UNICEF 70th Anniversary, Parliament House

Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (11:22): You might be guilty of misleading the House there, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I do thank you for the call! I am very happy to support the motion by the member for Corangamite. 'Protecting the rights and wellbeing of every child'—that is the UNICEF motto and, surely, all of us who are privileged enough to be members of this parliament should make it our personal motto as well. UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund, has been working for the past 70 years to create 'a world in which every child has a fair chance in life', be it the children in the gallery above me right now or children anywhere in some of the world's poorest countries.

UNICEF is a global humanitarian and development agency specifically focused on the rights of children. The world is indebted to it for the work it does, work that is important and, sadly, often very dangerous. Recently, UNICEF led a multi-agency humanitarian convoy into the Iraqi city of Mosul, the first to enter the city in over two years. The convoy included enough emergency supplies to last 15,000 children and their families for a month.

UNICEF is a creation of the United Nations. Australia can be proud to have played a very important part, through Doc Evatt and others, in the adoption of the Charter of the United Nations, which, in turn, allowed UNICEF to be formed. In 1945, as leader of the Australian delegation, Dr Herbert Vere Evatt—'Doc' Evatt, as he was most commonly known—travelled to San Francisco to meet with world leaders. That meeting eventually resulted in the Charter of the United Nations. In December 1946, just one year after the charter was adopted, UNICEF was created by the United Nations to provide food, clothing and health care to European children facing famine and disease after the horrors of World War II. UNICEF became a permanent part of the UN in 1953, extending its mandate indefinitely. Doc Evatt was elected President of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, the only Australian to have ever held the position. During his tenure as president, he presided over the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, surely the cornerstone of human rights protection throughout the modern world. It is timely to remember the example set by Doc Evatt. Faith Bandler, who led the 1967 referendum, which formally recognised Indigenous Australians, described Doc Evatt in 1979 in this way:

Dr Evatt fought for the oppressed, he fought for our political rights and civil liberties, our freedom of thought and action. We would not find it possible to be as outspoken today as we are if Dr Evatt had not fought for us as a judge, as a politician and as an Australian.

We have much to thank Doc Evatt for, not the least of which is his part in creating UNICEF, which we are acknowledging today. All politicians should follow Doc's lead in being be courageous, fighting for the rights of those who are vulnerable and acting as leaders.

Sadly, the Turnbull government is not leading when it comes to our international aid program. Despite 25 years of economic growth, Australia's international aid program has been drastically cut since the coalition took office in September 2013. The Abbott-Turnbull governments have cut the overseas aid budget by $11.3 billion. That included cuts of 40 per cent to international programs such as UNICEF, as I am sure the member for Corangamite would know. In the 2016 budget, there were further cuts of $224 million from foreign aid spending. These cuts amount to a 20 per cent cut to Australia's aid program in 2015, followed by a further 7.4 cent cut in 2016. Australia's foreign aid ranking has collapsed. Our aid program is now the weakest it has been in our history. At a time when we have unprecedented global humanitarian crises and more people displaced by conflict, only Australia and Portugal are reducing their aid contributions. The other 22 wealthy nations in the world are increasing their aid contributions. The most recent budget cuts were so harsh that UNICEF Australia called the cuts 'seriously concerning' and said the budget as a whole was deeply disappointing for the wellbeing of the most disadvantaged children in our region. The Chief Executive Officer of UNICEF Australia, Mr Adrian Graham, said after the 2016 budget:

International aid cuts are undermining the effectiveness of programs that are making a huge difference in the lives of people experiencing acute poverty and disadvantage.

We all know the important work that organisations such as UNICEF carry out. As a good global citizen, Australia should be playing its part in helping reduce poverty and inequality and in assisting vulnerable children who need our help. As a prosperous nation, we can and should contribute more to organisations such as UNICEF. We should not let fear and ignorance and populism fuel the fires of racism and greed and selfishness.

Debate adjourned.


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