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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 172

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (11:23): Almost five years ago I rose in this place for the first time. In that maiden speech, I addressed the issues of international development aid and my support for it. I have remained a keen but not uncritical advocate of international development aid and an aid program that has integrity and not only focuses on meeting the most immediate humanitarian needs but builds the capacity of people to sustain themselves and their communities physically, economically—importantly—and socially.

It is one of the real privileges of all members of this House, and of the other place, that we are able to go to other countries and see the work that the Australian aid dollar is doing, and we are filled with great pride. Just last week I was in Sri Lanka and I saw the work of AusAID building homes in previously war-torn areas and met the families who were going back into those homes. I saw also the work AusAID were doing in building schools, with the opening of a school in Kilinochchi, the headquarters of the Tamil Tigers during the conflict. By the end of the war, that school had been levelled, and there were just 30 students there. On the day I visited, with the member for Curtin, we saw 2,000 students going into an Australian-built school. On that same day, we saw the work of AusAID in landmine clearing at Elephant Pass, one of the most vicious scenes of conflict, where government troops suffered heavy defeats.

In Indonesia, where I have also been, I saw the work in communities, with small villages being connected to a reliable water supply. I also saw, in Jakarta, the work that was being done to assist the Indonesian government, and more specifically the municipal authorities in Jakarta, plan for and deal with disasters.

These are all positive things and they are things that Australians can be very proud of. But we cannot be uncritical supporters of these programs, because Australians demand nothing less of us who sit in this place than that we ensure that aid dollars are spent well for the right purpose and, most importantly, get the outcomes that we all earnestly seek as global citizens.

The coalition will not be supporting the legislation which is before us, the International Fund for Agricultural Development Amendment Bill 2012, as there remain serious question marks about this fund and its organisational capacities. Concerns that initially prompted the Howard government to pull its support eight years ago have still not been addressed. This bill would allow Australia to accede to the agreement establishing the International Fund for Agricultural Development under the law. The UN agency was first set up in 1977 to fund agricultural development projects in developing countries.

There can be no doubt that food security is a significant issue. As my colleague the member for Curtin has emphasised, the coalition appreciates the need for an enhanced international response to that crisis. But we also believe that our aid program should be accountable, transparent and relevant. Australians should be able to feel confident that their money will be spent effectively and efficiently, that it will reach the people most in need and that it will make a meaningful difference on the ground, especially in our region.

We are a generous nation. I think we can be a more generous nation in the future, and I hope for a time when that is possible, even more so today. Australians have been very supportive of international development assistance over the years, but we should not try their patience. In order to sustain that high level of consensus and community engagement, Australians need to have confidence that the funds and agencies we work with are open and accountable. Australians also need to have confidence that their government is putting its money where its mouth is, not pledging funds for foreign aid overseas then secretly using them to mop up a haemorrhaging budget blow-out caused by Labor's own border protection failures.

Our aid program should not be an exercise in jumping through arbitrary hoops. The aid budget should not be a bargaining chip to put on the table to help win a place on the United Nations Security Council or to score international political bargaining points. Nor should Australia's aid budget be used as a golden chequebook for the government to reach for whenever its failures have drained the bank account in other portfolios. Before Christmas, this Labor government was caught out, exposed playing semantics and diverting $375 million from the aid budget into paying the bill for its failed border protection policies. The Gillard government has now made itself the third-largest recipient of its own foreign aid budget—$375 million is more than Australia is spending in Afghanistan, in Sri Lanka, in Iraq, in Pakistan. We are basically robbing Peter to pay Paul—and Paul in this case is the new Minister for Immigration and Citizenship—in terms of the aid program.

Senator Bob Carr has not revealed which programs he will be stripping money out of, nor is it clear exactly which immigration outcome the money will be diverted into. In December, the member for Gorton, now the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, who has entered the revolving door of Labor ministers, policy failures and border chaos that we have seen over the last five years, said he was 'comfortable', his word, with Senator Carr's statements—and indeed, I would say, Senator Carr's deceit.

This is what he said:

… the Government's unapologetic in dedicating resources to people who might be waiting to have their claims sorted in Australia …

The minister went on to say:

I don't see any difference in providing support for refugees in Jordan and Lebanon as I would see it from providing resources here.

He observed:

… we have a record amount of money going to foreign aid … because we are a generous nation.

… I don't think that should prevent us from providing … basic entitlements and resources to people seeking asylum and, indeed, having their claims determined here—

No wonder the world has formed an opinion about this government in relation to these matters. Perhaps the minister can now clarify exactly which outcome of his portfolio this money will be spent in.

I also do not accept his logic. If money is being diverted to pay for asylum seekers on bridging visas in Australia who have not had their claims determined, these people have not even yet been found to be refugees, so his use of the term 'refugees' is simply inaccurate. I hope, now that he is being briefed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, that he can at least catch up a bit with the clear gap in his knowledge on these matters.

This is a monumental deceit, draining money from the aid budget to try to cover Labor's own cost blow-out on our borders, which is more than $6½ billion since they came to power. Statistics out this week from the department of immigration revealed that in November 2012 Australia's formal detention network had a larger population than ever, with more than 8,400 people. That is in the formal detention network, remembering that when the Howard government left office there were four people in detention who had arrived by boat. And that population is before you even take into account those asylum seekers released into the community under this government's policies or on a bridging visa or who have been transferred offshore.

