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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Australia's relationship with Timor-Leste

BRAZIER Mr Rod, First Assistant Director General, East Asia Division, AusAID

CORCORAN Ms Angela, Assistant Director General, Indonesia and Timor-Leste, AusAID


CHAIR: Welcome. Before proceeding to questions, we would ask you to make an opening statement but on the shorter side because we are already running over time. No doubt the committee will have plenty of questions for you.

Mr Brazier : The Australian aid program is an integral part of our bilateral relationship with Timor-Leste. We are Timor-Leste's biggest development partner and have been so since 1999. Since 1999 the Australian government has invested over $1 billion in humanitarian and development aid to help Timor-Leste recover from conflict and establish the foundations of an enduring and stable state. Australia's aid to Timor-Leste makes up around a third of all global contributions to Timor-Leste over this period and today Australia makes up well over a third of all development assistance offered to Timor-Leste. The second most generous bilateral donor is the United States, which gives less than a third of Australia's annual contribution.

With support from Australia and the international community, Timor-Leste has really made remarkable progress. It has gone from almost complete devastation, following the events of 1998-99, when 70 per cent of national infrastructure was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, to a cohesive and increasingly confident nation.

Timor-Leste has defied the odds. Postconflict countries typically take around 40 years to recover from the sort of conflict that Timor-Leste experienced. Most lapse into cycles of instability and violence. Timor-Leste has had two bouts of instability but recovered quickly each time with a lot of help from Australia and its other friends. It has seen consolidation of democracy and healthy economic growth. This impressive achievement is foremost a testament to the commitment and resilience of the Timorese people and their leaders.

The role of Australia and other international donors has also been critical, though. In Australia's case we should be proud that our support to Timor-Leste through the Australian aid program has been instrumental. With Australia's assistance, the number of schoolteachers has doubled since 2002. Eighty-three per cent of children under the age of five are now immunised against avoidable disease. In 2003 that rate was 35 per cent. The mortality rate for children under five has reduced by 67 per cent, from 169 deaths per 1,000 live births to 55 deaths per 1,000 births, in 2010. That is the biggest reduction in the entire world for that period.

Monthly healthcare visits are reaching every one of Timor-Leste's 450 villages, providing pre- and post-natal care for women and babies; immunisation for children; treatment for and prevention of common diseases; and information on nutrition and hygiene. Before 2009, many villages in Timor-Leste had never seen a doctor.

Women and children fleeing domestic abuse are able to seek refuge in a network of safe houses. Prior to 2009 East Timorese fleeing violence had nowhere to go. I mention these examples of improvements in Timor-Leste, because they have been made with Australia's support. They demonstrate the real difference that AusAID is making to improve the lives of Timor-Leste's poor. Yet, despite these gains, Timor-Leste remains a challenging development environment. Progress is fragile and daunting challenges persist.

I mentioned earlier the dramatic improvement in the rate of deaths of children under the age of five, which has improved from 169 to 55 per 1,000 live births. In Australia the figure is five, so East Timor still has a long way to go. It remains quite poor, with nearly three-quarters of the population still living on under $2 a day. Through our partnership with the Timorese government we have for the first time a joint and collective approach to tackling poverty. In 2011 Australia was the first country to endorse the principles of the new deal for engaging fragile and conflict affected countries. Under this approach, Australia's aid decisions are aligned with Timor-Leste's own development aspirations through a partnership. Next month AusAID's director-general will visit Dili to conduct a top-level review of progress under our programs with the national political leadership of Timor-Leste. In this way our two countries are working together to address Timor-Leste's own priorities. As my colleague Mr Cox mentioned a moment ago, our commitment to the new deal has been warmly received by the Timorese leaders and it has become a model for engagement with fragile and conflict affected states elsewhere.

As the Australian government's international aid agency, it is critical that we partner closely with the government of Timor-Leste. It is only by building Timor-Leste government's capacity that we will have a truly long-term and sustainable impact on poverty and development there. This does not come though at the expense of our commitment to deepening partnerships with other important stakeholders. In the case of Timor-Leste this includes a range of Commonwealth departments and agencies who manage in total nearly 30 per cent of the official overseas development assistance to Timor-Leste. Agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the Australian Electoral Commission have managed successful multiyear development programs that have increased security and strengthened capacity of institutions.

