Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

ADJOURNMENT - Malnutrition

Senator MOORE ( Queensland ) ( 20:19 ): Last September our country, along with other nations of the world, joined together at the United Nations to commit to 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are focused on efforts to end all forms of poverty, to fight inequalities and to tackle climate change, while ensuring-and the theme is most important-that no-one is left behind. Twelve months on, there is a chance to see what has actually happened. 'The true test of our commitment as a global community to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda will be in its implementation', said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He went on:

We need action from everyone, everywhere. If Governments, businesses and civil society work together, we can build a world of peace, prosperity, dignity and opportunity for all by 2030.

In our own region we are being shown some leadership by Pacific nations, who gathered together last month to look at the role of parliamentarians in the Pacific to implement Sustainable Development Goals. Parliamentarians gathered together over three days to talk about how they could work with civil society, with businesses, with regions and with other people to ensure that we could look at how human rights operate and how we could make sure that human rights mechanisms could work with the Sustainable Development Goals to see how we could best build on the 17 goals that look at doing exactly what the claim was-reducing poverty, looking at our climate and ensuring that we have a world that is peaceful and secure.

The parliamentarians identified the roles we could play. Some of the immediate actions identified at the meeting were that we could look at how key government ministries were operating in the SDG environment, organising events or sectors of society to generate broad discussions around these issues, creating awareness in respect of constituencies through national media and other channels, monitoring through public spending and budget execution, and also developing a clear action plan to align SDGs with various parliamentary committees. It is hoped that the operations of this workshop will be able to give a bit of a map to the parliamentary areas in the Pacific to look at how they could work together, sharing knowledge-in fact, partnership is goal No. 17: working together to achieve real results. Unfortunately that degree of action has not happened as yet in our own country, so I am hoping that over the next few months we will be able to learn from what Pacific parliamentarians have put in place for their own region and be part of that development.

Tonight I want to talk particularly about goals No. 1 and No. 2. The first one is pretty straightforward-it says that there should be no poverty. But what I want to talk about tonight is goal No. 2, which looks at the issue of zero hunger. I want to talk tonight about malnutrition-something that I think we understand, to an extent, but we need to really look at what is happening in our region to ensure that we can make a response to this real threat to sustainability, peace and security. I am grateful to the people at RESULTS, a wonderful NGO based in Australia that has put together some information around the issue of malnutrition and stunting. They have indicated to us that malnutrition alone claims the lives of three million children under age five every year-three million children. It robs millions more of the opportunity to reach their full physical and cognitive potential and costs the global economy billions each year in lost productivity. Undernutrition is a severe problem for some of Australia's nearest neighbours, with the greatest threats posed in Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea. In the ASEAN region, 31.5 per cent of children under five are affected by stunting. In Timor-Leste alone, a staggering 58 per cent of children under five are undernourished.

Clear data indicates that we have a window of opportunity for improving nutrition. The first thousand days, from the first day of pregnancy through the first two years of life, is the key period to ensure that children are strong and well-nourished. Damage can occur due to inadequate nutrition during this period and can be extensive and largely irreversible. Tackling malnutrition in the Asia-Pacific is also important to Australia's regional and global interests. Naturally, a prosperous, stable and healthy region is good for Australia's security, trade opportunities and regional cooperation. We in this place, as members of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, made a recommendation in an important committee last year calling on a DFAT to develop a comprehensive nutrition strategy to guide how the aid program could address nutrition issues. That recommendation came out of evidence that was given to the committee during its hearing looking at these issues of malnutrition in our region.

We have a real opportunity in our region to play a great investment role and ensure that we have strong nutrition. For instance, Australia's investment in Pakistan's 2011 national nutrition survey led to the development of a World Bank multi-donor trust fund for nutrition in which Australia was the founding donor. A review in 2014 noted that many initiatives across all sectors had the potential to impact on undernutrition, but without explicit nutrition objectives and indicators opportunities to improve nutrition may not be fully exploited, and improvements in nutrition as a result of Australian investments may not even be identified. Two case studies in Timor Leste, in the food security sector and the water and sanitation sector, adopted nutrition objectives and indicators mid-implementation showing the way for other initiatives to do so where appropriate.

Undernutrition is a severe problem for some of our nearest neighbours. We have so much data that talks about the impact for children under five. We know that the stunting rates in Oceania where 39 per cent in 2013. That is the highest rate in the world, and the trend is not improving. PNG, Laos and Timor Leste are again the nations where the greatest problems have been identified.

The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade looked at the fact that, despite steady reductions in the prevalence of undernutrition in most of Asia over the past two decades, there have been almost no improvements in the Pacific region since 1990. Australia's investment in undernutrition as a proportion of ODA does not match the severity of the problem in our region. For example, 37 per cent of children in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted. Recent data shows that 10 per cent of Australian aid to this region was provided for nutrition programs. That is 10 per cent of aid, and 37 per cent of children who are stunted-undernourished and not growing. Thirty-nine per cent of children in the Pacific are stunted.

Our data shows that 0.4 per cent of Australian aid in the Pacific was provided for nutrition programs. In Timor Leste stunning rates exceed 50 per cent of children. But only 1.1 per cent of Australian ODA was allocated to nutrition. This corresponds to only 1.5 per cent of Australia's total investment in nutrition.

Given our geographic advantage, Australia has a significant leadership role to play in taking action on nutrition in our region. The high rates of maternal and child undernutrition in PNG, Timor Leste and some South-East Asian countries require increased focus, a bilateral or regional strategy, and more targeted investments that respond to country needs.

