House debates

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Australian Civilian Corps Bill 2010

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 30 September, on motion by Mr Rudd:

That this bill be now read a second time.

10:13 am

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Fifty years ago, on 14 October, US presidential candidate John Fitzgerald Kennedy, campaigning for the 1960 election, stopped by the University of Michigan. History records that it was at 2 am or thereabouts, so obviously candidates for high office have been known to campaign through the night. Kennedy is said to have spoken to about 5,000 students. It was said to be an impromptu speech of just a few minutes duration, but those few minutes launched an inspiring initiative for the United States and ultimately the wider world.

The students were challenged by Kennedy to contribute to an international effort ‘far greater than we have ever made in the past’. This was a call that was transformed into the Peace Corps. According to a report I read last week on the 50th anniversary of that event, within days of Kennedy’s speech a thousand students from the University of Michigan signed up to serve as volunteers. Since the Peace Corps was formally established by the Kennedy administration in 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps in 139 countries. According to the President of the University of Michigan, in an article dated 21 October 2010:

The Peace Corps was a grand experiment that continues to capture the imagination of Americans, with nearly 9,000 volunteers serving in 77 countries around the world. It is rooted in an idealism that for 50 years has transformed both Americans and the global communities they serve …

Many nations around the world have been inspired by the concept of the Peace Corps and it is seems that this grand experiment continues to inspire 50 years on.

The Australian Civilian Corps Bill 2010 establishes the Australian Civilian Corps, which will be used to assist countries in need that are experiencing or emerging from disaster or conflict. The coalition supports this measure with enthusiasm, subject to two reservations being scrutinised by a brief Senate inquiry. The proposed Australian Civilian Corps differs from the Peace Corps in that it has a primary focus on support in the wake of disaster or conflict. Tragically, in recent times, there have been many instances where the work of another civilian corps would have been greatly valued had it existed. Relief efforts following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which claimed the lives of an estimated 230,000 people, principally in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, would have been enhanced by the work of an organised Australian civilian corps, although the scale of that tragedy brought unthinkable challenges. More recently the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and a spate of natural disasters including tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and storms in various nations could potentially have attracted members of an Australian civilian corps. As we have seen in Pakistan with its floods, large-scale disasters in developing countries can quickly overwhelm the capacity of local authorities. During the crucial aftermath and rebuilding phase, the support of experts can greatly reduce the time it takes for people to repair the damage and start the arduous process of rebuilding communities and infrastructure in their lives.

Importantly, there is also the potential for members of a civilian corps to effect long-term change for the better. For example, agricultural experts may be able to support the development of more efficient farming practices that could lead to greater productivity and economic prosperity in the longer term. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs noted in his speech, it is not the intention of the Civilian Corps to replace the work of emergency response teams but to supplement and build on their initial work. There is bipartisan commitment to increase Australia’s foreign aid budget to 0.5 per cent of gross national income, in support of the Millennium Development Goals, which will mean an effective doubling of the aid budget. A specialist corps of 500 people which would be in place by 2014 has the potential to play an important role, particularly in nations of our region situated along the so-called ‘ring of fire’.

While the coalition is strongly supportive of the Australian Civilian Corps, I do have a couple of concerns. The explanatory memorandum states that there are no direct financial impacts from the bill. However, AusAID’s Focus Online, under the heading ‘New Australian Civilian Corps to assist in disaster and conflict zones’, states that:

The Australian government will provide $52 million to enable the rapid deployment of Australian civilians into overseas disaster or conflict affected countries.

So this figure needs clarification with regard to the training of corps members as well.

I also seek reassurance from the government regarding the costs of supporting and protecting members of the corps who may be deployed to potentially hostile or dangerous environments. For example, how will security be ensured for civilians operating in post-conflict environments? This is a longstanding issue, but there has been no specific information provided either in the explanatory memorandum or in the speech on this issue by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I think that is a concern for people thinking about volunteering for the Australian Civilian Corps.

My second concern relates to the potential for a conflict of interest involving government employees. The minister’s second reading speech stated that the Director-General of AusAID will be responsible for managing the Australian Civilian Corps and will have the power to engage people to the corps, including the authority to determine remuneration and other terms and conditions. The minister also said that members:

… will be drawn from a register of civilian specialists selected for their technical skills and ability to work in challenging environments overseas.

