Monday, 24 February 2020
Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019; Second Reading
I was saying before I had to pause my remarks that we have, through global co-operation, solved a number of really significant international problems. We've solved great problems in the past by, for example, adopting the Millennium Development Goals and seeing the decline in extreme poverty. Sadly, the rate of decline of extreme poverty has slowed just recently. Progress in this area has slowed just recently, but we've had other great achievements. For example, we've lifted primary school enrolment rates in developing regions from 83 per cent to over 90 per cent. And we actually fixed the hole in the ozone layer.
Perhaps it's only people my age who remember the fact that we were worried many years ago about the hole in the ozone layer. Because countries got together and worked co-operatively, we were able to reverse this worrying trend. Under the Hawke Government in 1987, Australia was one of the first countries to ratify the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. We avoided the worst aspects of the global financial crisis because countries launched stimulus at the same time. The global financial crisis was very serious; they were the worst economic circumstances sense the Great Depression but could have been worse if we'd not taken this action together globally.
We got rid of small pox—what an amazing achievement. It was one of the most infectious diseases ever to have been eradicated, a disease with a 30 per cent mortality rate. We saw a coordinated global effort that eliminated small pox. This effort has been credited with saving as many as 200 million lives between 1980 and 2018, and, of course, it gets an honourable mention in the Ian Dury song, 'Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3'—a terrific song, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker; if you haven't heard it, I'm sure you'd enjoy it.
We've done a very substantial job on reducing HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. This year, we have seen data here in Australia, and we've reached our lowest number of HIV diagnoses in nearly two decades. But importantly, around the world, global deaths from AIDS have halved over the past decade. It shows the sort of return on investment we get from investing in these global funds.
We've seen the terrific success of things like the invention of Gardasil, a discovery here in Australia. To date more than 200 million doses have been distributed in 130 countries. This cervical cancer vaccine protects against about 70 per cent of cervical cancers, saving lives globally. Australia is playing such an important role there. In Ebola in August 2014, we went from seeing the risk of a global epidemic—an international health emergency which killed 11,325 people and infected nearly 30,000 others—to seeing very quickly that the global effort meant we developed a vaccine that is about 90 per cent effective.
We now have coronavirus, of course—COVID-19—and Australia, again, has contributed to this global effort. Australian researchers have been able to sequence the genome of the virus, growing it from real patients as opposed to growing it synthetically. This will mean that Australia has played a key role in the race to develop an effective treatment and vaccine.
Since the advent of the current international order, global conflicts have also decreased substantially. That's a great effort in health, but look at the story when it comes to conflict. After the Second World War, there were nearly 250 battle deaths per million people. We've got down now, thankfully, to about 10 per million. These are significant achievements. If you look at international coordination on nuclear non-proliferation, we've got from a high of 70,300 active weapons in 1986 to approximately 3,750 active nuclear warheads left in the world in 2019. I think that's 3,750 too many nuclear weapons in the world, but when you look at the fantastic work of ICAN and others—ICAN, of course, won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize—you see what is possible when we cooperate.
Sadly, of course, the United States has withdrawn from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and I'd have to say that is a real step backwards in this area. If we look at cluster munitions, Australia signed and ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions when we were last in office, under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, prohibiting the use, transfer and stockpile of cluster bombs. For the first time since 2015, the report last year was that there was no new use of cluster bombs in Yemen and a significant decrease in the Syrian conflict.
Chemical weapons have been banned since 1997, but sadly we have tragically seen some governments—the Syrian government, for example—use these against their own people. If not for the ban, how much more widespread would the use of chemical weapons and cluster munitions be?
These achievements have only happened because of international cooperation—small countries like us, small in population, working together with the big nations in a way that has changed our world and has made it safer and stronger, and it is firmly in the tradition of Australian foreign policy to do this. The Liberals, of course, criticised our bid for the UN Human Rights Council, but the then foreign minister was able to use our position on the UN Human Rights Council, when we won it, to stand up for the interests of Australia after MH17 was shot down.
We have to participate in these global challenges. When it comes to aid, this, of course, is one of the most important ways we can do it. Our aid budget makes our world safer and more prosperous, and, when our world is safer and more prosperous, Australia is safer and more prosperous. We still have 736 million people living on less than $1.90 a day, 47.2 million of whom are on our doorstep in the Indo-Pacific region. You don't win the battle against global poverty by retreating, by turning your backs on the international community. We need to continue to play a strong role globally on all of these issues—on health, aid, peace and disarmament, economic growth and prosperity, and, of course, climate change. That's because our neighbours' successes are our successes.
Economic modelling from the Australian National University has found that every additional dollar spent on Australian foreign aid in Asia has resulted in $7.10 in Australian exports. The results speak for themselves. Between 2013 and 2018 our total aid to Indonesia nearly halved to less than $300 million, and our two-way trade with Indonesia has grown to nearly $17 billion, making Indonesia our 13th largest trading partner. We hope to build on that success because, as countries in our region leave poverty behind, they become trading partners for us. As they improve their health systems, our own health is protected. If we've got outbreaks of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and malaria on our doorstep, then of course the risk to Australia is greater.
Our participation in aid, our strong backing for official development assistance, has always been because we morally believe that it's the right thing to do. But in purely practical terms: when our neighbours succeed, when our planet is more peaceful and more prosperous, then Australia can look forward to more peace and prosperity for our own citizens.
I'm pleased to rise to speak on this bill, the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019, and the amendment moved by the member for Shortland. That's because, of course, meeting our commitments to replenish these development funds is an essential part of being a good global citizen. Several crucial multilateral funds are covered by the special appropriation included in this bill, and Australia has a proud history of support for these funds. We've historically played an active role in supporting them. That's why it is appropriate for parliament to make a special appropriation to support these commitments on an ongoing basis.
We know that these multilateral funds alleviate poverty and promote economic growth and development in some of the world's poorest countries. The funds also help tackle the big global challenges of our time, things like climate change, which require international cooperation. These multilateral development funds have contributed to lifting more than a billion people out of extreme poverty since 1990, and Labor continues to be a strong supporter of the multilateral institutions at the heart of this system. We know that supporting international development is in Australia's interests.
But the Prime Minister and those on the other side seem to be unsure about their support for multilateralism, and I note that there's a heavy list from our side of parliament speaking to this bill but very few from the other side who came to speak on this. Last year the Prime Minister gave the Lowy Lecture. At that time, he said:
We should avoid any reflex towards a negative globalism that coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill defined borderless global community. And worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy.
Well, unlike the Prime Minister, Labor is proud of Australia's support for multilateral development institutions. These types of institutions are the ones that have helped to promote peace and prosperity across the globe since they were set up in the aftermath of World War II. They were set up because we'd seen the impact of going it alone. They were set up because we'd seen what happens when nations acted unilaterally. They were set up so that we could achieve global cooperation. They further Australians' interest in a stable, secure and prosperous international environment.
As we see the dominant economic and political forces in our region and around the globe continue to shift, it's crucial we remain engaged with these multilateral institutions. Multilateralism ensures Australia is able to play a role on the global stage. They are somewhere where we, as a middle power, can come together and exert influence and make sure that our voice is heard and that we work constructively for a better future for all. And at a time when nations like the United States, who once we may have looked to as being leaders in these forums, are also disengaging from multilateral organisations, now's the time for Australia to strengthen our role and our leadership in these organisations at a time when we really are facing global problems, problems that can't be tackled by one country alone. Things like climate change—well, we can't tackle that alone; we need international institutions and international agreement—the movement of people across borders and people seeking asylum. These are all difficult problems that require us to be able to cooperate on an international level. That's what these institutions do, and that's why it's so disappointing that from the Prime Minister we have doubt about these international institutions and from the rest of his government's members we have disinterest about these institutions. This undermines Australia's commitment to these organisations, and it undermines our commitments to the rules based order which has been essential for ensuring a stable, secure and prosperous international environment.
Of course, it's not just Australia's spirit of cooperation that's lacking, it's our financial commitment too. Despite more than one billion people being lifted out of poverty since 1990, there is more to be done. More than 700 million people around the world still live in extreme poverty, and progress is made through those who can afford it doing their share. Unfortunately, that is not what Australia is doing. The coalition government has now cut $11.8 billion from Australia's foreign aid budget since 2013. In 2013-14 our aid budget was 0.33 per cent of our gross national income. On its current trajectory, it is expected to hit just 0.19 per cent in 2022-23. This is the lowest level on record. Within the OECD, we've fallen from being the 13th most generous country in 2012 to the 19th in 2017, making us one of the least generous members amongst OECD member countries.