Some other of our major stakeholders are Australian non-government organisations and civil society organisations, who continue to make substantial and important contributions to development in East Timor. Perhaps more so than anywhere else, the AusAID program in Timor-Leste benefits from a deep vein of community interest, expertise and goodwill. AusAID has supported a broad range of Australian civil society and friendship groups to carry out programs in Timor-Leste since 1999. During the current financial year alone AusAID provided around $16 million to organisations such as CARE, Oxfam, Plan, Caritas, World Vision, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and others to deliver important services in Timor-Leste. Funding to these organisations makes up around 20 per cent of the AusAID budget for Timor-Leste this year. Our partnership with Australian international development organisations will remain a key feature of our aid program in Timor-Leste.

Looking ahead, AusAID will continue to advance its major programs in health, education, rural development and governance to improve the quality of vital services. We are undergoing a period of significant redesign where we are examining new and more effective ways to reduce poverty, based firmly on evidence and in line with the East Timor government's own articulated development needs. This work will result in a stronger, more robust aid program capable of achieving the goals of the Australian and Timor-Leste governments.

CHAIR: Thank you. I would certainly like to congratulate AusAID on the good work it does in Timor.

Mr Brazier : Thank you.

CHAIR: While on the committee's visit there we saw much of it. One thing that struck me on our visit to Timor was the seriousness of their hungry season with people going without food. We do very good work with Seeds of Life and those programs, but do we do enough in the agriculture area to boost productivity, storage and that sort of thing? Can we do more?

Mr Brazier : The hungry season is a serious problem for Timor-Leste. It occurs across the country sometimes at different times, as you may know, but for the bulk of poor rural Timorese it occurs between November and their maize harvest, which takes place around March-April. In that period in many parts of the country many segments of the population experience undernutrition. I am glad you mentioned Seeds of Life. It is a program that we and ACIAR are very proud of. It is doing several things. First of all, it is improving the productivity of farming in Timor-Leste. Productivity of farms in Timor Leste is usually less than half that of the productivity levels of neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam. We are attempting to introduce seed varieties, and have done so, which improve the productivity of the land but also provide greater variety in the diets of the people producing those crops. Take, for example, sweet potatoes. Previously only one variety was grown. Under Seeds of Life, a number of varieties are now being grown which have different types of nutrient. They are more abundant at harvest time so in many cases the farmers have a surplus which they then can take to the market and sell in order to buy other things such as education for their children. We are increasing nutrition through that program but also providing a source of income which they can use in order to augment the crops that they grow.

Seeds of Life is continuing. We are hoping that it will expand to cover almost all farmers in Timor-Leste. At the moment I think it is covering between 30,000 and 40,000 farmers in Timor Leste. We expect that to expand to cover nearly all farmers in the country and, when it does, we think that will make a massive contribution to the nutrition status of Timorese including through the hungry season.

Dr STONE: Clearly, that is an enormous challenge and Australia has obviously helped a great deal. We are trying to engage the local people obviously in joint programs. I am particularly interested in the women and girls being empowered as well. East Timor still has one of the highest fertility rates in the world. Is that your understanding in terms of the biggest family sizes?

Mr Brazier : There are very high fertility levels—

Dr STONE: It is in the top three. Self-evidently, their poverty and education and a whole range of other criteria will be supported if they have good family planning support as well. In the first instance, I am wondering to what extent our health-related aid budget is focusing on women's reproductive health and contraception. That is my first question. My second one is about the National Program for Village Development. We are going to give $50,000 for every village, which is huge money in those villages of course. To what extent is anyone making sure that women have an equal say in what those infrastructure programs, those small-scale infrastructure investments, might be in the villages?

