Remarks at World Vision ‘Step up to the Plate’ Event
Forrest Place, Perth
24 October 2011
Well, thank you Tim, thank you to Captain Banana, Captain Tomato. Who else we got here? Captain Carrot, Captain Corn and the other members of the veggie patch put on by World Vision this morning.
And, to all of those who support World Vision and its work around the world, I really do appreciate your conviction and what you are doing to bring the whole challenge of food security to the councils of the world.
Can I begin by thanking the good people of Perth and the good people of Western Australia for opening their doors and opening their city to the people of the world as they gather here this week, as the Commonwealth of Nations.
We bring together 53, 54 nations from around the world. We represent a huge proportion of the world's population and we come to gather and to discuss the challenges of the future and to act on them.
Tim mentioned before, this word the Commonwealth. You might notice that above us there is this building which is entitled Commonwealth of Australia, above the Post Office. When we decided to federate 110 years ago there was a huge debate about what we call this thing called Australia and whether we would use this word the ‘Commonwealth’.
It has a rich and somewhat challenged history going back the centuries. But Tim's got it basically right when he says that it is about how we share the common wealth – or what was then called the common wheel – of people. That is, what we receive, how do we share in common as well? And that has underpinned the notion of the Commonwealth of Nations, not just the Commonwealth of Australia. How do we take the wealth, which is generated across this international community and share it with others? That's what the notion of the Commonwealth is all about.
Which brings us to what we are here today, to do, here in the middle of Perth. The figures are stark, but worth repeating. This year, eight million children will die from preventable causes in poor countries. It means that today in the world twenty-thousand children will die, this day, from preventable causes in the poor countries of the world. And one-third of those children, some seven-thousand or so today, will die because of malnutrition.
These are stark figures. If we saw it unfold before our very eyes, the slow death of seven-thousand children in front of us in this square this morning, in the middle of this prosperous city of Perth, we would be collectively horrified. We could not tolerate it as members of a civilised community, members of a civilised nation. We could not tolerate it. We would be compelled as Australians to do something about it.
And the only difference for us all is that we cannot see this. It is a slow and silent death around the world, but which is nonetheless real for every grieving mother.
Twenty-thousand of whom today, will see their children die before them. So what do we do about it, rather than just pontificate? What do we do?
Let's just look quickly at how this can be changed. The first thing is, how do you keep children alive until five? This is when children are most vulnerable. Think of your own kids; they pick up every disease known to man in those first few years of life. Kids in developing countries have exactly the same challenge. And so if they are not vaccinated against the killer diseases, let me tell you, the death rate is huge.
So one thing we do is that we support vaccinations around the world and I'm proud of the fact that we, Australia, are one of the world's largest contributors to the global alliance on vaccines and immunisation, called GAVI. Go to the website; have a look at it. And through our contributions there, we are hoping to save the lives, in the years that come, of 1.7 million children. That's Australia in its own right.
The second thing you do is that when little children are caught up in natural disasters, as they are in East Africa at the moment, and they are the first and most vulnerable, and Tim and I have been there and see them often in their near-death states. It is how do you keep them alive in those emergencies?
So what are we doing in Australia's name? Well, I'm proud of the fact that we are the third largest national donors to those who are threatened with starvation now in Somalia and Ethiopia and in Kenya. And we've seen the provision of emergency nutrition packs which actually mean the difference between life and death in a twenty-four-hour period, whether you can get that through. That's the second thing we do.
But if you've kept those kids alive until five, how do you make sure that their families, often from poor rural areas, are able to provide food on a sustainable basis. And this is what this report, delivered by World Vision, is all about. How do we build food security? How do we help farmers become more productive, more resilient and feed the families who depend on those farmers for life? So what are we doing about that?
Let me give you just one example. We call it Seeds for Life. Just to the north of us, in a country called East Timor, we for the last several years in Australia's name, have been doing this: working with local farmers, looking at the types of soil they have, looking at their poor crop returns, studying carefully the level of malnutrition in each of those villages and working out how can we make a sustainable difference.
The result: we've changed their seed types, so that now the yield for maize, for sweet potatoes, for rice and for other basic crops, goes up now between 20 and 100 per cent because we've got the seed types right. And now we're taking that all over East Timor and progressively we take that across many countries in the developing world. Seeds for Life.
How do you make farmers, therefore, more productive without pretending that you can create the conditions which exist in Australian agriculture, because you can't. And once you've done that, what else can you do? The bulk of workers in farms in the poorest country in the world are women. Women actually do most of the work. Women actually save what money there is to be saved and women, all the data tells us, are the best investors of that money in their kids' future education.
So how do we empower women to become even better farmers than they are now? Well, one of the ways in which we do it is to provide small amounts of what's called microcredit to women farmers to make it better for them to improve their farms and their productivity at work. And the end point? More food, more income to be retained; therefore, more money to invest in their kids' future.
There are two other things you can do as well. Once you produce that food, how do you get it to market? There's a huge problem there, because so much of the food that is produced in Africa today, is wasted on the way to market because the transport is rotten and the storage facilities are terrible. And that's why we, the Australian Government, investing in institutions around the world, like the World Bank, fund the investment in critical rural infrastructure such as roads, such as storage facilities, so that the crops, once harvested, are properly stored.
And the final thing is this: once you've done that, how can those farmers, when they have a surplus, from Africa, where we have chronic food insecurity, get that product to the rest of the world so that they can grow incomes and earn incomes and cultivate more land so that they can provide a secure future for their communities and their countries?
And what we can do there is pull down the trade barriers around the world against the poorest countries, so that product can be sold into them. So you see, there's a whole lot of factors at work here. But what we can do, in partnership with our friends across this Commonwealth of Nations, and through the funding support given to us by the people across this Commonwealth of Australia, is make a material difference in each of these every steps which make up the whole picture of food insecurity.
And that's what we are doing, in your name. All made possible because you work, you pay your taxes, you therefore make it possible for Australia, in the last five years, to have doubled its foreign-aid commitment to the rest of the world and over the next five years, on track to doubling it again. So that we'll become the sixth or seventh largest donor in the international community.
My last point is this: none of this works unless you, the community, stand up and have your voice. Let me say something to you: politicians don't always listen. I know that's a novelty for those of you in this audience. I'm sure you've never had that experience in your lives, but just sometimes politicians — stop laughing like that — politicians don't listen. But if you stand up and make politicians listen, right across the nation, whatever political party they come from, about the need for us to provide a fair go, not just at home but around the world, guess what? When you stand up, the politicians listen.
When you stand up before the politicians of 54 countries around the world, the politicians listen. When your counterparts around the world do the same, their politicians listen and, together, when they listen, they then act and that is what you are part and parcel of today.
So, thank you for this presentation of the Big Plate. I will take it home and put it straight into the pool room. It will be admired; it will be reflected on and let me tell you when we act further in Australia's name to make sure that we are making a difference for people who, tonight, go to bed with no food, it is because of the actions of each and every one of you.
I thank you.
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