We're now seeing the devastating impact of the Morrison government's cut to foreign aid. Spending on education, cut by 41 per cent; spending on health, cut by 32 per cent; support for South-East Asia, cut by 30 per cent; support for South Asia, cut by 42 per cent; support for Indonesia, our nearest and largest neighbour, cut by half. It is a disgrace that this government is ripping foreign aid money from countries with demonstrated need. These programs work. They make people's lives better and they make our region stronger. They're an investment in our relationships with our neighbours, but the Morrison government has shown that it is short-sighted and cold-hearted.
I've had the privilege of seeing firsthand the impact of Australian aid. I worked in the aid sector during the Rudd government years, when our aid budget was growing. I've travelled to South Africa, I've travelled to Timor-Leste, I've been to Vanuatu, I've been to the Solomon Islands. In all of those countries I saw the diverse ways that Australian aid was making real and practical changes in people's lives: women's groups who were getting a voice where they've never had one before; farmers in Timor-Leste who were being supported with small-scale farming, which meant they had gone from having a lengthy 'hungry season' to being able to feed their families; and people in South Africa who were being funded to get through the stigma and the difficulties of having HIV and AIDS.
These are vital programs. These are the programs that this government has cut. They've said they don't care about these people's lives: 'We want to leave you to yourself. We're not a good neighbour; we're not part of this community. We don't have any interest in supporting you.' That's what this government has done, and it is so disappointing to all of those good people working on those programs, people who were committed to improving others' lives. That work has now been undone, including the relationships we built and the knowledge we built about how things work in other countries. If we are engaging with other countries, if we want to go and talk to them about how things work, how we might have a better relationship with them—we've just lost decades of work. We've lost relationships that we had. We've lost contacts and knowledge that we had because of this government's cuts to foreign aid. It's short-sighted and it's mean.
Of course, it doesn't have to be like this. In contrast, the Conservative government in the United Kingdom put into law a target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income on foreign aid spending. That's right: a conservative government. Former British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron championed raising the foreign aid budget, calling on better-off countries to meet their moral obligation. In 2012, in a speech to the United Nations, Cameron warned of the dangers of continuing to underspend. He said:
If we don't, the problems of conflict, the problems of mass migration, the problems of uncontrollable climate change are problems that will come and visit us at home.
If other conservative parties across the globe can see the importance of committing to foreign aid spending, why can't this government? This government continues to slash the aid budget and weaken Australia's reputation as a generous nation.
We know that Australians expect us to support these programs overseas. We know that they value foreign aid. Research conducted by the Lowy Institute in 2018 found that the average Australian actually believed that we invested around 14 per cent of the federal budget on foreign aid. They thought that maybe the right level would be about 10 per cent. What a difference! The Australian people think we should be investing 10 per cent; 0.19 per cent is what we're on track for. Australians know that it's in our interests to be generous. They are big-hearted. They are people who see that we can reach out, that we are wealthy enough to support others and that we are wealthy enough to be good neighbours. But this government is so short-sighted that it can't see those benefits.
There are other benefits for Australia. Reaching out to our neighbours can enhance our security and reduce the impacts of global instability. More importantly, it's an expression of our Australian values. It shows that we, as Australians, care about others and it demonstrates to the world that we want to be seen as a country that is engaged, supports others and sees beyond our borders.
The need for strong multilateral institutions and for a strong foreign aid budget is also apparent when we look at some of our closest neighbours in the Pacific region. The Pacific region is one of the most aid dependent in the world, and Australia does remain the largest donor in the region. Within the region we need to work to remain the partner of choice for Pacific nations through improved diplomatic development and economic links. Labor has long been an advocate for deeper Australian engagement in the Pacific.
One of the ways that we really need to look at stepping up in this space is our engagement when it comes to climate change. Leaders from across the Pacific have been clear with us that their countries are already seeing the effect of devastating climate change. I hark back to my previous experience working in this space. Even back in 2013 I remember travelling to countries in the Pacific and being told that the climate was changing and that farmers couldn't grow food in the same way. These are people whose lives are already being impacted and these are people whose lives were already on the edge. If we're not stepping up to be a good neighbour, if we're not showing that we're part of a global effort, a community effort, to tackle this, what are we demonstrating? We're showing our Pacific neighbours that we're not genuine and that we're not really listening to them—we're not interested in their priorities. Actually, we'll give them some money, but it's based on what we think they need, not on what they think they need and not on what they're telling us they want support for. We have to make sure that we're listening to the Pacific, and that means we need to be supporting them on tackling climate change.
While this government has initiated the Pacific step-up, and Labor supports part of that, the Pacific step-up is undermined by the fact that we've ripped aid money from other countries and by the fact that we refuse to spend some of this money on tackling climate change in the Pacific. That's a vital problem there at the moment. Until we can listen to our neighbours, until we can demonstrate that the money we're giving them hasn't been ripped from other people around the world, we're not setting ourselves up to have the relationships we need to be able to support people around the world.
This government has also lost valuable expertise from our aid program. By cutting the aid program, they've lost the people who knew what they were doing. By cutting the people who had years and years of experience in this space, they're finding that—oops!—we've got to outsource to the private sector. And the private sector is saying, 'Actually, the amount of money you're spending doesn't really make this worth our while.' So there's no-one delivering these programs who has the expertise or the knowledge that they used to have. We're finding that people who had built decades of knowledge and experience in a particular area are being pushed to one side, and, again, this undermines the relationships that we've had. People in other countries who may have been able to walk into, say, a bureaucracy in Pakistan and know who's who and know their way around are no longer on Australia's side, because we've cut their funding. It's short-sighted. It's undermining us all. This government have shown they don't care about foreign aid. If they cared, they'd invest. If they cared, they'd be thinking about the future, they'd be putting their money where their mouth is and they'd be supporting efforts to reduce global poverty.
I rise to speak on the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill. Australia's aid program should make us proud to be Australians. It preserves our way of life at home and helps the most disadvantaged across the world. It's clear that the member for Jagajaga is proud of the achievements of our aid program, when it's been performing at its best and doing what it's meant to do—projecting those Australian values of compassion and fairness across the world. Australia has some of the great aid organisations that participate in so many regional and international forums—for example, Caritas, APHEDA, Save the Children, World Vision and Oxfam, where the member for Jagajaga once worked. There are so many good institutions that do so much good in the world. I will give a particular shout-out to Global Citizen, which is headed up by a few Australians, including Hugh Evans, and a good friend of mine Michael Sheldrick. Noting that this bill ensures that we can meet our commitments to organisations including the World Bank, I'll also give a shout-out to Daniel Street, who worked in this building for Channel 9. I was also very pleased to work with him on Australia's aid program in foreign minister Rudd's office. We all know that when the Micah crew come into this building, you can't miss them. They make their voice and their commitment to helping the poorest people in the world heard, loud and clear.
However, just because we have all these great organisations, it doesn't mean that we always receive the message. Sometimes, rightly or wrongly, we go down the wrong track. Some say 'negative globalism' is a danger. I think the bigger risk is actually positive isolationism—that is, making a virtue of Australia withdrawing from international organisations. To make a virtue of participating less is a complete affront to our democratic values, which say we should engage. A prime minister that is proud to have skipped a United Nations climate conference to visit an automated McDonald's drive-through is not representing the sort of Australia that we should be projecting to the rest of the world. A shrinking aid budget is something that we in this place should all be concerned about.
While many talk about a Pacific step-up, the reality is it's a Pacific 'catch-up'. We are catching up, because we cut programs to our closest neighbours. We are catching up, because other people filled that space. We are catching up, because our Pacific neighbours fell behind on their achievement of the UN sustainable development goals. And these are big problems. Some people say they're too big, they're too hard, and so we shouldn't try. 'Can't Someone Else Do It?' was Homer Simpson's campaign slogan when he ran for garbage commissioner. It shouldn't be Australia's foreign policy platform. Over six years, this government took a systematic approach to their decision to cut our aid programs. It was their plan. It went through their ERC, it went through their cabinet and it went through their party room. This was not a mistake, where they can just turn around and say, 'My God, where did all that money go? Oh, we've cut the aid budget.' It happened year after year after year. The government was warned that this would create strategic risk in our region and across the world. And guess what? It did.
