Michelle Lensink

United Nations Motion - World Population Report 2006

This speech is to indicate the Liberal Party's support for the United Nations Motion - World Population Report 2006.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I rise to indicate Liberal Party support for this motion. I have pleasure in speaking to this motion, as a member of the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development in Australia, as are a number of members of this chamber. The PGPD supports the empowerment of women and girls through its commitment to gender equality and the advancement of women and affirms that equality goes hand in hand with investment in sexual reproductive health, education and economic opportunity. Taken together, these investments can lift millions of people out of poverty. As a member of that organisation, I commend the Hon. Sandra Kanck for highlighting the existence of this organisation to a number of us who would otherwise not have joined.

This motion recognises the United Nations Population Fund and, in particular, the State of the World Population Report 2006—A Passage of Hope:Women and International Migration. This report highlights the sacrifice and contribution women make, particularly to their families and communities, when they leave their home of birth and go overseas and often send remittances back to assist their families. The publication is a fairly sobering read about human rights abuses and the abuse of many of the rights we in this country take for granted. The report is quite harrowing in sections. When I was in the UK last year, I attended a women’s conference where the issue of trafficking women was raised. Australia was commended for its role in attempting to reduce trafficking within Australia and by Australian citizens abroad, through the work of the Australian Federal Police. Trafficking is a very common problem, and many people are being exploited overseas.

A number of members have addressed various paragraphs of the motion. I would particularly like to focus on paragraph 2(b), which is fairly broad but mentions all efforts that help reduce poverty and bring about gender equality and enhanced development, thereby reducing the ‘push’ factors that compel many migrants, particularly women, to leave their own county. As a Liberal, that is probably an area I would be more likely to focus on than many other members of this chamber. There are some fairly positive examples around the world of individuals and organisations doing great work to assist economic development within developing nations. The first example to which I refer is the Hon. Susan Nakawuki, whom many members of this chamber would have met last year. She said that she chose Australia because she and her husband Nicholas had spoken to a number of the aid agencies working within Uganda (which is her country, obviously), where she is the representative for the constituency of Busiro County East. The aid organisation told her that, amongst the world’s wealthy nations, Australians per head of population, as individuals and as a nation, are very generous contributors to overseas aid and development programs. She came here and he had a very successful trip in terms of raising funds and raising awareness of the issues in Uganda which, as we are all well aware, is a developing nation which has a high rate of poverty and a high rate of AIDS.

One of the programs that Susan has introduced since she was elected as a member (which is in fairly recent times from recollection, as it was in May last year that she was elected) has been to establish a program of micro-credit. The requirement there is that, of the three people who apply for their micro-credit loan through the village bank, two must be women. The only reason that they have included men is that only men can own property in Uganda. But their experience is, as it has been in many other countries and for many other organisations, that women can quite successfully establish small businesses through micro-credit.

She also has a program quite cutely named Three Little Pigs, where a village is provided with three pigs. They raise them all to maturity, then they are able to retain one pig and the other two are returned to the program to be on loan, if you like, to another village. She has also organised a number of sponsorship programs for children, because there are a large number of orphans and child-led families. The example that she provided, when she spoke to a number of groups, was when she was out campaigning and she came across a family of some three or four small children. She asked where each parent was, and such parent was not there and there were no aunties. When she asked, ‘Who is in charge?’ she was told that it was an eight-year-old—an eight-year-old in charge of some three or four siblings. She is doing some great work in that country.

I also note that one of the Nobel Prize recipients last year was Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the prize for his micro-credit program, the Grameen Bank. In The Advertiser of 14 October last year it was stated:

It has been instrumental in helping millions of poor Bangladeshis, many of them women, improve their standard of living by letting them borrow small sums to start businesses.

He said that micro-credit cannot fix everything, but it is a big help. In its citation the Nobel Prize committee stated:

Economic growth and political democracy cannot achieve the full potential unless the female half of humanity participates on an equal footing with the male.

Another organisation that I would like to draw to the attention of parliament is called Bpeace, which is based in the United States. It has a range of supporters from non-profit NGOs, government agencies and universities to a large range of individual and corporate supporters. Many of these names will not be familiar to Australians but it does include Redken, Parmalat, Unilever, Estee Lauder and Samsonite. The lead partner in their programs is UNIFEM. They have three particular programs, or they did at the time that I accessed this on their web site: one in Afghanistan and one in Rwanda and a new pilot program in Iraq.

