House debates

Monday, 22 February 2010

Grievance Debate

Foreign Aid

9:00 pm

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Lowe, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This evening I speak about the social challenges that face our global community and reflect on the efforts of both the Rudd government and members of my electorate of Lowe, who work towards positive solutions for a sustainable and prosperous future. In stark contrast, I would like to raise my alarm at the recent comments made by the opposition finance minister, Senator Barnaby Joyce, who questioned the value of Australia’s foreign aid. The chief political correspondent with the Sydney Morning Herald, Phillip Coorey, said that the opposition finance minister ‘advanced an argument for paring back aid levels to pay off debt and fund Coalition election promises’. In a report by the Age’s chief political correspondent, Michelle Grattan, the Executive Director of Oxfam Australia, Andrew Hewett, is reported as saying:

Senator Joyce’s comments were worrying and disappointing.

Meanwhile, Tim Costello, the Chief Executive Officer of World Vision, was quoted as saying:

It’s not just right, it’s in our self interest … I would say to Senator Joyce that it was this region that helped keep us out of recession during the global financial crisis by buying our [commodities].

Many of my constituents in Lowe have worked tirelessly to assist those less fortunate both in our local community and through international aid programs. They are supportive of the Rudd government’s foreign aid initiatives.

This evening, my friend and colleague the member for Oxley also his raised concern about global food and water security through a private member’s motion. The member for Oxley moved a motion noting that global food prices have risen 83 per cent since 2005 and foreign aid to agriculture fell from 18 per cent of total aid 30 thirty years ago to 3.5 per cent in 2004. He also noted that Australia has recently suffered some of the worst droughts on record, increasing water scarcity and affecting our local crops and produce. Further, the member for Oxley moved that the House:

positive initiatives by the current Government to address climate change;
policies, projects and programs that deliver long term solutions for water security; and
the Government’s commitment to tackle the impact of rising food prices and shortages by addressing the root causes of global food security.

I support the motion and commend the member for Oxley for raising this very important issue tonight.

While the opposition finance minister looks to take an axe to our foreign aid budget, the Rudd government remains focused on the challenges at hand, implementing programs and initiatives that endeavour to improve and secure living standards for our less fortunate neighbours. While the opposition looks to use the topic of foreign aid as a political football, the clock is ticking for governments around the world to meet the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Many of my constituents support those goals. With a number of ambitious yet achievable objects, world leaders have committed themselves to halving the scourge of poverty by 2015.

Whilst much has been achieved since the Millennium Development Goals were announced in 2000, the global community is currently faced with three great crises that threaten not only to reverse our achievements thus far but also to increase the number of men, women and children who are trapped by poverty. We have just experienced the worst global recession since the Great Depression, we are faced with the existential threat posed by climate change and we are currently experiencing a global food crisis which has resulted in global food prices increasing by 83 per cent since 2005. The potentially destructive impacts posed by these crises may seem overwhelming; however, we cannot allow ourselves to lose sight of the commitment that leaders around the world made in 2000. If anything, the times in which we live should make us more determined, more committed and more focused to achieve these important goals. The challenges we face make it easy to believe that there is nothing we can do to address starvation and the broader issue of poverty in the developing world. This misguided sense of futility is not worthy of this government. Indeed, it is not worthy of any member of this parliament. We can and must work as members of the international community to bring an end to the global food crisis.

If action is not taken, food prices will continue to rise. Families in Bangladesh are already spending half a day’s pay on a small bag of rice. Whilst Australians are fortunate not to live in poverty of the kind that is experienced by families in Bangladesh, we too have observed an increase in food prices as a result of a long and protracted drought. Given that the world’s population is expected to grow from 6.2 billion today to 9.5 billion by 2050 and global demand for food is predicted to double by 2030, it is imperative that our attention is focused on food and water shortages and that they are urgently addressed.

Therefore, addressing the global food crisis requires international action on climate change, and I refer to a recent report from the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education in my electorate of Lowe, which is a small non-government organisation:

Droughts and floods are affecting harvests. Destruction of crops from natural disasters in Bangladesh and Burma, and severe drought in Australia, has reduced food supply … Worldwide, an area of fertile soil the size of Ukraine is lost every year because of drought, deforestation and climate instability.

It is very clear from the Edmund Rice Centre’s report that climate change and the global food crisis are interrelated challenges that require interrelated responses.

We also cannot ignore the role of the global financial crisis. The world’s poorest have been the most affected by the global financial crisis, a crisis which has merely exacerbated the problems caused by the food crisis. Whilst developed economies such as Australia have acted swiftly to stimulate their economies, the same cannot be said of developing countries that simply do not have the financial capacity to do so. For this reason, developed economies such as Australia should continue to provide resources for local communities in developing economies to develop programs and infrastructure that simultaneously stimulate local economies and provide some improvement in the food crisis.

I note that the work of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, which sends agriculture experts to developing nations such as East Timor, where they help to establish programs, will enable local communities to feed their own populations. We must also continue to tear down destructive trade barriers such as farm subsidies, which disproportionately favour rich countries over those most in need. I am delighted that our trade minister, the Hon. Simon Crean, continues to play a very major role here and internationally in working relentlessly and tirelessly to help bring about a global trade agreement as part of the Doha Round of trade negotiations. I recently attended a meeting with the head of the WTO, Mr Pascal Lamy, who paid a magnificent tribute to Mr Crean by telling those gathered that ‘If there were 153 Australias, the Doha Round would have been completed in 18 months. Well done, Simon.’

We have now passed the halfway mark to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. These challenges posed by the global food crisis and global warming should not distract us in our efforts to halve world poverty by 2015. These challenges provide us with the perfect opportunity to take action and achieve the change we need to meet this ambitious yet vitally important goal. Many constituents in my electorate have raised this matter with me and the issue of global aid more broadly. Last year, I met with representatives from the Micah Challenge as part of the 2009 Voices for Justice gathering held here in Canberra. The representatives presented me with over 100 letters calling for greater federal government assistance to developing countries through our foreign aid program. The facts they presented are alarming. According to the World Bank, almost 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty. The World Health Organisation estimates that each year 9.7 million children die before reaching the age of five. It is also estimated that, as a consequence of the global financial crisis, 400,000 more infants will die each year between now and 2015.

The gap between the developed and the developing world is far too great when it comes to quality-of-life indicators. Imagine if we were born in a developing nation where infant mortality rates are high, where health and education systems struggle to provide even the most basic of services and where people are forced to live on US$1 a day. It is easy to think that because poverty has always existed there is little that we can do to address this alarming situation. It is easy to think that because the problems in other countries have no bearing on Australia we should not worry about them. However, as Mr Tim Costello pointed out, it is not only the right thing to do, it would also benefit our nation to ensure our neighbours are prosperous too.

The disadvantage, poverty and suffering experienced by far too many people in far too many countries cannot be ignored. Developed countries and, more specifically, the leaders of developed countries have an obligation to implement measures to address global poverty. We have an obligation to make poverty history. One practical way in which the federal government can do this is through foreign aid. The Rudd government remains committed to an aid target of 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015. For the future sustainability of countries less fortunate than Australia, I hope the opposition does not change its position on supporting aid for those countries. (Time expired)


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