No, Australia is not the richest country, but we are a wealthy country. We can use our influence to encourage others. It's what Australians have done for decades. In 1948, under Australia's presidency, the United Nations General Assembly passed the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and established the Commission of the Status of Women in 1947, and Australia was one of the largest global donors of aid to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. At our best, we do more than our fair share, and, at our best, we are proud of doing more than our fair share. But recently we've seen an approach that denies billions and billions of dollars to the poorest people in the world.
You look at just our bilateral program to Pakistan. We're going from in the 2018-19 financial year, $39.2 million a year to the people of Pakistan down to zero. That is a huge cut, and it's to just one of our friends, the people of Pakistan. I was lucky enough to visit in 2010 following some horrific floods, where Australia proudly committed $40 million to build hospitals, provide health services and prevent people dying from entirely preventable diseases that came about as a result of those floods.
I heard the member for Jagajaga speaking earlier and she talked about real changes. The reality is that, just like I saw when I travelled to Pakistan with Foreign Minister Rudd, our aid does deliver real change to people's lives. She talked about giving voice to women in our region, talked about helping farmers—something we're lectured on all the time by those opposite but we've actually got an aid program that does help our farmers. The Australian Agricultural Centre for International Agricultural Research is a great organisation that actually shares some of Australia's best farming practices with emerging economies across the world. We should be proud of that. We should talk about it more.
I was pleased on 29 October 2019 to host an aid forum with Senator Penny Wong. Some 200 people from the electorate of Perth attended that forum, talking about how we increase compassion. We had young students come up and say, 'I've got a great education. How do we make sure that every child across the world has a great education?' We had people raise concerns about climate change, making sure that we continue to invest in these multilateral funds. It was a great forum, and I want to thank Senator Wong and all of my constituents who attended.
When we talk about the amount and the quantum that we invest in aid, so many people think that we are spending unreasonable or unaffordable amounts on it. There was a statistic given to me actually by someone opposite whom I won't name—it would be very unkind to do so—that just puts this in perspective. Sadly, we spend less than $4 billion a year on direct foreign aid. Australians, according to the Pet Industry Association of Australia—and I should declare a conflict of interest here: my brother Joey is the proud owner of a pet store in the electorate of the member for Fremantle; a great small business, doing fabulous things. But if you look at the amount we spend on aid as a country, about $3.8 or $3.9 billion, Australians spend $12.2 billion a year on their pets. Everyone loves their pets, but don't tell me that we can afford to spend $12.2 billion a year on pets and we can't afford to run a big strong, growing aid program.
Under the Rudd and Gillard governments, Australia had a commitment to reach 0.5 per cent of gross national income spent on our aid program. In 2013, that budget had reached $5 billion. We are now at an historic low of just 23c in every $100 that the government receives being spent on our aid program. It is just impossible to think that we've done so much damage in just six years.
I was proud to stand at the election and be elected on the Labor platform of Australia, once again striving towards 0.5 per cent of gross national income. I think we should talk more and more to our friends in the United Kingdom about their target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income—something that is entirely reasonable over the long term. But at the moment we sit at the bottom third of OECD countries when it comes to aid spending.
On this, I think former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was 100 per cent right. We need a new bipartisan agreement on aid spending and a bipartisan plan for growth. It's the only way that we can take this debate out of these chambers and get back to where we were for many decades: bipartisan support and a bipartisan approach to growth. On that front, I'll note that in government things were different, but in opposition the shadow minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, was a very strong supporter of that bipartisan commitment.
When we look at our progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals: on 32 indicators we are in need of improvement; 24 of the indicators we are in need of a breakthrough; and 32 of the indicators are off track. We are signing up to these agreements and then we are not doing the heavy lifting and the hard work to meet our obligations under those agreements.
One area where we're not meeting our commitments in the Sustainable Development Goals is climate change. The 2013-14 aid budget referenced climate change 46 times, estimating that we would be spending about $600 million of our aid program on environmental initiatives. The budget that followed in 2014-15 referenced climate change just three times, with $0 estimated expenditure. If that is not an ideological obsession seeing its way into the heart of our aid program, I don't know what is. The reality is: if you believe in climate change action, you need to believe in Australian aid programs. There are so many lectures that tell us Australia can't do it alone. I agree; Australia can't do it alone. But we should do a little bit to help out, because the reality is not every country in the world has the expertise, the intellectual property and the capacity to do what Australia is so fortunate to be able to do.
To come back, you can't talk about this program without looking at the very detail of the cuts. We remember the 2014 budget cutting many, many things, but it also cut our foreign aid budget by $700 million. It's always hard when you talk about money—what does $700 million get you? One of the things that I was lucky to once hold in my hand was what they call Plumpy'nut. It is a peanut paste like substance of 500 calories that UNICEF said, 'changed the world'. When you are dealing with malnutrition, particularly in children and babies, Plumpy'nut is the thing that saves their life. It costs about 50c a packet. That $700 million could buy 1.4 billion packets of Plumpy'nut, and at certain times this is in short supply and is desperately needed. Indeed, when there was the Horn of Africa famine in 2011, Australia funded the distribution of Plumpy'nut to literally save the lives of babies, toddlers and children.
The cuts didn't stop in 2014. In 2015, we go further. We see the commitment from the government for the aid spend to drop to 0.21 per cent of gross national income. Today, it's been cut by some 27 per cent from the 2013 levels. And, to help make sure that there was never any questioning voice in these cuts to the aid program, the government actually closed the agency that was supposed to be the voice for aid within the bureaucracy. They shut AusAID, getting rid of hundreds and hundreds of long-standing professional staff and closing the doors on our aid agency. And, it does make a difference. I understand that the government will say they merged it with DFAT and there were foreign policy benefits of doing so, but the reality is rather than two agencies, both who would take different perspectives on and both who would provide their input into the development of government policy, you now just have the voice of DFAT. No disrespect to DFAT, but they can't be the foreign policy voice to government and the voice for an effective, strong and growing aid program.
The Lowy Institute notes:
Australia’s aid program has been the disproportionate victim of the Coalition government budget savings measures since forming government in 2013.
Every time we see the back-in-black surplus mug dragged out, you've got to remember that was off the back of $11 billion in cuts to the aid program. And, while the mantle of being the progressive former Prime Minister is currently one that Malcolm Turnbull would love to hold, the reality is a large amount of the cuts happened on his watch, and that can never be avoided. But the current Prime Minister—who was the Treasurer, who helped enact so many of Prime Minister Turnbull's cuts—in his first speech to this place, on Valentine's Day on 14 February 2008, said:
As global citizens, we must also recognise that our freedom will always be diminished by the denial of those same freedoms elsewhere, whether in Australia or overseas.
He quoted Bono!—saying that we should increase our aid to Africa. In fact, sometimes we hear quotes about the great moral challenges of our time. Well, the Prime Minister said:
Africa, though, is a humanitarian tragedy on an unimaginable scale. It is a true moral crisis that eclipses all others.
That's right, the Prime Minister said that what we do in Africa is the moral crisis that eclipses all others. So I couldn't believe it when I looked at the numbers. What has this government actually done when it comes to funding Africa and the Middle East in our aid program? When they came to office, they had $388 million in aid being spent there. But, by 2019-20, they have proudly gotten down to $199 million. That's a 48.5 per cent cut by this government. If that's how the Prime Minister treats something he thinks is a moral challenge, we're in trouble.
I'm glad to speak in support of the amendment to the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019 moved by the member for Shortland and shadow minister for international development. And I'm glad to follow some very fine contributions from the members for Perth, Jagajaga and Sydney. Like my colleagues, I'm unashamedly a friend and supporter of Australian aid. It's welcome that, through this bill, we're taking the legislative action required to guarantee Australia's contribution to various multilateral aid funds—six of them. Australian aid is, without question, vital in saving lives and reducing poverty. Poverty hurts people. Poverty causes suffering and preventable death, regional instability and conflict—all the terrible things that can befall human communities. It is hard to think of a more important cause than Australian aid.
This guarantee is welcome but it has to be seen in context—because, under this government, Australian aid has been badly knocked about. AusAID was dissolved, with a significant impact on skills, personnel, knowledge, morale and development assistance capacity. We know that $11.8 billion has been cut from the development assistance budget. It's the one area of government that has taken the largest impact of cuts from this government. For quite a long time, the government wasn't prepared to be open about where those cuts were falling. Thanks to inquiries by the shadow minister for international development and the Pacific, we know some of the detail of those cuts. We know, for instance, that those cuts have resulted in a 41 per cent decrease in education programs, a 32 per cent decrease in aid programs focused on health outcomes and a 42 per cent decrease in South Asia alone.
