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Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Strategic effectiveness and outcomes of Australia's aid program in the Indo-Pacific

CRILLEY, Sister Lynne, Member, Inter-Congregational Voice on Climate Change and the Pacific Islands

RUFF, Sister Janice, Member, Inter-Congregational Voice on Climate Change and the Pacific Islands

TIIMON CHI-FANG, Mrs Maria, Pacific Outreach Officer, Inter-Congregational Voice on Climate Change and the Pacific Islands

CHAIR: I reconvene the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee's public hearing for our inquiry into the effectiveness of and sustainability within our aid program. I now welcome representatives from the Inter-Congregational Voice on Climate Change and the Pacific Islands. Thank you very much for your time and evidence and for coming here today. I understand this is your first time. It's great to have you here today, and thank you very much for your submission, as well as for your interest in this inquiry. Witnesses, do you have any additional comments to make on the capacity in which y appear today?

Sister Crilley : I am a Presentation Sister. I represent the Presentation Sisters on the Inter-Congregational Voice on Climate Change and the Pacific Islands.

Sister Ruff : I am a Marist Missionary Sister. I represent the Marist Missionary Sisters on the Inter-Congregational Voice on Climate Change and the Pacific Islands.

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : [non-English language not transcribed] I am the Pacific Outreach Officer for the Marist association of family.

CHAIR: I now invite you to make a brief opening statement. That will then be followed by questions from the committee.

Sister Crilley : I'm just going to read a statement. The Inter-Congregational Voice on Climate Change and the Pacific Islands welcomes this opportunity to address the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee. We are a group of Catholic religious congregations with historical and ongoing involvement among peoples in Pacific island nations. Our works are in the areas of education, health, community development and climate justice. We have joined together to amplify the voices of people who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Many of our members have witnessed and felt the pain of the impacts of climate change on the people's everyday lives: their health, the threats to their traditional lifestyles and their fears for the future.

For many years, Pacific island nations have been asking industrialised nations to mitigate climate change and recognise their vulnerability, and their representatives have attended United Nations climate conferences. They were in Paris in 2015, and Maria would have been there. Two Australian government documents—one is Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty, enhancing stability, and the other one is Making performance count: enhancing the accountability and effectiveness of Australian aid—make no mention of climate change in identifying key targets for the aid program. You've got 10 targets in our submission. We do note, however, that, in relation to its commitment to the UN sustainable development goals, the federal government has, as one of its targets for goal 13, which is about taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, promoting mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change related planning in least developed countries and small-island developing states—so there is a commitment there—including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalised communities. We would just like to draw your attention to this commitment.

Climate change has an impact on everyday lives, food supply and food security. Fresh water for drinking and cooking become scarce with salinity caused by rising sea levels. Undernourishment and diseases caused by contaminated water become major health risks. We note that empowering women and girls is one of the 10 key targets of Australia's aid program, but loss of normal ways of living, for example, food and healthy water supply, means that women will now spend more time on those activities rather than having time to access education, employment and community leadership roles.

We also highlight that the Paris agreement and the Warsaw international mechanism on loss and damage aims to assist vulnerable countries cope with the adverse effects of extreme weather and the slow onset events such as sea level rise. We are concerned that Australia is reluctant to be involved with meaningful loss and damage finance.

We acknowledge that the Australian overseas aid projects continue to provide important infrastructure for the peoples of the Pacific, and we would like to suggest that Australian aid be increased from the present 0.25 per cent to 0.7 per cent and not be decreased. We also ask the committee to recommend aid projects be developed in consultation with local communities and that their needs and points of view be listened to with an open mind. We consider this important for the ongoing maintenance of projects and the skills acquired when people are part of the decision-making for their own communities.

In conclusion, just as Catholic religious congregations are there, with members on the ground in the Pacific Islands—people who, as I've said, live and work amongst Pacific Islanders—and are conscious of the impacts of climate change on everyday lives, we particularly ask the committee to take into account that the causes and effects of climate change should be key to Australia's foreign aid program. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any further opening statements to add to that? Would you like to add anything to that? It's fine not to, if you don't want to, as well.

