AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

I spoke in parliament last week about tackling some of the worst diseases that afflict people in developing nations, including Tuberculosis.
Private Members’ Business
World Tuberculosis Day (21 Mar 2011)

Tuberculosis, as the previous speaker, the member for Riverina, has noted is a disease from the times of ancient Egypt. It inflicts upon the world 1.7 million deaths each year. Each untreated sufferer of tuberculosis can infect another 10 to 15 people around them. Our region is in a part of the world where many other countries have high tuberculosis rates. Indeed, almost half the world’s tuberculosis fatalities occur in the Asia-Pacific region. The 10 countries with the highest tuberculosis rates include China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Tuberculosis is a curable disease and considerable progress has been made in its treatment and diagnosis in the last 20 years. What is required is more generosity and more leadership, which is why the Labor government are committed to increasing our aid commitment to 0.5 per cent of GNI. I note at this stage that the UK government, despite having budget challenges that are far greater than our own, has continued its pledge to increase UK aid to 0.7 per cent of gross national income.

Seventy per cent of aid that targets tuberculosis comes via the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It is important in this context to acknowledge the role that the global fund has played. The role of the global fund and the role of foreign aid have at least been bipartisan policies in this parliament, and I hope that this continues to be the case. Two reasons that are often cited for cutting back on foreign aid—and reasons which arose in the recent debate when the coalition suggested that they would find budget savings by reducing foreign aid to Indonesian schools—are national interest and corruption. It is true that the global fund has recently had disturbing revelations about corruption. There have been suggestions that global fund resources have been misused. As a result, the global fund’s executive director, Michel Kazatchkine, announced a series of changes, including tougher controls and monitoring, a doubling of the budget of the independent inspector general and a panel of international experts to review procedures.

We should be rigorous about reducing corruption but the fact that we see corruption does not mean that we should shut down our support of the global fund. The global fund concept has been effective. The global fund makes countries compete for money based on their ability to implement programs—driving a race to the top among recipient countries. The global fund is also effective because it brings together resources from a range of different sources. These include government moneys, wealthy philanthropists, such as those who support the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and businesses. An interesting idea highlighted in a recent article in the Economist is RED, which was created by Bono and is a brand attached to products and services from firms such as Apple, Gap and Starbucks. This scheme has so far raised $160 million to go to the global fund to help reduce the prevalence of tuberculosis in the world.

It is important, as we wrestle with the challenge of corruption, that we recognise that the main game is cutting poverty. The problem of corruption and aid is a bit like the challenge of a footy coach trying to reduce injuries. No footy coach wants the players to hurt themselves but neither does a footy coach go out and say to the players, ‘Blokes, the main thing here is that we do not have any injuries at the end of the game.’ A strategy which guarantees zero injuries is also a strategy that will earn you the wooden spoon. We should be rigorous in reducing corruption as we go through, and we should do in the global fund as we do in the Australian aid program: try and reduce corruption whenever we can.

A generous foreign aid program is an expression of who we are as Australians. It is also a program that is in our national interest in bringing about a safer region and a region in which there is more trade. Of Australia’s 20 nearest neighbours, 18 are developing countries. So our aid program needs to be a strong one if we are to invest in a richer and safer region. I want to thank my friend and colleague the honourable member for Werriwa for bringing this motion before the House for debate this evening.

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