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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10079

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (11:27): There are a number of aspects of this particular resolution. One of them is the foreign aid budget. In relation to the wild outburst by the member for Hughes, where he used the phrase 'the Socialist Republic of Vietnam' five times to in some way disparage foreign aid to Vietnam, he has not been on the forefront of insisting that this very government he is part of not have a foreign aid program in Vietnam. This kind of attempt to in some way insinuate that it is money misspent, and only by the previous government, is absolutely preposterous.

On the foreign aid budget; everyone knows the argument that there have been budget deficits. Let us put to one side parental care and other issues. Even if you have a deficit, you have to make decisions. I think Bob Geldof put it very well in The Guardian during his recent visit to Australia. He said

You are one of the richest countries in the world … You can’t mess with your sovereign promise to the poor, they’re too vulnerable, they’re too weak.

Similarly, another person with a bit more expertise than the member for Hughes, Professor Damien Kingsbury; the Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights at Deakin University, on 14 May in Crikey spoke of 'savage aid cuts'. He spoke of the current provisions 'ignoring' Millennium Development Goals, and he said that the earlier commitment to lift aid to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2017-18 'now appears entirely gone'. Karen Barlow, on ABC radio straight after the budget, could speak of 'the biggest savings measure of the budget' and spoke of a fundamental reshaping of foreign aid. We can come about the question of the deficit, but decisions have to be made by government as to how they do it. Quite clearly, the main target was foreign aid.

We come here and hear arguments that, supposedly, the previous speaker has got some 'scientific analysis' which is only known to her and that she is already able to demonstrate that supposedly every foreign aid dollar now being spent is far more effective than those spent for the last 20 years. As to where she gets that evidence from, I doubt there is any source. On 18 July, the Prime Minister, in response to correspondence from me, wrote saying:

It is vital that we help developing countries capture revenue on profits earned in their jurisdiction so they can establish and protect their tax bases. Australia is using its leadership in the G20 to ensure developing countries can participate in and benefit from the reforms.

They are noble sentiments and I would hope that there is some action. However, one has to see this in the context of a government which closed loopholes for international tax evasion. It was a major measure. They actually reduced the loopholes. So to come out here now and say that we are going to be in the forefront is quite questionable.

I also note that the Treasurer has been shouting from the rooftops that, with regard to the question of exchanging financial information, we are supposedly going to be at the forefront of a move towards an international reporting standard that is common. However, the early adopter group of nations, including the major G20 powers such as the United Kingdom, Argentina, France, Germany, India and Italy, have a timetable far in advance of Australia.

The other question here is a question of global poverty. Obviously, there is some comfort to be had from advice that says that 21 per cent of people in the developing world live on $1.25 a day compared with 43 per cent in 1990 and 52 per cent in 1981. I do not doubt that there have been advances, but I notice an article in the latest edition of the New York Review by Ian Johnson called 'The Chinese Invade Africa'. He noted that whilst there is a significant number of people in Africa now described as middle class—300 million Africans spend $2 to $20 a day and they are supposedly middle class—he noted that 60 per cent of those people are in the $2 to $4 category. Indisputably, there is a large challenge ahead of us.

I want to say that Ban Ki-moon, amongst others, has certainly hit the nail on the head with his comment:

We all know the heavy toll taken by corruption. More than a trillion dollars stolen or lost, every year—money badly needed for the Millennium Development Goals.

However, we cannot totally blame African leaders for, quite frankly, the rampant tax evasion. In recent weeks there has been a big focus on Amazon and Google: they are basically operating in countries, doing offshore operations and then claiming it has got nothing to do with the entity on the mainland. There are figures produced that developing countries only take 13 per cent of GDP and taxes compared to rich countries taking an average of 34 per cent; a discrepancy mainly due to tax evasion.

We now have a situation where there is talk of long overdue of international— (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.