Given that many of the eligible public sector employees could well be existing staff of AusAID, I believe that this could create potential for a conflict of interest. The Director-General and, through him or her, the staff of AusAID will be responsible for establishing the register of civilian specialists, some of whom may be AusAID employees themselves. Additionally, if AusAID staff were on the register, who would determine whether they were deployed as AusAID staff or as Australian Civilian Corps and what are the implications for AusAID of such an arrangement?

I believe this raises a number of questions that should be addressed prior to the passage of the legislation, so prior to supporting the bill the coalition will seek to refer the bill to a brief Senate inquiry to establish that safeguards will be in place to avoid such conflicts of interest or the potential for them and, obviously, to scrutinise the funding arrangements not only in relation to the $52 million that has been mentioned in AusAID’s online piece but also given that the explanatory memorandum states that there is no financial impact. Therefore, the coalition reserves the right to make amendments to this bill in the Senate, subject to the outcomes of the Senate inquiry. I otherwise applaud the government for this initiative to establish an Australian Civilian Corps in the manner and spirit of the Peace Corps, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

10:23 am

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the shadow minister for her contribution to this debate. I have been looking forward to speaking on this bill, the Australian Civilian Corps Bill 2010, since the Australian Civilian Corps initiative was announced back in October 2009 because I know that there are many people in my community who have a very real interest in contributing to help the poor and people in appalling circumstances around the world. I know that many of them will welcome this initiative.

The Australian Civilian Corps will enable the rapid deployment of civilian specialists to countries affected by natural disasters or conflict. It will comprise a register of up to 500 civilian specialists. It will be a register of highly qualified professionals who can use their skills in challenging overseas environments. Such people will be sought from all levels of government and the broader Australian community and they will bring expertise in a range of areas, which will include security, justice, reconciliation, machinery of government, essential services, economic stability, community and social capacity building, and operational management. While the register will be built up over a period of about four years, it is expected that the initiative will be fully operational in 2011. This is very good news for the many people in this country who would seek to contribute through such a mechanism as this one.

The concept within Australia emerged from the Australian government’s 2020 Summit in April 2008, where the summit came up with an idea of a deployable public service and the government agreed to develop a framework to enable the rapid deployment of civilians. This bill very much deals with the framework for employing those people in an overseas environment and how the initiative interacts with their regular employment. It was announced by the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, at the East Asia Summit in Thailand in October 2009 against a backdrop of some terrible disasters around the world, in Samoa, Tonga, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, in the weeks leading up to the summit, and of course the ongoing challenges and insecurity in Afghanistan. The Australian Civilian Corps will lay the foundations for recovery and future prosperity in countries affected by natural disaster and by conflict and it will advance our reputation and our influence in the international community.

The goal of the Australian Civilian Corps is to enable the Australian government to rapidly deploy civilian specialists to contribute to the stabilisation and recovery efforts in natural disaster or conflict affected areas. The Civilian Corps specialists will be drawn from a range of levels within the community and the public sector but they remain in their regular employment until offered deployment. So there is a similarity in the way it works with the reserves in the Armed Forces, people with civilian skills highly trained in working overseas who remain in their employment until needed and then spent periods of time overseas.

As the shadow minister said, we are not by any means the first country to do this. In fact, there is a long history in countries around the world of having one form or another of a civilian capacity to respond to disaster. Australia joins other members of the international community, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, in establishing the capability for deploying civilian specialists. The shadow minister has already talked at some length about the Peace Corps in the United States, which stimulated and inspired so many young Americans to contribute in lands far from home to people who were in great need. Deployable civilian capabilities 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 Solomon Islands.

The Australian Civilian Corps will not just work alone; it will engage with international partners who also have deployable civilian capabilities to improve the cooperation and coordination in affected areas. The corps will form strategic partnerships with key international partners and provide better coordination and immediate outcomes on the ground. Again it is a great opportunity for Australia and Australians to cooperate with some of our international partners in this greater participation of civilians in areas of conflict and natural disaster.

The register will comprise about 500 civilian specialists, again personnel sought from all levels of development chosen for their skills in areas such as public administration and finance, law and justice, infrastructure, health administration and community development. We will build the register over four years but the range of expertise on the register will be based on emerging demand, so we can expect over time, as our sense of where we might need to place people changes, that the mix of people on that register will change. It will be flexible to meet demands and it will be regularly updated to reflect current and future needs.

