Anti-Poverty Week

Philosopher Eli Khamarov said, ‘Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit.’ It is a punishment that is particularly unfair for children who grow up in poverty. In 2006, 9.7 million children under five died around the world. Each year, 400,000 children in our own region die from preventable and treatable causes. One in 12 children in Cambodia will die before their fifth birthday. Aid can help turn this around. That is why I am proud to be part of a government that has pledged to boost overseas aid from 0.3 per cent of GDP to 0.5 per cent by 2015 and a government that supports the Millennium Development Goals-in particular, the fourth goal: to reduce child mortality rates by two-thirds by 2015.

These goals resonate strongly in my electorate in south-west Sydney. Many of the people I have the privilege to represent escaped the killing fields of Cambodia, civil war in Lebanon or the death toll in Darfur. It is an electorate which has been touched by the horrors of war and one that understands the effects of poverty because, for many, they have lived it. They have come to Australia for a better life for themselves and a better life for their children. When I was a little boy I shared a classroom with many of them. Today, many of their children go to Cabramatta High School.

This afternoon I met with a group of students from Cabramatta High who are involved in the ‘Voices for Justice’ campaign as part of the Micah Challenge. They are part of a school that encourages them to have a social conscience and which is led by Beth Godwin, a woman of vision with a heart of gold. For the last three years Cabramatta High School has held a Peace Day in conjunction with the Sydney Peace Prize. It is a major event in the school’s calendar. The winner of the Sydney Peace Prize is the guest speaker. This year it is Patrick Dodson, Chairman of the Lingiari Foundation. I am pleased to be the sponsor of the Cabramatta High School Peace Prize and I look forward to handing out the award in three weeks time on 7 November.

The students are also members of the Leo Club, the junior Lions Club. Last year, they helped raise money for water projects in Cambodia. They raised over $14,000 to build 31 wells to provide fresh drinking water. Many of these students are the children of refugees-lives rescued from war and poverty. Now they are the torchbearers for peace and a war against poverty.

The man who has brought them to Canberra is my old science teacher Greg Trainor. Greg has instilled in these students the same thing he helped instil in me: the importance of speaking up and acting out. When I asked the students why they were here, they said that it was because they believed that one person can make a difference and because they want to give a voice to the voiceless and to give hope to the helpless.

It reminds me of what Robert Kennedy told a group of young South African students in June 1966:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope … and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

The eight students of Cabramatta High School that I met today, Vicky, Christine, Monica, Hong, Danny, Peter, Adam and Aaron, all send forth a tiny ripple of hope. We can help to make poverty history. These eight students from Cabramatta High School are just the start.’