The funding in this bill is welcome but it comes against a background of huge cuts and a huge retreat in the scope and capacity of our development assistance program, and it's a shame when you consider what well-targeted aid can achieve. The multilateral funds whose support is guaranteed through this bill include the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative, which supported 36 underdeveloped nations. An analysis of this initiative has found that participation is associated with a 16 per cent and a 12.5 per cent reduction in child and infant mortality respectively and that those beneficial effects are the largest in the poorest countries. But this government, since it was elected in 2013, has taken a wrecking ball to Australian aid. It's where the largest cuts that it has inflicted have fallen. And that's despite the supportive statements that the current Prime Minister made upon being elected. It is despite the interest that the former Foreign Minister, the former member for Curtin, had in aid. She is highly regarded, and not without justification. But she was the Foreign Minister who presided over the dissolution of AusAID and the massive cuts to Australian aid.
Development assistance has dropped to 0.19 per cent of GNI. It was 0.37 in the last term of the former Labor government. It has dropped to 0.19 per cent of GNI. That's the lowest in Australia's history. We've fallen from being a solid, middle-of-the-pack OECD contributor to being one of the least generous. It's been a brutal hit in terms of the development assistance we provide to poor nations, including poor nations in our region. It means our influence on the economic development of countries in our regions has diminished, and our economic wellbeing will suffer as a result, because a lot of our programs are devoted to democratic capacity and other kinds of government systems that allow underdeveloped countries to develop and to become more economically capable. It means our influence on building peace and security in our region has been diminished. If you are serious about peace and security and serious about keeping Australians safe, one of the things you do not do is cut Australian aid, because it is one of the best ways of building peace and regional security. So, by not supporting better governance and democratic capacity, by not supporting better health and education, and by not supporting better environmental and climate outcomes, we undermine the peace and security of our region and our own peace and security. Make no mistake about that.
Taking the hammer to Australia's aid program also means that we save fewer lives. We save fewer lives and we lift fewer people out of aching poverty. We look at the awful decision made last year to stop assistance to Pakistan altogether after 70 years—an underdeveloped country which faces many challenges and which with we've had a strong partnership and an aid program partnership that's lasted 70 years, now cut away to nothing. In April last year, the Morrison government's aid budget summary said that gender disparities are stark in Pakistan and noted that nine in 10 Pakistani women experience violence in their lifetime, among the world's highest rates of gender based violence. The summary noted that it was a key objective of Australia's aid to Pakistan to assist women and girls, with a focus on education, access to reproductive health and combatting gender based violence. Pakistan is one of the poorest countries in Asia. It was placed 150 out of 178 nations on the most recent United Nations human development index. So, despite the circumstances of Pakistan and despite only in April last year, less than 12 months ago, the Morrison government identifying the needs of Pakistan and the reasons why we should be supporting Pakistan, the decision was made late last year that we would stop supporting those kinds of development goals in Pakistan altogether.
I've listed the three consequences of our aid cuts—the fact that it undermines regional economical development, it undermines regional peace and security, and it prevents us from reducing aching poverty and saving lives. I have listed the consequences in what I consider to be the reverse priority. I think our aid program should proudly have as our No.1 priority saving the lives of desperate people and reducing the poverty that hundreds of millions of people face. It's absolutely a part of our character and values to lift up the lives of some of the most desperate and disadvantaged of our fellow human beings. But, if you don't find that compelling enough, it's worth remembering that Australian aid, dollar for dollar, is one of the best kinds of government expenditure when it comes to economic capacity, and that ultimately means our own economic wellbeing through trade in our region as countries develop and, as I've said before, building peace and security in our region. That's why I'm an all-day and everyday supporter of Australian aid and that's why that's the position of the Labor Party. It was in government; it has been and will be in opposition.
I encourage people to consider and support Australian aid. I know the member for Perth talked about some of the misunderstandings about how big our aid program is, how much we contribute and what it achieves. I note that the campaign for Australian aid, which people might like to consider at australianaid.org, includes a whole number of reasons why we should support that program, and I will name a number of them. In 2014 alone, Australian aid vaccinated more than 2.3 million children; it ensured nearly one million additional mothers had access to a skilled birth attendant; it provided critical services for more than 66,000 women who have survived violence; it supplied 2.9 million people with access to safe drinking water; and it responded to emergencies in 24 countries, including Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and flooding in the Solomon Islands. That's what Australian aid does. It's absolutely part of our character and our values as a nation and it should be supported.
I know that the government is going through the process of reconsidering and redesigning the aid program. I guess I have to observe that it's hard to imagine how they could make it worse.
I know I shouldn't be too optimistic. I should be cautious and we should watch carefully. But you start by dissolving Australia's stand-alone aid agency and you follow that by making Australian aid the victim of the largest budget cuts as a category of government expense. You take Australian aid to the lowest level it has been in our history. You talk about how you're going to focus aid in our region, but actually aid to South Asia declines by 42 per cent. You talk about how you are going to be more Jakarta than Geneva but you cut 50 per cent of all aid to Indonesia, which means 86 per cent of programs that deliver health assistance in Indonesia and 57 per cent of programs that deliver education in Indonesia. You come in and fashion your aid related four-word slogan, 'more Jakarta less Geneva', and then you go and make a 50 per cent cut in aid funding to our nearest and one of our most significant neighbours in the region.
We welcomed the President of Indonesia here last week to talk about how trade agreements are important. We talked about how the strategic position of comfort that Australia has enjoyed in our region for a period of time is changing, that it's much more challenging and that it's a geopolitical contest in which need to be involved. Yet one of the means by which we are involved in our region in that process, our Australian aid program, has been ripped into a hundred pieces and thrown on the floor. Anything has got to be better than what we've got, I say cautiously. You could only hope that this process of looking at our aid program going forward will do a number of things. It will certainly ensure that there are more resources, that the cuts stop, that the retreat from supporting our regional neighbours stops and that we look at what we've done in relation to Pakistan and reconsider it. Any and all of those things should occur.
I note the comments of the CEO of the Australian Council for International Development, the peak body for Australian NGOs in the international development space, Marc Purcell. In relation to this aid review he has said:
"For 70 years, Australia has assisted countries to create a more stable, peaceful and prosperous world through international aid and development. But we must always be vigilant about how the international environment is changing and tailor our foreign policy accordingly.
"A new development cooperation policy provides an opportunity to consider that environment and shape our response accordingly so it can best tackle poverty, injustice and inequality.
"The case for relevant Australian development assistance is compelling: Pacific Island nations are facing an existential crisis created by climate change; in Bangladesh, more than one million Rohingya people have fled persecution from Myanmar; and in South-East Asia over 300 million people live in extreme poverty, and inequality is rising.
"Australia's response should be to rise to these challenges and for the best of Australian expertise and experience to be harnessed to work with our neighbours.
Hear, hear! I entirely endorse that. I can only hope that the government and the responsible minister are listening to what the sector has been saying for a long time.
Let me finish by paying tribute to all those who work in the aid sector both within Australian aid and in the non-government organisations that are our delivery partners. I was fortunate to be with a number of colleagues as part of a regional leadership initiative that visited Bangladesh in January. We saw the work that's being done to combat one of the greatest humanitarian crises afoot in the world, where you have nearly 1 million Rohingya people from Myanmar who have been forcibly pushed off their land and subjected to terrible violence. They are being looked after in Bangladesh with the support of international NGOs, including NGOs that rely on Australian government support.
There are also programs in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, because Bangladesh itself is a country that has very significant development challenges. It has some 10 million people who are classed as ultrapoor, which means they survive on considerably less than US$1.50 a day and generally struggle to have more than two meals.
So to all people involved in aid: we know you take on work that can be physically and emotionally draining. What you do is vital. What you do is some of the most compassionate and life-changing work that human beings can undertake. It matters so much. Thank you. Keep going.
I'm speaking in support of this bill, the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019, because Australian aid saves lives. As a former Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, I've seen firsthand what a difference the Australian aid budget can make to the lives of some of the poorest people in the world living within our region.
Australia is a wealthy nation. We're fortunate to enjoy relative high living standards, and we have a moral obligation to support economic development and growth and improved living standards in the region in which we live. The Pacific region, in which Australia is situated, has some of the poorest people and nations in the world when it comes to global development goals and economic indicators—nations in which people die from preventable diseases like diarrhoea; nations in which rates of infant mortality are shockingly high; nations in which rates of attainment of primary school and high school education are very low; nations in which rates of domestic violence and violence against women are shockingly high. Added to those problems is the compounding influence of climate change on Pacific nations—particularly nations like Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, where governments are actively considering moving populations to other areas because their island nations are simply becoming uninhabitable. When you look at Australia's position in our region in that context, it's very important that bills like this are supported and that Labor and the government remain supporters of a workable Australian aid budget.
