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Downer "wishy-washy" on development goals.

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Media Release

Bob Sercombe, MP Federal Member for Maribyrnong Shadow Minister for Overseas Aid and Pacific Islands

Downer “wishy-washy” on Development Goals

Today’s report on Australia’s contribution to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) misses some core issues. It is strong on spin and weak on substance.

As reflected in the G8 meeting recently, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has provided strong international leadership on developed countries committing the resources needed to realise the MDGs. The UK has committed to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2010 and 0.7% GNI by 2013. There have been major commitments by France, Germany and other Europeans, and by Canada.

Australians are generous people as reflected in the fine response after the Boxing Day tsunami. Yet despite an increase to 0.28% of GNI budgeted for this year, Australia still lags behind most other developed countries. In fact, under the Howard Government, development assistance has fallen dramatically from the 0.5% achieved in 1975/76.

Australia is part of the Asia-Pacific Region which contains 14 of the world’s least developed countries.

• Two million children under 5 years will die in these least developed countries by 2015. • Less than 50% of the population in Bangladesh are literate. • The infant mortality rate in Cambodia is 96 per 1000 births. • A male born in Papua New Guinea in 2000 can only expect to live 55


• Unemployment in Nauru is 80% • Around 40 million people do not have access to safe drinking water, and 60 million do not have access to adequate sanitation

Further, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are still prevalent, and in many cases, increasing. Rising HIV/AIDS infection rates in Papua New Guinea may result in an HIV/AIDS epidemic to rival sub-Saharan Africa, on Australia’s doorstep. A serious outbreak of Avian flu could devastate the region.

The current international focus on Africa is welcome but there is a danger this will detract attention from our own region. Australia must play, and be seen to play a

leading role in development assistance to the region if we expect like minded countries to play a stronger role. This is vital to Australia. 1 billion people in the Asian Pacific region live in extreme poverty. We must be a leader not only because it is the right thing to do, but also to comprehensively address issues in the region including terrorism.

Tim Costello, the Chief Executive of World Vision has described the Howard Government’s approach as “pitiful”. Respected international leaders such as Mary Robinson have said much the same, perhaps a bit more diplomatically.

John Howard has the opportunity by attending the UN Summit in New York later this month to position Australia again as a respected international player on development issues. No commitment has yet been given that the Prime Minister will even attend the Summit. As a Policy Director of Oxfam Australia said recently, Australia’s approach to the Summit so far “suggests the Government is again running dead on achieving the MDGs or is actively working against explicit poverty reduction and aid targets being agreed at the UN Summit”.

The generosity of the Australian people and respect for our leading role in our region, requires that the Government stop being wishy washy, and get on with what Tony Blair called the great moral issue of our time.

Bob Sercombe 0412 392 538