Mr Brazier : Thank you very much, Dr Stone. Those are both very good questions which get to the core of our programs in Timor-Leste. You are absolutely right, one of the biggest problems facing women in Timor-Leste is the very large number of children that they are having, which is a big contributor to their poverty. Spacing is an issue and you mentioned contraception. A key part of our program is support for the Timor-Leste government's own program called SISCa, which is a network of mobile clinics that visits every village in Timor-Leste every month—and that is 450 villages.

On those visits the medical staff do a number of things and, pertinent to your question, they have special sessions with pregnant women and mothers on family planning including contraception and birth spacing but also postnatal care of their children. Those mobile clinics conduct information sessions for mothers on nutrition for their children particularly encouraging breastfeeding, and also they conduct longitudinal weighing of the children to ensure that they are growing as healthily as they should. The fertility rate—

Dr STONE: So we contribute to those mobile vans, do we? AusAID helps pay for those?

Mr Brazier : Yes. I believe that we are the major contributor to that program, Dr Stone. We have also provided bachelor degree level training to 54 midwives, which is one-fifth of all midwives across the country. That was conducted in 2009-10. We have also delivered training in surgery and anaesthesia to assist with the delivery of healthy babies in hospitals. If I may add something on family planning to augment what I just said, we provided family planning and reproductive health clinical services through the mobile clinics to 40,000 people in 2011 and 40,000 people in 2012. Almost 62,000 community members have benefited over the past two years from the information sessions that I mentioned.

In relation to your question on the village development program, the community driven development, it is called the National Suko Development Program. It will provide annual grants of $50,000 to every village in the country for communities to plan, build and maintain their own small-scale infrastructure. Depending on village priorities this could include irrigation, channels, bridges, motorbike paths, or marketplaces, as well as refurbishment of water systems, for example. Dr Stone, you asked about the systems we have in place to ensure that women are adequately represented in the identification of those priorities. That is top of mind for us. It is important to say that this is a government program, which they will be in the lead on, and we are supporting it financially and through technical assistance We want to make sure that when the Timor-Leste government implements this program one of the key issues for us is how to ensure that marginalised members of the community—women, the disabled and the elderly—have an adequate say in identification of the priorities for the use of those village grants.

I would add a little on the community driven development. If any members of the committee are familiar with the Indonesian example, we are drawing a lot on the best practice from next door in Indonesia where the Indonesian government is spending more than $1 billion a year to great effect, with support from AusAID and others, including the World Bank. The Indonesian government is reaching all corners of that country. We are drawing on that best practice in Timor-Leste and we have been really pleased with the enthusiasm of Timor-Leste officials in visiting parts of Indonesia, particularly parts of Indonesia that are nearby like West Timor, to see that best practice, to learn from it and to take the lessons they want back to Timor-Leste to apply when they run this program.

Dr STONE: Will someone from AusAID or an NGO tasked by AusAID look at the programs that are intended for the investment of the $50,000 to make sure that money is not being spent on, say, political pork barrelling, particularly with the elections coming on? Given the women do most of the work anyway and so that they are not out of the loop, could they say that they want something like a refuge or some early childhood support rather than some of those other actions. Is anyone overseeing this—I would suggest in a very special way and not invasively saying that you cannot have that—or are we just giving the $50,000 out and standing back, saying it was acquitted, and it is okay.

Mr Brazier : There will be a very thorough process of acquitting the expenses to ensure that the money has been spent appropriately, to ensure that there has been minimisation or eradication of any waste or corruption, and equally importantly to ensure that the activities that have been supported are in conformity with the guidelines that have been offered. In general these programs work well where there is a menu of activities that villages can choose from. On the political front, of course, international partners of East Timor do not object to political leaders being proud of good programs. That, of course, happens worldwide. We would ensure that the activities are, as I said, in conformity with the menu of infrastructure and other activities that are committed under the program.

Senator STEPHENS: I was quite interested in your submission in terms of both the department's submission and yours go to the issue of the informal economy and trying to build a formal economy. Your submission highlights one of the local women's cooperatives and the work that they are doing in the social enterprise space. Is AusAID funding other projects like that?

