Speeches

OUR OBLIGATION TO HELP DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

December 05, 2019

I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes that Australia's Official Development Assistance (ODA) investments are an important way of advancing Australia's interests, projecting our values and tackling global poverty;

(2) expresses concern that since 2014 Coalition Governments have cut $11.8 billion from the foreign aid budget with the result that Australia's ODA investments are now at a record low as a share of Gross National Income;

(3) agrees that active and engaged participation in multilateral institutions, including multilateral development institutions, is essential for advancing Australia's interests in a stable, secure and prosperous international environment; and

(4) expresses concern that the Prime Minister’s recent public attacks on global institutions are contrary to Australia's interests in an international rules-based order supported by multilateral institutions which promote economic growth, global security and human development".

Labor supports the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019. This bill provides a special appropriation to enable the Australian government to meet its commitments to replenish a range of multilateral development funds over coming years. These multilateral funds carry out essential work in tackling poverty and promoting economic growth and sustainable development in some of the world's poorest countries. The funds also promote better environmental outcomes in areas which must be tackled on a global basis, such as climate change and ozone depletion. Australia has played an active role over many years in supporting these funds. Australia's support for these funds is part of our commitment to being a good international citizen. It is one of the ways Australia contributes to global economic and social developments and to tackling international environmental challenges. Labor is a strong supporter of Australia's international development program. Labor is also a strong supporter of the international rules based system and the multilateral institutions which are at the heart of the system.

Foreign aid is needed to help lift people out of poverty, suffering and despair. The challenge of tackling poverty remains urgent, despite remarkable progress over the last quarter of a century. More than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990, yet more than 700 million people around the world still live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than US$1.90 a day, and nearly half the world's population lives on less than US$5.50 a day. As Andrew Mitchell, former UK Secretary of State for International Development, said, 'There are deep discrepancies of opportunity and wealth which disfigure our world and which mean that some people live in grinding misery, fear and poverty, but they know, because of globalisation, that there are other parts of the world where people live in great luxury, wealth and success.' Consider what these levels of grinding poverty and economic underdevelopment mean in human terms. People go hungry every day; diseases which have been all but eradicated in rich countries, like tuberculosis, polio and malaria, remain prevalent; people suffer from illness and premature death because they do not have access to health care; people can't afford the basics of life, such as shelter, accommodation, electricity to power their homes, and access to clean water and decent sanitation; women and children suffer from violence; work can only be found in the informal sector where incomes are a pittance; and people live in daily destitution and despair, without hope for a better future for themselves and their families.

Consider the following statistical snapshot of human suffering in the world's poor countries. More than 14,000 children under the age of five die every day, the vast majority of them in developing countries. Around 800 women die in childbirth or from pregnancy related causes every day, the vast majority in developing countries. One in every five preschool children in the world is stunted due to malnutrition. In sub-Saharan Africa, four in every 10 households don't have access to basic drinking water and more than half of all households do not have access to basic sanitation. Around the world, 940 million people live in households that do not have access to electricity.

An estimated 438,000 people around the world died from malaria in 2015, more than half them were children under five years old. One in five children in the world live in combat zones. For every one combatant killed in war between 2013 and 2017 five children died. These are horrific figures. Facts and figures like this demonstrate the humanitarian case for aid.

Fighting poverty through official development assistance is also in Australia's national interest. Helping developing countries to grow will promote Australia's interests in a prosperous, stable and secure region. Helping developing countries to grow will also create new economic, trade and investment opportunities for Australia. Development assistance helps poor countries to grow faster. The best way to lift people out of poverty and promote economic, social and human development is to foster economic growth in their countries. Fostering economic growth in developing countries, in turn, will be good for the Australian economy. It will directly support jobs and growth in Australia. As developing countries grow and industrialise they will expand markets for Australian exports of goods and equipment they need to power their economy. As the people of developing countries are lifted out of poverty they will expand the markets for Australian exports of goods and services.

