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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7301


Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (13:02): by leave—Firstly, I endorse the comments of the Chief Government Whip on this report by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on our relationship with Africa. I too thank partic­ularly Michael Forshaw, the former senator, for his leadership in relation to this matter. I am glad that we were able to facilitate the completion of this report so that it could be tabled in the Senate before he retired. I commend the government for enabling the committee to undertake the inquiry and my colleague the member for Hunter for his leadership of the subcommittee that visited Africa. I commend Dr John Carter and his professional staff for the work that they have done in the preparation of this report and for doing it so quickly.

The report is a unanimous report but mention was made that there may be a variety of views in relation to some aspects of it. Let me firstly commend some other aspects of the report before I identify some areas of difference. I can say that when the committee commented on the way in which African migrants and humanitarian entrants had settled in Australia so successfully and commented that we ought to better utilise their cultural, linguistic and practical skills I noted they were comments about which I have had personal experience and involve­ment and I very much appreciate those linkages.

I have taken an interest in Africa over a long period of time. I have visited a number of African countries—South Africa and Ghana—previously, with Zimbabwe and Ethiopia on this visit. I have also visited places like Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania and have had the opportunity to visit Egypt as part of my former responsibilities as a minister. I certainly have taken an interest in governance arrangements. I believe that with some 53 states in Africa there are variable performances in terms of the contribution of their governments to the wellbeing of their peoples. What has been very much rein­forced in my mind—and I hope it comes out in this report—is that there have been significant improvements in a number of situations and yet in others there has been a very significant deterioration in the circumstances of its peoples.

Let me refer to two, one arising out of visiting Ghana. If you read the material of Transparency International, you note Ghana is one of those countries that have good governance arrangements. It is quite clear, given the way in which the administration is working, that the developments that are occurring—including the mining develop­ment that the member has referred to—are largely because they have had good, effective and largely transparent governance arrangements in place which have meant that programs as they are administered and aid when it is offered are able to achieve a substantial benefit for the peoples concerned.

I came to a different view about Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe had very significant development that occurred under govern­ments at different points over a period of time in its history, but it has been allowed to go into decay largely because of poor governance arrangements. I think it is a great pity to see the loss of institutional memory about maintaining critical infrastructure, particularly for drainage and sanitary purposes and so on, so that it is now having to be maintained out of our aid program because they have lost the capacity and the expertise to be able to handle what is, in fact, substantial infrastructure that many other parts of Africa would have very much welcomed. I want to emphasise that there is much that we can do, but I do not like seeing money spent on propping up corrupt regimes when you know that those that have been able to deal with corruption, such as Botswana and Ghana, are getting far more substantial outcomes for their people as a result. We need to take that into account in the way in which we deal with these issues.

I had no problem with the recom­mendations in relation to Australia's aid program. At an earlier stage, as a result of the Simons report to the former government, there was a view that Australia should concentrate where we are best able to in our own region. Others, particularly out of Europe, should concentrate on Africa and the United States should concentrate on South America and perhaps Central America because they were closer, had expertise and were in a position to help—as we do in our own region.

With Australia now contributing very much more in relation to aid generally, obviously, people are looking at other opportunities. I do not like the idea that, as Europe is withdrawing and contracting some of its aid offerings to Africa, we are having to make it up. I do not like countries having to deal with a multiplicity of governments. They often do and are able to, perhaps, bargain a little by trading one off against another in relation to lowering the standards. My view is that you put great expense on governments when they have to deal with a multiplicity of agencies. Sometimes having fewer countries but, perhaps, greater aid offered is a better way forward.

In relation to the committee's views on aid I would say this: the emphasis we put on Australia in assisting where we have specific skills that would not come from other areas of the world means the aid is very well spent. When you get the CSIRO, who has had experience in dryland farming, helping Africans to grow more of their food—and nobody else would be able to offer that same sort of experience—it is a very substantial and beneficial program to be conducting. People like Dr Hamlin have made Africa their life's work. I think the program that she has initiated over a period of time deserves to be continually expanded and aided because the outcome is so positive for those who are able to benefit from it. Here is a lady in her 90s who is still operating. It is a most remarkable story when you have the opportunity to see it and it was particularly impressive to me. I make those comments in relation to aid because I think it is important to focus on where our strengths are and to recognise the importance of addressing the issues of corruption in particular.

There were some comments made by the committee in relation to enhancing our linkages with Africa in terms of human contact. Reference was made to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship issuing e-visas across Africa with priority service in countries where there is potential for trade, academic research and other links. I do not think that recommendation ought to be looked at separate to the commentary that the committee, itself, made in relation to that matter. Often in relation to where you make arrangements to lower entry standards you need to do so where you are going to deal with a compliant population. The expansion of e-visas should be seen as something that is pursued without jeopardising our own entry requirements and ensuring that those who travel are going to meet the obligations that are imposed upon them.

There was reference made to enhancing government-to-government links and part­icularly to expanding parliamentary exch­anges. All of those matters I support. I think also in relation to the recommendation that the department of foreign affairs undertake a comprehensive review of Australia's dip­lomatic representation in Africa with a view to opening additional posts in francophone Africa should be read in context with the commentary. The committee made it clear that opening an additional post would seem to be the next step in Africa and in francophone Africa, but the committee recognises the fiscal constraints faced by the government, so any new posts should only be opened after serious consideration. In coming to this view the committee recog­nised that there were competing demands for increased diplomatic representation in other regions, typically in Eastern Europe and Latin America.

I think the point ought to be made that, while some had a particular view that priority be given to Africa, it is certainly the case that the committee in its report recognised that this needed to be looked at objectively and we needed to act in the nation's interest in establishing missions where proper inquiry suggests priority should be placed. So, I make those com­ments because, in reading some of the observation that were made in the tabling of the report, the balanced approach that the committee took may not necessarily be first seen.

I do commend my colleagues, particularly Senator Forshaw for his leadership and the member for Hunter for his leadership of the subcommittee. The committee did work well and I think the report is evidence of a very constructive approach.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Does the member for Hunter wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a later occasion?

Mr FITZGIBBON: I move:

That the House take note of the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: In accordance with standing order 39, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.