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Tuesday, 22 October 1974
Page: 1841

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media)

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to establish the Australian Development Assistance Agency to administer the provision by Australia of aid for developing countries and to advise the Minister on matters relating to aid. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will be responsible for the Agency. Honourable senators will recall that this Bill was passed by the House of Representatives in the second session of the last Parliament. It is gratifying to note that the Bill received support on both sides of the House, and indeed more generally in the community. It was introduced and read for the first time in the Senate on 10 April 1974. There are no changes in the Bill now being reintroduced in this Parliament. The reasons for the Government's decision to unify the administration of Australian aid within a separate statutory corporation were outlined fully by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitiam) when he gave his second reading speech on this Bill in the House on 12 March 1974. This is recorded in Hansard of that date and there is no need for me to go over the same ground in quite the same detail on this occasion. I propose, however, to cover the main points and make one or two additional observations.

Over the years there has been a great increase in the volume and complexity of Australia's development assistance. The Government has decided that it is necessary to consolidate the organisational arrangements which have developed in a largely ad hoc fashion over a quarter of a century since Australia's first involvement in aid as a founder of the Colombo Plan. The solution which was appropriate in 1953-54, to distribute between various departments with related interests the administration of a program of less than $20m in aid, is clearly inappropriate to the complex program of 1974-75 which totals $341m. The government decided that improvements must be effected in almost all aspects of our aid endeavours- in the machinery for formulating policy, in ensuring greater attention to the welfare and distributive effects of our aid, in evaluating the effectiveness of our various programs, in bringing greater expertise into our staffing arrangements and in more directly associating the community with the Government's aid efforts.

Because of the inadequacy of past arrangements, also recognised by the Joint Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee's 1972 inquiry into Australia's foreign aid, the Prime Minister, in March last year, commissioned a task force 'to examine all the options for a unified aid administration to administer all aid including multilateral aid, all bilateral aid and aid to an independent Papua New Guinea'. This task force considered a number of possible structures for aid administration. In the Government's view, the form which will best meet Australia's needs is a statutory corporation, under a Director-General responsible to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Bill now before the Senate is designed to implement these decisions.

Honourable senators will be aware that as an interim measure, pending legislation, and in order to provide continuity in our aid arrangements, an office of the Australian Development Assistance Agency was set up on 1 December last within the Department of Foreign Affairs to bring together existing aid functions previously carried out by a number of departments. The Agency has since been functioning in that form. Mr L. W. Johnson, former Administrator and High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, was appointed on 8th April this year as its DirectorGeneral. Parts I and II of the Bill provide for the establishment of the Agency and set out its functions which are to administer Australia's aid to developing countries and to advise the Minister on these matters. Part III of the Bill provides for the appointment by the Governor-General of a Director-General of the Agency, for a term not exceeding 5 years.

Part IV of the Bill covers the establishment of a Development Assistance Advisory Board, to advise the Minister and the Agency in respect of matters relating to aid to developing countries. The Board will normally include members of the public, the trade unions, the business community and voluntary organisations, in addition to public servants. An interim committee of the Board has been established under the chairmanship of Sir John Crawford and has already done valuable work in clarifying the approach which should be adopted on the complex issues of aid. Part V of the Bill covers staff matters and provides that the permanent staff of the agency shall be public servants. Part VI of the Bill provides for moneys appropriated for aid projects to be paid to a development assistance fund which will be non-lapsing. This will avoid the difficulties which have been encountered in meeting aid commitments and will ensure continuity of aid activities. Part VII of the Bill provides, inter alia, for the Agency to submit an annual report to the Minister for presentation to Parliament and to furnish financial statements to the AuditorGeneral.

In deciding that the Agency should be responsible to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Government has recognised the close connection between aid and foreign policy. Development assistance lies within the framework of Australia's foreign relations and our aid objectives must be consonant with our national policy objectives in our relations with other countries. I attach great importance, therefore, to the establishment and maintenance of a close and effective working relationship between the Agency and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Practical liaison arrangements have already been established between the Agency and the Department to ensure consultation on a day to day basis. Submissions to the Minister on policy and other matters of substance will indicate that such consultation has taken place.

Similarly, aid Agency personnel serving overseas, who will be under the direction of the head of the Australian mission, will have the normal responsibility to keep heads of missions informed of their activities and to consult appropriate mission staff on matters which have foreign policy implications. Heads of mission, or their designates, will be given an opportunity to comment on proposals for new forms of aid or significant modifications to existing aid activities. In addition, the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Renouf, is at present a member of the interim committee of the Development Assistance Advisory Board and will be a member of the Board to be established under this legislation. The Department of Foreign Affairs will also be represented on the interdepartmental committee on external aid, which will ensure the co-ordination of aid policy matters with other areas of Government policy, including our foreign relations.

An important consideration which has influenced the form of this Bill has been the Government's recognition of the growing awareness in our community of Australia's place in the world and in particular its role in our region. Australians appreciate that we are among the more fortunate nations of the world and that this fact has important implications for our attitudes towards assisting developing countries. The Government, in setting up the Development Assistance Advisory Board and by its assistance to non government agencies, has indicated that it welcomes community participation in Australia's aid efforts. Many Australians understand that changes have taken place in the philosophy underlying international aid and they are conscious that Australia must adapt its aid policies to the needs of the future. The Government looks to the new agency to devise aid initiatives which will help to raise the living standards of the majority in developing countries, to ameliorate population pressures, to create wider employment opportunities and to strengthen the rural sector. These are aspects of development which have sometimes been overlooked, but which are now being recognised as key areas in the effort to assist developing countries. To ensure that Australian aid takes these directions there will be a comprehensive review of existing programming and a greater emphasis in future on critical analysis and evaluation.

The Government expects that the Agency established by this Bill will further the new directions in our aid policies, ensure greater benefits to those who receive our aid and devise effective programs which will gain the support and sympathetic involvement of the Australian community. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Greenwood) adjourned.

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