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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6219

Mr McMULLAN (Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance) (6:58 PM) —That is probably verging on the most ridiculous set of contributions about international policy I have ever heard from a shadow minister.

Ms Julie Bishop —Have you seen the media on it recently?

Mr McMULLAN —Let me deal with the relevant parts of it. I will ignore the ridiculous implications and the silly furphy about the Prime Minister wanting to be Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Ms Julie Bishop —Everybody knows that.

Mr McMULLAN —I know that you always copy other people’s material, but this is not a good thing to be copying.

Ms Julie Bishop —Do I always do that, parliamentary secretary? It is a question of the public record.

Mr McMULLAN —To the extent that I contributed to that, I apologise. The first point is that international representatives of Australia see as part of their obligations pursuing the Australian government’s diplomatic objectives. That is a stunning revelation, that the Australian Ambassador to the Vatican regards as one of his tasks pursuing an Australian government diplomatic objective. What a surprise that must be to everybody! There would be people looking aghast and amazed. That is part of the responsibility of every international representative of every country and it is similarly the responsibility of our excellent ambassador to the Vatican. When the Governor-General travels, she delivers messages that are consistent with the policy of the Australian government. That has been the case ever since we have had governors-general. It is their appropriate role and will continue to be. Nothing will change, whomever is in government. That is a statement of the bleeding obvious.

There is a more complicated, and I would have thought quite obvious, explanation for what is happening with regard to ODA. Our overseas development budget overall is determined by two factors: one is the proportion of gross national income that we are committed to, which is increasing year by year; the other is our gross national income—that is, the budget is the multiplication of those two numbers. What percentage of GNI are we contributing and how big is the GNI? Because of the global financial crisis, the gross national income is not expected to increase very much for the next two years and so the aid budget will not increase very much. It is only because our percentage commitment is going up that it will increase at all.

The budget assumptions drive an increase in GNI in the out years and that multiplied by the increased aid percentage creates a substantial increase in the aid budget in the third and fourth years of the forward estimates. It would suit the government and me better if the increases were more steady. That is what we envisaged when we were elected and what we envisaged in last year’s budget, but the global economic crisis has meant that our gross national income has not increased as much as we anticipated. Therefore, the dollar value of our aid budget will not increase as much as we anticipated, so we will not be able to introduce the programs as quickly as we intended but, as the GNI percentage and GNI income goes up, our capacity to fund increases will be enhanced and that will be reflected in every part of the aid budget. You will see that same four-year profile everywhere. It is driven by arithmetic.