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Tuesday, 7 June 1994
Page: 1425

Senator MARGETTS (7.00 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

There are acknowledged ongoing problems with the Asian Development Bank but the Greens are most concerned about the fact that, despite the evidence in this report of some change in policy, part of the problem with the administration of the Asian Development Bank funds is that proposals may still be determined from within an elitist structure rather than by looking at regional viability and poverty alleviation at the local level. As a result, community projects, some of which are working quite well in many of the areas dealt with by the Asian Development Bank, are not necessarily the ones being funded by this kind of structure, and that is an ongoing problem.

  There are some specific points that I would like to make. Page 15 details a number of areas where there is evidence of some policy shift, and that includes a strengthening of the bank's efforts to address poverty through greater emphasis on social sector investment—education, health and nutrition; gender issues and pursuit of an integrated approach to bringing women into the mainstream of development activities; population and family planning programs; and the integration of environmental considerations into the bank's operations.

  It appears that a code of practice is being built into the kind of proposals that the bank is looking at, and that is very welcome. I note from page 23 that in addressing such issues the bank's management has organised training programs to familiarise the staff with new approaches to protecting the environment, promoting sustainable development and implementing Agenda 21. Bank staff were introduced to environment topics such as biodiversity, climate change, financing, environmental programs and the formulation of environmental loan covenants. Management's aim was for these efforts to result in a better integration of environmental concerns in the bank's operations.

  Having recognised that such policy shifts are necessary in Australia, why do we not also make sure that the people in administration, finance and in Treasury are also trained in those areas to integrate our policies in a similar way? Here we are promoting and even cajoling the Asian Development Bank to direct funds more responsibly and yet it seems to be in advance of what we are doing in Australia at the moment.

  Page 24 mentions a social dimensions unit to look at the social impact of new proposals. It seems extraordinary that we do not have a Commonwealth social impact unit. In Western Australia the social impact unit was dissolved by the Western Australian government. I wonder whether there are some lessons to be learned from what Australia is promoting in the international arena and what we are actually doing in our own backyard.

  I noticed on page 25, under the heading `Growth Triangles', that the bank has built on the opportunity created by the peace settlement in Cambodia to propose co-operation among Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the Yunnan province of PRC in developing their infrastructure. It would seem that this may be a means by which Australia's funds in the World Development Bank might be used to aid Burma. This would be of great concern to those people who are still worried about social justice in Burma. Perhaps Australia should be making some kind of input to the impacts of this particular proposal.

  The report says that Australian businesses are unable to get direct benefit as they do in our aid program which is heading towards being a trade program rather than an aid program. The bank recognises that the benefits are indirect but it still looks at the viability of countries in alleviating poverty. If this can be recognised on an international scale, why can we not recognise that in our own aid program?