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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6217

Mr McMULLAN (Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance) (6:49 PM) —Firstly, I will respond as best I can, as I do not have all the information for the shadow minister, that the $1.6 million is funding as to the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. As far as I can tell at the moment—and if there is any further information on this I will get it and send it to the shadow minister—this was an internal reprioritisation by ACIAR. There has certainly been no decision by me that required them to do it and I am not aware of any government directive or policy priority from us to ACIAR saying this is to be a reprioritisation. As far as I can tell, it was an internal reprioritisation by ACIAR. But if there is anything further I will check and I will let the shadow minister know.

With regard to the member for New England, there were two very important points. I do not have enough time to respond in, probably, all the length they warrant. I agree with him on both points. The Australian government has cautiously started to move on this. The international community is generally looking at this question of how to move from the exclusively humanitarian assistance that we provided in the Mugabe period so that we could be confident no money was, or was in any way seen to be, supporting that regime to being more open with the new government, even though there is some risk because, as Tsvangirai himself has said, the new government is not actually working in every way that we would wish and the risk of ZANU-PF’s role continues. We are looking to find ways in which we can move beyond humanitarian assistance to support efforts by the inclusive government to restore basic services, particularly in an area that is one in which the Tsvangirai party ministers, the MDC ministers, are responsible, which is water and sanitation. We have started to move in that direction. It is a finely balanced argument to move forward sufficiently strongly to give encouragement and to show to the people of Zimbabwe that things are better and that there are benefits that flow—and some of that is evident on the ground in Zimbabwe, as I am advised—without running the risk that the money is supporting things that no Australian would want to see their taxpayer dollars go to. So you are right: the balance is shifting towards moving beyond the pure humanitarian, towards service delivery. We will proceed very carefully and cautiously, but we are moving in that direction. You are right. If you are reflecting your friend’s contribution, he is correct.

With regard to agricultural production, there is a very big initiative in the budget about that. It is one of the major initiatives globally. Australia and most other donors have reduced their support for agriculture too far, and we are starting to reverse that progress. It is a very complex question, and there is a lot of detail in the budget papers, and if the member wants any more I will get it for him. To summarise it, if you look at the wonderful, generous Australian warm-hearted response when starving kids appear on television, what we are doing about agricultural production is trying to stop the kids starving in the first place. It is a program to say, ‘Let’s get the food grown and delivered in the region, in the countries concerned, so that people can be more successful.’ Australia has a particular role to play, firstly in research and, going back to the shadow minister’s question, in ACIAR. ACIAR has this specialist role not just in Africa, but around the world. It is of dual benefit, to developing countries’ farmers and to Australian farmers. That research is a doubly beneficial event. It also helps people because of the compatibility of our soils and climates. We have a unique capacity amongst donors to make a contribution, and we certainly intend to do so.