Bob Carr: Ladies and Gentlemen. I did think that my days of being in primary schools were over. But I'm reminded here that fewer than half of Burmese children will finish five years of primary school, and that's where Australia comes in because we're going to try very very hard to make a difference here.
We're going to equip schools with trained teachers, with books and blackboards and, in some cases, with food so that the youngsters can concentrate on learning. And I really want Australians visiting this country in 10 or 20 years time to be thanked for what they did for school children.
I want Australia, a rich country, to be able to make a difference here for the lives of youngsters like these behind me. The figures are very challenging. Only 57 per cent of teachers in Myanmar are trained properly. Australia is going to provide learning kits to 1.1 million primary students and we will train 20,000 teachers over the next four years alone. That's 20,000 teachers equipped with skills to come into schools like this to make a difference.
We will work with UNICEF, and will work on our own, and we do it understanding that education is the basis for everything. It's the basis for health. It's the basis for employability. It's the basis for citizenship and it is in fact a basic human right and youngsters like the ones behind me are growing up in this country without this basic human right. They're not learning to read and write to a basic level they haven't got that millennium goal of finishing primary school and Australia is going to make a big contribution. I expect education as a percentage of our aid budget to Myanmar to grow and grow. And we will be the biggest contributor to Myanmar's education from outside the country and we're going to focus on reforming the administrative and political system that delivers education. That's going to happen as well.
We will reform the sector, we will be the biggest donor from overseas to education in this very poor country. Our contribution will make a very significant difference and when Australians come here in 10 or 30 years from now, there will be people who will say thanks for helping us get primary education.
Journalist: Just with the teacher training, can you explain how training 20,000 teachers is going to happen? That sounds like quite a mission.
Carr: Well, the teachers here were trained as a result of an Australian financial commitment to bring in packages of education and train them in groups of over a thousand and then going into schools to introduce proper teaching techniques.
Journalist: Talking of political engagement, how will increased engagement better enable the delivery of this kind of aid?
Carr: It means we can fully engage with the Government, we can get them down to Australia and see how education systems are run. Have them look at teacher training and have them look at the administration that lies behind a school system.
We can do that fully and the advantage of engagement is that there is nothing holding us back. When this country was run by a military dictatorship, we couldn't roll up our sleeves and get in and do the things we wanted to do. We could hardly run public services for a country that was founded on a dictatorship that was flinging people in jail and holding political leaders under house arrest.
Carr: Take the regulations of the mining industry for example. Australia has been forced to develop and push the right standard of regulation for mining and they can take our standards as a benchmark. How do you assess a gold mine; the danger of mercury, bleaching into a river system for example? How to control dust from an open cut mine. We've had experiences of this, we've got the techniques, we've got the legislative remedies.
When I spoke to the Speaker of the House of Parliament yesterday, I said this is something where we can provide practical assistance. We can take you through Australian legislation that applies to the mining sector and through the regulations and look at how it might be transferred here. They can avoid our mistakes, using asbestos in building material for example. We've done that. Thousands of people have died with asbestos fibres in the lungs and the diseases that have caused, terrible diseases. They can avoid that by adopting the standards we've now got.
Journalist: Do you think there's a sense in which they desire to avoid those mistakes? Are they cognisant of them?
Carr: Yes, I think very, and Aung San Suu Kyi discussed that with me. She didn't want the country afflicted with wild west unregulated development.
But nor do I suspect do people in the current government want that to happen.
We've got a mining boom in Australia, the biggest and longest mining boom we've had in a history shaped by mining booms. We know a bit about regulation in the mining sector and we're updating it all the time. So that's practical aid we can give. Now I think there's a readiness in the government to listen to us and engage with us because we've lifted all our (financial and travel) sanctions.
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