Tackling malnutrition in the Asia Pacific is essential to ensuring Australia's regional and global interests. A prosperous, stable and healthy region is good for Australia's security, trade opportunities and regional cooperation. Poor nutrition in our region-such as the fact that 37 per cent of children are being stunted in Indonesia-will impose long-term economic cost to Indonesia and, therefore, also to Australia and the entire region.

The consequences of undernutrition are likely to result in lower cognitive development, lower educational attainment and greater susceptibility to chronic disease. These disadvantages can have serious impacts on economic productivity, including reduced gross domestic product and large public health costs. This will impact on: sustainable development goal No. 3, good health and wellbeing; No. 4, quality education; naturally, No. 5, gender equality. And it will move on, because of the cognitive impairments, to No. 8, decent work and economic growth. Reduced inequality is No. 10. Then there is responsible consumption and development; climate action; peace and justice; strong institutions; and, clearly, No. 17, which is partnerships to make us achieve the goals. Those partnerships are those in which we can lead and share and make sure we work together.

Australia allocates most nutrition funding to nutrition-sensitive interventions that address the underlying causes of malnutrition. Over half of this work is delivered through the rural development and food security sector, with most of the remaining funding tied to the humanitarian, emergency and refugee sector. Only a small proportion of funding in the health sector is allocated to nutrition-specific interventions, which does not seem to make any sense at all. When you think about good health and wellbeing, it seems to be a natural expectation that that would link to effective nutrition and working in partnership to ensure that children are well fed and have the opportunity to grow stronger and safe. Without explicit nutrition related programs and objectives, the opportunity Australia has to significantly boost nutrition in our region is likely to be minimised or even lost. Only such a small portion of the government's nutrition spend is allocated to nutrition-specific programs.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not have a comprehensive nutrition strategy to coordinate its approach to the undernutrition crisis in our region. We strongly support the recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade calling on the need to develop such a strategy. This planning, this focus, would assist to ensure focus on nutrition in countries where undernutrition is a serious developmental challenge. It would also help the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ensure that a coherent and coordinated approach to nutrition is being rolled out with all our aid partner countries. Australia is starting to apply innovative approaches to nutrition. Last month, DFAT's InnovationXchange and the US Agency for International Development, USAID, partnered for an innovation challenge called LAUNCH Food, which could address issues stemming from globalisation of the world's food supply. The organisations are concerned about the high levels of impaired development, non-communicable diseases and avoidable deaths arising out of undernutrition and overnutrition in lower income countries.

The clear challenge which has been identified will give participants the opportunity to have their proposals reviewed by a network of industry pioneers, government organisations, investors and innovation experts. The innovation processes which are the most progressive will be funded through the platform. That would be a genuine opportunity for people to see how they can share knowledge-again, goal 17: partnerships-and use specialist knowledge to respond to the clear issue of nutrition. That is something that we have not done recently in our programs. As I said earlier, years ago this used to be the focus of AusAID. We would look at issues around nutrition for children, particularly in the first 1,000 days, and at how, through engagement with folic acid, we could help mothers in the early stage of pregnancy and then while breastfeeding to give the strongest, safest start to children so that we will not have those long-term impacts. When we look around at our own children, we see that they do have these opportunities. Why then would those large percentages of children I have spoken of in our immediate region not have the same opportunities and the same chances?

All the Sustainable Development Goals work together. I just want to add some comments on goal No. 6, which is clean water and sanitation. We have launched a program on the issues of safe water, which linked to World Toilet Day, which was on 19 November 2016. A program has been launched by Global Citizen, an exciting international group which challenges all of us, but particularly focusing on young people, to take action to make change to our globe. The campaign, which was started on 19 November, is calling on our government to show leadership by reaching 50 million people in the Pacific with access to clean water and sanitation by 2030. Again, the statistics are exceptionally confronting. Worldwide, some 650 million people do not have access to safe, clean water, and more than 2.3 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation. The situation in our immediate neighbourhood-in the Pacific and in Oceania-is critical. In PNG alone it is estimated that 4.5 million people live without safe water-60 per cent of the total population-and 800 children die each year from diarrhoea. In the Solomon Islands, only 13 per cent of households have access to basic sanitation.

Again, Australia has an important role to play as a leader in the Asia-Pacific region by committing to investing in water and sanitation projects, but there have been reductions to our overseas aid program over multiple budgets. Some of the investment in water, sanitation and hygiene projects have been reduced. There have been clear links made in recent research between clean water and nutrition, again looking at the impact on children. The statistics say that in Papua New Guinea alone 800 children die each year from diarrhoea, which is almost more than we can comprehend. It is something that is so easily helped in Australia with access to medication, the expectation that we do have safe sanitation, hygienic homes, an understanding of basic hygiene and access to water. These things are acceptable as natural entitlement in Australia, but are not so in our neighbourhood.

Again, this is a challenge to all of us. What I am hoping is that we will take up the challenge that our Pacific neighbours have given to us. The Pacific parliamentarians who met together in Fiji have said that they will be acting within their own parliaments to bring these issues to the attention of other parliamentarians and to the wider community. They will identify how the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will affect their communities and across their whole region. We can do that with them. We can share in that challenge and ensure that we will take the opportunities given to us to identify where the needs are greatest and to look at the skills and knowledge that we already have in our nation. We will be able to look at these individual goals and to ensure that children will be able to grow safe and strong. Sustainable Development Goal No. 2, which says that there will be zero hunger and that young people will have effective nutrition, will be addressed by effective programs put in place through our aid program. Also, there is No. 6, which is about clean water and sanitation. We have talked many times in this place about this issue. We understand the challenges and we have the ability to respond. Over the next 15 years-the time for the Sustainable Development Goals-we can ensure that we can make a difference and, indeed, we will ensure that no-one is left behind.