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"There's still a lot to be done": Senator Claire Moore on Australia's SDG agenda

Ahead of her retirement, Current spoke to Labor senator and Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific Claire Moore about Australia's ability to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), both nationally and abroad.

Moore was first elected to the Senate in 2001 and has been Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific since July 2017.

During this time, she has been a passionate advocate for the rights of women and a warrior against poverty and disadvantage, in Australia and around the world.

Australian Water Association (AWA): What is your opinion on the economic power of water to transform economies and better nations’ livelihoods?

Claire Moore: Without effective access to clean water, there is no effective life. The economic futures of communities are completely damned if they don’t have effective water supplies and access to water.

We know that without having a clean, safe water supply, diseases will be rampant and people will not be able to live – the health of the community is unable to thrive, sometimes even continue.

Aside from sanitation, there is also a very clear link with agriculture, and livelihoods. There are communities that rely on irrigation and also communities that rely on the sea, and water management, water legislation and water access are the basis of planning for economic security in communities. Australia has a great role to play sharing its expertise, being one of the driest continents on the planet, and we’ve been working effectively in terms of research.

The immediacy of economic impact on a community that’s given reliable running water is so practical and so effective, and you can see the immediate changes. You cannot look at SDG 6 in isolation, because the whole SDG agenda is ensuring that there is equality, and ensuring that no one’s left behind, which I just think is the most inspirational, simple and effective message.

AWA: What are Australia’s current priorities when it comes to the SDGs? How would you like to see this continue or change in future?

Moore: Last year Australia provided its first voluntary report on our progress across the SDG agenda. Under SDG 6 we highlighted our commitment and our objectives internationally and domestically.

The UN featured particular consideration of SDG 6 internationally in the same period. It was devastating to read that the work is just not meeting the necessary targets on water.

I genuinely believe that Australia has not adopted a domestic agenda for the SDGs. There are little pockets of action, where the commitment and the knowledge and the practical application of the SDG agenda will blow you away, in some places and organisations, but there’s still a lot to be done in terms of a broader engagement.

There is still a lot of work to be done to get governments at all levels, community organisations at all levels, to think in the SDG framework, because it’s not extra work.

We just need to get into the mindset about how we link it together. It reinforces best practise to do that, and where it does happen, there are great opportunities.

When you have kids involved, they just do it. I’ve been doing some work with kids who are learning about the SDG agenda. They get it straight away: what it means to us, what it means to our future in the world. That’s what makes it real, and if we could get the same attitude and commitment from our legislators, I think we’ll get it right eventually.

AWA: What is your perspective on Australia’s expertise in water management?

Moore: Interestingly, I think one of the areas where there is the most amount of engagement with the SDG framework is in the water sector.

By nature of the work done within the water industry, water professionals are very much aware of water management as an international issue. It can’t be just somebody else’s business.

The water industry in Australia is so involved. They give so much, and they share their knowledge so well, they’re a great exemplar for what we, as a nation, can do better.

Moore being welcomed by a market vendor at the Markets for Change project accommodation centre in Fiji. Moore being welcomed by a market vendor at the Markets for Change project accommodation centre in Fiji.

When you talk with people working in water, it gives you such hope that we have experts working on these problems. They understand it.

And when I meet women from the Solomon Islands who have actually benefited from some of the work we’ve done there in water management, you can actually talk together and say, “Hey, this is great!”, I just wish more people in the Australian community could be part of that.

AWA: What’s the importance of water in South East Asia? What role can Australia play in helping the region towards sustainable water management?

Moore: We’ve had longstanding relationships with Vietnam and Indonesia, where we share professional experience. This type of partnership arrangement is really important. It’s not just giving information and support, it’s actually being in a partnership, and our development program is moving down that track.

But some places still continue to have very fundamental problems with hygiene and water management. Being in Myanmar earlier this year, I spoke with a number of people about the water needs there. They have big issues, because they’ve got wonderful rivers, but no entrenched infrastructure or method for storing water and servicing communities. South East Asia is a very dynamic part of the world, and trans-boundary issues are critical because the populations are so large.

The other issue, and it’s one that’s topical, is the role of the Chinese Government in damming rivers upstream of Myanmar. It’s still up in the air, incredibly sensitive, but issues like that are being played out all over the world.

And while these complicated scenarios make the SDG goals look impossible, I would argue the attitude should not be about contesting the SDG goals, but rather proactively identifying possibilities for skill and knowledge sharing to get the best result.

AWA: What are your thoughts on the link between better water management and the empowerment of women? And what might be done to bolster the outcomes of this dynamic?

Moore: We know the theory, we’ve seen the films, we read the books, but an image has stayed with me since a visit to Tanzania in 2010. During a trip into the regions we had trouble with our vehicle. We kept breaking down and two kids came up, absolutely burdened down with big water jars, and they shared their water with us because our radiator was overflowing.

I talked with the driver and those kids walked two and a half hours, twice a day, but they stopped to give us water. They then turned back to go and get more. This experience really put the problem in perspective for me.

Claire Moore. Claire Moore.

The issue has been going on for a long time in our policy, we’ve been trying to get women and children more involved in every aspect of life. This government has focused its international development portfolio on gender, which was welcomed by everyone.

It is clearly understood that in community, if you empower women, you actually build up hope, opportunity and strength across the general equanimity of the nation, which is the basis of the SDG agenda. This has been clearly identified in the water and sanitation process.

Our programs are inter-focused: to ensure that women and children are able to have more options in their community, and to make life easier so that we can build up economic opportunities and developments. It’s a very important part of our agenda.

We’ve done work with various NGOs at the local level, in terms of providing sanitation at places like markets and schools, which allow women and girls to participate all the time, rather than having times when they can’t go because of their sanitation needs.

I’m hoping by now most people know about the impact lack of sanitation has on girl’s schooling; good sanitation means they don’t drop out when they start menstruating.

Same with workplaces: putting good sanitation into the markets at the Solomon Islands means that women traders are able to have better conditions, so they’ll earn more money and be more secure.

It’s also about valuing the lives of everybody.

Somehow, when we hear these awful statistics about infant mortality and maternal mortality in our neighbouring countries and further abroad, it’s easy to forget that the death of a child due to lack of sanitation overseas is just as tragic for those families as it is for ourselves. We need to keep humanising the impact water makes on peoples’ lives.

First published as 'Transforming our world' in Current magazine April 2019.