Mr Brazier : I think that the key thing for us on the economy is to sustain economic growth and to be generating jobs. Now whether those jobs are in the formal or the informal economy is not necessarily the first order issue for us. The main thing is that there are jobs being generated. On the economy, I think the top level issue to mention to you is that we are working very closely with the ministry of finance to ensure that the governance settings are right to permit ongoing sustainable economic growth and that there is a high and consistent degree of budget execution year on year. A few years ago the Timorese government had a great deal of trouble expending their budget. They spent one year, a few years ago, only 50 per cent of the annual allocation. With Australia's health and the help of others that percentage is approaching the high eighties or maybe around 90 per cent execution. Given that a very big part of the gross domestic product of the Timor-Leste these days is revenues from oil concessions in the Timor Sea, it is really important that good government spending continue to maintain economic activity and economic growth. So we are very occupied at that high level.

I think another important issue we confront is the very large number of jobseekers entering the economy every year. We think that there are around 20,000 people coming on to the job market each year out of school and there are around 400 or 500 jobs in the formal sector available to them each year. They then have a choice to compete for—and of course most will fail to secure—one of those 500 jobs and the alternative for them is to return to the village, essentially to subsistence agriculture, or be unemployed or underemployed in one of the urban centres. In contrast to many of the other places where we operate, certainly in East Asia, AusAID does run job-generating activities. Before the rainy season, in close cooperation with the Timor-Leste government, we run essentially pay for work activities to clean drains and culverts and the like. That is to prepare for the rainy season. More importantly, through our road maintenance and construction programs with the International Labour Organization, we have generated nearly 1.4 million days of paid labour for semiskilled Timorese people and around 32½ thousand people have benefited from that income. By doing that, of course, they are learning skills which they can then apply elsewhere when they seek to find jobs.

I think you have mentioned, Senator Stephens, the Inclusive Finance for the Under-Served Economy program, which we are running with the UN Capital Development Fund. The program aims to reduce poverty in rural areas by providing financial services to poor women and men. With access to loan, savings account and financial advice, the rural poor have opportunities to earn income and save money. Most Timorese, obviously, have never had a bank account and they have never participated in the cash economy, so this gives them a window into the cash economy and the financial services sector. They provide help to people to prepare for disasters or times of crisis, when normal income may be unavailable. The program also works with the government of Timor-Leste to develop a better policy and regulatory environment for the financial services sector. We are very proud of the achievement here: 5,300 additional clients, almost all women, have been registered with supported microfinance institutions in Timor-Leste.

Microfinance has not taken root as fast as we would like in Timor-Leste, possibly because of the lack of participation in the cash economy, but we see it as a key element in the future of Timor's development.

Senator STEPHENS: I was struck with some of your earlier comments. Recently, a parliamentary delegation went to Paraguay and we were able to see the work of Foundation Paraguay, which is dealing with similar kinds of circumstances in remote villages. There is no banking—there is no anything—but they have actually developed quite a good model, which is worth having a look at, around building microbusinesses, microfranchising and those kinds of things in quite clever ways.

Mr Brazier : That is right. I am not familiar with Paraguay, but I am familiar with microfinance in some other parts of Asia, including Indonesia and Cambodia, both of which have very poor segments of population that now have access to microfinance. It is really crucial way of giving people access to capital. The experience globally has been that the poor are very bankable—very reliable borrowers with very high rates of repayment—because they tend not to be as mobile as other parts of the population, but also they take their obligations very seriously. In very innovative microfinance banks around the world, they are happy to accept as collateral moveable assets such as motorbikes, whereas, under some of the more rigid microfinance regimes around the world, land title was required. Of course, the poor often do not have that sort of collateral, but they often do have TVs and motorbikes which can be used as collateral.

Senator STEPHENS: We were talking just now about a cash economy. What I am thinking about is the use in some countries of 'tiga', which is kind of like money on your phone, because there are no banking facilities. Does that operate in East Timor?

Mr Brazier : I would have to take that specific question on notice.

Senator STEPHENS: But the issue of using technology rather than banks?