This bill provides a special appropriation for the Australian government to meet its commitments to replenish a range of multinational development funds over coming years. Those 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 help tackle environmental challenges which require global operation. Australia has played an active role over many years in supporting these funds, and our support for these funds is part of the government's commitment to being a good international citizen.
Australian overseas aid is not only the right thing to do but also in Australia's interests. It provides for Australia's foreign relationships, our economic prosperity and our national security by fostering more prosperous, stable and secure international environments. It is positive for our own economy, boosting jobs and living standards at home by encouraging growth abroad, which creates new export markets for Australian products. The classic example of this is the fact that Australia, in the past, has provided aid through various multilateral funds to China, to Korea and to nations like Singapore, which, as a result of that international aid, have lifted literally billions of people out of poverty. That aid improved living standards but also improved the productivity and effectiveness of those economies, and those economies—most notably China—are now important trading partners for Australia. China is of course Australia's largest trading partner, providing huge economic benefits to Australians in the form of increasing growth, productivity and jobs for Australians. So overseas aid not only improves the living standards of people in those countries that we provide it to, but also will return a dividend to the Australian economy in the future through increasing trade.
Overseas aid also reduces the risk of cross-border problems, like health epidemics, political instability and transnational crime affecting Australia. That's why Labor's been a strong supporter and always advocated for a strong international development program for this country. We're also a strong supporter of an international rules based system and the multinational institutions which are at the heart of this system. Supporting international development is in Australia's interests and helping developing countries to grow will promote Australia's interests in a prosperous, stable and secure region.
Growth in developing countries will create new trade and investment opportunities for Australia. It will not only help lift people in developing countries out of poverty but will also support jobs in Australia. Tackling poverty in developing countries is also in Australia's interests because it means a more stable and secure international environment. Poverty and social inequities can generate instability, insecurity and tension in the international environment. By reducing economic disadvantage, we're tackling the root causes of instability and insecurity. This will not only improve the welfare of people in developing countries but also improve our own security in what can be an increasingly unstable region. Supporting international development is squarely in Australia's interests. We're a country that's committed to the fair go and helping vulnerable and disadvantaged people both at home and abroad. Our international development programs and our participation in multinational development institutions are an expression of our values as Australians—particularly the value of the fair go. That's why I and my Labor colleagues are supporting the bill.
Through this bill the parliament will provide the executive government with a special appropriation from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the purposes of meeting Australia's commitments to a range of multilateral development funds. The funds covered by this special appropriation are the International Development Association, which is the World Bank's development arm and one of the world's main sources of mulitlateral official developmental assistance; the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, debt relief arrangements administered by the International Development Association which have relieved 36 of the world's poorest countries of about $99 billion worth of debt; 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 the sustainable development of 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. Australia supported these multilateral development funds for many years on a bipartisan basis. Our commitment to the World Bank goes back to the international financial architecture which was adopted in the aftermath of the Second World War by the Chifley government in its 1947 decision for Australia to join the Bretton Woods initiative. Australia was one of the first countries to ratify the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer under Hawke government in 1987, and the Howard government committed Australia to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative in 2005.
Australia's funding commitments to these institutions are typically refreshed every three to four years in replenishment pledges. The replenishment pledge can commit Australia to provide funding support for several years to come. In the case of the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, Australia's agreed to make an annual funding contribution to 2044, and that's why it's appropriate for parliament to make a special appropriation to support these commitments. An ongoing special appropriation will better reflect the multilateral and multiyear time frames of Australia's commitments to these funds and annual appropriations.
Labor supports the passage of this bill. However, I do wish to take this opportunity to express concern about the government's approach to international aid and in particular their continued cuts to the Australian aid budget. It's a concern that we've had for many years, since the government were elected. We have a concern also with the Prime Minister's role and his comments that undermine Australia's role in multilateral institutions.
Since this government came to office in 2013, they've cut $11.8 billion from Australia's aid budget. Australia's aid contribution is at the lowest level as a proportion of gross national income that it has ever been in our nation's history. And official Australian development assistance is now on track to fall to 0.19 per cent of gross national income—as I mentioned, that's the lowest level it has ever in our nation's history. This is a shameful record for a nation like Australia, particularly given the challenges that I mentioned earlier that we face within our region—not only around development goals, improving living standards and educational outcomes, but also around domestic violence, tackling climate change and strategic issues within our region.
We all know that the government has been withdrawing from multilateral institutions and withdrawing funding for international aid within our region, particularly the Asia-Pacific area, and that has provided an opportunity for countries from our north to enter the door that has been closed by this Liberal government in terms of relationships and partnerships with nations within our region. Under this Prime Minister, Australia's international aid is lower as a share of national income than it was under Liberal Prime Ministers Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Fraser and Howard. So congratulations, Prime Minister, your government has set the record for Australia's lowest commitment to the international aid budget under your government! Australia's aid budget as a share of GNI has fallen from the middle of the OECD pack to one of the least generous amongst OECD Development Assistance Committee member countries.
Although I understand that this record may seem popular with the general populace, let me tell you it's an unwise and unstrategic move for Australia to be taking. Some of the things that Australian aid funds are vaccines for children in some of the poorest countries within our region. I'm talking vaccines for polio, for rotavirus and for other ailments that children simply should not be dying from. It funds books for schools. If you go to countries like Papua New Guinea, into the Highlands, just getting books for kids into the schools is a challenge. Some of the programs that Australian aid funds get those books into those schools.
The Pacific has some of the most shocking and some of the highest levels of domestic violence and violence against women of any region throughout the world, and Australia has been a principal supporter of programs to eliminate domestic violence and to change the culture around men's approach to violence against women within these societies. I'm talking about programs such as Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development. This was instituted by the Gillard government, and has been very successful in not only reducing the rates of violence but also providing important counselling and shelter for women who are forced to leave domestic situations. They are some of the programs that Australian aid funds. They are humane programs that are in the interests of people living in our region and in the interests of Australia and its relationships with those countries.
By reducing the level of aid funding we're giving to these nations, this bill is contrary to Australia's interests in promoting economic development, prosperity, stability and security that economic development brings. It's harming our international standing and our bilateral relationships. We all saw at the recent Pacific Islands Forum how scathing the Pacific nations and their leaders were of Australia and its approach to climate change. They are now actively saying that Australia is dragging the chain when it comes to climate change. And these are nations that know better than most: they are facing the prospect of having to move populations from these islands, their water wells are becoming salinised, crops they've traditionally relied on to feed their populations are becoming unsustainable, and road infrastructure is literally being inundated by the rising sea level.
These nations are at the front line of climate change, and Australia has been walking away from them—and they've been critical of Australia's international aid budget cuts in respect of that. It is at odds with Australian values, particularly those notions of a fair go and of Australia being a generous notion, and it is hurting some of the poorest people in the world.
It is high time that the government accepted that they're doing the wrong thing when it comes to international aid and that they reversed some of the shocking cuts we've seen to the international aid budget, not only because of the effects that those cuts are having on some of the poorest people within the region but also for the future economic prosperity of Australia and for our international reputation.
I'll keep my comments fairly brief. I support the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019. It gives life to Australia's commitments to critical multilateral initiatives: the World Bank International Development Association, the World Bank's debt relief schemes, the Asian Development Bank's Asian Development Fund, the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund and the Multilateral Fund for Implementing the Montreal Protocol. It is important work. The expenditure is in the order of $350 million a year. There's no cash impact to the budget; this is to give effect to already budgeted commitments. In that sense, it's a technical bill, because a special appropriation bill is needed for the reasons that have been outlined and I won't go over. These are all existing commitments.
The thing I do just want to put on the record yet again is that this bill comes in the context of a massive $11.8 billion cut to Australia's international development assistance under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, the ATM government. This is about leadership; this is not about being popular, let's be honest. In the community, you hear a lot about how charity begins at home. People think we as a nation spend far more than we actually do on international aid. If you ask people how much we spend—they've done surveys on this—the figures are quite astounding. Some people think we spend literally 10 per cent of our national budget on foreign aid, but that's just not true.