I would expect, again given the number of people I know in my area who would have a great interest in contributing in this way, that it will be quite a competitive recruitment process. It would be a rigorous process anyway, but I suspect it will also be highly competitive. The process will underpin a selection of high-calibre and experienced individuals for the register. It will be based on technical knowledge, qualifications and demonstrated experience, but the participants will also be expected to demonstrate personal attributes appropriate for deployment into difficult environments, such as cross-cultural sensitivity, flexibility, self-reliance and resilience. They will also obviously be expected to meet medical and security checks.

In a recent visit of mine to Afghanistan I spoke at quite some length to our military and aid leaders about the difficulties of working in areas which have great cultural differences. I was aware at that stage that Australia has large numbers of people who have the on-the-ground knowledge of the culture and the language skills necessary to participate and a willingness to go there, as is the case for so many places of conflict or natural disaster around the world. You can see in recent history the number of Australian Pakistanis and Australian Sri Lankans, and Australians from various other places in Asia, who return home during times of conflict to lend their capacity to rebuild. We have great people who are, I know, well and truly looking forward to an opportunity to contribute within such a framework.

This is quite timely for us. It is probably something we could have done some time ago, but again I know that there are many who will be waiting to participate. In many ways this is a nice piece of legislation because it provides a framework for good people to do what good people want to do. So much of our legislation provides frameworks to stop people from doing bad things they want to do or to punish them for doing it. It is always a pleasure to see a piece of legislation that simply provides a mechanism for people to respond to their most noble elements and work with others in need.

In my community I find young people in particular are more and more aware of the circumstances in which people find themselves around the world and more and more aware of how lucky we are here, and they are spending more and more of their own time visiting places where people need great assistance and giving their time for weeks, months or even years. In fact for many young people in my community a period of time working with those in sometimes devastating circumstances in other places of the world very much forms part of their early world experiences. It no doubt contributes to their sense of gratitude for the many things we have in this country which were given to us by people who came before, but it also highlights for many of us just how much need there is. In a place like Australia, where we can be so separated from the world and where our news services do not cover world events to the same extent that many other news services around the world do, it is important that people within our community get a very real understanding of what is happening around the world.

The Civilian Corps will be managed from within AusAID. That was particularly well received in the only submission, which was from World Vision, to the Senate inquiry, which commenced in the last parliament and stopped again with the calling of the election. The general response has been quite positive. It is very important that this initiative works well with other agencies and that there is very good coordination between this initiative and those of other countries. AusAID will be responsible for recruiting the civilian specialists; ensuring that the registered personnel are prepared for deployment; strategic planning for deployments; managing deployments, including logistics, human services and security matters; implementing public communication strategies; and providing support for whole-of-government input and advice. There will be a high-level strategic guidance committee that has oversight of the corps, and representatives from national security, foreign policy and finance departments will play a role on that committee.

This is a wonderful initiative and, as I said, one that I have been looking forward to since 2009 and one that I am going to take great pleasure in announcing to my constituency. I actually announced it last year and made sure that people knew, if they were interested in this, that they could register their interest with AusAID, and they can do that on the AusAID website: One of the first things to do if you think this might be of interest to you is to go to the AusAID website and register your interest. I am looking forward to making sure that all of my community groups, and many groups in my electorate which have led the charge in ensuring that we keep our eyes on those in great need around the world, know how to get involved. There are many groups in my electorate—some churches, some associations of young people—that have come together particularly around issues such as global poverty. I am going to make sure that they absolutely know that they now have another mechanism by which they can contribute, because I know that the will is there in the community.

So I commend the bill to the House. I am incredibly pleased to have been able to speak on it and I am looking forward to seeing the growth of our Civilian Corps and its capacity to improve the lives of people who need our help perhaps more than anyone else. It is one of the great ironies in the world, I think, that the time when we most need the capacity to improve our own lives is quite often the time when that capacity has been ripped from us by disaster, by grief, by ill health, by poverty or by the grinding lives that people lead.

We in Australia are very generous with our money. We are generous with our things. We are generous with the provision of blankets, tents, rice, seed and wheelbarrows, but we are also generous with our capacity to make a difference. In a country like Australia, our belief in our capacity to make a different is heightened by the kinds of lives we have led—safe lives, well supported. It is absolutely appropriate that we loan to the most desperate people in the world not just our money and our things but our capacity to make a difference. This bill will allow many good people to do just that.

