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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14678

Mr CREWTHER (Dunkley) (17:48): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I present the committee's first report of the inquiry into Australia's aid program in the Indo-Pacific.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Mr CREWTHER: by leave—As Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Aid Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I'm proud to present the committee's first report for the inquiry into Australia's aid program in the Indo-Pacific. Australians should be proud of the achievements of our aid program. People may be familiar with images on the news of Australian aid being delivered in times of conflict and natural disaster, but Australia's aid program also has a long history of working behind the scenes to assist communities to improve health and educational outcomes, increase agricultural productivity, prevent conflict, build security relationships, access international markets and more.

However, aid is not a one-way street. By strengthening our partnerships with other countries, particularly countries in our region, the aid program has many mutual benefits for Australia and beyond. It opens up opportunities for trade, it addresses threats to health and biosecurity, it has defence and strategic benefits and it contributes to a safer, more stable and more prosperous region.

Of course, the aid program also enhances our standing in the international community, and it has been an important avenue through which we have exerted strategic influence. In recent years, changes to Australia's aid program have included an increased focus in the Indo-Pacific region and initiatives in relation to trade and empowering women and girls.

The committee's inquiry is an opportunity to examine the effectiveness of these changes and to ensure that the aid program continues to improve outcomes for our partner countries and, at the same time, countries to support our own interests. In this first report, the committee makes 22 recommendations across three broad areas. First, while it is clear to the committee that the aid program has a strong record of achievements, the committee has identified a need to strengthen Australians' understanding of, and confidence in, Australia's aid program. The committee has therefore recommended measures to raise awareness about the benefits of Australia's aid program and the amounts we give.

The committee hopes that the aid program can be better understood, not as a one-way street but as a partnership that benefits Australia and our partner countries in terms of trade, defence and security, health, biosecurity and more, as I have just outlined. To this end, the committee has firstly recommended that the name of the aid program be changed. The committee has suggested a term such as 'development partnerships' better reflects the spirit of cooperation and reciprocity that underpins the aid program. The committee believes that this will garner more support for the program. The committee also notes that other nations are already using similar terms, such as China, who uses the term 'development cooperation', and Singapore, who uses the term 'technical cooperation'.

Second, the committee has recommended that the government commit to a time frame to increase Australia's investment in development partnerships, aka aid, over the coming decade. Australia has the capacity to do more, and many of the countries with which we like to compare ourselves are indeed doing more. The committee has therefore suggested an increase to the aid budget from its current level of around 0.23 per cent of gross national income to 0.5 per cent of GNI over a five-year period and then to 0.7 per cent of GNI over a 10-year period.

The committee has also recommended that funding for development partnerships, which is traditionally allocated to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, be supplemented with funding allocated to other portfolios, such as defence, health, education and agriculture. In the committee's view this approach reflects the fact that aid is a whole-of-government commitment. The committee also hopes that a more explicit link between the aid outcomes in other portfolios, particularly defence, will reduce the risk of future reductions in development partnerships funding, bringing more stability and certainty to the budget.

Lastly, the committee is mindful that our aid program should be focused on investments that are effective and outcomes that are sustainable. The aid program has a responsibility to maximise the impact of every dollar. As such, the committee has made a range of recommendations intended to ensure that Australian aid reaches the most disadvantaged and most marginalised people in the communities who are recipients of aid. These recommendations include investments to improve market access for women and girls and people living with a disability, additional funding for water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives and a strategy for adolescent girls.

At the same time, the committee is keen to ensure that the adverse effects of Australia's aid efforts are minimised. An example that was discussed in the committee's public hearings was of a local mosquito net manufacturer, say in Mali, being driven out of business when a large quantity of nets was brought in from an overseas supplier and distributed to the local community. To minimise the risk of the aid program introducing these kinds of market distortions, the committee has recommended that local suppliers be used whenever goods and services can be procured at the same cost and quality as overseas suppliers and in a similar time frame. So, in the example that I've just given, that would involve the procurement from the local mosquito net manufacturer in Mali; thus helping local people and supporting the local economy. This will not always be possible, but engaging local suppliers and working within local procurement systems is an important way in which development partnerships can contribute to economic development and improved standards and safeguards in our partner countries.

We make a range of other recommendations, particularly to assist disadvantaged communities—as I mentioned, around adolescent girls, women and girls with a disability and so forth—and to increase our investment in our Aid for Trade program, along with increasing the overall development partnerships budget over time. There is also investing in ACIAR and agricultural initiatives, implementing digital strategies and implementing recommendations from our last modern slavery inquiry relating to the aid program and orphanage trafficking. Taken together, the committee's recommendations are intended to ensure that development partnerships continue to deliver outcomes for Australia, its partner countries and, most importantly, for the people who are most in need, while concurrently strengthening Australia's trade, defence, biosecurity and strategic ties.

Given the scope of the aid program and the committee's inquiry, there are other matters that the committee was not able to consider in the time available. That said, we were keen to deliver a number of key recommendations before parliament is prorogued. The committee has therefore recommended that this inquiry be continued in the next parliament, with the hope to produce further reports on a range of other recommendations. The committee encourages members from all parties to work together in the spirit of this report to build a stronger development partnerships program of which Australia can continue to be proud.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to acknowledge all of the individuals and organisations who contributed evidence to the inquiry, in the 107 submissions and in the public hearings so far. I thank them for their time and effort. I also thank the deputy chair, Alex Gallacher, and members of the committee across the chamber and in my own party for their efforts, time and support throughout this inquiry. I also acknowledge Julie Bishop, the former foreign minister, who was instrumental at the beginning of this inquiry, and our current foreign minister, Marise Payne, and other ministers and MPs in the government and in parliament who have been supportive of this inquiry throughout. Thank you once again, and I commend the report to the House.