Mr Brazier : That is a rapidly developing and very promising area for development agencies to look at. In some of the more advanced developing countries of the region, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, there is a massive trade of phone credits and other sorts of credits through mobile technology. We have seen that opening up telecommunications and making it affordable to the poor has an enormously liberating effect on those people's lives because, again, it gives them access to networks and markets that they have never been in touch with before.

AusAID are very proud of the work we have done in Vanuatu on this, in support of telecommunications deregulation there. I have to say, without straying too far into an area that I am not an expert on, the telecommunications sector in Timor-Leste is still regulated and I think still relatively expensive by comparison with neighbouring countries. In Indonesia, even a poor person can get a free handset from most providers and need only charge the phone with a few dollars of credits to get going. That is the same in all of the bigger developing countries of the region. We would like to see that happen in Timor-Leste, and that is a regulatory issue they are grappling with.

My colleague has just noted that until recently telecommunications was a monopoly in Timor-Leste, so naturally that would usually lead to the issue that I mentioned—that is, high telecommunications cost. We are supporting the establishment of a regulator at the moment, and mobile banking will be a feature of our future support in Timor-Leste.

Ms BRODTMANN: You were here when I asked those questions about the governance and transparency frameworks?

Mr Brazier : Yes.

Ms BRODTMANN: I understand you have been doing a lot of work on capacity building in that area, so I would go back to those original questions about the frameworks that you are working on establishing to improve transparency and improve accountability. I am particularly interested in whether you have established or are looking to establish an auditor-general function.

Mr Brazier : Thank you very much, Ms Brodtmann. I am looking through my notes for the material on that. The auditor-general function does not exist in exactly the same way that it exists in Australia. The government of Timor-Leste submits its books annually to Deloitte for auditing, which we think is a good thing for them to be doing. There is a supreme national audit court being established at the moment. It is not in place yet, but that is something we are supporting.

Ms BRODTMANN: Does the audit cover every government agency?

Mr Brazier : It covers all government expenditure.

Ms BRODTMANN: Just expenditure?

Mr Brazier : Yes. I should add where there are weaknesses in government processes, that would be quite typical of a very young government like this; it has only been running for a decade or so. We think though, in comparison to most countries of Timor-Leste's vintage, they are doing very well on this score. The Anti-Corruption Commission is up and running and, as you heard from my DFAT colleagues earlier, it has had some success. There is an annual whole-of-government audit, as I mentioned. All procurements and tenders are published for scrutiny publicly—again something that most governments of this age would not have done yet. As I said, all books are submitted to Deloitte's each year, and—I got the name a little bit wrong—a supreme audit and taxation court is to be established in the near future.

Ms BRODTMANN: In terms of capacity building within those government agencies on establishing a culture of transparency and accountability, and also the appropriate guidelines of, say, the Financial Management Act, have you been working with the government on those guidelines as well? Okay, the Deloitte audit is one function, but as you know it is important that you build a multilayered approach for accountability mechanisms and controls throughout various levels of government as well as guidelines and a culture.

Mr Brazier : Yes. Just to add to what I have said already, AusAID did support the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission. We have also assisted in the establishment of the Civil Service Commission, which is an important backbone in the civil service of East Timor to ensure that decisions made by ministers and officials are transparent and defensible. Since its inception in 2009 the Civil Service Commission has ensured that appointments are made on the basis of merit and is addressing poor performance. In 2010 the Civil Service Commission, supported by AusAID, suspended the salaries of over 363 officers who had abandoned their employment. Ghost employees are a common feature in many developing countries, but in Timor-Leste this is being tackled and people who abandon their posts are being terminated. Salaries have been terminated. The Civil Service Commission has also played a key role in the development of the legislation that you referred to, Ms Brodtmann, to ensure that women employees can access maternity leave, for example. We are also strengthening the capacity of public servants to perform effectively, including through leadership and administration training for 1,600 public servants in 2011.

The Ministry of Finance have responsibility for public financial management. They are our key point of contact, with whom we have our agreement. We have supported the Ministry of Finance since 1999. We are the main bilateral donor to the reform work of the Ministry of Finance, and our plan is to support the Ministry of Finance until 2017 at least.

