Michelle Lensink

Foreign Aid

This speech is to move that the council calls upon Australia's foreign minister, the Hon. Stephen Smith MP, to lift the ban on Australian foreign aid being spent on abortion services and counselling following the lifting of the 'global gag' by the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, on 23 January 2009.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:04): I move:

That this council calls upon Australia's foreign minister, the Hon. Stephen Smith MP, to lift the ban on Australian foreign aid being spent on abortion services and counselling following the lifting of the 'global gag' by the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, on 23 January 2009.

This issue originated in the United States with what has been labelled the 'Mexico city policy' or the 'global gag rule', which was an initiative of the Reagan administration, which was rescinded by the Clinton administration and reinstated by President Bush. Now that we have a Democrat in the White House, the policy has since been rescinded, and in that country it has certainly been a political football between the more conservative and the more liberal parties. Essentially, the global gag prevents funding from USAID to non-government organisations that use non-USAID funds to engage in a wide range of activities, including providing advice, counselling or information regarding abortion or lobbying the federal government to legalise or make abortion available. In his statement on 23 January 2009, President Obama stated:

These excessively broad conditions on grants and assistance awards are unwarranted. Moreover, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning programs in foreign nations…In addition, I direct the Secretary of State and the Administrator of USAID to take the following actions with respect to conditions in voluntary population planning assistance and USAID grants that were imposed pursuant to either the 2001 or 2003 memoranda and that are not required by the Foreign Assistance Act or any other law. It is quite unfortunate that this issue has become a political football in the United States because it has much broader health implications than whether or not one supports abortion. Now that the ban has been lifted in the United States, Australia is the only country that continues to have that ban on NGO funding from AusAID. I think it is unfortunate because, under certain circumstances, abortion is legal in Australia, so I think that it is quite hypocritical. The CEO of the Australian Reproductive Health Alliance, Jane Singleton, stated:

We in Australia should not deny the rights we have to women in the developing world where those rights are within the law.

To clarify what this motion is about, where abortion is legal in countries receive foreign aid, those government organisations should not be prevented from receiving funds. I would like to elaborate on some of the other health issues that arise out of this. The statistics are that, globally, half a million women die every year from pregnancy and related complications, and those children whose mothers have died are three to 10 times more likely to die within two years than those who have both parents alive. Girls in particular suffer because they are forced to drop out of school to look after younger siblings when their mother dies. There is obviously the issue that has often been raised in the abortion debate in Australia about people reverting to unsafe abortions. Worldwide they cause some 13 per cent of all maternal deaths, and many of these are within our own region. For instance, in Papua New Guinea maternal death rates have increased by more than 56 per cent in the past few years, which is of quite some concern; and a woman dies every minute in childbirth or from pregnancy complications. The federal government could lift this gag without needing to revert to parliament. I note that the federal caucus debated this issue in August last year, and the results of that have not been made public. The federal minister has continued to sit on the issue.

Another area of health which has been impacted because NGOs have been denied funding is in relation to preventing HIV/AIDS. There is some information here from Africa which is incredibly alarming. Banning aid to these NGOs for some ideological position about whether or not one supports abortions is impacting on the health of the children of a number of these women, who unfortunately may die in childbirth, and it also has some impact in the very alarming number of people who are contracting AIDS in Africa. I note that the Hon. Ian Hunter was quicker on his feet yesterday than I was in moving a similar motion. Vickie Chapman has moved this motion in the House of Assembly; her Assembly colleague Steph Key spoke to this on 3 February; and the Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, and former Democrat senator, Natasha Stott Despoja, have all spoken in favour of Australia lifting the gag. There is a group based in Canberra which is the Parliamentary Group for Population and Development and which is a multi-partisan organisation of which a number of us are members, and that was chaired by Liberal backbencher Mal Washer, who has stated that Australia now looks out of date and stupid. I think we all ought to support this motion in favour of maternal and infant health around the world so they can have comparable access to the standards of health care that we take for granted in Australia. I commend the motion to the council.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. B.V. Finnigan.

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