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Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Page: 1471

Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (19:04): On 18 September 2013, the Prime Minister announced that he would recommend to the Governor-General that the Australian Agency for International Development—AusAID—be integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—DFAT. The abolition of AusAID as an executive agency on 1 November 2013 marked a very significant milestone for Australia's international engagement and a new era in diplomacy. DFAT is now responsible for development policy and the delivery of Australia's aid program. This major change will see the alignment of Australia's foreign, trade and development policies and programs. The integration of AusAID with DFAT will promote Australia's national interests by contributing to international economic growth and poverty reduction, and it will support Australia's foreign and trade policy.

The bill addresses the resultant machinery of government changes required to update certain legislation by substituting references to AusAID and specific positions in AusAID with references to DFAT and positions in DFAT. The Australian Civilian Corps Act 2011, and the regulations and legislative instruments made pursuant to that act, are examples of such legislation. The Australian Civilian Corps Act 2011 established the Australian Civilian Corps and set out the legal framework for the employment and management of Australian Civilian Corps employees. The Director-General of AusAID was responsible for the management of the Australian Civilian Corps and the Director-General of AusAID had a specific range of functions and powers under the act including, on behalf of the Commonwealth, all the rights, duties and powers in respect of the Australian Civilian Corps employees.

The bill amends the act in two main ways. First, it transfers the powers and functions of the Director-General of AusAID under the act to the Secretary of DFAT. Second, it substitutes other references to AusAID and the Director-General of AusAID with DFAT and the Secretary of DFAT, respectively. The bill also makes consequential amendments to the Australian Civilian Corps Regulations 2011, the Prime Minister’s Australian Civilian Corps Directions 2012 and the Director-General’s Australian Civilian Corps Directions 2011.

As I stated at the outset, the bill is a significant milestone in Australia's international engagement and marks a new era in diplomacy. DFAT is now responsible for development policy and the delivery of Australia's aid program. This major change will see the alignment of Australia's foreign trade and development policies and program. It is also necessary step in getting Australia's foreign aid program back on track after six years of Labor's waste and mismanagement. On 12 May 2011, the Daily Telegraph reported the leaked concerns of a Labor insider that Australian taxpayers would be footing an extra $2 billion in foreign aid bills because Labor was fearful of upsetting the then Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd. It was also reported at the time that the ballooning aid spending in various regions, including Africa and the Caribbean—where Mr Rudd was chasing votes for a seat on the 15-member UN Security Council—was causing alarm within the government. There were significant concerns that the government was signing tax treaties with small islands in the Caribbean, again in its chase for a coveted UN position. But it is absolutely typical of the chaos and the dysfunction of this last six years of the Labor government that Labor MPs so feared that asking Mr Rudd to trim his expanding budget would cause an internal fight that they had to go and find savings which hurt families.

At the time I raised concerns that the Labor government, under the ever-egotistical guidance of the former member for Griffith, was chasing votes in Africa at the expense of sending more aid dollars to places in our region such as Papua New Guinea. We have seen in recent years outbreaks of extreme-resistance TB—and even, in this day and age, cholera outbreaks—in our nearest neighbour. I specifically stated that the coalition was really concerned about the large amount of funding going to the Middle East and Africa and any resultant waste in supporting votes for the UN Security Council at the expense of supporting priority foreign aid needs in our region—the Pacific—whose countries have some of the highest HIV-AIDS rates in the world and the highest rates of infant mortality. Sure enough my own fears and the coalition's concerns were borne out months later, when it was revealed that the Labor Party's complicity in allowing one man to pursue his own legacy skewed the foreign aid budget to the tune of about $3 billion.

On 19 October 2012 Australia secured what has been rightly described as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fill a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council. The coalition welcomed this outcome, and we paid tribute particularly to the very hard work of all the diplomatic officials and staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for making the opportunity a reality. The coalition also paid proper respect to and acknowledged the efforts of the former member for Griffith for setting such an aspirational goal. You would think that the uniqueness of the opportunity would have meant that the former Labor government had a well-developed plan and a well-developed strategy. But, regrettably, the briefing notes obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and prepared by DFAT for the incoming Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, revealed that this was not the case.

Minister Carr became Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on 13 March 2012. The briefing notes for Minister Carr as the incoming Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade do include a specific reference to the UN Security Council campaign. In particular I note that, on page 18 of one of those briefing notes, DFAT referred to the commencement of the development of a strategy including objectives, priorities and resourcing. That is right—the commencement of the development of a strategy. You could be forgiven for wondering why there was not a strategy in place already when Minister Carr came in. Page 19 of the same briefing note makes reference to commencing development of a strategy for how Australia would use its membership and how we would resource our membership.