Ms BRODTMANN: Thank you very much. Good work.

Mr Brazier : Thank you.

Senator MOORE: Mr Brazier, can you tell us whether any of the programs in East Timor have been affected by the decision in the last budget and the budget before that to defer some activities. Were any of the East Timorese programs subject to deferrals or restrictions as a result of those budget decisions?

Mr Brazier : No. With the reprioritisation that was conducted late last year, to achieve that in the case of Timor-Leste we made payment deferrals, which have not had an impact on the implementation of programs at the present time.

Senator MOORE: Can we have details of those deferrals on notice.

Mr Brazier : Certainly.

Senator MOORE: Thank you.

Ms Corcoran : I can tell you now.

Senator MOORE: We can get them very quickly. Thank you, Ms Corcoran.

Ms Corcoran : There was a deferral of payments to the coming financial year, 2013-14, in the health program of $3 million and in the rural roads program of $5 million. Payments were only deferred; they were not cut. So services delivered under these programs have not been affected.

Senator MOORE: So it will catch up.

Ms Corcoran : It will catch up.

Senator MOORE: I would imagine that the East Timorese program would be subject to discussion now with the decision in last week's budget to have further deferrals. So, if any information comes through, I want the impact on the East Timorese programs from last week's budget. Can we get details of that as well, please.

Mr Brazier : Thanks very much, Senator.

Senator MOORE: I know that is still happening, but this committee will still be happening as well. So, as you get the information, could we get that.

Mr Brazier : Certainly.

Senator MOORE: The other question is to do with the statement—with which I deeply agree—about the reprioritising of our aid budget to meet the needs of their government. It is an international program to have that happen. Can you give me any idea about what change has occurred as a result of that. The way the submission reads suggests that, up until 2010-11, we were running our AusAID budget with the processes that we always did and talking to the government but actually working through existing programs. The submission makes a lot of the fact that in 2011 we actually changed the way we developed our program in East Timor, and I am interested to see whether there was much change. Page 9 of your submission refers to 'health, education, agriculture, water and sanitation and governance'. It seems to me that they are all areas in which you would have been working before 2011, but I am just interested to know what change there was, if any. Apart from just saying that is what you did, what was the change?

Mr Brazier : You are absolutely right, Senator. The important thing to note is that 2011 did not mark a U-turn or anything, as you say. AusAID was very busy running good programs in Timor-Leste before that. I would note that, under global principles established under the Paris declaration and the Accra agreements, Australia already had an obligation to follow partner governments' priorities, to engage in consultation and to ensure that all our activities were wanted and were designed in cooperation with partner governments. So we had been doing that. I think the key change in 2011 was recognition of fragile states' unique needs. What you might call a cookie cutter approach was going to leave some of those fragile states in danger of not meeting or falling far short of the Millennium Development Goals for development.

The new deal, led in many ways by the government of Timor-Leste, was established to get donors to engage with fragile and conflict affected countries to give host countries greater leadership over the development process, and for even closer alignment with donors. It is principally about promoting mutual trust, respect and accountability. The last word, accountability, is really important.

As I mentioned in my opening address, the director-general of AusAID, Mr Baxter, will be in Timor-Leste in a few weeks. In his meetings with the political leadership of Timor-Leste they will be going through a list of targets and essentially a stocktake to tick off whether we have, together, achieved the goals that we together set for ourselves. That is the first time that specific undertakings of that nature have been made between a donor and the government of Timor-Leste.

Senator MOORE: This question is on notice. Can you give us any information on how East Timor is going on the MDGs, because we have had some information over the years about individual goals, but I could not find anything on their web site to see how they were going and where the key difficulties were. You can probably think them out from when you see the different submissions. Also, can you let us know whether East Timor has submitted their ICPD review document, which is going through at the moment, because that picks up on a lot of the questions that Dr Stone was asking. I would be interested to see what they as a nation put forward, particularly as one of their politicians was on one of the review groups of the whole ICPD agenda. It is not on the public web site, either.

Mr Brazier : On the Millennium Development Goals, Timor-Leste is doing well on some and—

Senator MOORE: And not so well on others.

