House debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Consideration in Detail

7:00 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | Hansard source

I am indebted to the indulgence of the Deputy Speaker for allowing me five minutes to make a few statements about our budget and respond to some of the questions from my shadow ministerial colleague.

I want to start by saying that I really do appreciate the efforts of the shadow minister and his real attempts to take a bipartisan approach. We're not going to agree on everything, and his job is to hold the government and me to account, and I expect he'll do that. On the question of the $17 million for the Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands, we will be funding the refurbishment of school classrooms that will be used to house athletes during the games. The beauty of that project is that it has a double dividend. It contributes to the success of the Pacific Games but also gives greater education infrastructure to the boys and girls of the Solomon Islands. I think that's really important.

On the question on the AHP, I'm going to take that on notice and come back to you with a detailed answer on the division there. I appreciate his views on humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa. Obviously, $10 million of the $15 million allocated will go to the UN World Food Program and $5 million to NGOs. I appreciate that there is a debate about whether the UN is the right body for it. We generally use the UN because we know that they can deliver. They have the expertise and the track record of delivering on food assistance. That $15 million is in addition to our general funding to the UN World Food Program. We've already allocated $63 million to the UN World Food Program this year already, and $157 million went to them last year. That funding goes to where the UN World Food Program says the need is greatest, which includes places like Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, Syria and the broader Indo-Pacific. So I urge people not to look at the $15 million in isolation; it is part of a broader program.

On the Pakistan floods, quite frankly, that's why it's informed our position on climate loss and damage in the UN COP discussions. Yes, we need to support the current emerging crisis, and we absolutely are doing that, but we are going to see more of that with climate change, and we need to be prepared to take action on that. That's why I'm disappointed by the attacks in question time on that particular fund. I know it's not a view universally held in the opposition, but, when the Leader of the Opposition continues to use that line of attack, he diminishes himself, he diminishes Australia's ability to promote our interests abroad and, ultimately, weakens our national security.

On the shadow minister's comments about increased aid to the Pacific, I acknowledge that the former government did increase aid to the Pacific. It was at the expense of cuts elsewhere, and that was unfortunate. I also applaud their general increase in temporary and targeted assistance over those years. I do wish that they had the courage to make them permanent, and I think what they did reflected a debate within their party room. Clearly, they went as far as they could. I would have liked to have given them more support so they could go further, and I stand ready to support and make a case for bipartisan increases in foreign aid. It's an essential part of our broader international engagement. Whenever you talk to senior leaders of the ADF and defence, they make the point that our national security isn't just based on our defence policy and defence resourcing; it's based on DFAT, foreign aid, Border Force and a holistic approach to national security.

In the time remaining I want to inform the House about some excellent announcements we made in our budget, including $900 million in additional overseas development assistance to the Pacific. That was part of a $1.4 billion budget increase. This year we will provide $1.9 billion in development assistance to the Pacific. That is the highest level ever. We are introducing the Pacific Climate Infrastructure Financing Partnership to support climate infrastructure in the Pacific, not just mitigation and adaptation but renewable energy projects. There's the revolutionary Pacific Engagement Visa to grow a diaspora in this country—3,000 permanent migrants every year will be transformational. The one I'm most passionate about is turbocharging the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, a scheme that benefits Australia, a scheme that benefits the workers and benefits the countries those workers are coming from. We will hit 35,000 workers this year and, hopefully, we can do more. There was also the $32 million Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy.

I conclude with the fact that I'm looking forward to travelling with shadow foreign minister Birmingham on the bipartisan parliamentary trip. This is an important initiative that is essential to demonstrate to the Pacific that, no matter who is in power here, they can rely on Australia as their partner of choice.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.


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