Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019


Peter Khalil: The Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019 provides a special appropriation to enable the government to meet its commitments to replenish a range of multilateral development funds over the coming years. Such funds are of increasing importance, as they carry out essential work in tackling poverty and promoting economic growth and sustainable development in some of the world’s poorest nations. Their work also plays a role in resolving environmental challenges and working on environmental challenges which require global cooperation. In summary they are: the International Development Association, which is the World Bank’s development arm; the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative; the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, a debt relief arrangement administered by the International Development Association; the Asian Development Fund, which provides development grants to low-income members of the Asian Development Bank; the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund, which is administered by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support sustainable development activities around the world; and the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, which provides funds to help developing countries to phase out the use of substances which deplete the earth’s ozone layer. Some here would remember that this was an initiative that the Hawke government signed very early on, in 1987.

There has been bipartisan support for these multilateral funds for many, many years. Australia’s commitment to the World Bank extends back to the international financial architecture which was adopted in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Chifley government’s 1947 decision for Australia to join the Bretton Woods Institutions. As I said, we were one of the first countries to sign the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, under the Hawke government in 1987. The Howard government’s commitment to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative in 2005 demonstrates the level of bipartisanship.

Labor understands the importance of development assistance to our national interests and its interrelated importance to humanitarian objectives. In fact, I would argue that they’re not mutually exclusive. That’s why we support the passage of this bill. However, it is important to articulate or at least express our concern with the Prime Minister’s undermining, overall, of Australia’s official development assistance and, as a corollary, undermining of our role in multilateral institutions. Since this government came to office in 2013, they’ve continued to cut the budget for Australia’s development assistance program, totalling $11.8 billion. Our international aid and development assistance is now lower as a share of national income than it was under Liberal Prime Ministers Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Fraser and Howard, and under Prime Minister Morrison it’s at the bottom of the pile. Of course, it’s for historians to determine whether he’s at the top of the list as the worst Liberal Prime Minister ever, but I would suspect, particularly in this case, he’s made a very strong case for that prize. We are one of the least generous nations amongst Development Assistance Committee member countries. Is that how we want to be known?

It’s important to look at the impacts of cutting $11.8 billion during this period. It has significant and severe impacts. It’s harming our international standing and our bilateral relationships. It’s at odds with our Australian values as a generous nation, as we’ve heard from previous speakers. Importantly, there’s a demonstrable link between the development assistance program that we deliver and our national interest.

A report by Save the Children highlighted a number of statistics that demonstrated that inequality harms economic growth because it is a barrier to sustainable and inclusive growth, that it entrenches discrimination, that it undermines social and political cohesion, and that it creates the conditions for political and social tensions to be exacerbated. Instability and conflict flow from that. So helping these developing countries to grow economically, socially and in their governance actually promotes Australia’s national interests. We want to see a prosperous, stable and secure region—that’s the purpose of those programs.

One example is gender. Labor has consistently articulated a clear vision in relation to the importance of foreign aid and development in addressing gender inequality. Throughout the developing world women are confronted with a plethora of challenges. We have played a role, and play a role, in addressing those challenges, and that includes efforts to promote women’s human rights in accordance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. For instance, Australia’s foreign aid contribution could have a meaningful impact on promoting women’s empowerment by funding educational programs and initiatives aimed at ensuring women have fair and equal access to education, training and employment programs. Labor support eliminating the cultural and economic barriers faced by children—in particular, young girls—attending school: child labour, child trafficking, child marriage, safety to and from school, community attitudes and teaching practices. I’ve seen this firsthand. On a trip to Myanmar, on a delegation made up of a number of MPs from all sides of politics, we saw the impact of our development assistance program on communities. The women in those communities who took charge of the funds—and, I’ve got to say this: on average, men are more corrupt—were thinking intergenerationally. There was less corruption. They were thinking about the future of their children and grandchildren in the community. The success stories there were very, very striking.

Our development assistance also plays a role in the context of the impact of climate change on our Pacific Island neighbours. In the Pacific the impact of climate change has the potential to actually reverse the reduction in poverty that has been made in the past 30 years. Whilst sea rise of a few centimetres will have an impact for us here in Australia, those same changes are catastrophic and absolutely devastating for the people of Tuvalu, for example. Yet, in the recent OECD report, it was noted that Australia spends less on development supporting climate change than any other OECD countries—13 per cent of Australia’s development assistance in 2015 compared to a 26.2 per cent average for the other OECD countries. Conservative estimates indicate that the impacts of climate change will result in more than a hundred million additional people being pushed into poverty by 2030. Unless you’re in the coalition government, there’s little doubt that climate change and climate change related disasters clearly pose risk to economic growth, poverty reduction, education, health and regional security in the Pacific. Tackling issues such as these through our soft power, our development assistance, generates stability and not only improves the welfare of people in developing countries but also improves our own security. So supporting international development is squarely in Australia’s national interest.

There are many academics that talk about and have done very important analyses around the impacts of development assistance. Two academics, Betts and Collier, who talk about philosophies behind humanitarian assistance, summarise it as the head and the heart. The heart is the compassion—the moral underpinning of aid programs. You could argue it’s intrinsically linked to our Australian spirit, our Australian values, the boundless plains to share and the values that promote egalitarianism and fairness. The head is the logical and evidence based benefits of an effective aid program: trade, security, stability, prosperity. Labor has agreed to improve our aid program, our official development assistance program, because we understand both the head and the heart of development assistance policy.

We welcome this bill because it supports Australia’s continuing participation in multilateral development institutions. We’re committed to strengthening Australia’s foreign aid investment because an active international development program will further our national interest in a stable, secure and prosperous international environment.