In Australia today we estimate that about 12,000 people, maybe even more, sit in the system as a result of Labor's border protection failures. Labor's asylum budget has blown out by more than $6 billion since 2008 and now our aid budget has been sucked into the black hole of costs and chaos that Labor has brought upon itself by dismantling and refusing to restore the proven measures of the Howard government and refusing to go further to implement the measures that the coalition has continued to advocate, beyond even what was done by the Howard government.

Australians just do not trust this government, whether it comes to managing our aid budget, our borders or our economy or implementing any policy, for that matter, and is it any wonder why. Australia's aid program should focus on the outcomes on the ground and the quality of delivery, not the publicity of writing a novelty sized cheque. We should give because we are genuinely compassionate, because we are in a position where we are able to lend practical assistance to help and empower others, particularly our neighbours within the region, not because we need to tick off somebody's shopping list. It is critical that in the initiatives Australia signs up to there are inbuilt mechanisms to protect the integrity of these programs and the processes that deliver aid.

Australia was a founding member of the IFAD, but in 2004 the Howard government announced its intention to withdraw from the fund, on grounds including the program's limited relevance to our priorities in South-East Asia and the Pacific and its shortcomings in management and failure to respond to serious concerns taken up with senior management. In November 2009 the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, agreed to the assessment of IFAD's operations. As the member for Paterson just noted in his remarks, that review found in April last year that the reasons for the Howard government's withdrawal were 'clearly valid and important'. The review also warned that challenges remained in HR and financial management of the fund. In spite of those challenges, the government announced a year ago that it would sign back up, and in the 2012-13 budget Labor committed $126.4 million over four years to support that decision.

The bill before us today was referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade for scrutiny. While some progress has been made by IFAD, evidence presented to the committee clearly indicates that the concerns flagged by the Howard government still have not been satisfactorily addressed and, as a result, the coalition will not be supporting these measures today. The Assistant Director-General of AusAID's Food Security, Infrastructure, Mining and Trade Branch, Ms Bryant, gave evidence before the hearing and said that IFAD 'are not all the way there yet but they are making progress against a number of our concerns to the point where we are satisfied that they are on the right path'. Yet, when asked by the member for Berowra, Father of the House, if she could quantify that, Ms Bryant said: 'No. In terms of a list, no, I cannot do that.'

In 2004 IFAD's Office of Audit and Oversight received five allegations of fraud and corruption. By 2011 that number had risen to 41. IFAD's 2011 annual report on investigation and anticorruption activities noted that 25 allegations had been made against external parties, 13 had been made against IFAD staff members and that three involved both staff and external bodies. In elaborating on these allegations, the report noted that the staff misconduct cases involved harassment, breach of confidentiality, recruitment irregularities and conflicts of interest, while the external cases involved collusion and procurement activities and other fraud on the part of companies and project staff.

Engagement with these large multilateral organisations needs to jump a high bar, I think, for the Australian public to have confidence in how the money is spent and to have confidence that it is not just going into a big black box. The support that is given for on-the-ground, locally delivered programs, where people can see the benefits and know those who are directly involved in their delivery means they are the programs that Australians themselves are putting their hands in their pockets for in increasingly large numbers, expressing their own level of commitment and generosity to the problems they see far from these shores, and they should be commended. Much is said about making poverty history, but to make poverty history you have to make it your own business first. It is not about wearing an armband and shouting into the sky; it is actually about supporting people doing things on the ground in a practical way with integrity, where you can be confident about what is being delivered. That is how you build confidence, that is how you build support and that is the sort of path I would like to see pursued.

In principle, the coalition is supportive of international efforts to improve food security for developing countries, and Australians' technical expertise in areas like tropical agriculture, biosecurity and dryland means we can make an important contribution in this area. But community consensus for international development is built upon the foundations of confidence in the use of those funds.

Decisions about how Australia spends our aid budget better matter. There are many worthy causes, but we need to make discerning decisions. These are things that must be triaged—difficult decisions, but nonetheless decisions that must be made about whom we can best support. There are areas of great need in our own region, and Australia has an important role to play here. I will conclude on those.

In the mountains of Papua New Guinea a few years ago I was with the member for Blaxland and we attended the funeral of a young man whose life was stolen by a preventable disease that should have avoided and we witnessed the inconsolable pain of a mother and a grieving community that could perhaps have been spared. That incident once again re-affirmed my commitment—and I am sure the member for Blaxland's—about the need to ensure that we do all we can to help those closest to us. We owe a great debt to the men and women of Papua New Guinea—those who carried our wounded across the Kokoda Track and in the battles of Wau and Salamaua and further north in Finschhafen and all of these places—who themselves faced execution and torture as they supported our troops and our country in our greatest area of need. We can never forget our friends in Papua New Guinea. They are loyal and solid friends of this country. Their needs are great and our support for them in this particular area, I believe, comes before all other calls on the foreign aid purse, and certainly the calls submitted in this bill.