Mr Brazier : With its partners it is having difficulty with some of the others. I am happy to run through them with you.

Senator MOORE: If you would just like to take that on notice.

Mr Brazier : Okay.

Senator MOORE: I think it will be of interest to all of us, and then if we have any other questions we can do a follow-up with you. Where are they bombing out most?

Mr Brazier : I think one of the key areas where they are having difficulties is in eradicating extreme poverty.

Senator MOORE: Yes, because so many of their population are in the very lowest percentile.

Mr Brazier : They are living on less than $1.25 a day.

Senator MOORE: Somewhere in your submission you gave us a statistic that was quite confronting.

Mr Brazier : It is still 37 per cent of the population.

Senator MOORE: About 60 per cent above that were close to it—it was like 90 per cent of the population.

Mr Brazier : That is right. Three-quarters of the population are living on less than $2 a day. This is a common issue across some of the developing countries of South-East Asia, although in some of those the proportion of the population living on $1 or $1.25 a day is declining, there are still quite large parts of the population living just above that. They are vulnerable to crop failure or an economic shock or something unexpected that could plunge them back into poverty. So, eradication of extreme poverty and hunger are difficult ones.

On achievement of universal primary education, they have done very well, although they have not quite met the target of universal enrolment. They have got it up to 93 per cent. In some of these Millennium Development Goals they set targets that are sometimes absolute and sometimes relative. For Timor-Leste we must always remember where it has come from. As I said in my opening statement, 70 per cent of infrastructure was wiped out, almost all of the civil service sector left, and a huge proportion of the population were displaced. So, when they fall short of some of these absolute targets, I think that we need to dig a little deeper and look at some of the success that might be beneath that.

Senator MOORE: I cannot remember whether it is your submission or another that talks about the fact that they may have got people going to school but the quality when they get there—and the MDG process does not assess that. A couple of the submissions have made those particular points: it is one thing to get the kids there, but, when they get there, what are they learning?

Dr STONE: There is the difficulty of the official language being Portuguese, which is only spoken by the older seniors in the community but is still officially the language of education.

Mr Brazier : That is right.

Dr STONE: The kids are often sitting there and do not in fact have a working language that they are being taught in.

Mr Brazier : Yes. Education is a flagship program for AusAID globally and a very important part of our program in Timor-Leste. We do recognise the quality challenges. The MDGs have been a very good way of rallying interest and getting people focused on some of the right issues, getting resources behind some of those issues, but they are not a perfect proxy for everything we need to do in developing countries. Quality of education is really key, and that is why we have worked very hard on distribution of better materials and improvement of classrooms—we have built or renovated 2,100 classrooms across the country—so that students are attracted to school and want to stay there.

Senator MOORE: Do you get the Rotary and Lions groups going over and doing that as well?

Mr Brazier : Yes, we do.

Senator MOORE: They have a special program of doing up schools.

Mr Brazier : That is right.

Senator MOORE: So you get them there as well?

Mr Brazier : Rotary groups, Lions groups, Twin Towns groups, small NGOs—there is a very high engagement and interest from Australian community groups in Timor-Leste.

Ms Corcoran : I will just follow up Dr Stone's comment about language to note that we have teamed up with the Alola Foundation, which was run by Kirsty Sword Gusmao. Some of the work we are doing through that is around distributing mother tongue education materials. We have distributed something like 94,500—to be precise—books in Tetum to students. We are also working with Alola on improving education for girls. That is a big focus of what we are doing there. We are providing scholarships for girls to go to high school and to continue their high school there. Two hundred and eight high school scholarships have been awarded through that program—and also a mobile library so that all children can access reading material. I just wanted to pick up on the mother tongue issue because I think it is important.

Mr Brazier : I will just move on to Millennium Development Goal 3, because it links quite interestingly to the earlier one. That is on gender equality, where again Timor-Leste is falling short. There is an equal enrolment of boys and girls in primary school, but the enrolment by girls falls away quite markedly at high school. This links to some of the fertility issues that we were discussing earlier, Dr Stone, because when mothers have so many children they often call on the older daughters to look after the children while the women are fetching water or tending market gardens. Everything is connected, and these are difficult challenges.