It takes leadership to rebut this 'charity begins at home' notion. Firstly, we need to remind people that this is in accordance with Australian values. This is who we are as a people. This is who we have been for decades. We don't forget our neighbours in Papua New Guinea and East Timor, the people who gave us shelter and helped save us during the Second World War, some of whom gave up their lives; in the Solomon Islands; and right throughout the Pacific. We don't forget them. These are our values. We understand that we're one of the world's wealthiest countries, notwithstanding all the issues that we have here. We give thanks for that and we try and share that and do a bit in the neighbourhood. We're good international citizens. You've got to remind people of this. We are good international citizens and we should be proud of that. There are challenges we share with countries in the region. There are a whole bunch of things in the region that we can't do alone and no country can do alone, but we have the resources and the capabilities and the relationships to do our part, and we should be doing our part.
But if that argument doesn't work, if values and international citizenship aren't enough, then there's the argument that works more effectively, I have to say, with many members of the government, and that's fine. It's national interest. International development aid is in our national interest. We can do more and we must do more to ensure that we live in a peaceful and stable region and that the countries nearby don't sink into instability and chaos. We know that global poverty, extreme poverty and extreme inequality provide a breeding ground for terrorism. That's a known fact. We know that, when we have problems like drug-resistant tuberculosis coming in and out of Queensland, it is in our interests—our very narrow, most selfish interests—to do more about this in the countries to our north. And poverty, of course, is a cause of these things. Ultimately, we don't want failed states on our doorstep. If you want to take that really hardline argument, we don't want failed states on our doorstep—and foreign aid is cheaper than sending in the military.
But it's shocking that, under this government, international development assistance is on track to fall to just 0.19 per cent of gross national income. We're on track to give the lowest level ever recorded, from data since 1961, under any Australian government—0.19 per cent of GNI. That's 19c in every $100 of our national wealth. It's the meanest and nastiest level that we've ever achieved. That's what this Prime Minister and this government are driving us towards. At the very time we most need to be engaged in our region, we are cutting international development assistance.
If you look at the global Human Development Index, we should be ashamed that Africa in many ways is getting better in many places, in aggregate. That means that the Pacific—in our backyard, in our sphere of responsibility as a wealthy, large country in the region—will soon be the least developed place in the world and will have the poorest people in the world, with the worst life outcomes.
We're seeing with climate change an increasing need for aid and humanitarian assistance with rising natural disasters. We need to not just lift our game on mitigation—that's a debate for another day—but invest more in resilience and adaption. Of course there is also the deteriorating security environment, a challenging environment. Someone from the Howard government thought it was a good idea to cut Radio Australia, didn't they? That has turned out well. Now we've cut our foreign aid. The withdrawal of Australia from the region, the retreat, has left space for others who don't share our values.
Only last week the shadow minister finally got some real figures. There was a 10 per cent cut to aid for East Timor. East Timor, a country of around a million people right on our doorstep, with whom we've shared so much, has a 10 per cent cut to aid despite all the troubles there. There was a 50 per cent cut to aid to Indonesia. We had the Indonesian President here in the last sitting week, and the government was proclaiming our wonderful special relationship. Well, they're cutting aid and development assistance by 50 per cent. There is a 86 per cent cut to health funding in Indonesia.
They've got a review underway. I was trying to think of the best analogy. Are they rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic or putting lipstick on a pig? I don't think I'm allowed say 'polishing a turd', am I? That's probably against—
I withdraw that one. It is hard to know, isn't it? It is hard to imagine, as the member for Fremantle said, how you think they could make things worse from this review. He's remaining optimistic. Give them a chance—they'll find a way! I've been trying to reflect honestly. I've spent time in the region, in Myanmar and Thailand, looking at some of our aid projects—and in the Solomon Islands. We travel with government members. It's funny, isn't it? They're always there for a free trip. There are no shortage of government members who'll take that free trip and go overseas.
Mr Coulton interjecting —
Yes, absolutely. I took the free trip; I declared it. My point to the government minister, whoever you are over there, whichever latest one they've served up—
The member for Bruce will resume his seat. Member for Bruce, I'm going to give you one opportunity to refer to the minister by his correct title—which is Minister, to assist you—or I will sit you down and call the next speaker.
I called him 'Minister'. I will call him Minister. I said 'the government minister at the table'. I'm really not sure what you're on about right now, Deputy Speaker, but I said 'the government minister at the table'.
They're always happy to take the free trip, but they're not happy to stand up and champion foreign aid and to speak out against the cuts. Ultimately this is a leadership project. There are no votes in aid. We all know that there are no votes in aid. If anything, you go out and preach this stuff and people think you have the wrong priorities. That's the truth of it. But it's a leadership project. We do it because it's right, we do it because it's in the interests of our region and we do it because it's in our national interest. It should shame government members that they're not in here speaking out against the cuts or pushing the government to reverse some of these cuts. It doesn't matter how much you review the program. If you don't put more money in it, it's not going to work.
Labor supports the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019. It provides money to funds that 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 help tackle environmental challenges which require global co-operation. Our support for these funds is part of Australia's commitment to being a good international citizen. It's one of the ways Australia contributes to global economic and social development and to tackling environmental challenges. However, our concern with the Prime Minister's undermining of Australia's role in multilateral institutions is something that we are extremely concerned about.
We are also concerned about the coalition government's cuts to Australia's aid budget. Since this government came to office in 2013, it has cut $11.8 billion from Australian aid programs. Our development relationships in south-east and east Asia have seen annual development assistance cut by $384.7 million, or 29.8 per cent, since 2014-15. The aid to Indonesia, as we heard the member for Bruce mention, has been cut in half. We should be investing in the people of Indonesia, yet we have cut aid for health programs by a massive 86 per cent and for education by 57 per cent. Aid to Vietnam has been cut in half; assistance to the Philippines, Laos and Cambodia has been cut by a third; countries in south and west Asia have had their aid cut by $195.3 million; and assistance for Africa and the Middle East has been cut by 48.5 per cent over the last five years. Alarmingly, the figures show that Australia's annual assistance for education in all developing countries has been slashed by 41 per cent, while spending on health is down by $260.8 million. That's 32.3 per cent since 2014-15.
Supporting education is vital to achieving gender equality and preventing violent extremism in our region. The women and children of some of Australia's most important neighbours are suffering. Even within the Pacific region, we are seeing some nations losing direct funding. How can the Pacific step-up be effective if we cut aid to Vanuatu by 42 per cent, or to Samoa by 14 per cent? Cutting health assistance to Samoa by 36 per cent in the aftermath of its measles epidemic raises serious questions about whether the Morrison government is actually responding to the needs of our Pacific friends.
Our overall foreign aid budget has been slashed by 27 per cent in real terms since 2013, and now makes up a measly 0.82 per cent of federal government spending. This is an all-time low. Under Prime Minister Morrison, Australia's international aid as a share of national income is lower than it was under the Liberal prime ministers Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Fraser and Howard. Australia's aid budget as a share of GNI has fallen from being in the middle of the pack in the OECD to being one of the least generous among the OECD Development Assistance Committee member countries. As my friend Tim Costello said:
For years now the coalition has told us that aid would be restored 'once we returned to surplus'.
Well, I wouldn't hold my breath. I doubt this government will ever believe we have enough to start being generous again. Britain's debt is four times that of the Australian government, yet the UK has kept their promise to fix aid at 0.7 per cent of GNI. We are lagging where we should be leading.
This situation is contrary to Australia's interests in promoting economic development and the prosperity, stability and security that economic development brings. It's harming our international standing and our bilateral relationships. It is at odds with Australia's values as a generous nation. It is hurting, not helping, some of the poorest people in the world. In my role as ACTU president I was on the board of APHEDA, an international aid agency led in true solidarity by the wonderful Kate Lee. APHEDA runs small-scale aid projects that empower communities at the grassroots. It partners with local organisations and individuals to break people out of poverty, through empowering them through skills acquisition and organising capabilities—like establishing sustainable food sources, marketising local produce, learning skills that give lifelong careers, or fighting for human rights and workers' rights, to eliminate systemic exploitation. But APHEDA and the many other aid agencies need more resources to expand their work.
Just last year, it was announced the Morrison government will cease all bilateral aid to Pakistan. Australia has a 70-year history of providing aid to Pakistan but will end all government-to-government development assistance in 2020-21. Pakistan is one of the poorest countries in Asia. A key objective of Australia's aid to Pakistan has been assisting women and girls, with a focus on education, increased access to quality reproductive health services and gender based anti-violence services. It is incredibly short-sighted to scrap all bilateral aid to Pakistan.
