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Wednesday, 30 October 1974
Page: 2127

Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - Mr President,the Senate is resuming the debate on the Australian Development Assistance Agency Bill. As the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) said in his second reading speech, the Bill was passed by the House of Representatives in the last Parliament. I think that we are all aware that it was the subject of some questions during the Estimates Committee examination of the Department of Foreign Affairs. In reply to my question during those hearings the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) indicated something of the nature of the Bill and the reasons for submitting the Bill and establishing the agency.

The Minister for the Media introduced the Australian Development Assistance Agency Bill and delivered his second reading speech. During the course of his second reading speech he pointed out that the purpose of the Bill was to establish an Australian Development Assistance Agency to administer the provision by Australia of aid for developing countries and to advise the Minister and the Government on matters relating to aid. He also indicated to us that the Minister for Foreign Affairs would be responsible for the Agency. He said also that in his view it was gratifying to note that the Bill received the support of both sides of the House and more generally in the community. It is true to say that the Bill is receiving the support of this side of the chamber. Such a Bill and such an Agency would have a certain amount of attraction for those people in our community who think about international aid at all. I think it should be pointed out to the Minister that, while there is acceptance of the Bill, there is also a considerable amount of questioning, a considerable amount of doubt and, perhaps even in some quarters, a little disquiet in relation to the establishment of such an Agency.

During the course of his speech the Minister advised that the Government had decided that some improvement should be effected in almost all aspects of its aid program- in the machinery for formulating policy, in ensuring greater attention to the welfare and distributive effects of Australia's aid, in evaluating the effectiveness of our various programs, in bringing greater expertise into staffing arrangements and in more directly associating the community with the Government's aid efforts. That is a very plausible series of phrases. To me it indicates that the Government is entrusting this most vital economic, educational and humanitarian outreach of foreign policy to this Agency. I suppose that the establishment of the Australian Development Assistance Agency is the first major innovation of the Labor Government in the handling of the Australian aid program. It should be emphasised that the aid program evolved during the course of 2 decades of the previous Liberal-Country Party Government.

When we look at the Bill and the functions of the Agency, it is very important that the setting up of the Agency be examined not merely in terms of some changes that might be envisaged or involved but rather in terms of whether the existence of a separate agency will lead to a better projection of the development issue. It is extremely significant to draw attention to this matter because if Australia's international aid and foreign policy are to have any relationship, one with the other, we need to examine whether the existence of a separate agency will relate to the formulation of Australian foreign policy. This must lead to a more effective implementation of our efforts to come to grips with the most serious issue in international relationships today. We know the problems of underdevelopment. We have referred to them already many times in the Senate. They have been greatly exacerbated by the energy crisis and the deteriorating world monetary situation. Because underdeveloped countries are afflicted with these conditions they deserve a great deal more of our attention.

A structural change in the administration of aid, even if it involves an increase in staff from 145 which was the number of staff of the Office of the Agency, as it was previously called, to the present level of 477, will be of little benefit if it does not result in our gaining a better understanding of the issues of great significance to Australia because we are the only richly developed country located near South and South East Asia. We need to examine the functions of this Agency to see whether it will make for better application of our resources to help deal with this most dangerous and most difficult problem. The Minister's speech, in which he outlined the function of the Agency, was noted not perhaps for what it said but for some of the things it did not say. The concept of an agency sounds well. The Bill will not be opposed. I have a concern as to how the Agency will work. There are questions in my mind regarding co-ordination, consultation and effectiveness as far as international aid is concerned.

It could be argued that the Agency with its much greater human resources would seem to be in a very much better position to administer our present aid programs and, more especially, our future aid programs, than was its modestly staffed predecessor. But it is not yet clear to me whether the Australian Development Assistance Agency will be able more effectively, as I have said, to project an understanding of developmental issues in their broadest context into our foreign policy formulation. A separate agency has an advantage in that it will undoubtedly enable the appointed director-general to have greater independence of action, and the professional staff which will be attached to him to have wider career and personal opportunity. But I point out that in a large structure- a bureaucratic structure, if you like- a division of responsibility and authority can and sometimes does weaken this co-ordination, co-operation and consultation to which I referred earlier.

I believe that is was clearly necessary to strengthen and promote the level of our aid administration. But I also argue that if the aid branch had been elevated into a division within the Department of Foreign Affairs, as an alternative to the establishment of this Agency about which we are speaking today, this injection of development considerations- and these are the important matters about which we are concerned this afternoon- into the formulation of foreign policy might well have been simpler, easier to administer, and perhaps more effective. The relationship between development assistance and the formulation and sustaining of foreign policy is very important. Of course, there is much more to our foreign relations than involvement in programs of development strategy. Foreign policy, foreign relationship, is a wide ranging discipline and it has many facets to it. But if one takes the long range view I submit to the Senate today that there are few other single issues that are more important or indeed more significant than development aid and other aid in their total dimension and application. So the Agency which is outlined in the Bill takes on a particular relevance and we are concerned with its effectiveness.

