House debates

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Australian Civilian Corps Bill 2010

Second Reading

10:52 am

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

in reply—I thank the member for Canberra for her contribution to the debate and her support for the Australian Civilian Corps Bill 2010 and the institution which it seeks to create. Natural disasters and conflict can undo and wind back hard-won development gains across the world and also undermine the prospects for future economic growth. The international community has recognised that more needs to be done in the aftermath of such crises to assist stabilisation, recovery and a return to development.

The idea of an Australian civilian corps came out of the 2020 Summit, held in March 2008. This was convened at the time with a view to harnessing the ideas of the Australian community about what we could do better for Australia in the future. One of the proposals which came forward from that gathering, held here in the Great Hall at Parliament House, was for an Australian civilian corps—namely, how do we do better the task of responding to crises when they occur and bringing together those committed Australian volunteers and others to produce a real effort on the ground which is of substantive benefit to the country in which a natural disaster has occurred? Participants formally proposed the development of an Australian civilian corps.

The government heeded the message and last year at the East Asia Summit in Thailand Australia formally announced the Australian Civilian Corps. The Australian Civilian Corps will be deployed to countries that have experienced or have emerged from a natural disaster or conflict and will support stabilisation, recovery, and development and planning. They will assist crisis affected countries to restore central services and strengthen their government institutions. This initiative will complement Australia’s humanitarian responses and long-term sustainable development efforts. Australia joins other members of the international community, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United States in establishing a capability to deploy civilian specialists abroad at these times of crisis.

Civilian deployments have been used to good effect in a range of post-crisis situations around the world, including Rwanda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia, Iraq, Haiti, Chad, East Timor and the Solomons. The bill provides for the establishment and management of the Australian Civilian Corps. The corps will be drawn from a register of Australian civilian specialists, selected for their technical skills and ability to work in challenging environments abroad.

I wish to address concerns regarding the selection of AusAID employees to participate in the corps. At this stage, AusAID employees have not been invited to apply for inclusion on the Australian Civilian Corps register. Should AusAID employees be given this opportunity in the future, they will need to undergo the same rigorous recruitment and screening process as other applicants. These processes will be transparent and procedurally fair to ensure that AusAID employees are not favoured in any way.

This register will be built up progressively to 500 by 2014. AusAID will administer the Australian Civilian Corps, in cooperation with other Australian government agencies. The sum of $52.3 million over five years has already been allocated to administer this initiative. This funding will enable AusAID to recruit, screen, train and maintain a register of 500 Civilian Corps personnel that are ready to deploy. It also covers the staffing, administration and corporate overhead costs incurred by AusAID as well as the costs associated with planning and evaluating deployments.

As stated in the explanatory memorandum, this bill does not in itself create any additional costs. The cost of specific deployments, including security and logistical support costs, will be funded from the official development assistance contingency reserve.

The director-general of AusAID will be responsible for managing this program. The bill enables the Director General of AusAID to engage civilian specialists as a new category of Commonwealth employee in order to deploy with the corps. The bill provides for employment arrangements that are specifically designed to suit the unique nature of the corps and its working environment. Amongst other things, the bill provides for a tailored set of terms and conditions of employment, values and a code of conduct for the corps. The bill also facilitates the transition of civilian specialists between Australian Civilian Corps employment and their regular employment, and provides for secondments of Australian Civilian Corps employees to bodies such as the United Nations.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Parramatta and the member for Canberra, who have just spoken in the debate, for their positive and thoughtful comments on the government’s proposal contained within the bill. I note the Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s comments about the potential for the work of the corps to be broadened, and I welcome the opposition’s general support for the commencement of this initiative. I also look forward to considering the recommendations of the Senate inquiry to be held into the measures of this bill.

The Australian Civilian Corps is an important new capability that will enable Australia to more effectively respond to requests for assistance following natural disasters and conflict. Australia, in responding to natural disasters around the region in the past, has done so primarily through the agency of our official engagement often supported by the Australian Defence Forces engaging other arms of the Australian government. It has often been a matter of frustration across the Australian community that, when people have sought to volunteer and deploy their efforts where they are needed, there is no formal capacity through which that can be done. This Australian Civilian Corps Bill seeks to deal with that concern.

I believe it also reflects well on Australia that we are, through this parliament, progressing this legislation and bringing about this institution. Australia’s standing in the region and the world is often characterised by our ability and our predisposition to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and help when tragedy strikes around the world and in our own region. This gives effect to that longstanding value which is attached to Australia in the eyes of the world. I therefore commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.


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