I've been lucky enough to see the benefits of Australian aid. Last year I visited the Rohingya refugee camps on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Six parliamentarians were guests of Save the Children and—just like this motion states—the delegation saw the positive impact of the international aid we've given in response to this remarkable crisis. We've contributed around $70 million to the response. This solidarity is on display in so many ways. There are water pumps, bags of rice and other food items, medical clinics and so much more. We were able to witness the amazing contributions that our NGOs make in improving the lives and hopes of the Rohingya refugees. It's clear that our aid and solidarity, along with those of other countries, have done so much at a time of such a huge humanitarian disaster. When I visited, it was almost exactly 12 months since the first refugees flooded across the border, reporting atrocities at the hands of Myanmar soldiers.
What was then a forest refuge complete with wandering elephants is now a medium-sized city of almost one million people. The infrastructure of the camps and the food, health and social programs for over 900,000 people, many of whom are still traumatised by the death of loved ones, is quite remarkable. One of the key lessons I learned was that it will be crucial to provide men and women with real education and opportunities to earn a livelihood within the camps. Work is dignity, and the Rohingya are a determined, hardworking people, not used to doing nothing. We met young people who had completed or nearly completed high school in Myanmar, whose hopes have now been shattered. They don't have any books to read, let alone opportunities for further study. Yet, they too are helping their brothers and sisters in the brother-sister programs, teaching the young ones who can't get to the early learning centres.
The reality is that the vast majority of refugees will be there for a long time. A looming question is: how does development occur that gives the Rohingya hope and opportunity but also deals with the equally pressing needs of the Bangladeshi population? Many programs are now delivering around 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the funding to host communities to try to compensate for this.
This all plays into what commitment Australia will make in the medium to long term. As a nation, we need to lift our aid and effort both to the Rohingya camps and to this region of Bangladesh, not cut it. It's shameful that a country like Australia can't fund the money to play our role in lifting the standards and opportunities of our neighbours. Apart from lacking any humanitarian heart, it's foolish in national security terms not to invest in international aid. If we do not assist countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan or support countries who are suffering through ongoing armed conflict, we can expect that the resulting refugee flows will further strain international agencies and donors. Many parts of Africa are in crisis as a result of civil war, others through drought, floods and the climate crisis. The 65 million people who are currently displaced globally surpasses the number of people displaced during World War II.
Tackling poverty in developing countries means a more stable and secure international environment. We know that poverty and social inequality generates instability, insecurity and tensions. By reducing economic disadvantage we can tackle the root causes of that instability, and it will not only improve the welfare of developing countries but also improve Australia's security.
Labor also makes the point that this bill exposes the Prime Minister's hypocrisy concerning international institutions. On the one hand, Mr Morrison is out in the public arena undermining Australia's commitment to multilateral institutions with his rhetoric about negative globalism. His rhetoric is reminiscent of the right-wing nationalism we're seeing in the US and elsewhere. It takes us back to the 1930s. Our objective should be to promote unity, but we have a Prime Minister who is moving closer to the divisive politics we see in the US and the UK. There is something increasingly obvious about his behaviour and his political trajectory. His attacks on the right to protest, his denunciations of business people—
Such rhetoric is reminiscent of the 1930s. I will not link it directly to the 1930s. His attacks on the right to protest—this is about the Prime Minister, because he has attacked the rights to protest—his denunciation of businesspeople who dare to have a social conscience and his Lowy Institute speech parroting dangerous foreign ideas as negative globalism are all characteristic of a reactionary, not a conservative, let alone a Liberal. We are better than this. There is a reason why successive governments, both Labor and coalition, talk about the importance of global cooperation through multilateral organisations. To quote Angel Gurria, the Secretary-General of the OECD:
…the flourishing of multilateral institutions after World War II remain valid today. International cooperation provides venues to resolve differences peacefully; platforms to agree on common rules of the game; mechanisms to better manage international flows; and channels for exchanging ideas, experiences and practices …
This is so important.
Labor welcomes this bill because it will support Australia's continuing participation in multilateral development institutions. Helping developing countries grow will promote Australia's interest in a prosperous, stable and secure region, but fighting global poverty is the right thing to do. Helping the world's most disadvantaged people is an expression of Australia's values. We are a country committed to the fair go and to helping the vulnerable and the disadvantaged, both at home and abroad. Our international development programs and our participation in multilateral institutions are an expression of our values as Australians.
Not at all. He does sit next to me, so I can understand the confusion. The member for Perth is devilishly handsome as well, so I'm happy to be mistaken for him! We are speaking about the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019, and of course Labor, as the previous speakers have mentioned, will not be opposing this bill and support this bill. The key point of the contribution I want to make with regard to this piece of legislation is that there is a big difference between what this bill sets out to achieve and what we are seeing more broadly from the government with regard to foreign aid, with regard to Australia's place in the region and with regard to how we see ourselves as Australians.
Australians have always punched above our weight. We've always seen ourselves as positive partners, as positive players, in both our region and in the world, and I think Australians would be proud of much of the work that we do internationally, of which I'm going to talk a bit about today. But some of the comments by the Prime Minister, as the previous speaker, Ms Kearney, pointed out, have been small-minded, and they are also against our national interest. That is what I will be speaking about.
The Prime Minister stood in this place and said that we, as a country, need to move away from negative globalism, which stands in so much contrast to what we, as a country, have been about, to what we have achieved as part of the international community and to what we should be striving for in order to deal with the challenges that face not only us as Australians but also people in our region and across the world. But we cannot achieve and reach for solutions, and we cannot reach for better, if we are going to rip $1.8 billion out of the foreign aid budget. We cannot help those in our region if we cut education aid by 41 per cent and health assistance by 32 per cent.
When this government came into power in 2013, Australia's official development assistance was just over $5 billion. Right now, annually, it's $4.04 billion, down by almost $1 billion, which is around $1.5 billion a year in real terms. That's $1.5 billion being ripped out of our foreign aid budget because this government is afraid of what the Prime Minister calls 'negative globalism'. That's $1.5 billion that could be there to pursue our national interest and to assist our partners in the region. I note that the minister, Minister Hawke, is here. I know he shares all of our passion and concern for the Pacific as a region, but that is $1.5 billion that isn't being spent where it's needed.
Last year, as one of the first things I did when becoming a member of parliament, I was fortunate enough to go to our closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, and I saw firsthand the incredible work that Australians do and the role that Australia plays in small Papua New Guinean communities. We landed in Port Moresby, took a flight up to Goroka, got in a car for about three hours, headed in past all sorts of local and really remote communities and ended up in the small town of Kainantu, where we were told that they'd never been visited by a Papua New Guinean MP let alone six Australian MPs. We were greeted with quite the reception. It was something I'll never forget. In the small village of Kainantu we saw a school being supported by the Australian government and we saw a health facility being supported by the Australian government. It is changing lives in this small town, lives which otherwise wouldn't have running water, wouldn't have access to proper medical care and wouldn't have access to classrooms, books or education.
The role that Australia is playing in that small town is connecting these young people not only to Australia but to the world. The ratio of people who leave that school and go on to work in industries even within Papua New Guinea is quite low, but even one person in a class or a family of tens can support their family back in the village. It was inspiring to see the lives that are changed by Australia. There was genuine appreciation from the Papua New Guineans that Australians weren't there to dictate to them what they should be doing; they were there to work with them, to partner with them and to work together as equals, friends and allies. That is prevalent not just in Papua New Guinea but right across the Pacific, right across South-East Asia, yet the government is taking that money away from those communities.
This is not just an argument about what feels good and what we should be doing to help people who need our help. I absolutely understand that there are people inside Australia who also need our help. It is against our national interest to be cutting off ties with these countries, especially countries like Papua New Guinea and others in the Pacific. In the region, China is trying to exercise influence. It's trying to increase its influence especially in Papua New Guinea, as I've been speaking about, but also in other areas of the Pacific. They are doing it in ways where we can't compete. They have far bigger budgets and a far bigger capacity to build infrastructure. To be frank, we don't need to compete with China on that. What we need to be doing is continuing to partner with the people.
As Australians we are very good at governance and helping communities set up governance processes, but we are even better at setting up education processes, education institutions and healthcare institutions. That's how we connect with people in our region. That's how we exercise influence over people in our region. That's how we as Australians are able to ensure our place as a key player in our region, not by cutting funding but by partnering with people on the ground, by partnering with communities, and by acknowledging that we as Australians can do more. We do not need to compete with China, because people, especially in the Pacific and other parts of South-East Asia, value Australians for partnering with them. They know that the best thing that we can do as friends is to support them. That's why it is absolutely staggering to see that the government has systematically reduced funding and reduced our footprint and impact in the region and across the world.