I have been interested to study very briefly the experiences of nations with separate aid agencies, such as the the one which we are considering today. Canada is one such country, and Sweden is another. From my general reading of the experiences of those countries, there is a suggestion that the role of these agencies to which I have referred tends to be confined to the administration of aid programs rather than the working out of overall policies of development for and by the countries concerned. The Swedish agency is almost solely concerned with aid administration and with development policies that have been worked out by a development aid section within the Swedish Department of Foreign Affairs and headed by a senior ranking diplomat. It could well be argued- and I would be prepared to accept the fact- that it might suit countries such as Canada and Sweden to work in this way. After all, they are much more remote from the developing areas than is Australia.

For Australia the development question has a regional significance which calls for a greater involvement on our part. Australia is located on the periphery of South Asia and South East Asia, the region where the world's greatest area of need exists, where the greatest concentration of population is and where there are the most complex development problems of any part of the world. These problems are serious and unfortunately they grow worse every day. What is more, it is pertinent to observe that Asian nations on the whole are more conscious of Australia's proximity and relationship. They are conscious of our prosperity and our well-being and people from many of them, as we all know, have seen this at first hand. Asian nations are much more conscious of our conditions than of the conditions in countries that are relatively remote. They are more conscious of our place as a donor country than of the positions of remote donor countries. Asian people undoubtedly see Australia as one whose conditions contrast sharply with their conditions in many respects.

Speaking generally, we could describe ourselves as a prosperous country, while the Asian nations are poor countries. Australia is sparsely populated while many Asian countries are subjected to the most intense pressures that arise from large and fast growing populations. We have the advantage of being rich in food and other resources which most Asian nations sadly lack. The economic difficulties that Australia is undergoing at the present time, serious though they may be, probably attract little sympathy from people in South Asia and South East Asia, most of whom are being forced, as a result of economic difficulties at an international level, to give up absolutely any idea of some slight improvement occurring in their already depressingly low living standards. They can only look forward to the prospect of abject poverty with little hope of any relief. The diminishing hopes of the millions of people in the developing countries present, as the Senate well knows, a fertile ground for discontent and instability.

So if one looks at Australia's external relations, one sees that the development problem transcends any problems that we might have in State to State relationships. It seems unlikely that we can attain a permanent condition of what I will call regional security until we have come to grips one way or another with this essential issue of the development problems. We have to come to grips with it not as a cause for international charity but as a challenge to Australian diplomacy, ingenuity and compassion. This challenge exists. As I read the Bill and the Minister's second reading speech I think that the establishment of the Australian Development Assistance Agency will not in itself meet the challenge. Its effectiveness will depend on a number of other factors. It will depend upon Government resolve in this very important area of Government policy. In particular, it will depend upon the Government's recognition of the fact that considerations of the development issue, as I said earlier, should pervade all of the foreign policy planning.

All of this leads me to contemplate the role and influence of the proposed Agency on our total foreign policy. The Agency is being established as a statutory authority. It will have a certain part to play. It will have certain responsibilities to maintain. It will be responsible to the Minister. Various clauses within the Bill define the Minister's relationship to the Agency. As the Minister said in his second reading speech, the

Agency will be responsible for giving advice in a wide range of areas. This leads me to inquire as to how far and how influential the Agency will be in formulating the Australian foreign policy program. One area in which it seems that the agency may have some responsibility came up for discussion in the deliberations of Senate Estimates Committee B, and it was raised again during question time this afternoon. It relates to the line in the estimates which refers to the allocation of $150,000 for the liberation movement in Africa. In the reply which the Minister gave in the hearings before the Senate Estimates Committee he pointed out a wide range of activities for which this money was being provided and emphasised that all of these activities were of a humanitarian nature. The Minister was questioned in relation to this, and he repeated that the activities have to be of a humanitarian nature and that the money cannot be used in any way in the struggles of the other side.

The Minister gave further details today in an answer to a question. I acknowledge the details of the Minister's reply, and certainly I am not one to question the giving of aid, especially when it is for humanitarian purposes. However, I have some doubts and questioning in my mind when sums of money are provided under the terms of international aid and which can be used for what are called national liberation movements which could have a strong relationship with organisations of a terrorist or guerrilla nature. It could well be that national liberation movements of varying kinds arise in our part of the world. A situation acutely difficult for the Australian Government of the day and acutely dangerous for the Australian nation could develop. I suppose it is very proper that we should have measures of concern and sympathy for people in various countries who, for one reason or another, would seem as far as we can interpret it to be under persecution or downtrodden; but I raise in my mind the matter of whether giving aid, however small and symbolic, to organisations that are prepared to use terror for their purposes against a sovereign state, and especially organisations that have international links, might be an ill advised step. An Australian government should give this sort of step very serious consideration before embarking upon it, for once having embarked upon it it is aligning itself with that kind of activity within international affairs and is writing into its foreign policy that kind of procedure and behaviour.