Sister Ruff : I would just like to add that we would like to thank you for spending the winter break doing this job and that we recognise there's always a tension between the inanimate dollar, where there needs to be efficient use, measured outcomes and results, and the human face of the Pacific, where relationships are paramount. They are the relationships of the people and especially the people with their land.

CHAIR: Thank you. Would you like to add anything further?

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : No, thank you.

CHAIR: I'll start with an initial question and then I'll open up to the deputy chair and then other members of the subcommittee for further questions. You may have some questions as well. Firstly, what should the new measures for Australia's aid policy be, now that nine out of the 10 original targets have been reached? What is your view as to that, particularly in line with, for example, the Sustainable Development Goals. Where do you think we should be aligned in our aid program? Where do you think within our aid program we should be targeting those dollars, as you mentioned before?

Sister Crilley : I will start by saying that they should be targeted to local communities, local people. Go and talk to the elders or the leaders in the communities and find out what it is that they need, because it's their culture and their land. We've experienced this with our sisters in Papua New Guinea where, if you've got the white skins or the Western mind coming in, we're not always on the right page, as it were, in terms of what the locals really need, because they know but we think we do. From my perspective, the most important thing is to go and listen to the people and find out what it is that they need, understanding that the Australian dollar is always going to be part of that equation. I think that would help maintenance, because I think that with a lot of the aid projects, particularly the ones that I'm aware of in PNG, if the locals aren't on board then some of the maintenance just never happens and some of the places like roads and hospitals can just fall into total disrepair.

CHAIR: I went to many villages in Papua New Guinea nearly 10 years ago, and around the edge of one particular village, which was a coastal village, there was a cemetery, and about a quarter of the cemetery had actually dropped off into the ocean. The locals were obviously acknowledging their ancestors and so forth in that cemetery, so it was quite devastating for them that that was occurring. What do you think we should be doing? Do you think we need to be investing further in funds to mitigate changes to climate that may result in situations like that in communities, whether it's that or any other issues such as a rise in salinity levels and so forth associated with sea level rises, land drops or a combination of the two? Sorry, it's a very broad question.

Sister Ruff : I've worked in Kiribati, Bougainville and East New Britain. They're very different. You've got your coral atolls. But the thing that always struck me was that, even though I'd worked there for a long time, I was never going to have the same mindset as the people. I don't have the same connection with the land. With the money that comes into the Pacific, we talk about climate resilience. It doesn't filter down to the ordinary people. For example, in the Carterets the salinity problem now is just terrible and the people have been relocated at least twice, but they go back. It would seem to me that what we're doing is putting bandaids on the issue. It's almost like treating a cancer with bandaids and Panadol when we're not looking at the root cause of the problem. I noted somewhere that the government is giving $2 billion over a four-year period for aid in the Pacific but at the same time is spending something like $5 billion on fossil fuel industries. So that kind of negates things somewhat

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator GALLACHER: We're well used to having submissions from faith based organisations. ACRATH is one that comes to mind, and they certainly were no shrinking violets in their lived experience and their evidence. I think that's the powerful thing that your group brings: you have lived experience. So don't be frightened about getting that on the record, because we have plenty of experts who've never been there, like me. I'm not experienced in the same way as you are. So what is the missing cog here? What should we be doing—if you have a clear and succinct view of that—in any program or in any locality?

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : I don't know if it's going to answer your question, but as a Pacific islander I know that, although sometimes we talk about Australia and migration, the people in the Pacific islands, especially where I come from, Kiribati, don't want to move—like my dad. He said to me, 'I will never move off Kiribati; I'd rather die here.' I think, when we talk about climate change loss and damage, it's not an issue for us; it's all about other people. I strongly feel that, morally, loss and damage need to be properly funded.

Australia is one of the rich countries, and it's just next door to the Pacific islands. I feel that a rich country like Australia needs to show solidarity with poorer countries like Kiribati and Tuvalu. I have a strong connection with people from Germany, and I think Germany is doing far better on that than Australia. I'm sorry to say that, but I think Australia can do that also. Thank you very much for the continuous support for Pacific islanders, but I think we need Australia to do more on the ground with the people in the Pacific.

