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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4751

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (4:50 PM) —by leave—The Senate will be aware from the statement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs on Australia's Development Cooperation Program that, when we came to government in 1996, Minister Downer commissioned a major study on Australia's aid program. The outcome of this inquiry by Mr Simons, the former chief executive of Woolworths, was titled Better aid for a better future. It identified the theme of Australia's aid program, which has maintained the same clear and single focus, and that is to advance Australia's interests by assisting developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development.

I note in the minister's statement the 1999 OECD Development Assistance Committee finding that Australia's Development Cooperation Program has `gone through an impressive process of restructuring and renewal', with Australia `in the vanguard'. That commitment to adjustment and improvement continues. The Australian electorate wants this assistance to be given. Australians feel that a fair go should be given to less fortunate nations. However, we do expect to get fair value and not see our assistance dollar wasted or stolen. The legitimacy of assistance programs must always be a priority for any prudent provider of development assistance.

Zimbabwe is in the news today. When I was an observer at the June 2000 election I sought out our aid projects, which understandably revolved around health and literacy. Getting legitimate and effective programs in Zimbabwe was not made difficult because there was not a wide variety of need but was to do with running the help programs properly. I think that taxpayers would be pleased to know that we try not to spend aid dollars unless we are sure of the outcome and unless we believe that we are getting value for money for the Australian taxpayer.

In the main, our aid program focuses on the Asia-Pacific. It clearly prioritises Australia's strong engagement in our region and our commitment to working in partnership with our immediate neighbours. The challenges are considerable. The Asia-Pacific region has the world's highest concentration of people living in real poverty—which I find quite amazing. Over 800 million people survive on less than $1 a day in our near region. Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Island countries and the poorest regions of East Asia are where we are most active, but the program also responds selectively to development needs in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The fostering of economic development in our region encourages stability, obviously, and expands trade and investment opportunities for Australia. Our aid program is all part of the good fabric of globalisation. Increased trade equals rising standards of living. This promotion of sustainable development clearly addresses issues of direct interest to Australia, including HIV-AIDS, illegal migration, global environmental problems and drug trafficking. Our aid program will remain vital in Australia's desire to be further integrated in our region. Specific examples of the program's contribution include capacity building for improved economic governance following the Asian financial crisis in 1999 and 2000, assisting in the recovery and restructuring of East Timor and the Solomon Islands and a number of other important areas. As the minister points out, our aid program defines key principles and priority sectors that are crucial to the aim of alleviating poverty and achieving sustainable development. I endorse his statement, and I wish those who run our aid projects in AusAID and through our very considerable assistance provided to Australian based NGOs the very best of luck in carrying forward their many worthwhile projects.