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Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Page: 1484


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (19:59): As previous speakers have indicated, this measure is essentially one of government management, transferring the Australian Civilian Corps—a Labor initiative with about 480 registered specialists—to a new organisation. So far as that element goes, the opposition is supportive of it. We are constantly encountering the realities of foreign aid. Today, a number of us attended the Disability Inclusive Development Forum in this parliament. The ADDC is a body which looks at getting together a collective voice for awareness-raising and lobbying on disability-inclusive programs in developing countries and ensuring disability is integrated into mainstream Australian foreign aid and development activities, among other things. It was pleasing to hear the parliamentary secretary, Senator Mason, announce that the government will integrate into the foreign aid program over the next few years an emphasis on disabled people. The reality is that one billion people live with disability worldwide and 80 per cent of people with disability live in developing countries. Over 20 per cent of the world's poorest people in developing countries are also people with a disability. That was pleasing; however, the broader context of what the government is doing on foreign aid is not very pleasing.

That is in contrast to a government which in 2014 would have hit $5.7 billion in foreign aid, an increase of $500 million over the previous year—or 9½ per cent over 2012-13, giving us the highest percentage of GNI as foreign aid in 25 years—when the OECD pattern was a four per cent reduction. The contrast with this government now is indeed very stark. Over past periods of Liberal administration, it never reached more 0.3 per cent of GNI and was normally around 0.25 per cent. In reality by the end of the Labor administration, it had reached 0.37 per cent and was on target by 2017-18 to reach five per cent of GNI. We see the coalition, however, ripping out $4.5 billion out of the international aid budget. I heard the member for Higgins and her rhetoric about bureaucracy and effectiveness—code words to excuse this massive reduction in our foreign aid program. She said they were not a slight on the public servants involved; it is just an attack upon them. She quoted from some OECD study that administrative costs in Australia consume about seven per cent, compared to 5.5 per cent in other OECD countries without any explanation of the possible reasons—whether it is a question of distance in our part of the world, for example. It was just a bland attack on the reality.

I believe very strongly in our foreign aid program. If we look at one country, Indonesia, which is the largest Islamic country in the world. It is a country that is combatting extremist elements and terrorism; a nation which, along with Bangladesh and Turkey, stands out as the best example of the marriage of democracy and Islam in the world. It sets a pattern for the Middle East and North Africa, and Indonesia is seeking to ensure that pattern is understood in those regions. It is a country we depend upon for countering smuggling. If we look at Australia's program in Indonesia, we are connecting 600,000 people to safe water and more than 300,000 to basic sanitation. We also ensured that an additional 34,000 births were assisted by a skilled birth attendant. We increased the number of syringes distributed through health services and civil society organisations from 650,000 to 1.3 million in 2012. We are supporting open-source software to produce realistic natural-hazard scenarios and new earthquake hazard maps for seven provinces. These are very real contributions to Indonesia, and they are appreciated.

How do I know they are appreciated? I had the opportunity, along with the member for Berowra and four others from this parliament, to visit some of our projects in Indonesia. We visited the Hibah water project in Dekok Kluangan village of the Bangkalan district in east Java. There we faced the reality of what this country is trying to do in a nation where only 12 per cent of rural households have water connected and less one third of the urban population has a water connection. Some 56,000 people in that region of east Java now have pipe water connections to their houses. We formed local government partnerships with that region. Similarly, the delegation went to a madrasah in Separah village, again in east Java. This is one of over 500 madrasahs built under the Australian-Indonesian basic education program and one of 144 in east Java. The delegation witnessed the huge and positive support for this country through what we are doing there. We also saw we were providing engineering support, school furniture and supplementary reading materials, as well as training in school management for the principal and the school committee. The benefits of foreign aid cannot be bought.

Before returning to parliament, I visited Samoa and Tonga, whose diaspora is significant in my electorate. I again saw the reality of foreign aid. I saw why this government should not be penny pinching in this sector with massive reductions in foreign aid. I saw programs such as an attempt to combat obesity in Tonga, where Netball Australia is encouraging women to take up sport very effectively. I met our volunteers who were integrated into government departments. In one case, they were learning to consider environmental matters in planning decisions, especially coastline protection. I came across another public servant working in a government department to make sure there was transparency in the government. I witnessed the reality of this country constructing a school in Tonga, and once again found jubilation and friendship towards Australia among the school population. Those schools were in a dreadful state of disrepair. Kids are now returning to school who had been outside the system because of the state of their school. We provided a childcare centre in that school. I also witnessed the construction of police stations in Tonga, ensuring that people reporting crimes did not have to face people being charged. We saw the effect on the morale of the police force, which now has proper hiring procedures.

More particularly, as mentioned by Sophie Plumridge at the meeting today about integrating disability into foreign aid, I went to SENESE in Samoa. An Australian expatriate went to Samoa as a volunteer, married a Samoan and, assisted by this country, now runs an NGO with 70-odd employees. What do they do? They can repair hearing aids on-site. They can construct glasses, and they do not have to pay thousands of dollars to have them made in Australia. They are training people with new machines that are an advance on braille. They are producing booklets. They are making sure that teachers in the school system understand the problems of sight and hearing impairments. They are making sure that children are integrated into the system. They are helping Samoa, which has just signed the international covenant on disability, and making sure it measures up.

In Samoa I saw coastline-strengthening procedures that are being put in place because of climate change. I visited AFP officers who are working on transnational crime and with respect to our boat patrols. These are very real measures. A government of common sense would think for more than five seconds about strenuously reducing our foreign aid budget.

As the previous speaker stressed, we live in a region where there is significant deprivation and there are many difficulties in meeting Millennium Development Goals. In this region of such need there will be a large knock-on effect from the government's reduction in foreign aid. I am very proud of the previous government. For all of the criticism that some of the assistance that went towards refugees was counted as foreign aid, the government was manifestly moving in the right direction, moving to where it should be in the world. In contrast with this government, their soul brother on many fronts, David Cameron, has made forthright decisions in the last few years in support of a strong foreign aid program.

We criticise this government for massive reductions in foreign aid. The reality is that there is one psychiatrist for every two million people in low-income countries compared to 170 psychiatrists for every two million people in rich countries. In 70 low- and middle-income countries the availability of selected generic medicines was 42 per cent in the public sector and 64 per cent in the private sector. A lack of medicines in the public sector forces patients to purchase them privately at prices that are on average 610 per cent more than their international reference price. In 2011, half of all the deaths of children under five occurred in just five impoverished countries. People at the bottom suffer disproportionately. More unequal countries show higher levels of obesity. Gender inequality can also relate to obesity. Women in Qatar and Saudi Arabia have obesity rates of 45 per cent and 44 per cent respectively, according to New Internationalist.

Whilst the purpose of the measure in the legislation before us is to rearrange the employment situation of volunteers, who have performed very well, in the broader context it is excused by attacks on the Public Service, by rhetoric about bureaucracy and by claims that the government is going to make sure aid is delivered more effectively. In reality, it is an attack upon the needs of significant parts of the world. It endangers our relationships, already fraught by this government's actions with Indonesia. It puts us up as a poor global citizen when we were so recently elected to the Security Council.

There are very concrete, positive outcomes in foreign aid that are recognised by all who follow this policy sector. This government's penny-pinching will be to the detriment of this country. It might pander to certain parts of the electorate. In the short term it might appeal to that sense of nationalism that characterises aspects of this debate. But is in stark contrast to what was happening under the previous government.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Griggs ): I took the view that the deferred division should not be proceeded with until the member who was speaking at 8 pm had completed his speech, so I did not interrupt the member. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour.