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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 1

Senator STEPHENS (12:31 PM) —When this debate was adjourned last night, I was talking about the importance of ensuring that the Appropriation (Tsunami Financial Assistance and Australia-Indonesia Partnership) Bill 2004-2005 is not seen to be putting the welfare of large corporations above the welfare of poor Indonesians. I know that this was not what ordinary Australians wanted when they dug so deep to provide financial assistance. In fact, what Australians want in this process is to ensure that proper procedures are put in place regarding procurement, auditing, reporting and pay standards. They want reconstruction programs that put money into the pockets of the people who are left without a source of income, such as cash-for-work programs. But credit and microfinance are also important for the thousands of small businesses with no access to the formal banking sector that must access credit through development banks and microfinance institutions. The government should be under no illusion that Australians have lost interest in the plight of the Indonesians or that, knowing the government has pledged a billion dollars in aid, they have handed over responsibility.

We are all aware of local efforts, and I would like to mention some local contributions to the relief effort of which I have been aware. All members and senators have received an email from Senator Marise Payne, as convenor of the Australian Parliamentary Association of UNICEF, seeking support for the ‘School in a box’ program. I contacted schools in Goulburn about the program and encouraged them to participate. I am very proud that the Trinity Catholic College students collected more that $1,400 in that effort. In another fantastic effort, St Joseph’s Primary School at North Goulburn—a wonderful parish school—had a gold coin collection and raised almost $600.

Individuals, too, have made their mark. John Crooks, a dedicated funeral director from Goulburn, visited Aceh to share his expertise. Jack Saeck lent his support to Father Riley’s orphanage project. Tony Flynn, a local potter and materials scientist at the ANU, has invented an ingenious water filtration system—perfect for conditions in Indonesia. What makes this water filter ingenious is that it is based on a handful of clay, yesterday’s coffee grounds and some cow manure. It is simple, new technology that allows water filters to be made from commonly available materials and fired on the ground using cow manure as the source of heat without the need for kilns. The filters have been tested and shown to remove common pathogens, including E. coli. They are simple and inexpensive to make. As Tony Flynn says:

They are very simple to explain and demonstrate and can be made by anyone, anywhere. They don’t require any Western technology. All you need is terracotta clay, a compliant cow and a match.

The ACTU is also committed to ensuring that aid goes directly to the devastated communities so that reconstruction can take place in a genuine partnership arrangement. The ACTU’s overseas aid arm, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, worked closely with the Indonesian branch of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Associations, the IUF, to send teams of volunteer doctors, nurses, paramedics and engineers from IUF-affiliated unions to Meulaboh, formerly a city of 78,000 people on the west coast of Aceh. APHEDA is also exploring options for a longer term development program through vocational skills training and capacity building for local community organisations.

Given the reality of all these people’s efforts, they deserve to know where and how Australia’s aid money is being spent and to be reassured that there are checks and balances in place to deter opportunistic profiteering. It is no mere quibble to ask for the transparency and wider publicity of the aid budget when the Australian aid budget funds the dispatch of troops for security overseas—for example, in the Solomons—and the salaries of Australia’s Federal Police occupying senior positions in the state bureaucracies of PNG. Money spent offshore persecuting asylum seekers also figures in Australia’s aid budget, as does money for rebuilding Iraq. So, when we are considering the distribution of the enormous current aid package to Indonesia, the Australian taxpayer has a right to be kept fully informed about how the funding is allocated.

We need to be extremely vigilant about the role played by our military assistance. We must not forget that Australian military personnel in Aceh for humanitarian purposes—those unarmed engineers and medical staff who are helping out—are nevertheless a military presence. We need to remember that and ensure that an unwanted effect of the tsunami disaster is not a strengthening of Australia’s military presence in Indonesia. It would be a bitter irony indeed if by administering aid in this form, we actually contributed to the dependence of the people of Aceh rather than fostering their independence and freedom.

Labor support the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development in principle. However, we also wait with interest for more details from the government on how the partnership will be established. Who will represent both Australia and Indonesia on the partnership? How will decisions about funding be made? Labor, like all Australians, are anxious to hear that an administration framework will be established which will ensure participation, fairness, effectiveness, integrity, accountability and transparency to the parliament and the people of Australia. I commend the bill to the Senate.