Two generations ago Australia's developing countries were amongst the poorest in the world. Today there are around 1.5 billion middle class consumers in the region. Australia exports $339 billion a year to Asian countries. Ten of Australia's top 15 export markets today are countries where we once provided foreign aid. Australia provided a total of $1.4 billion in ODA to China from the late 1970s to the mid-2010s. In 2018 alone Australia's exports to China were worth $136 billion. There are similar examples. Australia's ODA to Korea totalled $12 million between 1974-75 and 2004-05. In 2018 our exports to Korea were worth $26.6 billion. Australia's ODA to Singapore totalled $59 million between 1974-75 and 2004-05. In 2018 our exports to Singapore were worth just under $15 billion. Australia's ODA to Malaysia totalled $595 million between 1974-75 and 2017-18. In 2018 our exports to Malaysia were worth $10.1 billion. Research has shown that for every dollar of Australian aid to developing countries in Asia over the last three decades Australia has boosted its exports to those countries by $7.

Tackling poverty abroad is also in Australia's interests because it means a more stable and secure region and world. Poverty and social inequalities can generate instability, insecurity and tensions in the international environment. By reducing economic and social disadvantage we tackle the root causes of instability and insecurity. This will not only improve the welfare of people in developing countries, it also improves our insecurity. Poverty can breed security challenges like civil conflict, terrorism, transnational crime and irregular movement of people. Fighting poverty and building international cooperation through development assistance helps avoid these threats. Strategic competition in our region is growing. In that context, we need to engage with developing countries, especially in the Pacific where Australia has strategic interests.

Defence investments alone can't keep Australia safe. Diplomacy and development are critical to countering threats before they reach our shores. It is increasingly recognised by our defence community that the economic, human and developmental dimensions of security need to be addressed, as well as military and geostrategic dimensions. As the chief of Australia's Defence Force, General Angus Campbell has said:

Our national and regional security includes state and human security. It is inherently linked to the security of health, water, energy, food and economic systems.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said:

For policymakers in the West … security and development cannot be seen as separate issues. Development, foreign and security policy initiatives must be interlinked.

Australia's former Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston has said, 'We need a better resourced diplomatic and military diplomatic function, particularly in South-East Asia and particularly out in the Pacific.' We need more aid to support our diplomacy. Over recent years we have been cutting aid again and again. What we need to do in the Pacific is provide aid. Supporting international development is squarely in Australia's interests and cutting aid, as this government has done, is contrary to those interests.

 

Fighting global poverty is also the right thing to do. There is a clear moral case for helping people who are suffering, both at home and abroad. That's true for those who draw their moral framework from their religious faith especially. It's also true for those who take guidance from secular ethical principles.

As World Vision has pointed out, the Bible is rich in wisdom about God's love for the poor and about our responsibility to help. The Bible tells us to feed the hungry and to welcome the stranger, to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. There are similar teachings about generosity and charity towards the poor in all the major religions—in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, amongst others. In recent years, faith based organisations have increasingly been recognised for the important role they play in global poverty reduction.

Secular ethical principles also tell us that taking action to reduce pain and suffering and increase welfare and wellbeing in other countries is the right thing to do. The Australian philosopher Peter Singer provided a compelling moral case for foreign aid in a famous article prompted by the plight of refugees from the Bangladesh independence war in 1971. Professor Singer wrote:

… if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.

Foreign aid and economic development work. They save lives and promote growth, jobs, higher living standards and lower poverty in developing countries. More than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990, as developing economies have grown.

Aid has played a part in driving the economic growth that has lifted incomes and reduced poverty. Studies using sophisticated statistical research techniques have consistently found that the provision of foreign aid to a country has a positive long-term impact on its growth. Economic growth is important, but it is not the only measure of the effectiveness of aid. Studies have shown that aid also generates improved educational attainment, with children staying in school longer, especially secondary school; better health outcomes, with positive impacts on life expectancy, infant mortality and public spending on health care; increased investment in infrastructure, like transport, factories, plants and equipment; structural economic change, with growth in manufacturing and service sectors relative to agriculture; and reductions in the numbers of people living in poverty. Aid also contributes to better social outcomes, such as fair treatment of women and children and people with disabilities. It contributes to better governance by building capacity and skills in political, legal and government institutions in developing countries. And, in the case of natural disasters, humanitarian crises, and conflict and violence, aid directly saves lives.

