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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 156


Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinMinister for Foreign Affairs) (17:36): I'll answer the questions from the member for Forrest and also address the questions from the member for Blaxland in reverse order.

Thank you, Member for Forrest, for raising the issue of MH17. I know the grandparents of the Maslin children are in your electorate. I have met with them and I remain in contact with the Maslin family and the other families throughout Australia of the 38 people who were aboard flight MH17 from Amsterdam. The Australian government's commitment of $50 million is to assist the families of the victims to take part in the Dutch proceedings. There will be a state prosecution led by the Netherlands, and we want to ensure that the families can take part. The funding will also go to support those proceedings. The Ukraine government has entered into the necessary treaty arrangements and extradition arrangements with the Netherlands, so we believe a very full prosecution will be able to take place. But the member for Forrest would also be aware that, on 25 May, after receiving further details from the joint investigation team, Australia and the Netherlands called upon Russia to accept state responsibility for its role in the downing of MH17. We share the grief of the families around the world of the 298 people who were killed, and we'll continue to do what we can to get justice for the families here in Australia.

Your point, Member for Forrest, about the work in the Pacific is very positive because I know that you have joined this mentoring scheme and you have been connected to a bright, young woman from Vanuatu, who was a recipient of an Australia Award. Under this women's leadership initiative, the female recipients of Australia Awards who have studied in Australia will be mentored by an Australian businesswoman or parliamentarian, or a woman from civil society, so that they can maintain that connection through the Australia Awards alumni, but it is also about supporting women in the Pacific, who do face many challenges.

The Australian aid budget is very heavily focused on three elements of support and empowerment for women and girls. First, we're providing women with the skills, the capabilities and the capacity to take leadership roles in their families; in governments, both provincial and national; in business; in communities; and in civil society. Second, we're supporting the financial empowerment, the economic empowerment, of women by giving them the necessary skills and access to microfinance, and ensuring they can join the formal labour market. Third, we're dealing with the scourge of domestic or gender based violence in the Pacific. No country is immune, but it is particularly prevalent in the Pacific. This alumni program is part of our efforts to support women in the Pacific.

You also raised the New Colombo Plan. I'm particularly proud of that, because from a standing start in 2014 to the end of this year over 30,000 young Australian undergraduates will have been overseas, pursuant to funding under the New Colombo Plan. The member for Blaxland says, 'Why don't we have an intern program?' That's precisely what the New Colombo Plan is. Australian undergraduates have the opportunity not only to live and study in one of 40 locations in the Indo-Pacific but to undertake practicums and work experience. We have had some amazing levels of cooperation from businesses and governments and civil society, who are supporting young Australians undertake these practical experiences, working experiences, as part of the New Colombo Plan.

In relation to Kolkata, I point out that it is the centre of India's mining and resources sector. I'm pleased that the member for Forrest asked a question about her constituents. The new consulate general will enhance two-way cultural, education, research and tourism connections and provide consular opportunities, but for the member for Forrest's electorate I think the tourism and the mining opportunities will be enormous.

On the question of aid, the member for Blaxland asks why there isn't a bipartisan approach to increasing the aid budget. I say: why isn't there a bipartisan approach to maintaining a budget surplus and maintaining an affordable aid program? He talks about $11 million in cuts. The trajectory that Labor had embraced was utterly unaffordable and was never going to happen. The aid budget has increased—2.1 per cent per year. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Wicks ): The question is that the proposed expenditure be agreed to. Before I give the call to the minister, I would remind him that by resolution of the House debate will conclude at 5.45.