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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 113

Senator SHERRY (9:16 PM) —In rising to speak on this legislation on behalf of the Labor opposition I firstly note that we are dealing with two bills. These two bills are necessary in order to meet our commitment to Indonesia and replenish and provide additional funding for tsunami relief. The Appropriation (Tsunami Financial Assistance and Australia-Indonesia Partnership) Bill 2004-2005 is for new outcomes and capital works and the Appropriation (Tsunami Financial Assistance) Bill 2004-2005 is for ordinary services. These are special appropriation bills, because the size of the financial commitment that is being made to Indonesia in response to the appalling tsunami disaster requires special legislation to pass the Parliament of Australia. The very size of the commitment means that assistance that has been given in respect of other natural disasters—which would not normally require two special appropriation bills—is dwarfed by this package.

I will commence my remarks by focusing on the human dimension of this disaster and why it is necessary to pass these special appropriation bills. Given that these are financial bills, before I get into the details of the finance that is being provided and the way it is being provided, I think it is important to touch on the overwhelming and devastating nature of the disaster that occurred on Boxing Day which, as I understand from last reports, left more than 286,000 people dead, 7,900 missing and more than 1.6 million persons displaced in a dozen countries around South-East Asia and eastern Africa. It is very difficult to find words to describe such a massive, overwhelming and appalling human disaster. I certainly hope that we never see another disaster of such magnitude at any time during my life. I would be very surprised if we did. I looked back at some of the great natural disasters of the last 100 years and the death tolls associated with them, and this disaster certainly seems to leave all in its unfortunate wake just by the sheer size of it.

As we know, Australians have responded overwhelmingly through donations and various types of fundraising that have occurred to provide assistance through a number of non-government organisations. Looking at a list we find that, as at 4 February, Australians had donated a total of $239.6 million. The Australian Red Cross raised $89 million; CARE Australia, $25 million; Caritas Australia, $11 million; Oxfam Community Aid Abroad, $21 million; UNICEF Australia, $5 million; and World Vision Australia, some $74.3 million. They are the collections of moneys by the various aid organisations involved in accepting moneys. I would be very surprised if there were a member of the parliament who had not been to, and participated in, one of the fundraising activities around the country.

I will now turn to some of the financial details of the two appropriation bills we are considering. The Appropriation (Tsunami Financial Assistance and Australia-Indonesia Partnership) Bill 2004-2005 proposes $1 billion for the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development. This proposal consists of two elements: $500 million of grants and $500 million in concessional financing. These two amounts are to be transferred into separate special accounts, keeping the funds separate for payment under specific terms. The grants are to be used for small-scale reconstruction for social and economic infrastructure, human resource development, scholarships, education and training programs, humanitarian relief, rehabilitation, recovery assistance and assistance with systems of governance, including systems of law and justice, economic and financial management and public management. The concessional financing will provide loans for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of major infrastructure. The terms provide for $500 million in interest-free financing for up to 40 years, with no repayment of principal before 10 years have elapsed.

The bill also requests approximately $1.5 million for the Department of Defence, the Health Insurance Commission and AusAID to cover costs associated with commencing the partnership, such as the fit-out of the partnership’s operation in Indonesia and some asset costs relating to the government’s emergency response to the tsunami. Loans and grants will be administered by two special accounts. The ministerial determinations establishing these accounts and setting out how moneys can be disbursed are subject to disallowance. It is important that the determinations set clear limits and that grants and loans are reported to parliament. It is expected that the moneys will be allocated over five years.

The Appropriation (Tsunami Financial Assistance) Bill 2004-2005 provides an appropriation to replenish funding for programs which were diverted to enable the emergency response. There is funding for AusAID of approximately $52.3 million for a wide range of responses: a civilian hospital in Banda Aceh which performed 20 to 30 operations a day; seven medical teams—five to Indonesia and one each to Sri Lanka and the Maldives; the delivery of four tonnes of medical supplies and eight tonnes of medical equipment to Sri Lanka; and the delivery of 2.5 million litres of water to Banda Aceh. For the Department of Defence there is some $50.5 million for a wide range of activities: a 90-bed hospital in Banda Aceh; water purification plants producing 4.7 million litres of clean water; and the clearing of 7,000 cubic metres of debris. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is receiving $17.3 million for disaster victim identification, repatriating Australian remains, the return of personal effects, the handling of some 15,000 missing person inquiries and some 84,000 calls to the consular hotline. The Australian Federal Police are receiving approximately $4.9 million for disaster victim identification. The Department of Health and Ageing is receiving some $2.5 million for activities centring on assistance, such as health and psychological care for Australians injured in the tsunami and psychological care for Australian relatives of those injured or killed as a result of the tsunami. The Department of Family and Community Services is to receive some $2.4 million, also for assistance announced in December 2004 involving payments for transport and accommodation for those injured in the tsunami and payment to the next of kin for funeral costs of the deceased. The remaining agencies to receive funding in the bill are the Attorney-General’s Department, CrimTrac, the Health Insurance Commission and the National Blood Authority, with a combined total of approximately $1.4 million.

We are dealing with significant appropriations, but in rising to speak in the Senate on behalf of the Labor opposition I can indicate our very strong support for this legislation and our bipartisan role with the government. The details of the expenditure that is outlined are appropriate. As Australians we can be proud of the level of support that is being provided by this nation through these appropriations and by the donations that have been made to the agencies that I referred to earlier. It is a truly appalling natural disaster. I hope we do not see anything of a similar nature for a long, long time to come. I am sure all my colleagues in this place would have seen the dreadful pictures on the TV, which were captured by video, of the waves sweeping onto the various coastlines around South-East Asia and parts of the African coast and the Indian subcontinent. It was absolutely appalling—almost beyond any sort of comprehension. We have been asked to deal with this legislation tonight, and that is appropriate. I indicate Labor’s strong support for the approach taken by the government as reflected in these bills. I hope we can secure the passage of the legislation either this evening or, if we do not quite make it tonight, certainly tomorrow morning.