Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Parliamentary Group on Population and Development

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (10.01 pm)-I was not going to speak on the adjournment debate this evening, but, as there is time available, I wish to make a few comments, particularly as this week we have benefited by having a range of young people come into this building to celebrate the Millennium Development Goals and talk with all of us about the importance of the world working together to address the massive problems of poverty and to ensure that we will have a more effective world into the future.
I will be taking up this issue again in the next sittings, but I wish to put a few comments on record this evening about the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development, which has been working for many years in this place, as you know, Mr President. That group has been looking at the issues of childbirth and fertility to ensure that women throughout the world can bring their children into a world that is safe and in which they have adequate futures and to ensure that the issues of poverty are addressed. Recently the population group looked at the issues of sexual health and sexual health education for women across the whole of this planet. We acknowledge the wonderful productions that the United Nations put forward which look at the state of the nation and we share Senator Fielding's major concerns about the horror experienced by women across this planet who are not able to have safe childbirth. No-one can look at the statistics without feeling sickened that the privileges we have in this country-strong health, being able to live in a clean environment and being able to make effective choices about women's fertility-are not available to women throughout the world. Those choices should be available to women across the planet, not only in those places that have the privilege of wealth.
The Parliamentary Group on Population and Development has put forward recommendations which go to ensuring that there is effective sexual education for women and men across this planet so that women have effective choice in planning their fertility. This is not a claim that there must be open abortion across the world-and I again reject the attempt to manipulate the words and the argument. The parliamentary population group called for a review of the way that we in this country look at aid so that no funding restrictions are placed on health programs dealing with effective sexual education. The group believes that health programs in countries where termination is legal should have an equal chance to receive funding from our government aid programs. It is not an attempt to tell people what they can and cannot do, it is not an attempt to direct our aid money and it is not an attempt to impose abortion on any woman. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that health choices should be available and should be safe.
So, again, it saddens me that these words are not effectively understood. When we make arguments in this place to ensure that there is an open discussion on our aid funding, they are overwhelmed by people who bring their own values into the debate. Whilst it is perfectly reasonable for people to have their own opinion, I do not think it is appropriate that what we are doing as a population group is misrepresented to anyone in this place or in the wider community. As a community we can agree that it is appropriate that we have sexual education. That is what we want. We want to ensure that people have full knowledge so that they can make health choices. We want to take up the kinds of points that Senator Fielding has just made about ensuring that there are effective birthing procedures around the globe. Senator Stott Despoja has talked quite strongly in this place about the way that individual communities can work at a very practical level to ensure, for example, that women receive birth kits. That is something that UNIFEM has been doing across the globe-ensuring that women are able to birth their children effectively and safely. That is something on which I do not think anyone can argue.
In the discussions that I think must be had about our aid program-not now, not immediately, but certainly in the future-limitations on aid in the health area must be questioned. Where we have appropriate discussions between our country and countries that have sought our help, there should not be artificial limitations on how that aid can be spent. That does not seem to be too challenging a debate, but somehow people seem to be afraid of having that debate either here or in the wider arena.
I think that we as a Senate and we as a parliament can look at the young people who came to talk to so many of us during this week and say that we can respond to their demands and acknowledge our role in moving forward with the Millennium Development Goals. We take it up to all governments that now we are at the halfway mark to reaching a solution to world poverty. We have the indications; we have clear statistics about what we are aiming to do. One of the things being talked about in the lobbying here during the last week was focusing some of the attention on specific steps forward, rather than trying to cope with the whole issue all at once, which is incredibly overwhelming. When you hear the kinds of statistics Senator Fielding has just given us about the way people in our world die from quite ridiculously stupid things such as a lack of access to clean water and effective shelter in their communities, and when you sit down with a group of young people who ask us directly why we aren't doing more, you think that that is something we as a parliament can address directly. We can look at what we are doing and acknowledge that the government has increased the aid budget over the last four to five years but acknowledge openly that there is a long way to go.
We have a goal that was accepted by the leaders of the world at the UN twice in the early 2000s and only as recently as 2005. Prime Minister Howard stood up with the leaders of over 150 nations and recommitted to the Millennium Development Goals. He said that we can take our share of the international burden and that we are able to move forward on those goals, address what we as a community must do and ensure that no-one shirks their own role. Then we can look at the young people from Make Poverty History, we can look at the young people who came to us this week, and say, 'Yes, we are doing our bit.' If we cannot do that, we are not fulfilling what I think all Australians expect us to do. It is not too difficult.
In fact, one of the messages that came out of this week is that it can happen. Don't run away from it; don't shirk the responsibilities. Accept that there is hope in this debate. As the wonderful archbishop from Rwanda who came to share his time with us this week said, there is only one person who can take that step forward, and that is you. This is someone who has lived the horrors of Rwanda-and every time I hear that name I become overwhelmed with anger and frustration, because the history of Rwanda shows that people can reach depths that I do not think many of us can really understand-a man who has given his life to rebuilding Rwanda and making sure that the young people there have a future. He came to our country and told us that it is not too hard. So, whilst we are halfway to reaching the Millennium Development Goals, it is time to stop and review what has been achieved. There have been some wonderful successes, but we can move forward. It is best that we do that in a united way, so the debate must continue and not be diverted for personal reasons.