What they believe is that entrepreneurship is the foundation for building hope and stability in regions where conflict exists. They cite Clint Eastwood in the movie A Fistful of Dollars where he said, ‘Once a man has some money, peace begins to sound good to him’—or to her, as in our case. Many members of this chamber would also be well aware of Oxfam, which has run an incredibly strong campaign under the fair trade banner.

Many of us would be purchasers of fair trade coffee, and there are studies which have demonstrated the economic benefit to developing nations and to the agricultural growers of these particular products. One study showed that fair trade certification had had a positive effect on Bolivian coffee prices generally, as well as strengthening producer organisations and increasing their political influence. Another study by the Colorado State University showed that small-scale coffee producers in Latin American had improved their training, credit and external development funding. I think a lot of those things are self-evident. One of the concerns I have, when I look at international politics and international trade, is the relevance of the World Trade Organisation and its effectiveness in assisting what it was originally developed for, which is obviously to ensure that trade across the world is fair.

These figures might be slightly out of date, but the average agricultural subsidies for different nations are as follows: in Japan, a whopping 59 per cent; EU, 35 per cent; and in the US, particularly after the implementation of the US Farm Bill, it is some 23 per cent of farm income. Australia can again hold its head up high in that regard, in that ours is about four per cent. Indeed, Australia has been the chair and the driver of the Cairns group of agricultural exporting nations, which has played a very important role in advocating more open and less distorted trade, which would have a very positive effect for farm producers in developing nations.

It has been estimated that subsidies that are provided to farmers in the US, the EU and Japan equal the entire GDP of sub-Saharan Africa and amount to seven times of donating countries’ total foreign aid budgets. Indeed, the barriers to developing countries, when they attempt to export, is some $100 billion per year.

The defence, particularly in Europe, for such heavy trade support is that they are supporting a unique way of life, but they are having a very detrimental effect on the lives of people in developing nations and in some way (I may be being a little political here) may make some contribution towards international terrorism and certainly international unrest, particularly in countries within Africa. There is also the issue in relation to economic development, and an example is cited in this book on international business, which refers to Ghana and South Korea and their attitudes towards international trade. Apparently in 1970 the living standards of both nations were roughly equal. They had a gross national product per head about the same at about $250, but by 1995 there was a huge difference.

The annual growth rate of Ghana between 1968 and 1995 was under 1.4 per cent, but as we know South Korea has been booming and had a comparable rate of some 9 per cent annually. The explanation really is in their attitude towards international trade. Where Ghana took a very retro view about exporting, imposed high tariffs and an import substitution policy and policies that discouraged Ghana from exporting, Korea took a much more open minded view and opened its doors to trade. That is probably another point of difference I would have with many members of this chamber, namely that, as long as it is fair, free trade is ultimately good for nations.

There is one other part of the equation that needs to be borne in mind, and that is to be supportive of the internal processes and procedures of developing nations. Australia plays a large role with many countries to which it provides aid, in particular, Vietnam. When I visited there with a delegation we were made aware of the training in governance structures to assist Vietnam to develop legal and administrative systems that will allow foreign investment, because it will increase confidence within those systems, and that is also a very important part of this equation.

In closing, I turn my thoughts to Australia in this regard. We provide services for migrant women and families who have arrived on our shores, and I commend the Migrant Women’s Support Accommodation Service, which, together with a range of other services in this state, assist people. This organisation has a high focus on domestic violence for those women and children fleeing violent situations. In its annual report of last year the figures are quite telling and need to be borne in mind by those of us for whom English language proficiency is taken for granted. They obviously keep a lot of statistics, and that is very useful.

Of the 260 people to whom they provided a service in the financial year 2005-06, some 54 per cent of those service users whose ability to communicate in English was classified as either none or little. We should not forget that there are people who have migrated to this country and who still require services and support. In Australia we welcome people from overseas, particularly if they have come from troubled regions, and hope we can provide them with a supportive and welcoming country for them to settle in. With those remarks I conclude my contribution and commend the motion to the council.

speech archive

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.