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Thursday, 14 May 2020
Page: 2467

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (13:48): As we discuss this bill, I want to highlight the critical role multilateral organisations play right around the world and the importance of Australia's commitment to those organisations. In the current context of COVID-19 the role of international cooperation and strong global institutions should not be underplayed or underestimated. In this context, it's pleasing to see that we make critical commitments to multilateral initiatives such as the World Bank, the International Development Association, the debt relief program, the Asian Development Bank, the Asian Development Fund, the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund and the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol. These are just some of the multilateral institutions that exist. Some of them, of course, are auspiced by the World Health Organization, by the UN, and others are put together through multilateral aid—such as the Global Vaccine Initiative, or Gavi, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

It is really important to see that global relationships are greatly enhanced through multilateral relationships rather than just nation to nation. Here we have expenditure in the order of $350 million a year, and the bill gives effect to those already budgeted commitments. But I want to put on record that this comes in the context of a cut of $11.8 billion to our international development assistance under the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments over the last few years.

The Australian people think we spend far more than we actually do spend on international aid. Some people think we literally spend 10 per cent of our national budget on foreign aid. We know that that is simply not true. We have a globalised world. As we shut our borders because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must remember that the health and safety of Australians is interwoven with the health and safety of other nations. International development aid is in our national interest. We can and must do more to ensure that we live in a peaceful, stable region and that countries, particularly those nearby in our region, do not sink into instability and chaos. There is drug-resistant tuberculosis coming in and out of Queensland. Even in our most narrow and selfish interest, it is in our interest to do more to support the countries to our north.

Poverty, of course, is a cause of these things. In poor countries with cramped living conditions and inadequate health systems, people are forced to work and, as a result, spread disease because these nations have no social safety net. We've certainly seen examples of that here as well. These are critical issues and highlight why debt relief and the development funds provided by this bill are so incredibly important. We don't want failed states on our doorstep. If you really want to take a hardline argument, foreign aid is cheaper than sending in the military.

Under this government, international development assistance is on track to fall to just 0.19 per cent of gross national income, and that is a disgrace. As I said before, $11.8 billion has been cut from the foreign aid budget. We are now at a record low percentage of GNI, and this is what our Prime Minister and this government are driving us towards. At the very time when we need to be more engaged in our region, we are cutting international development assistance.

These commitments in our ODA program advance Australia's interests and project our values but also tackle global poverty. With climate change, we see an increasing need for humanitarian and aid assistance with rising natural disasters. We need to not just lift our game on mitigation—and, of course, that's a discussion for another day—but invest more in resilience and adaption. These are some of the very things that are funded in the multilateral organisations that we're discussing support for today.

Globally, as commentators have said, we have seen a deteriorating security environment which is challenging for the world. We are also yet to see the full impact of COVID-19 on developing nations. It's a virus that will have been spread around the world in considerable part by holiday-makers—more by wealthy people than by the large demographics of the poor in the developing world. Health systems in the developing world, which will be ill-equipped for this pandemic, have had this disease brought to them.

I want to pay special tribute to two organisations playing an important role in the response to COVID. They are also multilateral agencies like those we are discussing today. The Global Fund is providing a billion dollars in operational flexibility to help countries fight COVID-19. It's shoring up health systems and mitigating impacts on life-saving HIV, TB and malaria programs. Its emergency funding is available through its $500 million COVID response mechanism, and it's looked at how to make its funding more flexible in order to adapt to the COVID crisis. I want to also give a special shout-out to the global vaccine initiative.

I have to say that WHO—the World Health Organization—the global vaccine initiative and the Global Fund have been predicting pandemics for some time and have highlighted, indeed, why these pandemics are now more likely and why we need to be more prepared. I know that this government has attacked the World Health Organization at a difficult time, but it's interesting because a lot of the international agencies have said that countries weren't as ready as we were told to be.

The triggers for a global pandemic include global travel and urbanisation. Climate change also contributes to pandemics. It can affect the spread of disease in a number of ways. It can alter the natural range of disease-carrying insects, like mosquitoes, or bats. So it's important to see that these multilateral bills that we are debating today also include commitments for the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund and the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol. The Special Climate Change Fund supports adaptation and technology transfer in developing countries that are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. So this is about both short- and long-term adaptation goals and things that very much support environmental management in developing nations. The Montreal protocol, of course, is about substances that deplete the ozone layer. International cooperation has seen us take great steps in addressing depletion of the ozone layer, and it's really worth noting that ozone-layer-depleting substances are also greenhouse gases that vastly accelerate climate change.

As these multilateral organisations have also advised, increased human-animal contact is a driver for pandemics, as are health worker shortages. They've highlighted that those shortages are in part through migration, where you see countries like Australia pulling nurses and doctors out of developing nations to offer them employment. I would highlight that this week we have had the International Day of the Nurse. I want to pay tribute to nurses all around the world, particularly those working in challenging circumstances in developing nations.

All of this shows how important global action is to health. In relation to a COVID-19 vaccine, I've been very pleased to see—again through multilateral discussions where international communities come together—$352 million committed to the European led coronavirus vaccine research fund. That money will be spent and coordinated internationally to accelerate the search for a vaccine. We can see those multilateral organisations—the World Health Organization, the global vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations—and pledges from many countries coming together to really make a strong commitment to finding a vaccine for COVID-19. All of this highlights why multilateral cooperation is so critical for Australia's national interests and for everyone around the world. Fifteen million dollars from Australia is going to European research institutes—the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, the Doherty Institute—

Debate interrupted.