10:38 am

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great pleasure to speak today in support of the Australian Civilian Corps Bill 2010. It is particularly timely, too, to reflect on the need for this legislation as we again witness the devastation wrought by natural disaster in our region, with the most recent tsunami in Indonesia. My thoughts are with the families and the poor people there who have experienced such tragedy and the loss of lives. Those tsunamis can be devastating. I remember the PNG tsunami when I was working in Foreign Affairs, and I was greatly affected by the suffering of innocent people—a tremendous tragedy, an unexpected tragedy brought on by nature. It was just dreadful, so I feel for those people. My sympathies are with them.

I have no doubt that Australia will once again take the lead role in ensuring the recovery of this region and we will respond accordingly to the tragedy of the tsunami. I also have no doubt, because Australians have a long and proud history of helping those in our region, and indeed around the globe, through tough times like these, that we are recognised not only for our short-term emergency relief efforts but also for our ongoing commitment to the sustainable development of these nations.

This bill seeks to carry on this proud tradition, with the establishment of a civilian corps that will provide a new Australian civilian capability and a deployable Public Service to help countries in need and countries in crisis. It is a welcome piece of legislation and will significantly enhance Australia’s assistance to countries emerging from natural disaster or conflict. Australia has a great deal of expertise in this area and many of the people with that expertise live in my electorate. Canberra is home to people with skills in governance, infrastructure development, engineering, public sector reform, financial management, health administration and law and justice. And it is home to people with experience and expertise in the Asia-Pacific region. Every time I go to a party or catch up with my DFAT or AusAID friends I am constantly amazed at the relief and aid work that they are doing throughout the region. As I mentioned in my first speech, my very dear friend Liz O’Neill, who was killed in the Yogyakarta plane crash, was involved in helping families during their grief following the Bali tragedy, helping them through their experiences of the morgues. She was also involved in peacekeeping in Bougainville. I have a number of friends who are involved in helping out the region in both a short- and long-term capacity. From my experience in Defence I know the work that they are doing there. There are many people in Canberra with the expertise, willingness and commitment to help out the region. I am sure that many people will be signing up if this bill gets through.

As I said, many people have worked in disaster recovery and post-conflict areas in Banda Aceh, Afghanistan and Iraq. Many people have also worked on capacity building in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and East Timor. I also have a number of friends at the ANU, in the Pacific research school there, who are doing great work improving governance, improving financial management and building capacity in the region. Canberra is full of expertise, and I am very proud of the expertise and the willingness of these people to help out those in the region.

The people in my electorate are often called on at a moment’s notice to lend their expertise and skills to those in need and they go willingly. This is because people in my electorate of Canberra, like many others in Australia, want to make a difference. They want to do that at the national and global level, but specifically at the regional level. Many of them are committed to improving peace and stability in the region and working towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. This bill is the end point of an idea proposed at the Australia 2020 Summit. The corps was then announced at the East Asia Summit in Thailand in October last year.

The bill provides for the establishment and management of the Australian Civilian Corps. The corps is a select group of civilian specialists who deploy to countries experiencing or emerging from natural disaster or conflict. Members of the corps will be drawn from a register of screened and trained civilian specialists and will be selected for their technical skills and ability to work in some challenging environments overseas. We have plenty of those skills here in Canberra. Many people I know have worked in very challenging environments. Members of this corps will be selected from all levels of government and from the broader community to provide advice, assistance and capability building in public administration, finance, law and justice, agriculture, engineering and health administration. We will be getting people from consultancies. A number of aid consultancies exist in Canberra, as well as capacity-building consultancies, plus we have the ANU research school and the expertise within the Public Service. So Canberra will be drawing from a very broad base.

The Australian Civilian Corps is designed to support stabilisation, recovery and development planning, with a view towards the long-term viability of countries in need. The important point there is ‘long term’. To this end, it will not be part of the emergency relief phase of a crisis but build on the initial humanitarian efforts to set the foundation for sustainable development and self-reliance. The emphasis there is on ‘sustainable, self-reliance and long term’. It will assist these countries to restore essential services and strengthen their government institutions. It will partner with local communities and will mentor leaders and others to develop their own expertise, to build their own capability in their own country and to become less reliant on short-term aid.

