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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 260

Mr RUDD (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (9:06 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

When a country experiences a natural disaster or conflict, the capacity of its government to provide security and basic services for its citizens is often limited.

Hard-won development gains can be undermined and poverty exacerbated.

More needs to be done in the aftermath of natural disasters and conflict to assist stabilisation, recovery and development efforts.

Australia has responded to this need by putting in place a new capability to assist countries affected by such crises.

The Australian Civilian Corps is a select group of civilian specialists who deploy to countries experiencing or emerging from natural disaster or conflict.

The corps supports stabilisation, recovery and development planning.

It will assist crisis-affected countries to restore essential services and strengthen their government institutions.

One such example would be the deployment of an Australian water and sanitation planner to assist local government officials rebuild water infrastructure following a natural disaster.

Another example would be the deployment of an Australian senior government official with expertise in budget administration to assist a country with budget control following a conflict.

The work of the corps will build on initial emergency humanitarian relief efforts, and help set the foundation for long-term sustainable development.

Between now and 2015 Australia expects to double its official development assistance and continue to work alongside the international community to help reach the Millennium Development Goals.

The Australian Civilian Corps is just one important new capability in the Australian government’s development assistance program which is improving the lives of millions of people in developing countries.

The government announced the initiative at the East Asia Summit in Thailand on 25 October 2009 against the backdrop of the multiple disasters in Samoa, Tonga, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines and the ongoing challenges and insecurity in Afghanistan.

This bill provides for the establishment and management of the Australian Civilian Corps.

Members of the corps will be drawn from a register of civilian specialists selected for their technical skills and ability to work in challenging international environments.

They will have expertise in areas such as public administration and finance, law and justice, engineering, agriculture and health administration.

They will be sought from all levels of government and the broader Australian community.

A number of civilian specialists have already been selected, screened and trained for inclusion on the Australian Civilian Corps register, which will be built up progressively to 500 by the year 2014.

The bill provides for these civilian specialists to be engaged as a new category of Commonwealth employee in order to deploy with the corps.

Members of the Australian Civilian Corps will be a unique category of Commonwealth employee, engaged to work in crisis environments overseas for specific periods before returning to their regular employment.

As Commonwealth employees, these individuals will represent the Australian government in highly challenging environments abroad.

They will have all of the rights and protections afforded to Commonwealth employees, and be covered by the same minimum standards of employment as other Australian employees under the Fair Work Act.

The central purpose of the bill is to create a legal framework for the effective and fair employment and management of Australian Civilian Corps employees.

The bill provides for terms and conditions and other employment arrangements that are specifically designed for this unique kind of employment.

AusAID will administer the Australian Civilian Corps, in cooperation with other Australian government agencies.

The Director-General of AusAID, who manages the vast majority of Australia’s international development assistance program, will be responsible for managing the Australian Civilian Corps.

The bill gives the Director-General of AusAID the power to engage Australian Civilian Corps employees and determine their remuneration and other terms and conditions.

These terms and conditions will be tailored to the particular requirements of Australian Civilian Corps employment.

The Australian Civilian Corps will have a set of values prescribed by regulation, which will define the principles, standards and ethics to be embodied by the corps.

The Director-General of AusAID will be required to uphold and promote the values.

A code of conduct for the Australian Civilian Corps will also be prescribed by regulation, setting out the standards of behaviour and conduct expected of Australian Civilian Corps employees.

The bill provides for sanctions to be imposed in the event that an Australian Civilian Corps employee breaches the code.

The bill also facilitates the transition of civilian specialists between Australian Civilian Corps employment and their regular employment.

The Prime Minister is given a power under the bill to issue directions to Commonwealth employers about the participation of their employees in the corps.

The bill also includes a provision to ensure that all employers can grant leave without pay to their employees for the purpose of undertaking Australian Civilian Corps service.

The Australian Civilian Corps will have the flexibility to deploy in a stand-alone capacity or alongside international partners or other Australian operations, including military and police.

The corps will work closely with bodies such as the United Nations, and the bill provides for secondments of members of the corps to such bodies.

The bill also deals with various other employment arrangements including assignment of duties, suspension and termination from employment.

The Australian Civilian Corps is a valuable new capability that will enhance Australia’s ability to meet requests for assistance following natural disasters and conflict.

The corps will work in partnership with crisis-affected countries in our region and beyond to assist with stabilisation, recovery and development efforts.

It will build on Australia’s proud history of providing assistance in times of crisis and affirm our status as a good international citizen.

For this initiative to be successful it is essential that a framework exists for the effective and fair employment and management of Australian Civilian Corps employees.

This bill puts such a framework into place.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Chester) adjourned.