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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6279

Mr RUDD (GriffithMinister for Foreign Affairs) (17:53): Firstly, the honourable member asks about the independent review of aid effectiveness. I thank her for her question. The government commissioned this independent review because there has not been such an independent review conducted of the entire Australian aid budget since 1996. Fifteen years is a long time between drinks and we thought it was time to have a go at this and put together a body which would evaluate the program from top to tail. It has presented its report to the government. We expect to make our response to the report known in due course after we have examined all of its recommendations and what it means for any structural changes in the future direction of the aid portfolio.

It is an important exercise. I thank Sandy Hollway in particular for chairing it and also acknowledge participation from the likes of Margaret Reid, a former senator of the Australian parliament and President of the Senate and a distinguished representative of the Liberal Party. We look forward to making our response to the independent review of aid effectiveness in, as I said, due season. The second part of the honourable member's question goes to whether it would result in adjustments to the currently budgeted aid allocation for 2011-12. We do not foresee that occurring. We have indicated what we would do in the budget. We have obviously made provision for the one thing which often presents us with real challenges in a given year, which is the spate and intensity of natural disasters that are always unpredictable. But absent something catastrophic occurring within that category, we propose to adhere to the budget which is already outlined in the budget papers.

Thirdly, the honourable member asked again about Papua New Guinea health and I appreciate and share her concern on that matter—as a loyal son in my case and daughter in her case of Queensland. This has been an historical challenge faced by successive federal and Queensland governments dealing with the health policy issues that arise with the number of PNG nationals entering the Torres Strait at a given time. Her specific question to me related to the investment which we are making into health services within PNG. My understanding is that we are investing in the vicinity of $40 million within the overall framework of a program between $400 million and $500 million to PNG. I stand to be corrected on whether that amount includes the significant program we have on HIV-AIDS.

As the honourable member will be aware, there are significant HIV-AIDS infection rates, particularly in the west of the country in and around the mining communities. It is very difficult to obtain official statistics other than that infection rates there are potentially frightening. I have said this in the past, when I was on the other side of the aisle and Foreign Minister Downer was in office, that I make no particular criticism of the challenges which have been encountered on the ground in the implementation of the HIV-AIDS program in particular under the period of the conservative government and under our government. This is difficult and hard work, because we are dealing with fundamental attitudinal changes particularly on the part of males.

The next set of questions which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition raised went to the question of scholarships. She would be familiar with the robust and honourable history of the Colombo Plan. We actually think, though this was established by 'Pig-Iron Bob', this was a very good thing for Australia. Most things are fully accounted for in the full course of history; this was a good thing. It started in the 1950s under Menzies and was rolled out through until effectively the end of the 1970s. The problem was subsequent to that, and this is no criticism either of the previous Liberal or Labor governments, it languished.

This is what we sought to do: in a policy statement by me as Prime Minister in 2009 we launched what is called the Australia Awards. The Australia Awards are the next generation Colombo Plan awards. Our intention is to make Australia Awards available across all countries which meet DAC eligibility, because it is the simplest and most effective means to provide support world wide to countries that can benefit from an award program. They are designed to be flexible with shorter term and longer term scholarships. We see this as a very effective form of assisting with capacity building within these countries and developing good relationships with Australia across the generations.