These statements support the view that the whole UN Security Council campaign was not well planned, not strategic in its development and very much done at the very last minute. This may well have been due to the fact that it was predicated on buying votes, as was demonstrated by the skewing of the foreign aid budget, which I and others highlighted to this House on many occasions. It is concerning from the information revealed in the briefing notes that even at a late stage—that is, at the time of the briefing which Minister Carr as the incoming Foreign Minister received in March last year—DFAT still did not know what the government's strategy was and how it would use its membership. This is not such a great example of how Australia could use its once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Mr Husic: At some point just get to the legislation—feel free.

Ms GAMBARO: I see that the member interjects—and he should interject. This kind of poorly-thought-out policy chaos characterised the six years that the former Labor government—

Mr Husic interjecting

Ms GAMBARO: I note that the member interjects. This is about integrating AusAID into DFAT, and I am just going through the AusAID history here. The Labor government were in power, and they do not like these facts. They do not like talking about this. It hurts, doesn't it? When they were in power, their very loose grasp of any notion of responsibility in the management of—

Mr Husic interjecting

Ms GAMBARO: This is about taxpayer dollars: managing taxpayer dollars and managing and administering the foreign aid budget in a more effective way. While much has been said about the secret costs of the UN Security Council bid beyond the $25 million that the former Labor government very loosely admitted to—

Mr Husic: A point of order on the issue of relevance, Deputy Speaker: I would invite the government speaker to speak at some point to the legislation before the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): There is no point of order.

Ms GAMBARO: They do not want to hear this. They do not want to hear it, because it hurts. What is clear from the analysis of the budget, ministerial and portfolio budget statements going back to 2007-08 is that an incredible level of changed expenditure on foreign aid occurred—$2.9 billion, in fact—and that the change was happening, coincidently, around the time of the United Nations Security Council bid.

As with any kind of expenditure, Australian taxpayers have a right to know whether they are getting value for money. A critical question for Australian taxpayers was: how were Australia's foreign aid objectives and priorities being advanced? For example, how were the aid priorities being advanced by a statue, costing $150,000, to commemorate anti slavery in the Caribbean and Africa, to be built in the UN Plaza in New York?

The coalition was concerned that the foreign aid budget should be spent at the coalface and the coalface is where people need it the most. Between 2008 and 2010 the sum of $270,000 was provided for reviewing agriculture and fisheries management in Eritrea. I wonder how the Australian seafood industry felt about that one after former Minister Burke's announcement that he was going to lock away more of Australia's fishing grounds.

Mr Husic interjecting

Ms GAMBARO: The member opposite keeps interjecting because he does not like to hear this. Also, $65 million was spent on a giant telescope project in Chile's desert.

When we look at that $3 billion—and I will talk about foreign aid spending in Africa, the Caribbean, South-East Asia and the Pacific—we see that an enormous amount of money was skewed. Between 2007 and 2008, there was also a 251 per cent increase in spending in Africa, from $111 million to $354 million. There were also other areas where the aid budget was skewed. There was a large growth in foreign aid expenditure far exceeding AusAID's capacity to administer the money and that was where the difficulties arose.

An alarming feature of AusAID's workplace culture during the six years when Labor was in government was intimidation. The department was racked with cases of intimidation and bullying. During estimates earlier this year the coalition was able to expose that AusAID's Comcare premiums had increased by a staggering 855 per cent in the last six years.

Mr Husic interjecting

Ms GAMBARO: I know why the member for Chifley interjects. These are very disturbing figures and the way in which AusAID was administered is absolutely disturbing. In Senate estimates in June this year it was revealed that 80 per cent of the bullying and harassment cases within AusAID were made against senior management. AusAID did not have a culture of care. It was extremely difficult for staff to be productive when management was breaching the very standards that they are meant to uphold. And that sort of culture permeated from the top down.

It has long been said that Australia's foreign aid priorities should be in our own region. It is the part of the world where we can have the most influence and where we have the opportunity to deliver the most effective outcomes in the delivery of foreign aid to our neighbours.

The Abbott government announced Australia's commitment to fight HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, with funding of $200 million over three years to support The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The national prevalence of HIV-AIDS in Australia is lower than in many comparable nations; however, it is estimated that around five million people in our region are living with HIV-AIDS. It is the leading cause of death globally for women and girls aged between 15 and 44. Australia has spent $l billion combatting HIV-AIDS in our region over the last decade. The global fund is the largest multilateral funder of health programs in developing countries. It invests around a third of its funds, around $US6.8 billion, in the Indo-Pacific region where it has delivered HIV treatment to over 700,000 people, treated seven million cases of tuberculosis and distributed 51 million bed nets. A particular focus of Australia's cooperation with the global fund is the elimination of drug-resistant strains of malaria in the Mekong subregions and tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea.

In July 2014, Australia will host the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. Around 18,000 delegates from almost 200 countries are expected to attend this biennial conference, which is the premier gathering for policymakers, those working in the field of HIV and people living with HIV.

The coalition will ensure that Australia's aid program is effective and delivers real outcomes. This bill is a necessary step in achieving those goals and I commend the bill to the House.