When we talk about loss and damage, we're talking about not just the lands and homes that have been destroyed and lost because of rising sea levels but also human beings, the people, and our culture and our identity—everything. As I said, we appreciate the aid from the Australian government, but I think it needs to be done in the right way. I see a lot of water tanks in Kiribati, and they are not being done properly, and, when they break down, there's no funding to maintain them. Maybe we say, 'That's your problem, Kiribati.' But Kiribati is one of the poorest countries, and it cannot afford to maintain those things. I think Australia needs to look into the projects and the programs that it is doing in the Pacific and do them properly. It's not just about helping the community; it's also about how you make use of the money that you're spending on the people.

Senator GALLACHER: In the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, we just concluded an inquiry into Defence's preparedness for dealing with climate change. The report has just been released. It was a very interesting report, in that there was a lot of thinking going into how Defence positioned itself in terms of cyclones, hurricanes and all sorts of disasters in the Pacific—which it responds to very well—and there was a lot of thinking going into the incidence and frequency of them. I agree with you that, in the foreign aid space, you can't actually see a component of climate change preparedness and what we're doing with our aid dollar to make that better. Is that your view?

Sister Crilley : Yes, that would certainly be my view.

Sister Ruff : Yes.

Sister Crilley : Yes. We do have a good record of going to the Solomons and going to different places after the cyclones but—

Senator GALLACHER: A bit of early prevention might be in order.

Sister Crilley : Yes. It's possibly for people other than me, with other expertise, to work out how to do the prevention—engineers and people like that. I don't know.

Ms CLAYDON: Thank you very much for your evidence this morning. I want to do a follow-up question to you, Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang. I'm just wondering how you think we can best direct our aid to Kiribati, for example, where your father doesn't want to leave his country. I expect there are a lot of people who feel that way. So he's not going to be so interested in one of the other recommendations you make, which is about new, expanded migration access. I'm wondering how we best do that support. You're pointing to some inefficiencies in water tank programs, so obviously that's not one way we would want to continue to work.

In part of your submission you request that there be a separation of the moneys for Australia's efforts towards climate change finance and adaptation out from the ordinary overseas development assistance budget. I'm wondering if you could just talk to us about how we might better support your father and many other people like him, and why you think we need a separate bucket of funding to deal with the climate change issues.

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : Thank you very much. I think it's very important that we separate those funds. To be honest, my knowledge on aid is a bit limited, but I know that the Australian aid has been cut down. To me there's no point in saying, 'We are giving you this aid for education, but somehow we are taking it from the other end.' It's like not knowing what the right hand is doing. So we recommend separating those funds. We have a lot of young people who are so smart. With education in Kiribati, a lot of young people want to study, but they cannot afford it. Maybe those funds can go to those young people so that, if in the future they want to move, they have the skills and they are ready to move with their skills. There should also be funding for aid to support the people in the community who don't want to move so that it's sort of balanced—do you know what I mean? Maybe other people like my dad don't want to move, and there are those who want to move. If they are well educated because the funding goes right to education, what I'm trying to say is that it's a win-win situation for those who are educated. If they don't want to move, they will contribute a lot to the country. If they want to move, they are not going to come to Australia as burdens but they will come with the skills that they already have.

Ms CLAYDON: What does your father require in order to be able to remain?

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : I beg your pardon?

Ms CLAYDON: What is it that your father and many others like him would require to remain and be able to sustain themselves in their homelands?

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : With adaptation, the people are trying, like my family and my friends. They are trying to build up sea walls and that, but again they cannot afford to buy cement. So we need a lot of aid on infrastructure to build around their homes—the houses for the people—and also for adaptation and mitigation. We really need for those rich countries to cut down their greenhouse gas emissions so that the most vulnerable people, the poor people, can stay in their homes in the country that they love. They don't want to move, like my dad.

Ms CLAYDON: Does anyone else wish to contribute to that? No? That's fine. Thank you.

Senator MOORE: Thank you for your submission and the evidence you've given. It seems to me that the focus you want is more profile about climate change in the departmental policy. That's the thrust of it. Certainly the white paper does have targets, including about climate change, but you don't think that the other areas give it enough profile. Is that right?

Sister Crilley : Do you mean the 10 key targets?

Senator MOORE: Yes, and also some of the things in the rest of the submissions. You acknowledge that there has been expenditure by government in this space, but you don't think it's adequate and you don't think it's got enough of a priority.