An example of work that could well be done is the deployment of an Australian water and sanitation planner to assist local government officials rebuild water infrastructure following a natural disaster. Another example is an engineer called on to fix a bridge or to build a new road following a natural disaster. An Australian senior government official, with expertise in budget administration, could well be deployed to assist a country with budget control following a conflict. Following some of the recent earthquakes, government infrastructures have basically fallen in a hole, so it is important that we help people get those systems, structures and processes back in place so that the region can be governed effectively, efficiently and according to due process.

The bill seeks to do this in a way that will maximise our already strong commitment to multilateral engagement with our region and our longstanding belief in action taken through the United Nations and other similar bodies. Already, an interim capability has been established consisting of 24 screened and trained civilian specialists on the Australian Civilian Corps register. They have been drawn from multiple government agencies, including the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry just to name a few. Some members are also drawn from non-government partners, such as organisations like RedR, an NGO which provides training and expertise in disaster recovery. These 24 people already have extensive experience and have seen service in East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Iraq and Afghanistan and throughout the South Pacific.

It is planned that this small number will be built up progressively to 500 by 2014. A further round of recruitment is currently being undertaken, targeting specific Commonwealth agencies and non-government sector partners, including Action Aid. A public recruitment round will be conducted in due course. It is hoped that this new capability will be fully operational by next year.

At the moment, the arrangements for employing essentially people from the Public Service come under the Public Service Act. That can be pretty constraining. It does not allow for flexibility. It does not allow for rapid deployment. The beauty of this piece of legislation is that it will enable the Director-General of AusAID to engage civilians as a new category of Commonwealth employee in order to deploy them with the corps. The interim arrangements that we have at the moment are not ideal. They are inflexible and they do not allow for the specific and unique nature of the corps and its work environment. These people need to be readily available, need to be able to deploy quickly and need to be able to be mobilised quickly. Then they need to be able to go into an environment that is often in a pretty bad way, with little infrastructure and little technology and ICT. The current arrangements do not allow that flexibility, that ability to deploy instantly and that ability for these people to get into these difficult and often hard to reach environments quickly.

The bill gives the director-general the remit to tailor a set of terms and conditions for these personnel to match the specific environment that they will be working in. That is very important. Each natural disaster, each area of conflict and each crisis is different. This should mean that a ‘cookie-cutter’ effect should not occur. These people going in should meet the specific requirements of the mission rather than there just being a generic approach.

The bill also provides the opportunity to craft a specific set of values unique to the corps and its environment, as well as better enabling the people selected to be released from their current work duties. That is often difficult. Trying to get experts in the Public Service out of their current circumstances and work environment into a crisis situation can be difficult, especially in terms of managing their work loads. This allows for greater flexibility, particularly for public servants. For consultants, there is a great deal more flexibility and, I imagine, the same applies to academics as well. But it is important that public servants with expertise, particularly in financial management, budget management and law and justice, have flexible enough work circumstances that they can move. It is also worth nothing that this bill establishes more flexible and appropriate conditions for the work being undertaken by the employee while still being protected by the Fair Work Act.

This bill sends a strong message to our neighbours that we as a nation are committed to playing our part as good global citizens. It also sends the clear message that Australia is interested in not only short-term humanitarian relief but longer, more sustainable action over time that builds resilience within the world around us. It would be all too easy to forget the people in these countries once an immediate crisis is over. How many people in these countries ask themselves, ‘What happens next? Who will restore water and power? Who will provide the experience to restore good governance? Who will ensure that our financial management is done effectively and efficiently? Who will ensure our budget processes are appropriate?’ It is very important that we provide that expertise and that we can basically say, ‘Australia will help you do that.’ And we will do that through the Australian Civilian Corps.

The Australian Civilian Corps plays a significant part in answering these questions, and this bill seeks to fix those long-term but no less vital issues that impact upon the lives of so many. The bill creates a mechanism for changing people’s lives around the world and I believe we should be immensely proud of it. I fully support it. I fully support it with the experience of having been in Foreign Affairs for quite a bit of my career and also having worked with AusAID, particularly during the early days of the East Timor crisis. I also at that stage filled in as media adviser for the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer. In my time in Foreign Affairs, AusAID, the minister’s office and also Bob McMullan’s office when he was Minister for Trade, I did realise the importance of the role we play in the region. Having attended what was then the South Pacific Forum in the Cook Islands, I do understand the important role we play in the region. We will continue to do that by providing not just short-term relief but long-term assistance through the Australian Civilian Corps. I fully support this bill.

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.