in the Thai newspaper the Nation in December last year, were the economics of tourism in Thailand placed in front of warnings of the risk of a tsunami? Why is it that Western tourists injured by the tsunami returned home to decent hospital care whilst communities in Aceh have received aid only in recent weeks? Poverty will continue to be an important factor in recovery, and it is with this in mind that we should evaluate Australia’s response to the tsunami.

Half of Australia’s aid is in the form of conditional loans to Indonesia, and the terms are still being negotiated. I understand that only Australian and New Zealand companies will be able to tender for contracts as part of the aid package. The Australian public support a reinvigoration of Australia’s commitment to tackle poverty in less developed countries in the long term. We need to increase our aid to the United Nations recommended target of 0.7 per cent of GDP—something Australia promised to do a long time ago. The Greens have been calling for this for many years, and we need to direct our resources to addressing the Millennium Development Goals. Instead, unfortunately, Australia’s ongoing aid budget is half the amount recommended by the UN, and much of it is ‘boomerang aid’ funding the work of Australian companies.

This week the G7 countries, the richest countries in the world, recognised that debt relief is crucial in making poverty history, and yet our Prime Minister had the audacity to argue that debt relief—or even a moratorium on interest payments—cannot help the world’s poor and that more loans can. Indonesia already owes Australia over $1 billion. To add another $500 million to this burden is not the kind of generosity that many Australian people expect. Aid in disasters such as these is often used as a political football, and we need to be vigilant in the coming months about how the aid effort in Aceh develops. Despite the possibility of peace talks and the lessening of conflict in Aceh, the civil war continues. According to a Reuters report in February this year, the Indonesian military has already shot and killed at least 200 independence guerrillas since the tsunami struck. The Indonesian military is continuing to control access by the media and NGOs to certain areas of Aceh, and NGOs fear that aid will be used as a weapon in the counter-insurgency war.

Only through governments taking serious action, urged on by citizens, can we address the ongoing disaster of global poverty and, just as important, climate change. Whilst killer tsunamis are not frequent events in the Indian Ocean, coastal flooding and rising sea levels do threaten the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of people. Bangladesh and the Maldives are at risk from impacts of global warming—particularly with the combined effects of more frequent and powerful typhoons and rising sea levels. Already, floods and diseases like cholera kill tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh on a regular basis. In 1984, for example, more than 400,000 people died as a result of floods. It is the rich industrial countries of the world that are the primary cause of climate change, so it is we who need to take responsibility for protecting poor coastal people from the rising tide. If we do not address the crisis of global warming, the creeping tsunami of climate change will bring disaster to us all, particularly to the world’s poor. Real, concerted action to address poverty and climate change would be the most fitting epitaph for the victims of the disaster.

Question agreed to.