Sister Crilley : Yes, and neither is it consultative enough in terms of the sorts of things that I think that Maria is saying around the whole area of what it is that families need if they do want to stay there—so building the sea walls and—

Senator MOORE: That's very much a location-by-location issue.

Sister Crilley : Yes.

Senator MOORE: I know that DFAT will be reading the submissions, and the issues that you're raising will go back into their group, but we'll pass that on as well. I'm particularly interested in the strengthening ODA element, with the very practical suggestions about on-the-ground work that should be done and the things that should be there. I genuinely don't know what the current situation is with those very basic things about what kinds of materials are being used and the payment for maintenance, which is a really important issue. So we'll take that to DFAT directly and ask if we can get an answer for you about those things and also about, in Kiribati, working directly with the local embassy there, with that local knowledge about what programs they have in place. When I was lucky enough to be there last year, that was certainly something that was on the agenda—working locally with communities about the best way to respond to what they identify as their needs. So we'll make sure that that's taken up as well.

Can I get some ideas—in terms of the process and the practical stuff—about the really positive story you told about the PNG experience with Arop village. It said there that that was completely privately funded and there was no support by government.

Sister Crilley : No.

Senator MOORE: Can you give me any information about whether there was a request for government support for that?

Sister Crilley : I don't know the answer to that. I'd have to consult.

Senator MOORE: Would you mind finding that out?

Sister Crilley : I can find that out from one of our other sisters who was actually looking after that project.

Senator MOORE: That would be very useful. It's a really positive story about the kinds of things that the community wanted.

Sister Crilley : It was done with the local Catholic Diocese of Aitape and with Caritas up there. I actually don't know, but I can easily find that out.

Senator MOORE: That'd be really useful, because it seems to me that that's the crux of the process. This was a community need that was identified after a really serious crisis in that space.

Sister Crilley : Yes.

Senator MOORE: And something happened, but there was no government funding to support that.

Sister Crilley : No.

Senator MOORE: So can you find out whether that was requested, and we'll ask as well. That was kind of the highlight about trying to respond to local community. They got the effective set-up of the tanks, and also they could continue to live in an area where they wanted to live, not in one that was completely inappropriate. We're a little bit sensitive at the moment about malaria and all those issues, because the big conference is in Melbourne this week, and the new village in a swampy area kind of raised all my worries about swampy areas and people living in them with the issues, particularly in New Guinea, around malaria. So thank you for providing that case study, but, if we can find out a little bit more about that, that would be useful.

Sister Crilley : What's the process?

Senator MOORE: Just get back to the secretariat, the same way you put your submission in. We'll follow up with the department as well.

Sister Crilley : I can, yes.

Senator MOORE: That would be great.

CHAIR: I have a further question, and then I'll pass to other members. The aid budget in total for the Pacific from 2017-18 to this financial year, 2018-19, is increasing from $1.1 billion to about $1.3 billion, so there's an extra $200 million there in aid for the Pacific. Where do you think that extra $200 million should optimally be spent in terms of the actions you are looking at?

Sister Crilley : I will just say generally on mitigating the effects of climate change with some of those practical things that Maria spoke about. Have you got other ideas?

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : Adaptation, yes.

CHAIR: Do you think there needs to be further research from that funding into what are likely to be future effects on the islands as a result of changes to climate that helps those countries to plan for the future with respect to, for example, seawalls or other mitigating factors—research in relation to the future impacts that could potentially result in changes to, for example, sea level rises and so forth that could then help future planning for Pacific island nations such as Kiribati? Do you think there should be more of the extra funding towards research into future impacts as a result of changing climate to Pacific island nations such as Kiribati so there can be future planning from leaders within those nations instead of being faced with something that comes up within a year that they have to resolve very quickly with a lot of money?

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : We need those people to do this research and all of that and we also need people to be well trained. We have people coming from overseas like New Zealand and Australia not to work for the people but to train the people so that, in the future, when things are not breaking down sea walls or anything, the local community will be able to do it themselves.

CHAIR: Given, for example, recently discovered active volcanoes under rapidly-vanishing glaciers in Antarctica, which is predicted to potentially result in further increases to sea level rises, do you think there should be further research put into looking at volcanic activity in Antarctica so we can predict what impacts those effects might contribute towards sea level rises and so you can also look at potential future impacts?