Development is an area to which tens of thousands of ordinary Australians donate their time and money to help. Several of Australia's major charities and development NGOs are faith, community and workplace based organisations: churches; service organisations like Rotary and Lions; trade unions, through Union Aid Abroad, which I'm a proud member of; and the aid agencies which are household names in Australia, such as Save the Children, Red Cross, CARE Australia, World Vision, the Fred Hollows Foundation and many others. Some of the strongest Australian supporters of overseas development assistance include religious leaders, leading philanthropic organisations and individuals, and political leaders from both sides of politics—like Menzies, Fraser, Howard and Julie Bishop from the Liberal side; and Whitlam, Hawke, Rudd and Gillard from the Labor side.

Australians are generous. In 2018, Australia ranked second, behind only Indonesia, in the CAF World Giving Index—a reflection of the willingness of Australians to help a stranger, donate to charity and volunteer. Helping the world's most disadvantaged people is an expression of Australian values. We are a country committed to the fair go, to extending a helping hand to the vulnerable, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed. Our social policies at home reflect that ethos in policies like Medicare, pensions, family benefits, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and assistance for Indigenous Australians, and so do our aid policies abroad. Through our aid program, we ameliorate suffering, help people in crisis and lift people out of poverty.

I agree with the comments by the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Mr Hawke, who said in a recent interview that Australians want the government to reflect their values and their generous spirit, including in the area of development assistance. Our international development programs and our participation in multilateral development institutions are an expression of our values as Australians: generosity, fairness and decency. That is why Labor supports this bill.

 

Australia became a founding member of the Asian Development Bank in 1966 under the Holt government. Australia became one of the first countries to ratify the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer under the Hawke government in 1987, and the Howard government committed Australia to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative in the 1990s and to the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative in 2005.

Australia's funding commitments to multilateral development institutions are typically renewed every three to four years in replenishment pledges. These replenishment pledges often commit Australia to providing annual funding over several years. In the case of the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, for example, I understand Australia has committed to make annual funding contributions out to 2044. The extended nature of these commitments is why it is appropriate for parliament to make a special appropriation. An ongoing special appropriation will better align with the multi-year time frames of Australia's commitments to these funds than annual appropriations. Accordingly, Labor supports the passage of this bill.

However, we wish to take this opportunity to raise our concern about the coalition government's cuts to Australia's aid budget and to raise our concern about the Prime Minister's undermining of Australia's role in multilateral institutions. We have moved the second reading amendment, which:

(1) notes that Australia's Official Development Assistance (ODA) investments are an important way of advancing Australia's interests, projecting our values and tackling global poverty;

Given the importance of Australia's ODA program, our second reading amendment goes on to express concern that the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison coalition government has slashed Australia's foreign aid budget—shamefully so. Since it came to office in 2013, this government has made massive cuts to Australia's foreign aid, cuts totalling $11.8 billion. Australia's aid spending is now one billion dollars a year lower than it was under Labor. In real terms, it is $1.5 billion lower. That is a national disgrace. And, as a result of these cuts, Australia's ODA is now on track to fall to 0.18 per cent of gross national income over the budget's forward estimates. This will be the lowest share of ODA as a share of gross national income since the Commonwealth started publishing data in 1961. So under Prime Minister Morrison, Australia's international aid is lower as a share of national income than it was under Menzies, Holt, Gordon, McEwen, Fraser and Howard. It is a shameful legacy of the Morrison government.

Australia has slid down the international league table of aid donors. Under the former Labor government, Australia's aid budget as a share of GNI was in the middle of the pack amongst OECD countries. Under this coalition government, Australia has become one of the least generous of the OECD member countries, when it comes to ODA as a share of GNI. Australia has fallen from being the 13th-most generous OECD country in 2012 to the 18th spot in 2017, and is set to slide further. This comes as the challenge of tackling poverty is growing more severe, despite remarkable progress over the last quarter-century. As I have indicated, more than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990, due in no small part to the growth of China and India. Yet more than 700 million people around the world still live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than US$1.90 a day, and nearly half the world lives on less than US$5.50 a day.

Conservative governments in the United Kingdom have legislated to deliver ODA worth 0.7 per cent of Great Britain's gross national income. This conservative government in Australia has gone in the opposite direction. It has cut ODA: from 0.33 per cent of GNI, when it came to office, to 0.18 per cent by 2022-23. These cuts have been contrary to Australia's interests in promoting economic development and the prosperity, stability and security that economic development brings. The cuts are harming our international standing and our bilateral relationships. They are at odds with Australia's values as a generous nation, and they are hurting some of the poorest people in the world.

