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Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Page: 97

Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (20:41): I listened very carefully to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition's speech, and let me say from the outset that they never intended to vote for this bill, they oppose rejoining the fund, and if you wait for them to be satisfied you will be waiting for all time.

The fact is that this bill, the International Fund for Agricultural Development Amendment Bill 2012, comes before the House after two parliamentary inquiries. The previous inquiry was done by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, and its report said that it supported the Agreement Establishing the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Rome, 13 June 1976) and recommended that its binding treaty be taken.

Of course, the Howard government may have had good reason for withdrawing from the fund in 2004, and it did not seem like an extraordinary action to do that. It was certainly sending a message to the fund about their internal governance issues, and I would think that it was the strongest possible action. An alternative course of action would have been, of course, to simply not put any money into the replenishment rounds. That would have also sent a message, I would have thought.

Nevertheless, we withdrew from an organisation that we had been a founding member of, an important organisation for the world because it combats poverty, particularly related to agricultural development, and we know—I certainly know from my own interactions on the foreign affairs committee—that agricultural development is crucial to combating poverty. You only have to go to Timor, where they have a hungry season every year for two months of the year, when, while they do not starve, people certainly go hungry; there is not enough food around. If you go to Pakistan or any of those countries, you certainly find that agricultural development and agricultural productivity can have a very big impact on the reduction of poverty. And of course if we reduce poverty we increase the stability of these communities.

I chaired the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, which looked into this bill. We recommended that it be passed. There was a minority dissenting report ably done by the member for Berowra, who will no doubt follow me in this debate. What we found, and what the evidence shows—and it is in the committee's report—is that it was AusAID that recommended that we rejoin the fund, and it was AusAID that thought it was the right time to do that. They had made their assessment about the best way of spending our aid dollars. We have to remember that the contribution we make to the International Fund for Agricultural Development is something like 0.4 per cent or so of our overall aid budget, so it is actually a very small part of it. But they wanted to rejoin because they thought it was the right time to do it—and they thought that based on the assessments of the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which have pretty robust governance arrangements over their foreign aid budgets.

If the Conservative government of the United Kingdom is contributing, and if the government of the United States, which gives pretty rigorous scrutiny through the congress, is contributing, it makes sense for Australia to join the fund and it makes sense for us to contribute. We might have a debate about how much we should contribute. That is a debate which should possibly be had in the context of budgets. But, on the question of whether or not we should rejoin, it seems to me to be just sensible to do so at this point. Governments retain the right and ability to influence the conduct of the organisation simply by contributing or not contributing. The previous speaker referred to New Zealand not contributing this year—although I do not know if that action was an attempt to influence the conduct of the organisation or not.

The reasons for Australia's withdrawal in 1984 have been addressed by the fund. The fact that they have more corruption reports results from their new governance arrangements. When you go looking for corruption, you will of course get more reports of it. When you go looking for corruption, you will of course have more prosecutions. The greater the transparency you seek, the more instances you will turn up. That is true of any organisation.

The conclusion of AusAID's report in 2011 was that there was a strong business case for Australia to rejoin IFAD. The reasons given were, firstly, that the work of the fund contributes directly to Millennium Development Goal 1, the reduction of poverty; to goal 3, improving gender equity; and to goal 7, environmental protection. Secondly, the report said that IFAD was seen to be effective, results-focused and providing value for money in the increasingly important rural development sector—and, in my opinion, we do not spend enough on things such as agriculture and rural development in our foreign aid budget. By far the most important thing we can do to improve living standards is to increase farmers' incomes and the surplus they are able to get from their land.

AusAID's report also found that there was:

… close alignment between IFAD and Australia’s priorities for food security and rural development—

and that IFAD offered:

partnerships in regions and sectors where Australia wishes to expand but lacks deep technical or country knowledge and presence.

One of those areas, obviously, is Africa, where we have large mining interests but where our diplomatic footprint is not large, meaning we are reliant on multilateral institutions to deliver our aid. The final reason given by the AusAID report for Australia to rejoin IFAD was that it offered Australia the opportunity for strong Australian influence and profile. You only get that influence and profile—and the levers to change an organisation—if you join. You have to join. You have to stay in and fight.

I am surprised it has not been suggested in a speech—because it was certainly suggested in the proceedings of the committee and in other places—that this move to rejoin IFAD was part of our bid for a UN Security Council seat. I draw members' attention to paragraph 2.15 of the committee's report:

AusAID in evidence stated that the decision to rejoin IFAD was, to its knowledge, not influenced by Australia’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

That evidence was given after consultation. They consulted the United Nations Security Council task force within DFAT and were, in the committee's deliberations, the subject of the probing questions of the member for Berowra.

The committee looked at the reasons that we withdrew, we looked at the business case and we looked at the accountability issues. It was clear that there were governance issues, but it was also clear that they were now being addressed. No-one can predict the future conduct of officials or of an organisation, but, as quoted at paragraph 2.33 of the report, Results International Australia gave evidence that:

Since 2005, IFAD has also implemented an anticorruption strategy, which gives its Office of Audit and Oversight unrestricted ability to investigate complaints and allegations, and also empowers a Sanctions Committee to decide appropriate action where a case of fraud is substantiated. … IFAD also established an Ethics Office in 2011 to investigate and provide guidance on ethical issues for IFAD staff.

Clearly, when you put those corruption-breaking strategies and governance arrangements in place, you are going to get complaints and you are going to do investigations. That helps in cleaning up an organisation and make sure everyone is doing the right thing. There is no organisation which is perfect.

One other issue raised was the location of IFAD programs. We now know that East Asia and the Pacific are receiving some 31 per cent of IFAD allocations—so there has been a change in IFAD's focus. They are more focused on the Asia-Pacific, they are more focused on corruption issues and they are more focused on delivering on their mission statement: to reduce rural poverty and hunger and to work with smallholder farmers who are disproportionately represented among the poor, the vulnerable and the food insecure. This is a worthy goal. I think the organisation, while not perfect, is conceptually a good one. I think they are making progress in making sure that they are an organisation which will safeguard the Australian taxpayers' money being used to achieve their important goal, and I think the government of Australia and the parliament of Australia will have an influence over the running of the organisation, as do the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

They will also have an influence over whether or not the International Fund for Agricultural Development is a good organisation and whether it fulfils its mission statement. We should not forget that it is a really important mission statement. This is an area that Australia's aid budget should have a greater concentration in, and we can only really facilitate that if we are a part of multilateral organisations, if we are working with others and if we are doing it cooperatively. I think it is a worthy goal. Despite the opposition's refusal to back this bill, if they are in government—I should not pre-empt the election process—

Mr Laming: Go right ahead.

Mr CHAMPION: I cannot—it is for the Australian people to decide, of course. If they were to take office I think that, despite their objections tonight, they would continue on the path the government has set—and that is to be a part of this very important organisation, to make sure it is delivering the world's poor and to monitor closely its conduct and make sure that it does a good job. I commend the bill to the House.