Sister Ruff : I have not heard anything about the volcanoes under Antarctica. I would say that we keep sidestepping the elephant in the room, which is the coal-powered industries.

CHAIR: Obviously there are the human-induced factors to climate change, but there are the natural factors as well such as solar activity, volcanic activity and other factors that we should also be looking into in our future planning as well so we can accurately predict what might, for example, be sea level rises so people can plan. So should there be concurrent investment into looking at the effects of not only human-induced climate change but also naturally induced climate change so we can better plan for adaptation into the future?

Sister Ruff : I would probably agree with that, yes. I would see that education throughout the Pacific is also an important factor.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : Natural disasters in the Pacific are common, but we are getting more of them because of climate change, so I think we also need the power of research into that. As we are talking right now, there is another cyclone going on in Samoa. We are getting more regular cyclones and natural disasters because of climate change. It's exacerbating the issue in the Pacific.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Moore?

Senator MOORE: Have you had a chance to meet with DFAT and talk with them about your concerns?

Sister Crilley : No. This is the first time.

Senator MOORE: You've broken the ice now, so maybe you should write to DFAT and explain who you are, that you have given evidence and that you would really like to talk with someone about your concerns. It might be a way of progressing. They may then be able to answer some of those questions about exactly what those programs entail, your concerns about maintenance and how you can raise that at the local level. I think it's always important to try to do that. When you've done all the work to research like this—

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : Our team just came back from Kiribati, and some of us did talk with the Australian High Commission in Kiribati. If I remember correctly, there's funding for water tanks but no real funding to maintain those.

Senator MOORE: They need to know the impact of that and also, from your perspective and your family's perspective, what that means. Those are all very well; I saw water tanks everywhere, and I had no idea that there was no funding for maintenance. Please take that appropriate and follow up with them.

Senator GALLACHER: Your colleagues at ACRATH are very good at it, so take one of them along and have them bash the door down for you.

Sister Crilley : ACRATH goes to Canberra once a year for a week. Are you suggesting that we need to use that sort of process that they use where they actually arrange to go? I know that they sort out who they are going to speak to—the members of staff and all that—and have it all planned before they go.

Senator MOORE: That's a really good model and that's what Maria was doing when she came as well. I think it also needs that direct approach to the department to say that you're concerned about Australia's aid and these are the issues that are important to you. You do that, but I also think that, with the credibility that you have and the networks that you have all across the country, you could do the individual lobbying technique that ACRATH do as well. It's a lot of work, but the know that better than us. So have a talk with them and see whether you could have a similar model. A lot of organisations do that.

CHAIR: Mrs Tiimon Chi-Feng, I believe you have a document you wish to table.

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : If you don't mind, I want to give you this. It is for those who have not appeared. These are the real impacts of climate change in Kiribati.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator MOORE: Do you want us to keep those for the record?

Mrs Tiimon Chi-Fang : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for preparing this.

Senator MOORE: Chair, I move that we accept those as tabled documents.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Moore. Deputy Chair, you were going to add?

Senator GALLACHER: No, I'm just saying to keep up the good work and not to be bashful.

Sister Crilley : Can we go back a bit? What's the process? I know I can go talk to people from ACRATH. Is that the best place to start, or do we just write to the—

Senator MOORE: Write to DFAT. Another way of doing it is for you to go to your local parliamentarians where you live and get them to write to DFAT for you as well, because that links them into it. You take the local approach in that way. I think that going to individual politicians, meeting them and talking to them like you've done to us today is a very powerful tool It's a very powerful way to get the issue across, and this issue is with us.

Sister Crilley : I know we do need to do the research, but there's also the reality that it's happening now that needs to be listened to as well.

CHAIR: It is multifaceted: prevention, adaptation, future research. Are there any further questions from committee members? If not, thank you very much for your evidence and your submission. I note that you will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence for review. I also thank you for your passion not only for the Pacific islands but for these issues as well and for the time you take as individuals and volunteers, putting your personal passions to use in helping to advocate and resolve some of these important issues. Thank you very much.

Proceedings suspended from 14:25 to 14:48