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Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Page: 1479

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (19:34): I rise to speak on the Australian Civilian Corps Amendment Bill 2013. I believe that in this chamber, across both sides, are people with a genuine commitment to and understanding of the importance of foreign aid. Listening to the maiden speeches here has made me reflect on the maiden speech that I delivered in this place almost four years ago, in which I talked about the importance of foreign aid. I said that Australia, as a strong and prosperous nation, has a responsibility to provide foreign aid, particularly in our region, for those who are less fortunate than us. I also said it is in our national interest to provide foreign aid to have in our region stable, prosperous nations that are economically secure. But aid is only one element that helps lift people out of poverty and change lives. We know, of course, that economic transformation is the key thing that transforms lives and provides strong and prosperous communities. We know that trade liberalisation and open markets have been critical to lifting more than 400 million people in China out of poverty over the last two decades.

The bill before us tonight does a couple of things. Firstly, and critically, it integrates AusAID into DFAT. It also transforms the powers and functions of the Director-General of AusAID under the act to the Secretary of DFAT and it substitutes other references to AusAID and the Director-General of AusAID with DFAT and the Secretary of DFAT respectively. Finally, it makes a number of 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. Before I go into more detail about this I want to state that it was only in July 2010 that AusAID became an independent executive agency. This is a fundamental point, because it is only recently that it has been an independent statutory authority.

What we have said, consistently, before and after the election, is that we want to make sure that Australia's aid is both effective and efficient, that it delivers for people on the ground and that it is aligned to our foreign trade and development goals. We want to make sure that we are spending our aid dollar not on bigger bureaucracies but instead on not only helping lift people directly out of poverty but also being able to provide the appropriate medical care and infrastructure to people in communities that desperately need them, to also help them engage and strengthen their economic independence.

We have a strong and proud tradition in Australia when it comes to foreign aid. We are some of the most generous people in the world, per capita, when it comes to being aid donors, and there is nothing in this legislation that will change that fact. We will continue to deliver aid worth around $5 billion every year, and this will mean that Australia is likely to be the eighth largest donor in the world—and that is knowing that we are, of course, one of the 12th or 13 largest economies. I think that this is a record we can be proud of.

We have seen an example very recently of how our aid has been used very effectively on the ground in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. The foreign affairs minister approved a $10 million package of humanitarian assistance. It was assistance that saw the urgent deployment of an Australian medical assistance team, at a cost of around $1 million; $3 million deployed through Australian non-government organisations; $4 million given to the United Nations flash appeal, and $1 million given for additional food items and also non-food items such as mosquito nets, water containers, tarpaulins and the like; and finally $1 million given to the Red Cross to assist in their disaster response efforts. So I think that in Australia we have a strong commitment to foreign aid and, despite what those opposite have said in trying to create a fear campaign around our commitment to foreign aid, we are very much committed to foreign aid and very much committed to our region in particular and to improving the economic circumstances for people within our region.

I want to make some comments regarding the bureaucracy of AusAID, because I think it is important to note that those opposite saw a very serious growth in the size of the bureaucracy, and one of my colleagues has done some work on this. Teresa Gambaro, who is a parliamentary secretary in our government, said in April of this year that AusAID now spends almost seven per cent of Australia's foreign aid budget on administration, a figure well above the 2010 OECD-DAC average for administration costs of 5.2 per cent. It is imperative that any increase in our foreign aid finds its way to those for whom the aid is intended. We do not want to see our aid chewed up in administration costs.

That is not a reflection on the worth of those who work in our aid community in Australia and overseas. This is not some slight, as the member opposite said in her previous speech. It is simply a recognition that we need to make sure, as a government, that every single taxpayer dollar is used effectively and efficiently. We take our responsibility in that regard incredibly seriously—so much so that, not only before the last election but before the election before that, it was our policy to have a review into aid effectiveness, and we were delighted when the then, Labor, government did in fact conduct that review. What concerned us, though, was that they did not adopt all of the recommendations of that review. They did not, for instance, adopt the recommendation that before you can increase aid you need to make sure that you are strengthening performance measures and have rigorous benchmarking, which of course means that you are using aid effectively. We have said that that is a recommendation that we will adopt and it is very important to put that in place.

We have recommitted and said on many occasions, and I will say again, that we will commit to the goal of increasing foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of gross national income. But we will also make sure that there is a primary focus on the effectiveness of how we spend our aid dollar—that there is quality to that spend and an overall economic impact in that spend. We also want to leverage partnerships: one of the points of integrating AusAID within DFAT is that we can leverage up the relationships with private institutions and private funds that are being spent in our region so that we are getting the biggest bang for our buck and it is being used responsibly and effectively.

I commend this bill to the House because I believe that it is our responsibility to make sure we have a strong and robust foreign aid program and that we continue to develop our region and integrate our trade and foreign affairs and aid programs together so that our aid program is more comprehensive and effective and therefore delivering better outcomes on the ground. I commend the bill to the House and thank the House for the opportunity to speak this evening.