Labor's second reading amendment goes on to raise our concerns about the government's undermining of Australia's engagement with multilateral institutions. There is a fundamental mismatch between the reality of this bill and the rhetoric indulged in by the Prime Minister. On the one hand, we have the reality of the bill's provisions, which appropriate funds for Australia's contributions to multilateral development institutions—institutions that further Australia's interests and that have enjoyed bipartisan support for decades. On the other hand, we have the deceptive rhetoric of the Prime Minister about so-called negative globalism and the political attacks on the multilateral institutions by the hard Right of the Liberal Party and the National Party in a shameful, shameful manner.

Our second reading amendment notes:

(3) … that active and engaged participation in multilateral institutions … is essential for advancing Australia’s interests …

Further, the amendment:

(4) expresses concern that the Prime Minister's recent public attacks on global institutions are contrary to Australia’s interests in an international rules-based order supported by multilateral institutions which promote economic growth, global security and human development".

The gap between the Prime Minister's politically motivated rhetoric and the provisions of this bill exposes Mr Morrison's hypocrisy concerning international institutions. The Prime Minister is out there in the public arena undermining Australia's commitment to multilateral institutions with his rhetoric about negative globalism. At the same time, his government is bringing legislation like this into parliament to support Australia's contributions to those institutions. That is the worst sort of hypocrisy and dishonesty. The split personality of those opposite on multilateralism is not only evident in the contrast between this bill and the Prime Minister's rhetoric; it is evident in the fact that, under this government, multilateralism has become the policy that dare not speak its name. Let me give an example.

Many members of this House are familiar with the work of the Global Fund, the multilateral health organisation which fights AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The Global Fund mobilises more than US$4 billion a year from governments around the world and from the private sector. This funding is used to support critical health programs run by local experts in more than 100 countries. The Global Fund saves millions of lives. The Global Fund has many supporters in the Australian community and on both sides of parliament. I acknowledge in particular the leadership of the member for Leichardt and the member for Newcastle in their advocacy for the Global Fund. Australia has been a longstanding supporter of the Global Fund, contributing more than $700 million since 2001.

The fund's sixth replenishment conference was held in France in October. The replenishment conference secured pledges of US$14 billion over the next three years to step up the fight against these deadly epidemics, epidemics that must be brought under control. The Global Fund does great work saving the lives of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of human beings every year. I understand the member for Leichardt represented the Australian government at the conference. Australia pledged $242 million for the period from 2020 to 2022. I welcome that commitment on behalf of Labor.

Yet I find it bizarre that the government doesn't want to talk about this pledge—a $242 million commitment by Australia to support work that will save countless lives around the world, funding that will prevent suffering from AIDS; stop children from dying from malaria; and tackle tuberculosis, which is prevalent in some of our nearest neighbours, such as Papua New Guinea. That's the kind of good news ministers usually want to promote, not hide. Yet the government has not said a word about its new commitment to the Global Fund. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific haven't even issued a media release. There hasn't been a tweet or a Facebook post seen by the public. Is it because the government is incompetent or is it because it was politically unacceptable to tell the public that the government was contributing to a multilateral institution called the Global Fund at the same time that the Prime Minister was criticising multilateral institutions and negative globalism? How churlish is that, I ask? It's just another example of the Prime Minister's dishonest approach, playing political games rather than developing plans to tackle the important issues for the future. That's why Labor has moved this second reading amendment: to call out this government's inconsistency and hypocrisy, to hold it to account for its cuts to Australia's aid budget and to highlight the negative impacts of the Prime Minister's attempts to undermine the public support for multilateral institutions.

Labor welcomes this bill because it will support Australia's continuing participation in multilateral development institutions. Unlike the Prime Minister, who says one thing while doing another, Labor is proud of Australia's support for multilateral development institutions and we are committed to Australia's foreign aid investments. That's because we know that a strong international development program and active engagement in global institutions will advance Australia's interests in a stable, secure and prosperous international environment. I commend the bill to the House.

You can view the speech here

 

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