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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12699


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (18:48): On 19 October this year Australia secured what has been and is rightly described as a once in a generation opportunity of filling a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council. The coalition welcomes this outcome and pays tribute to the hard work of many diplomatic officials and staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in making this opportunity a reality. Proper respect and acknowledgement should also be paid to the former Prime Minister, the member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, for setting this aspirational goal.

The challenge now is to make the most of this very rare opportunity. You would think that the uniqueness of this opportunity would mean that the government had a well-developed plan and a strategy for making the most of it. Regrettably, briefing notes obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and prepared by DFAT for the incoming foreign affairs minister Bob Carr reveal that this was not the case. Senator Bob Carr became Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs on 13 March. The briefing notes for him as the incoming Minister for Foreign Affairs do include a specific reference to the United Nations Security Council campaign.

I note on page 18 of these briefing notes that DFAT refers to the 'commencement of the development of a strategy, including objectives, priorities and resourcing'. That is right, 'the commencement of the development of a strategy'. You would be forgiven for wondering why wasn't there a strategy in place in the first place? Also, on page 19 of the same briefing notes, a reference is made to commencing the development of a strategy for how Australia would use its membership and how we would resource membership. I seek to table the incoming minister's briefing notes.

Leave not granted.

Ms GAMBARO: That is a shame; the truth is in those briefing notes. These were obtained under freedom of information and they show that there was no strategy, there was no clear policy direction on how to make use of the United Nation Security Council bid. It is a shame that the member for Page will not allow me to table these notes.

Mr Frydenberg: Hypocrisy I call it.

Ms GAMBARO: It is hypocrisy. Nevertheless, these statements will support the view that the whole UN Security Council campaign was not planned—it was not strategic in its development, it was done at the last minute, it was done on the hop, it was done on the run—and that is no way to run such an important strategy. We heard from the member for Eden-Monaro what a fantastic opportunity it was to take a seat at this very important council, but that is no way to run a strategy. This may well be due to the fact that it was largely predicated on buying votes. This was demonstrated very clearly to us all by the skewing of the foreign aid budget—I will speak more on that issue shortly—but what is really concerning about the information revealed in the briefing note is that even at this late stage, and at the time of the briefing of Mr Carr as the incoming foreign minister, DFAT still did not know what the government's strategy was for how it would use its membership. Not so great planning on how we could use this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

It is also clear from the briefing notes that the Australian taxpayer would be up for more money in footing the bill to resource our United Nations Security Council membership. In terms of what a fist Australia will make of this once-in-a-generation opportunity, rather than hit the ground running, Labor's ineptitude and failure to develop a plan or strategy means that we are in danger of just hitting the ground. Much has been said about the secret costs of the bid beyond the $25 million that the government very loosely admits to. What is very clear is that an analysis of the budget ministerial statements and the portfolio budget statements going back to 2007-08 shows that there has been an incredible level of changed expenditure on foreign aid since this time. In fact we are looking at $2.9 billion, and all since the United Nations Security Council bid was announced.

As with any kind of expenditure, Australian taxpayers have a right to know are they getting value for money or not?

Mr Frydenberg: Absolutely!

Ms GAMBARO: A critical question—I thank the member for Kooyong—that Australian taxpayers really need to ask is: how is Australia's foreign aid objectives and our foreign aid priorities being advanced by some of these notable recent expenditures? I just want to take you through some of these expenditures: $150,000 for a statue to commemorate antislavery in the Caribbean and Africa to be built in the UN Plaza in New York.

Mr Frydenberg: Outrageous!

Ms GAMBARO: The member for Kooyong has every right to be outraged. In terms of priority, what is AusAID doing to ensure the foreign aid money is being spent at the coalface, on the people who need it the very most?

I would like someone to explain to me how this statue will assist people in need in Africa and in the Caribbean. Let us have a look at another one: $270,000 for reviewing agriculture and fisheries management in Eritrea between 2008 and 2010. I wonder how the Australian seafood industry feel about that one after Minister Burke's recent announcement that he wants to lock away more of Australia's fishing grounds. What tangible benefits have been delivered to the Eritrean fishing industry as a result of this money? Then there was $300,000 in 2009 for membership of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kenya. This must be one of the most expensive membership fees around. What tangible benefits has this funding allocation delivered? Maybe we will get some clarity from this one: $65 million for a giant telescope project in Chile's Atacama Desert. Other than being a very expensive gadget for ET to phone home, why was this funding allocation a priority for AusAID, and why did AusAID not make a determination that this money could be spent much more productively in our own region—for example, by tackling the TB epidemic in PNG?

If this $3 billion aid increase in foreign aid spending in Africa, the Caribbean, South-East Asia and the Pacific supposedly has nothing to do with the UN Security Council bid, what has changed so much about Australia's foreign aid priorities between 2007 and 2008? Why has there been an increase of 251 per cent in how much we are spending in Africa? That has gone up from $101 million to $354.6 million between 2007-08 and now. Equally, other than the apparent need to build a statue in New York, what has changed so much about Australia's foreign aid priorities since 2007-08 that we have increased our foreign aid spend in the Caribbean from zero to almost $48 million in 2012-13?

But the most important question is: how much has Australia's future foreign aid focus been skewed by the success of our bid? In recent estimates, under questioning from Senator Kroger, AusAID Director General Peter Baxter admitted that there had been separate buckets of funding across a range of government agencies for the delivery of projects of foreign countries which just happened to coincide with the timing of the UN Security Council bid. Mr Baxter made this admission while at the same time trying to claim that Australia's foreign aid budget had not been impacted by the Security Council bid.

But what I find really confusing about all of these statements is that this dynamic must cause significant problems for AusAID, with the apparent lack of coordination in the allocation and expenditure of consolidated revenue for the delivery of projects in foreign countries which are in effect foreign aid projects. An obvious matter of concern is that this lack of coordination creates inefficiencies in that AusAID and other government agencies could well be duplicating expenditure or acting at cross-purposes, therefore decreasing the level of Australia's foreign aid effectiveness.

It seems very clear from the analysis of the budget papers going back to 2007-08 that the level of foreign aid Australia provides in our own region has been hijacked to facilitate the Security Council bid, and it is indeed telling. It is demonstrated by the following facts: the percentage of Australia's foreign aid budget spent in the Pacific, including New Guinea, has decreased by 4.5 per cent between 2007-08 and now, and the percentage of Australia's foreign aid budget spent in East Asia, including Indonesia, has decreased by five per cent between 2007-08 and now. What we have seen since 2007-08 is a 251 per cent increase in Australia's level of aid to Africa, while we have record levels of tuberculosis infection in PNG and a failed $170 million program to combat AIDS and HIV in our nearest neighbour.

While the coalition welcomes Australia's appointment to the Security Council, it is very clear that we do not have a plan. We have splashed money all around with little or no way of design or strategy. In conclusion, the coalition urges the government to focus on our region and not to squander the opportunity that has been made available.