Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

ADJOURNMENT - Youth With A Mission

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (19:20): I feel quite lonely on that list. I have never seen my name on a list alone before! I want to talk this evening about Youth With A Mission-YWAM-Medical Ships. This wonderful organisation is a Christian charity which has been actively developing communities by addressing healthcare and training needs in a range of partnerships with relevant national and provincial governments and administrations. This organisation has been working for many years internationally, but since 2010 has been active around the Papua New Guinea region, mainly based in Townsville but also with a special relationship with Newcastle. YWAM has a joint patronage of the Rt Hon. Sir Rabbie Namaliu, a former Prime Minister of PNG, and my friend Mike Reynolds, a former speaker of the Queensland parliament.

This whole model of providing service is based on partnership. There is strong agreement that there must be partnerships with the local country, and this of course is our wonderful closest neighbour, PNG. People in this place are familiar with the particular challenges of Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbour. Just 3.7 kilometres of water separate our nations' closest points, which is in fact from my state of Queensland at the northern tip of the Torres Strait to the Papua New Guinea coast.

It is the most populated Pacific nation, with more than seven million people, but their medical needs are great and challenging. In a nation where 43 per cent of the population is under the age of 15, one in four Papua New Guinea people will not live to celebrate their 40th birthday. Delivering basic services in Papua New Guinea poses enormous challenges, with 84 per cent of the population living in remote and extremely remote-much more so than we understand that term to mean in Australia-and rural areas. These communities are scattered over rugged terrain. They have difficult areas of native forest, vast expanses of ocean and an extensive coastline. The YWAM ship, of which they are very proud, helps to overcome the challenge by accessing isolated communities with medical specialist services, supplies and health services, and mentoring and support for the rural health workers. The major focus has been in the southern region and in the Huon Gulf.

One of the key aspects of Youth With a Mission is ensuring that through the medical ship, the MV YWAM PNG, challenges are overcome by accessing isolated communities. It is equipped with an on-board dentistry clinic, a day-procedure unit and a laboratory. The vessel also operates as a mothership: patrol tenders are launched from the vessel to reach extremely remote areas with essential health care and training for maximum impact.

All the field operations are conducted in practical collaboration with local health-care workers and their communities, working together to reach the very isolated villages. In 2016 alone, over 200 Papua New Guinea nationals have been directly engaged in the field program. I have met with many of the volunteers at all levels of medical experience and training, as well as young people who are there to learn by working and living in community. They talk about their extensive hiking from the ship up into the Highlands. I have been offered an invitation to share in this process, which I have graciously declined. I will remain an active supporter, but not by climbing the Highlands of New Guinea!

The organisation has developed extremely strong partnerships with members of the Papua New Guinea parliament. It has personal endorsements from the PNG Prime Minister, the Hon. Peter O'Neill, the Minister of National Planning; the Hon. Charles Abel, who has had a very close relationship with the organisation and who is really an ambassador for YWAM; the Minister for Health, the Hon. Michael Malabag; and the Minister for Religion, Youth and Community Development, the Hon. Delilah Gore. These are also extremely important relationships whereby YWAM is working with the Papua New Guinea government. From this financial year YWAM will receive active funding from the Papua New Guinea government. My understanding is that this is one of the first times that the Papua New Guinea government has provided specific funding to an Australian-based NGO through their own health budget. This is the result of years of close negotiation, communication and very personal relationship building.

This funding from the Papua New Guinea government is now partnered with ongoing funding from the Australian government and also a range of extraordinarily effective commercial partnerships that YWAM has negotiated with a range of corporate partners across Australia and also internationally. It truly is an example of effective partnership building, and I think it meets the model of the current DFAT program for ensuring that there is a shared responsibility, shared accountability and shared commitment.

There are so many statistics that go with the work of YWAM but, as always, I think the most effective way to show the impact of any organisation or policy is to hear a personal story. One that was told among many at a recent fundraising event for YWAM in Townsville was told by one of the local volunteer ophthalmologists who had spent time working on the YWAM ship and working with locals in Papua New Guinea.

Dr Bill Talbot is well known in the Townsville region as an ophthalmologist, and was explaining his professional and personal relationships with a young man called Bray Bungewa. He was a young man who had cataracts in both eyes and could only see light and dark shapes. Bray had been blind for two years and needed the help of family members to lead him around the village, to eat and to dress. When Bray first lost his sight his family took him to the local hospital, but they could not operate because of the lack of training and the lack of facilities. But already the work of YWAM was known in the region, and the local hospital told the family about the MV YWAM PNG.

The family waited and took Bray to the ship. Dr Talbot explained that he was a little concerned, because when you see the need you are not always certain whether your professional skills are going to be able to match the hope and fear of the patient. Double cataracts are something that I think people in Australia would see as a serious, but not particularly challenging operation. He operated-the surgery took place in the YWAM operating theatre-and the day came for the bandages to be taken off, and Bray had full sight.

I do not think that anyone can really understand the impact of that story. We hear it from the Fred Hollows Foundation and other wonderful organisations that work in this area, but the emotion and the passion in Dr Talbot's voice as he was telling this story at the Townsville fundraiser reinforced quite clearly what the value of the YWAM services are to the people of New Guinea.

Certainly, there is a wide range of skills and needs required but there is no difficulty in YWAM getting volunteers to be engaged because they see the value of their work and they want to be part of something which has a mission, is professional and makes a difference.

We have now established yet another 'Friends' group in this place-they proliferate! We have put in place a Friends of YWAM, which is co-sponsored by the Hon. Jane Prentice and also by Richard Marles. This particular group is calling upon parliamentarians to work in their local communities to raise awareness of the work of YWAM and to do practical things, like arranging the collection of things like toothbrushes, glasses and toothpaste that the workers can then take into the villages to work with doctors, ophthalmologists and volunteers to build awareness of health and also to ensure that some of those particular health challenges can be met.

In the Townsville region there is a very special relationship with the YWAM community. This was shown yet again this year with a very successful fundraiser which engaged with over 350 people-young people and business people who came together to be part of this wonderful YWAM experience. We would hope that that kind of joy and shared engagement can be spread through a range of communities across Australia. It is something that is intensely valuable, and I congratulate the work of YWAM. I have been a fan and an engaged person with them for many years. As I have said before, I will not be hiking into the Highlands but I certainly will be supporting the people who do it. I congratulate YWAM. I think we need to learn from them and I think we need to work with them to make greater differences to our greatest neighbour, Papua New Guinea.