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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1155

Senator PRATT (11:20 PM) —This evening I rise to acknowledge International Women’s Day. There have been myriad terrific events taking place—more than two dozen—in my home state of Western Australia to celebrate the important day, not only in Perth but from Newman through to Wandering. Events have delved into the struggle for economic and political equality and health issues confronting women. We have come a long way in Australia to bring equality of opportunities to women. It is great to see this agenda renewed, as outlined by Senator Kate Lundy in her remarks to the Senate this evening.

In this context today I am quite thankful that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has announced that he will amend the AusAID family planning guidelines. The government has also committed additional funding of up to $15 million over four years through UN agencies and NGOs for family planning and reproductive health activities to help reduce maternal deaths so that Australia’s overseas assistance program can support the same range of family planning services as those available to women in Australia. The capacity for women to control their reproduction is fundamental to women’s ability to improve their social and economic circumstances. In this context, I am proud to be part of a Labor government that is committed to supporting equality for women and achieving the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs as they are otherwise known. This commitment is demonstrated by our undertaking to increase the aid budget so as to reach the interim MDG target of 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015.

The changes proposed to the AusAID family planning guidelines will strengthen our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. The World Health Organisation and other leading medical authorities agree that unsafe terminations are a significant health problem. In recognition of this fact, terminations are legal and easily accessible in Australia. The International Conference on Population and Development, to which Australia is a signatory, urges health systems to make terminations safe and accessible where they are legal.

Sexual and reproductive health services are most effectively delivered as a package—a package that often includes advice about the full range of family planning options. The family planning guidelines made it difficult to deliver such a package of services in practice because they placed limits on the advice provided. Many of the largest non-government agencies involved in Australia’s aid program expressed concern that local partners in developing countries were reluctant to accept Australian assistance towards the provision of sexual and reproductive health services because of the guidelines. Because of the difficulties that these guidelines created, family planning declined dramatically in the Australian aid budget. I think amending the guidelines will strengthen our commitment to the MDGs.

Millennium development goal No. 1 is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Part of this goal is to ‘achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women’, because improving women’s economic productivity is critical to eradicating poverty and hunger. Unfortunately, though, an estimated five million disability adjusted life years are lost every year by women of reproductive age as a result of mortality and morbidity from unsafe terminations. Now Australian aid can be used to help prevent this.

Millennium Development Goals are also there to promote gender equality and to empower women. The causes of unsafe terminations have been described as ‘apathy and disdain for women; they suffer and die because they are not valued’. Women in the developed world are largely exempt from this disdain, while almost all unsafe terminations occur in developing countries. Now Australian aid can help to end this disdain for the world’s poorest women.

Millennium development goal No. 4 is to reduce child mortality. An estimated 220,000 children worldwide lose their mothers every year from deaths related to terminations. These children receive less health care than children with two parents and they are also more likely to die. Now Australian aid can be used to help prevent this situation. Millennium development goal No. 5 is to improve maternal health. An estimated 68,000 women die as a result of unsafe terminations, which account for 13 per cent of maternal deaths. Morbidity is an even more common consequence of the complications arising from these procedures. In some countries, up to 50 per cent of hospital budgets for obstetrics and gynaecology is spent on treating complications. Now Australian aid can be used to prevent these complications, not just treat them.

Millennium development goal No. 6 is to combat HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Target 1 under goal 6 is to ‘have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV-AIDS’. Unfortunately, where terminations are legal, it is often difficult to use Australian aid to assist countries to meet this target because sexual health services are often delivered together with advice about the full range of family planning options. Furthermore, treating complications from unsafe terminations diverts limited resources from other critical healthcare priorities, including combating diseases such as malaria and HIV-AIDS. Now Australian aid can be used to prevent this.

Millennium development goal No. 8 is to develop a global partnership for development. This goal recognises the need for developed and developing nations to work together in ways that respect the differing needs and cultures of developing nations. The guidelines have prevented us from assisting partner countries in delivering sexual and reproductive health services that include the full range of family planning options, even when such services were legal in the country concerned, locally endorsed as culturally appropriate and internationally recognised as an effective use of health resources. Australia will now be able to offer such assistance to partner countries.

Australia will now be able to assist in avoiding terminations through good family planning services, because that is the best way to go. However, as I outlined before, the AusAID guidelines have deterred NGOs from being active in delivering services that prevent terminations, and a lack of access to this kind of advice results in more unsafe terminations and maternal deaths. The Millennium Development Goals are accepted benchmarks by which progress in developing countries is measured. Amending these guidelines continues our commitment to these goals and will facilitate efforts to achieve them.

International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements and identifies the remaining barriers to full equality for women. Australia’s family planning guidelines were one such barrier. Their amendment will enhance Australia’s capacity to help make women everywhere safe and equal.