Australia: MDG Summit Lying Low Down Under

The Australian media seem distracted from this week’s UN Millennium Development Goals Summit. Our Federal election with its hung parliament and the football finals season are among the causes. Nevertheless, deposed Kevin Rudd has received a lot of attention for his current overseas trip. Unfortunately it has been mainly for local political reasons:

FOREIGN Minister Kevin Rudd has brushed off opposition claims his new role is that of “prime minister in exile”.

The former prime minister is on his first overseas mission in his new role, visiting New York for bilateral meetings and an address to the UN general assembly later this week.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd rejects ‘PM in exile’ label

On the way to New York, to represent his successor Julia Gillard at the Summit, the ‘PM in exile’ visited Pakistan.

Thankfully the Oz blogosphere has plenty of MDG traffic, though most of it is confined to NGOs and church groups. On Catholic group Caritas Australia’s self-titled blog, Jennifer Shedden reported on typical grassroots activity involving the Stand Up campaign:

Caritas Australia’s Be More team joined the global Stand Up movement this weekend and made some noise for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on Saturday at Circular Quay in Sydney.
Be More Team makes noise for the MDGs

Grassroots activity for MDG. Photo from the blog of Caritas Australia

Jenny Goldie is a member of the Australian Reproductive Health Alliance. She writes at Online Opinion about her experiences in Melbourne at the United Nations Department of Public Information UN DPI/NGO Conference, “Advance Global Health – Achieve the MDGs”. She and others argued unsuccessfully for “the inclusion of access to reproductive health in the recommendations”:

So what’s the problem? Does it relate to the fact that so many NGOs are faith-based and they associate the words “reproductive health” with abortion? Does the fact that sexual and reproductive health are complementary make people uneasy? Safe motherhood is a worthy objective, but we don’t want teenagers having sex before marriage, do we? Does it lie in some deep-rooted misogyny? How can a declaration recommend for gender equality but not recommend for the very services that would ensure that equality? How can a UN conference not include one of its own MDG targets?
Achieving the health Millennium Development Goals

“Ensure gender equality, empower women and expand programs to end violence against women” was a late addition to the recommendations.

Amnesty International Australia, are pessimistic about progress:

The Millennium Development Goals are failing the world’s poorest people because governments are ignoring and abusing their human rights…

They called on people to get behind their Demand Dignity Campaign that:

mobilises people all over the world to demand that governments, corporations and others who have power listen to the voices of those living in poverty and recognise and protect their rights.
Failure to respect human rights means MDGs are excluding the poorest people

Another heavyweight Oxfam Australia has been running long term online awareness-raising about the MDGs. Tim Norton wants more than words:

The MDG Outcome Document which will be agreed by leaders at the Summit this week notes the need for governments to live up to past promises, and gives the UN a role in ensuring a degree of accountability on government commitments. It also proposes that leaders come together again in 2013 to review progress.

This is a good start, but an action plan for the MDGs is overdue. It’s now up to leaders meeting in New York to decide exactly how they will make good on their promises to the world’s poorest people.
UN MDG Summit: a plan for action?

The private sector sees opportunities in helping to achieve the goals. Paul Budde, of telecommunications research and consultancy company Budecomm, highlights a link between new technologies and the MDGs in the report, The Impact of Mobile Connectivity on the Millennium Development Goals in Africa:

It is only three years since the Millennium Villages project started. It shows that quality and availability of health and education services improved thanks to access to mobile connectivity.
Benefits of mobile communication in rural and developing areas

Among the key findings: ICT is seen as “a key enabler in accelerating the push towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015”.

Julie Cowdrey of John Mark Ministries is far from impressed with the media:

Kevin Rudd delivered his first address as Foreign Minister last week. He talked of his plans to attend the United Nations MDG Summit.

“The MD wha…?” came the response from the press gallery. Rudd was referring to this week’s United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The deafening sound of bewilderment should come as no surprise considering only six per cent of Australians have actually heard of the MDGs, according to a poll conducted by anti-poverty agency ActionAid. This research left the development sector crying OMG. It is with this in mind that it is necessary to illuminate WTF the MDGs are.

Yet she finds some hope in the poll results:

ActionAid found that even though only six per cent of Australians had heard of the MDGs, 70 per cent would strongly support a framework to catalyse the eradication of extreme poverty.

The political will is overwhelmingly there and the MDGs provide the action plan. Progress is being made and this week’s summit will provide the opportunity for the world to re-focus our efforts.
Eliminating World Poverty

Meanwhile Kevin Rudd has reaffirmed Australia’ commitment to the MDGs, especially improving education in the developing world:

KEVIN Rudd says Australia can play a major role in combating world poverty with its $5 billion international aid boost to primary school education.

The new Foreign Minister said today that providing primary schooling denied to 67 million children around the world would “transform” global poverty levels.
Kevin Rudd says Australia's international aid for education can combat world poverty

Hopefully the coverage of the MDGs will spike after the Summit's final day. To mix metaphors, Rome is burning while the Oz mainstream media ponder who’s in which deckchair.

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