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Agricultural development: is bilateral best?



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ADDRESS TO THE

WORLD DEVELOPMENT FORUM

AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT:

IS BILATERAL BEST?

TIM FISCHER MP

LEADER OF THE NATIONAL PARTY

THURSDAY 7 NOVEMBER 1991

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— __ , __

I APPRECIATE THE OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK AT THE WORLD DEVELOPMENT FORUM AND I THANK PETER MCCAWLEY FOR HIS KIND INVITATION.

PETER HAS ASKED THAT I SPEAK ON THE SUBJECT OF AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT: IS BILATERAL BEST?

LET ME INTERPOSE WITH THE FOLLOWING (WITH APOLOGIES TO SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL):

"NEVER IN THE FIELD OF FOREIGN AID HAS SO MUCH SELF ASSESSMENT AND SCRUTINY OF AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SEEN CARRIED OUT BY SO MANY FOR THE BENEFIT OF SO MANY. WITH SO FEW RESEARCH PROJECTS FOUND WANTING."

AT THE OUTSET, THERE HAVE BEEN SOME VERY CONSIDERABLE INFLUENCES IN MY VIEW OF THIS SUBJECT.

FIRSTLY, AS A PARLIAMENTARIAN, I HAVE BEEN AT PAINS TO TRAVEL THROUGHOUT EVERY COUNTRY IN THE ASEAN GROUP. MY TRAVELS HAVE ALSO TAKEN ME TO BURMA, BANGLADESH AND BHUTAN. IN FACT TO MY KNOWLEDGE, I AM THE FIRST AND ONLY PARLIAMENTARIAN TO HAVE VISITED THE TINY KINGDOM OF BHUTAN.

I AM FIRMLY OF THE VIEW THAT SEEING AID PROJECTS FIRST HAND IS THE BEST MEANS OF GAINING A PERSPECTIVE ON ISSUES SUCH AS FOREIGN AID. I AM ALSO OF THE VIEW THAT OFFICIAL TRAVEL BY

PARLIAMENTARIANS OVERSEAS SHOULD BE LIMITED TO TRAVEL WITHIN THE ASIAN REGION FOR THEIR FIRST PARLIAMENTARY TERM. TOO MANY OF MY COLLEAGUES ON BOTH SIDES OF THE HOUSE AND SENATE GO TO EUROPE AND THE USA WHEN THEY HAVE NOT EXTENSIVELY VISITED ASIA.

SECONDLY, I HAVE BEEN INFLUENCED BY MY OWN BROTHER, DR TONY FISCHER, WHO IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE WHEAT PROGRAMME AT THE

INTERNATIONAL MAIZE AND WHEAT IMPROVEMENT CENTRE (CIMMYT), IN MEXICO.

THIRDLY, THE RT HON DOUG ANTHONY, A FORMER LEADER OF THE NATIONAL PARTY, IS THE CHAIRMAN OF THE CRAWFORD FUND FOR INTERNATIONAL AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH, AND I HAVE ABSORBED SOME MATERIAL FROM THAT SOURCE.

FOURTHLY, THE 'BACK OF BEYOND' BRANCH FACTOR, WHERE THE CASE FOR FOREIGN AID - MULTI OR BILATERAL - IS OFTEN FIERCELY DISPUTED.

THE COALITION'S POLICY POSITION ON FOREIGN AID, LIKE ITS POSITION ON IMMIGRATION, HAS BEEN WIDELY MISINTERPRETED BY MANY

COMMENTATORS ON THE SUBJECT.

MY COLLEAGUE, DR JOHN HEWSON, IS ON THE PUBLIC RECORD AS STATING THAT THE COALITION PARTNERS HAVE A STRONG COMMITMENT TO THE IMPORTANCE OF AUSTRALIA'S FOREIGN AID PROGRAMME - IT IS AN INDISPENSABLE PART OF AN EFFECTIVE AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN POLICY.

HE HAS ALSO SAID, HOWEVER, THAT IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE WORST ECONOMIC RECESSION SINCE THE GREAT DEPRESSION, AND IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHERE MUCH OF AUSTRALIA - PARTICULARLY AMONGST THE NATIONAL PARTY'S CONSTITUENCY - IS IN DEPRESSION, THERE MUST BE AN ADJUSTMENT, BOTH IN WHAT WE CAN DO RESPONSIBLY IN TERMS OF

FOREIGN AID, AND OF COURSE, IMMIGRATION.

I WOULD CONTRAST THIS COMPLETE OPENNESS AND HONESTY WITH THE CURRENT GOVERNMENT'S STATEMENTS ABOUT AUSTRALIA'S INTERNATIONAL AID PROGRAMME DURING THE PERIOD 1987-89:

"AT THE VERY LEAST, WE WILL MAINTAIN PRESENT AID LEVELS IN REAL TERMS."