On the reduction of child mortality—I mentioned this in my opening statement—Timor-Leste has done very well. Child mortality has fallen to 55 per 1,000 live births. That is still a tragic number, of course, when you compare it to developed countries. Australia has a figure of below five per thousand births. So there is a long way to go despite the good advances.

On improvement to maternal health: the maternal mortality ratio remains high at between 408 and 706 deaths per 100,000 live births—again linked to the issues that Dr Stone raised earlier. One in three married women has an unmet need for family planning too so that they are in charge of spacing and fertility issues.

Senator MOORE: Do you have any stats on unmarried women?

Mr Brazier : I would doubt it, but we can take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: I am sorry; it is just one of those things with that particular goal that so many countries are reporting on married women, but that is one of the elements of the need. Thank you for that.

Mr Brazier : On MDG 6—combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases—Timor-Leste has done very well. They are on track. They are also on track in ensuring environmental sustainability.

Dr STONE: Given that stunting is a major problem for the children and adults in the community, do we deliver any direct food aid? Do we literally deliver food into the country during those periods of very lean food supply that you described before?

Mr Brazier : We have in the past through the World Food Program delivered fortified biscuits and flour to pregnant and nursing mothers and to children. We do not at the moment deliver food aid to Timor-Leste.

Dr STONE: Have we been asked not to by the government? Or is this a policy decision we have made given the stunting of the children and the five months of undernutrition that is in the country?

Mr Brazier : The first thing to say is that food supply is only one strand in the malnutrition picture. Malnutrition is a cluster of problems, and one of the key problems is health status generally; the presence of intestinal parasites which stop people from absorbing nutrition when they eat food. Low productivity of the agricultural sector is around half the productivity of neighbouring countries. Even some of the poorer parts of Indonesia have doubled the yields that most of East Timor has. There is also a lack of variety in the diet, with a heavy emphasis on staple foods. There is not a lack of staple foods for much of the year—cassava, rice, sweet potatoes, peanuts and other crops are grown reasonably successfully—but it is the accompanying nutrition which is absent, particularly some elements of protein.

The other feature of food aid is that, compared to the long-term productivity and health programs we are seeking to implement in Timor-Leste, it is quite expensive, even when conducted through the World Food Program, which has a global buying power and is poised to move at any moment in the case of an emergency. There is no substitute in efficiency terms for local production being met by local farmers.

Dr STONE: Except where they cannot meet them and the kids are stunted, and we have seven months of hard times. I just wonder why and when we stopped that food aid, because I see it as a parallel. Giving kids school lunches or school breakfasts, for example, means you do not have the stunting or the parasites. I am lecturing you, but it seems to me an interesting decision. When was the food aid stopped? In 2005?

Ms Corcoran : In 2013.

Mr Brazier : Earlier this year.

CHAIR: We saw the factory that made the particular substance you talked about on the trip.

Dr STONE: The biscuits.

Mr Brazier : This pertains to AusAID's program. We may be able to come back to you with more information on what the government of Timor-Leste is doing. The government of Timor-Leste has taken responsibility for the school feeding program. While the AusAID program is not engaged in that as deeply as it previously was, the government of Timor-Leste has taken ownership of that and is implementing it.

Dr STONE: Can you tell us when we stopped our actual food aid—that is, bags of milk powder, or whatever we were delivering? I would be very interested in the data, and whether that was precipitated by the Timor-Leste government, or as a result of a decision of ours based on it being very expensive.

Mr Brazier : We will take that on notice.

CHAIR: Thanks for your time. We ran a bit over time. There are obviously matters about which we will seek additional information from you. The secretary will write to you. He will also provide you with a transcript of your evidence, to which you can make any necessary corrections in transcription. The Hansard will see you if they need to, about errors in transcription.

Mr Brazier : Thank you very much, Mr Champion. And thank you to all committee members for your interest in the aid program.

Proceedings suspended from 10:55 to 11:07