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Thursday, 20 June 2002
Page: 4118


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (10:11 AM) —At the outset could I associate myself with the comments made earlier by the member for Macarthur regarding bereavement leave. In addition to me, the member for Dobell, the member for Macarthur, the member for Batman, the member for Stirling, the member for Prospect and Senator Kerry O'Brien—seven of us—have grown up in the Reid electorate. It seems that, if the Reid electorate produces nothing else, it certainly produces politicians.

Going to the question of foreign aid, I refer initially to a comment by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer, in May 2001 when he said:

Australians believe we should give aid to look after those less fortunate, for humanitarian and moral reasons, and because Australia is wealthy and can afford it.

Noble sentiments, but the comments of Mike Steketee in the Australian a year and a half previously were somewhat more accurate. He said:

Alexander Downer is particularly proud of Australia's foreign aid program. He shouldn't be. Not only has Australia's foreign aid budget failed to increase in line with our increased wealth, it has fallen by about 15% per head of population since 1967-68.

Whilst Australia's practice is symptomatic of many other nations, it is still nothing to be proud of. Only Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Luxembourg today ascribe to 0.7 per cent of GDP that has been the aim—and which is the aim today—of ACFOA. In the budget lead-up, ACFOA called for a commitment of 0.35 per cent by 2003-04. Sadly, it remains at 0.25 per cent. That represents a very real decline since this government came to power. In our own region we can talk of 800 million people living on less than a dollar a day. We can see that financial assistance overall from wealthy nations declined by 0.4 per cent in the year 1999-2000.

Perhaps Africa is not a focus of our foreign aid in a very real sense but its dramatic problems are possibly more in the minds of constituents of my electorate who frequently write to me about foreign aid. If we look at Zambia, for instance, we see a situation where, because of trade policy changes, it has shed 32,500 jobs in factories since 1990. In 1991, they had 140 factories in the textile sector employing over 300,000 people. Today they have eight. The situation is that the country has a debt of $6.6 billion. The repayments are three times what the country spends on primary education. The reality is that illiteracy is growing and school drop-outs are forced to work in essentially a marginal economy. The full-time work force has basically disappeared. These days the textile industry is characterised by the sale of second-hand charity cast-offs from the First World.

US trade policy, which is having a dramatic effect in Africa, is typified in Burkina Faso. Many rural cotton farmers live on a dollar a day. If it were not distorted by US cotton subsidies, that situation could be improved so that basically half the population could get above the poverty line within six years. That is the reality. While the United States has finally increased its measly foreign aid performance from 0.1 per cent to 0.13 per cent in the last year, the $10 billion in foreign aid pales into insignificance compared with the impact of the subsidisation of its products in Africa, basically impoverishing the farmers of that country.

We are also seeing in Australia a very real cut to multilateral aid work and to UN agencies. Quite frankly, the government can talk until the cows come home about the impact of the movement of people internationally but the reality is that, unless people have reasons to remain where they live and unless they have reasonable jobs, education and futures, they are going to press internationally. It is all right for the government to say, `We're going to put up barriers; we're going to stop people coming.' Europe can say the same thing, and if they can reduce the problem then so be it. But the reality is that this international movement of the First World, the wealthy countries, to reduce their foreign aid commitment is part of a fundamental problem, and until it is arrested we will continue to have these aid issues.

It is also said that in Africa a quarter of the nations are unlikely to meet the target of all of their children being even in elementary school by 2015. This is the size of the international problem. It is all right for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to say a few nice words about our performance, but it is pathetic and it is internationally behind most of the OECD nations. It has declined and it is basically making a very small contribution internationally.