- THAT HAS OBVIOUSLY NOT BEEN THE CASE.

WITHOUT IN ANY WAY WISHING TO SCORE POLITICAL CAPITAL OFF THIS SITUATION, I WOULD LIKE TO MERELY PLACE OUR CURRENT ECONOMIC CIRCUMSTANCES BEFORE THIS FORUM.

MY STATISTICAL COMPARISON RELATES TO TEN YEARS INVOLVING BOTH COALITION AND ALP GOVERNMENTS.

AT THE END OF THE 1981 FINANCIAL YEAR, FOREIGN DEBT STOOD AT $15.2 BILLION. AT THE END OF THE LAST FINANCIAL YEAR, THIS

FIGURE WAS $165.7 BILLION.

AT THE END OF THE 1981 FINANCIAL YEAR, THERE WERE JUST OVER 365 THOUSAND UNEMPLOYED - THERE ARE NOW ALMOST ONE MILLION.

OUR BALANCE OF PAYMENTS DEFICIT FOR THE END OF THE 1981 FINANCIAL YEAR WAS $5.1 BILLION AND IT IS NOW $15.3 BILLION, AS AT THE END OF THE 1991 FINANCIAL YEAR.

IT IS IN THIS CONTEXT THAT THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION MADE HIS STATEMENT, WHICH WAS MERELY A RECOGNITION OF THE LIMITS THAT AUSTRALIA'S CURRENT ECONOMIC REALITIES IMPOSE ON WHAT WE CAN DO IN TERMS OF FOREIGN AID.

FURTHERMORE, I ENDORSE COMMENTS BY SENATORS ROBERT HILL AND BADEN TEAGUE IN RELATION TO THE NEED TO HAVE OUR FOREIGN AID PROGRAM PROPERLY CO-ORDINATED WITH STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES AND LESS INTERNATIONAL PORK BARRELLING ASSOCIATED WITH VIP VISITS.

HAVING SAID ALL OF THE ABOVE, THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THIS SHORT-TERM PERSPECTIVE WHICH HAS BEEN FORCED ON US BY ECONOMIC REALITY AND THE MORE MEDIUM TO LONG-TERM WHICH I FORESEE AS INCLUDING IMPROVED ECONOMIC HEALTH AND INCREASED FOREIGN AID.

ON THE SPECIFIC SUBJECT OF AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT, I WOULD SAY THAT BILATERAL IS NOT NECESSARILY BEST, ALTHOUGH I HAVE A

PREFERENCE FOR BILATERAL AID IN MANY AREAS OTHER THAN AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT.

BUT THE PARTICULAR CIRCUMSTANCES ASSOCIATED WITH AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT, ESPECIALLY THE SEPARATE BUT RELATED AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH AREA, RESULT IN GREATER EFFICIENCY THROUGH MULTILATERAL ORGANISATIONS.

SOLUTIONS AND IMPROVEMENTS IN THE AREA OF AGRICULTURAL

DEVELOPMENT KNOW NO INTERNATIONAL BOUNDARIES. WHETHER WE TALK OF DISEASE IN POULTRY SUCH AS NEWCASTLE DISEASE OR WHEAT RUST IN ASIA. THE FACT IS THAT ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS IN ONE COUNTRY ARE OFTEN COMMON TO MANY OTHER COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD. THE

RELATED FACT IS THAT BREEDING PROGRAMMES SUCH AS GERMPLASM HAVE BEEN OF GREAT BENEFIT TO OVERSEAS COUNTRIES, AS WELL AS THE AUSTRALIAN WHEAT INDUSTRY.

FURTHER, THE WHEAT BELT OR GRAIN BELT OF SOUTH ASIA EXTENDS FROM AFGHANISTAN TO BURMA; DISEASES SUCH AS WHEAT RUST AND WHEAT SMUT KNOW NO BOUNDARIES SUCH AS THE NATIONAL BORDERS BETWEEN PAKISTAN AND INDIA - THEN AGAIN, PAKISTAN AND INDIA DO NOT ALWAYS KNOW

THEIR BOUNDARIES.

IN FACT, THE USE IN AUSTRALIA BETWEEN THE YEARS 1974-1990 OF BREEDING FROM WHEAT GERMPLASM IMPORTED FROM CIMMYT HAS ALONE RESULTED IN ADDITIONAL INCOME FOR THE AUSTRALIAN WHEAT INDUSTRY OF OVER $2 BILLION.

