SENATOR BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (19:52): Many people grapple with new media and how it can be used for good and how we can ensure that, as a society, it achieves positive benefits. We have seen over recent years many social, political and corporate successes and failures as people have made different forays into the use of new media. Tonight I want to speak briefly on the amazing social media campaign that has taken place over the last week regarding the atrocities committed by Ugandan militia and cult leader Joseph Kony.
Joseph Kony is responsible for appalling human rights violations as leader of an army which sought to, allegedly, purify the people of Uganda by slaughtering those who opposed him. Kony’s fundamentalist Lord’s Resistance Army is contemptible not just for its crimes against humanity but also for its use of child soldiers and sex slaves. Truly, these are some of the most horrific scenarios imaginable. Children being forced to kill their own people, whilst young girls suffer the unimaginable life of rape, abuse and forced marriages is something that, thankfully, most Australians never have to contemplate.
The Kony 2012 campaign is based around a 30-minute video produced by Jason Russell for the Invisible
Children group. The campaign quickly went viral on Facebook and Twitter with not just thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of hits, but tens of millions of hits around the world
viewing the video. It has helped to raise awareness of the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony. Some have been critical of the campaign and questioned what, if anything, it actually achieves. It is true that many people will simply like a link, re-tweet something on Twitter or forward the URL address to the video. That may be all they do.
I take the attitude that the step of raising awareness is, in and of itself, a good thing. To maximise that good it is necessary to do more than just raise awareness and simply forward an internet link. It is necessary to encourage people to look far more deeply at the issue and to look far more deeply at not just this issue but also the many other appalling human rights abuses, so many of which still, to this day, are committed in various places around the world. Joseph Kony is just one contemptible war criminal amongst many.
Many organisations have and continue to toil away on such issues and deserve far more community support and recognition than they necessarily get. Those who have viewed the video by Invisible Children should think about those other organisations and the work that they toil away doing, perhaps with less recognition than this campaign has necessarily initiated.
Sadly, Uganda is not the only African country with a history of violence and grave human rights violations. More recently we have seen the horrors of Sudan where people like Ahmed Haroun funded and armed the Janjaweed militia who relentlessly raped, killed and tortured civilian populations. There may well be charges of war crimes resulting from the shocking war being raged by the Syrian government against its own people and potentially relating to other actions in other countries during the Arab Spring and commensurate activities.
In light of the continuing atrocities being committed around the world it is time for us to take advantage of campaigns like Kony 2012 and to ensure that there is a genuine approach to human rights in Australia and around the world with a back-to-basics approach. In many Australian schools students are taught about proposals for a bill of rights and about arguments for and against such a bill of rights. Whilst there may be arguments to support that, I would argue that it is far more important that we teach young people about inequities in the world where, for too many people, the day-to-day struggle to live is simply to see tomorrow.
That is the battle that so many people face. Instead of focusing on finding new inequalities via a bill of rights in Australia or other activities, let us focus on educating and empowering all Australians, especially young Australians, to help those who, when facing real inequality, often do not have the opportunity to adequately help themselves.
Senator Payne, who is in the chamber, and I, and many others, have long supported the work of numerous organisations, in particular UNICEF, and tonight I am proud to highlight their work. In this instance I refer to the Children, Conflict and War Education Kit that UNICEF have been circulating. This kit assists teachers at both primary and secondary levels to teach children, young Australians, about matters like Kony and, more broadly, about children in war and the horrors and circumstances they face. It is a fantastic tool for teachers and is a vitally important topic for students right around Australia. Through education students can broaden their understanding of the world, understand the circumstances that many people suffer through and, hopefully, come to realise how fortunate we in Australia are. Once we realise that, then there is the willingness to go beyond and ask the important question of what it is we can do to help those who do not have the opportunities in life that, basically, all young Australians have had, given the right family circumstances. I hope that through this type of education we can empower young people to be advocates for a more just and peaceful world. I hope that such an education can encompass the impacts of war and war crimes and the humanitarian principles that we should ensure young Australians have a full comprehension of.
In doing so I hope young Australians will choose to be a force for good throughout the world by supporting organisations like UNICEF or any of the other organisations who are meeting in this building tonight. An event called Dying to Choose is taking place as we conduct this adjournment debate. It is co-hosted by the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development. Indeed, it is focusing very particularly on one of the Millennium Development Goals. Tonight’s discussion is part of an objective to try to ensure greater advocacy for access to family planning and sexual health in relation to Millennium Development Goal 5, which aims to reduce by three-quarters the maternal mortality ratio and to ensure universal access to contraception. This is a most worthy goal.
We need not think too far away from Australia-we need not think to countries in Africa in this regard- because every day five girls or women in Papua New Guinea, Australia’s closest neighbour, die of pregnancy or childbirth related complications. Every day: five women. For every woman or girl who dies another 30 are disabled. This is happening just in Papua New Guinea. Worldwide, the number of girls and women disabled in pregnancy or childbirth every year is in the millions, and at least 350,000 are known to die. More than 99 per cent of these deaths occur in the developing world where, of course, the access to the type of health and medical treatment and contraception that we enjoy in Australia and other Western countries is just not available.
Whether it is the horrors of war and the actions of people like Joseph Kony or simple things like access to contraception or other Millennium Development Goals that look at access to clean water and the things we take for granted here in Australia, I would urge all those Australians and others around the world who have been inspired by this social media campaign to think beyond the moment where they click that mouse or retweet a link about what they can do to support the organisations who do so much work to try to make a difference in this area-what they can do to improve education and awareness beyond that moment of feeling good. Hopefully, if people take up that challenge and if many of the people who have viewed the Kony video think for a little bit longer about these issues some real good can come of it.