What is the relationship of the new agency to steps of this kind, for the $150,000 set out in Budget Paper No. 9 is a program of aid? Will the new agency when it is established recommend to the Minister of the day that aid be given to liberation movements in this, that or another country? What will be the response of the Minister? Will the Minister invite the agency to undertake research or inquiry into various countries where he feels that there might be some national liberation movement which is in sympathy with the government's various political philosophies and then decide to give it some aid for what might be called humanitarian purposes but without too much difficulty can be related, one way or another, to purposes with which the Australian community may have some serious disagreement? These problems arise in my mind as I survey the Bill and the Minister's second reading speech. In the nature of politics, international aid and Australian aid programs there is a practical limit to the resources that Australia can place at the disposal of developing countries. One cannot question the priority order of our present level of aid. Clearly we have a responsibility to Papua New Guinea and our present level of assistance there must continue for some time. As I indicated earlier, because of our geographic situation much of our development assistance and of our foreign policy relations through development assistance must be concentrated on our near Asian and Pacific neighbours. But the matter of actual aid giving is only one facet of the development problem. Other areas in which we in Australia can play a part include the search for better regional security so that the developing countries can spend less as costly defence expenditure.

It is generally acknowledged that the success of development plans depends in the final analysis on the developing nations themselves. It is true that we receive in this country a great deal of comment from the citizens to the effect that a lot of effort and money is dissipated in most developing countries. There are charges of corruption and weakness within their structure of administration and these are unpleasant facts which I fear, for the present, we must accept because they are in themselves symptoms of underdeveloped countries. While on the one hand we could press for the most effective use of our development assistance we need to recognise that by the very nature of the problem some loss and some problems are inevitable. This highlights again the responsibility of the agency which is the subject of the Bill today. It has had the vitally important task of looking very seriously at projects and limiting the loss as much as possible.

However, I think we have to recognise that this is one of the hazards of our involvement as a donor nation and as a nation of some affluence which is placed alongside countries in very real need. There will be some loss and some maladministration of which we do not approve and it must be the constant resolve of the agency to establish such facilities as will provide for better administration of the funds sent to receiving countries. Edwin Martin, former Chairman of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, is a man who devoted a great number of years and talents to the matter of development co-operation. He has been quoted many times in relation to this matter. A few months ago he said:

The lack of full commitment to development co-operation represents, in my view, the real and critical crisis of development, though one not widely accepted as such in developed countries. If we are to have any hope of building a world in which lack of resources does not prevent any person from having a decent minimum of opportunities, we must all give development a higher priority. Donors must make more aid available and a more flexible criteria and they must take bold initiatives with respect to trade opportunities.

Another person involved in the international aid situation is Robert McNamara. In speaking to the World Bank Group only a month ago, referring to the responsibility of the affluent countries, he said:

The basic problem, then, is a philosophical one- a problem of values. Will 1974 be best represented as the year that prices exploded? Or will it, perhaps, be better remembered in the longer perspective of history as the year when the word 'interdependent' stopped being rhetoric and started being reality? One thing is certain: the development task has not diminished. It has only become more urgent. The responsiblity of us all is to get on with it.

I hope that the agency which is the subject of the Bill brought forward by the Government today will get on with it and will through its own departments and instrumentalities make an opportunity for Australia to play a better and more effective part in the total development of the world that is immediately around us. While the Government can and must do a great deal in the field of international aid it must never lose sight of the fact that a vast sum of money goes every year in international aid from the voluntary agencies. While the Bill may make provision for representatives of voluntary agencies on the board I hope that the agency in its examination of Australia's resources which can be applied to international aid will report to the Minister on the work of the voluntary organisations and on the sacrifices of a great number of people in a wide range of organisations, including churches. I hope that the Minister will persuade the Government to provide a greater opportunity and incentive for more people to have this kind of involvement. In speaking on another Bill of this kind a couple of weeks ago I drew attention to the importance of creating a community awareness of this very important and urgent but difficult area of government and international operations. If foreign policy is to be anything at all, the matter of international development must project itself into foreign policy.

Though I support the Bill and commend it, I ask the Minister and the Government to take into account the fact that there are doubts in the minds of people, there are unanswered questions in the Bill and there is the relationship between aid and foreign policy. If aid is to be any success at all, the Government must take into account the national reaction to its foreign policy. I hope that the Agency will not become top heavy, that it will not be weighted down with a great Public Service, so that its movement and its operations are choked. I hope that it will not only provide for the receiving nations greater opportunities but also provide an awareness for the Australian people of the opportunities we have and the responsibilities we hold.

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