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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 6

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (12:53 PM) —I thank all the senators for their contributions to the second reading debate on the Appropriation (Tsunami Financial Assistance and Australia-Indonesia Partnership) Bill 2004-2005 and the Appropriation (Tsunami Financial Assistance) Bill 2004-2005. The Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development has received warm support from ministers in the Indonesian government and has also received widespread recognition within our region. The partnership will not be an ordinary aid program; it will be Australia’s largest ever single bilateral development program. The partnership will be overseen by the Prime Minister and the Indonesian President, with day-to-day responsibility taken by a joint commission of Australian and Indonesian ministers. Australia will be represented by the Treasurer, Mr Costello, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer. Mr Downer will co-chair the inaugural joint commission meeting in Canberra this Thursday, 17 March.

At its first meeting the joint commission will consider a range of issues which will affect the prompt and effective implementation of the partnership so we can begin reconstruction and development as soon as practicable. We envisage that the grants offered under the partnership will be used to assist communities in Indonesia rebuild and re-establish local infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the disaster as well as participate in education and training opportunities. The concessional loans provided through the partnership are aimed at reconstruction, including rehabilitation of major infrastructure.

In order to manage such a large commitment effectively the $1 billion will be appropriated to two special accounts created under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. The relevant instruments issued by my colleague the Minister for Finance and Administration were tabled in this place on Wednesday, 9 March 2005. By using special accounts, the funds will be separated from other aid money and be spent only on the precise purposes for which they have been established. This mechanism also ensures a high degree of transparency and accountability. The Appropriation (Tsunami Financial Assistance and Australia-Indonesia Partnership) Bill 2004-2005 will provide the financial weight to Australia’s partnership commitment. It will assist with the reconstruction and development of Indonesia and further strengthen our bilateral relationship.

The government is proud of the rapid and very effective Australian whole-of-government response in the aftermath of the tsunami. A range of government departments and agencies banded together in an extremely short time frame and under great pressure made a significant contribution to the emergency relief effort. In doing so, however, the government diverted funding from current programs. The Appropriation (Tsunami Financial Assistance) Bill 2004-2005 replaces that funding, requesting a total of $131.4 million in new appropriations. The tsunami financial assistance bills are representative of the obligation that the Australian community feels to assist those Australians immediately affected by the disaster to help neighbours who are in need and to develop a partnership for the future with our Indonesian neighbour.

It is often said that a crisis brings out the best in us all. The compassion and generosity of the Australian public to the tsunami disaster has been magnificent. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, many Australians on holiday in the region gave whatever help they could on the ground. In addition, by 6 January over 2,000 Australians had registered to work overseas and assist with the relief effort. The Australian public has raised over $280 million to assist relief agencies. I think we can confidently say that we have been seeing the best from Australians in their response to this disaster. The Australian community can also be well satisfied that their government responded quickly and comprehensively to the immediate needs of Australians and our neighbours who were directly affected by the tsunami. I am sure that honourable senators will also join me in thanking not only our military and civilian personnel but also those many Australians who volunteered their time and energy for their efforts since the tsunami struck these Indian Ocean communities.

In conclusion, I am pleased to support these bills. We have created this package because it is the right thing to do. To draw from what my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs said in the debate on these bills in the other place last week, it is about the common humanity which has been expressed by all speakers in the debate in this parliament. I commend the bills to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.