IN CONTRAST TO THESE TREMENDOUS RESULTS, IT IS THE MORE ISOLATED RESEARCH PROJECTS WHICH TEND TO 'COMPARTMENTALISE' AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH.

I WOULD ASK YOU, HOWEVER, NOT TO UNDERESTIMATE THE AMOUNT OF HEAT IN COUNTRY AUSTRALIA THAT CAN BE GENERATED BY THE EXPORT OF AUSTRALIAN AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGY. IT IS WIDELY HELD AMONGST AUSTRALIAN FARMERS THAT THE TRANSFER OF THIS TECHNOLOGY

PREJUDICES THEIR COMPETITIVE POSITION, AND FOR THAT REASON - AND HERE I QUOTE THE NATIONAL FARMERS' FEDERATION:

"FOREIGN AID SHOULD BE SUPPLIED THROUGH DIRECT BUDGET FUNDING TO ENSURE ALL AUSTRALIANS BEAR THE COST OF FOREIGN AID, RATHER THAN SPECIFIC INDUSTRIES."

AS A POLITICIAN, I AM CONSCIOUS OF THESE CRITICISMS, HOWEVER MY REPLY IS THAT THERE ARE DIRECT AND SUBSTANTIAL BENEFITS TO THE AUSTRALIAN ECONOMY WHICH BENEFIT AUSTRALIAN FARMERS AND AGRIBUSINESSES.

HERE I AM QUOTING DEREK TRIBE, IN HIS BOOK 'DOING WELL BY DOING GOOD', WHO HAS STATED THAT:

"DURING THE DECADE ENDING 87/88, SOME $539 MILLION WAS SPENT ON AGRICULTURAL AID, EXCLUDING FOOD AID, AND INPUTS TO THE INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS AND UN

AGENCIES. IT CAN REASONABLY BE ASSUMED THAT, OF THIS, SOME 80 PERCENT AT LEAST ($431 MILLION) WAS RETURNED TO

AUSTRALIAN SUPPLIERS."

THE ADVANTAGE, OF COURSE, OF BILATERAL AID IN A MORE GENERAL SENSE IS THE GOODWILL WHICH ACCRUES TO AUSTRALIA AS A RESULT.

SO, I SAY TO YOU THAT THERE IS ACKNOWLEDGMENT WITHIN THE FEDERAL COALITION OF THE IMPORTANCE OF FOREIGN AID. AND THERE IS AN ACCEPTANCE OF THE NEED TO IMPROVE AND INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF FOREIGN AID IN THE IMMEDIATE TO LONGER TERM.

AS LEADER OF THE NATIONAL PARTY, I HAVE INDICATED TO YOU STRONG SUPPORT FOR AID IN THE FORM OF AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH AND

SEPARATELY, AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT ON A MULTILATERAL BASIS.

I HAVE ALSO, HOWEVER, LEARNT THROUGH TRAVELLING OVERSEAS OF THE VERY SIGNIFICANT GOODWILL WHICH IS GAINED THROUGH BILATERAL AID.

AS WITH MOST ISSUES, THE SUBJECT OF FOREIGN AID IS EXTREMELY COMPLEX AND I LOOK FORWARD TO LEARNING MORE ON THIS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT SUBJECT.

THE GREAT PLUS OF AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT AS SEPARATE FROM RESEARCH IS THAT IT IS LARGELY CARRIED OUT BY NON-GOVERNMENT ORGANISATIONS AND THAT IT IMPROVES THE ECONOMIC BASE OF THE RECIPIENT COUNTRY.

RATHER THAN PERPETUATING POVERTY, IT ADDRESSES THE ISSUE IN A MORE SUSTAINABLE MANNER. IT ALSO HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BENEFIT THE DONOR AS WELL AS THE RECIPIENT.

IT IS SURELY GOOD POLICY FOR THE NEEDY OVERSEAS, GOOD POLITICS DOMESTICALLY AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, PLAIN GOOD SENSE.

THIS IS PARTICULARLY SO IF OUR FUNDAMENTAL AID PRIORITY REMAINS ASIA AND THE SOUTH WEST PACIFIC.

AUSTRALIA HAS AN ABSOLUTE NEED TO BUILD UP ITS LINKS WITH ASIA AND FOREIGN AID - PARTICULARLY RELATING TO AGRICULTURE - MUST PLAY ITS ROLE.

IN TERMS OF THE RESEARCH SIDE, THEN - GOOD MULTILATERAL IS BEST. IN TERMS OF AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT, THEN - MY DISPOSITION IS THAT BILATERAL IS BEST. BUT WITH BOTH WE MUST ELIMINATE ALL BAD AID.