The other point to make about it is that it is short-sighted. In a lot of these countries, especially in the Pacific, there are a range of health challenges that are absolutely in our national interest to ensure that we are providing healthcare services for in these communities and not when they ventures overseas. I don't think that it's too much to say that with the coronavirus we are seeing the devastating economic impact of what an infectious disease can do across multiple economies and countries. But in Papua New Guinea, as one example, and other parts of the Pacific HIV is at much higher rates. Diseases like tuberculosis are thankfully not really prevalent in Australia, but drug resistance to tuberculosis is more and more prevalent in Papua New Guinea. That is not something that we would want to be able to jump ship across to Australia. We need to make sure that we are supporting these communities to deal with the what must seem at times insurmountable health challenges in their communities. And we cannot be cutting education services and education funding by $430 million or health services by $26.8 million, not just because it hurts those communities but because it hurts us as Australians. It is not in our national interest to be saying to the region and to be saying to our friends in South-East Asia and in the Pacific that we want to reverse our influence, we want to back track our influence and we want to reduce our influence as Australians.
The message that we should be saying to these people and what we should be saying to our friends is that we understand that you have challenges and it is Australia that will help you overcome them, it is Australia that has always been your friend and it is Australia that wants to see you achieve the things that you need. That's why, only a few weeks ago in a very memorable meeting here in this parliament, we saw the President of Indonesia come here and express a friendship that is so wonderful between our two countries. And yet we are cutting our foreign aid from the Indonesians almost in half, from $610 million in 2014-15 to now less than $300 million. Vietnam has seen a cut by half. The Philippines, who at a time like this, when the Filipino people absolutely need the support of Australians, has seen over $20 million cut. Laos has seen 40 per cent cuts. Cambodia has seen 33 per cent cuts. And it's not just the big figures. In Indonesia, the cuts weren't made to infrastructure; they were made to health, education and humanitarian assistance. We are not just hurting our friends with the way in which we are dealing with foreign aid, we are hurting ourselves and we are hurting our place in the region and across our part of the world.
I want to read out the final figures before I finish my contribution. The Prime Minister talks about the Pacific Islands. In fact, I've even seen the minister do some impressive dance moves on his visits to the Pacific. The minister is nodding his head quietly—very impressive dance movements! But I would plead to the government that taking money away from the Cook Islands is devastating for those small communities. Taking over $5 million away from Samoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Fiji—that's tens of millions of dollars from our closest neighbours, from the countries that we so desperately need to remain as our closest partners and our closest allies. Australia should see itself as a nation that helps bring others forward, as a nation that plays a positive part in our region and as a nation that looks outwardly in the world and embraces our neighbours and those around us. We should not have this small-minded small aim of wanting to retreat and cower in the corner. We should be looking at our multilateral organisations and looking at our friends in the Pacific and working with them as partners.
The final thing I'll say is that when you compound the cuts made to these small Pacific islands, with the fact that the Prime Minister ignored the requests, the pleas, from the Prime Minister of Fiji, among others, to do more to tackle climate change, it has a devastating impact on that precious relationship that has been built up for so long. For these neighbours, climate change is not a sport, like the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction sometimes likes to think it is. It's not just getting through the media cycle of the day. For these countries, climate change poses an existential threat—the water is rising on their very toes—and to compound the fact that we are taking much-needed Australian funds away from these communities, with a Prime Minister who at times seems to be tone deaf to the very needs of these communities, hurts the very good name that Australia has worked hard to achieve for our friends over a long period of time. So we do not stand in the way of this bill. This bill is about working with our partners and working with multilateral organisations. This bill is not about negative globalism, which the Prime Minister likes to spout in his Trumpian style. This bill is about reaching out, working with other communities, working with other organisations and working to improve the lives of people in our region. It's also to act in Australia's national interest to ensure that our region has stability and that Australia's place in the region is increased and not decreased.
Once again, I note that, with respect to the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019, like so many others, no government members are speaking. Perhaps it comes as no surprise given what speakers on this side have said with respect to the government's commitment to overseas aid. Most Australians have a good understanding of the contrasts of the living standards of Australians when compared with that of people living in so many developing countries. People have sometimes had the opportunity to travel overseas and see for themselves. Others have seen footage from news services, films or documentaries, and some people have actually come from those developing countries. They understand just how fortunate we are to live in Australia. They know how much more difficult life would be in many of these developing countries, even if their own life in Australia is filled with struggles.
In today's world where there is so much affluence, there are still so many people in parts of the world who, through no fault of their own, live in extreme poverty, in conditions that no Australian would ever want to live in. These are often women and children who not only live in poverty but are exploited, enslaved, abused, assaulted and disempowered. We live in a world community. People in developing countries who live in misery are fellow humans who need our help. I acknowledge that there is widespread need, even in our own so-called 'lucky country', and that so many Australian families are also struggling through life. I heard the other day that 3.2 million Australians live below the poverty line. The recent fires, floods and storms have devastated so many of our own communities, yet I believe that we have the capacity to assist Australians in need while simultaneously lending a hand to people suffering overseas.
Over the past months, I've met with several people who are involved in global aid programs or campaigning for Australia to lift its aid commitment. Most of these people represented Christian faith organisations. They all had the same message: Australia could and should do more to reduce global poverty, with a particular emphasis on poverty throughout our Pacific neighbours. Yet Australian aid is declining. Since 2013, $11.8 billion has been cut. For the 2018-19 year, Australian aid spending was just $4.16 billion, or just 0.22 per cent of gross national income. It is projected to fall to just 0.19 per cent. This ranks Australia as 19th of the 29 nations that give aid and it will be the lowest level of aid as a share of GNI since data was first published in 1961 for Australia.
Fighting global poverty is not only the right thing to do but is in the national interest, as so many people have pointed out. I heard the remarks of the member for Macnamara with respect to the fact that, if we don't provide aid, then quite often other countries will, and that will in turn cause further problems for us in years to come. Providing aid not only creates stability in those countries but opens up trade opportunities, creates goodwill between us and improves our own national security—again, a point that has been stressed time and again by speakers on this side of the House.
Over the years, international aid has improved the lives of millions of people, and again that is acknowledged. However, there is still a huge need out there. Millions still suffer, often entrapped in slavery or burdened by disability in places with no social support and extreme poverty. Some 68.5 million people have now been displaced from their homelands and, of those, 85 per cent are living in developing countries where the host nation itself needs help. And yet, for all that, those host nations are in turn helping others who are in perhaps greater need than themselves.
In my meeting with two separate Micah delegations last year, I was presented with five objectives that Australia should pursue in helping our Pacific neighbours. Those five objectives are:
1. Ensure the new aid policy empowers local communities in the Pacific to lead their own inclusive and sustainable development.
2. Ensure the new aid policy recognises the needs of the most vulnerable members of our Pacific family, particularly women and children.
3. Work with the Australian Church and Christian development agencies to leverage and amplify the strength of the Pacific Church as a key partner for human development.
4. Recognise the impact of climate change in the Pacific including the increasing risk and impact of natural disasters.
5. Ensure the Pacific Step Up is not at the cost of 'stepping down' elsewhere in the world.
I believe that those five objectives are all quite reasonable and are things that this country could commit to. I am also concerned that part of the aid that is now being directed to the Pacific comes at the expense of other nations that in past years have been assisted by this country. So we might be stepping up our aid in the Pacific area but we're doing that at the expense of other vulnerable nations. This legislation makes a special appropriation by Australia to six multilateral development funds which are directly associated with global aid initiatives. Australia's annual payments to the six funds average around $350 million.
I raise a matter associated with this legislation. Right now some developing countries, including Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, all of whom may be funding recipients under this legislation, continue to use chrysotile—otherwise known as white asbestos—in construction projects. Chrysotile is a dangerous asbestos product that will cause long-term health harm to people already struggling. It has been banned in most developed countries, yet the exporters of chrysotile are running a dishonest campaign claiming chrysotile is safe and, in turn, they are blocking global efforts to have it banned. Australia should make it a condition of funding under this legislation that chrysotile will not be used in any construction project.
In November the Australian Senate voted unanimously to call on the government to lobby for a change in policy to end the use of asbestos in Asian Development Bank financed projects. I note that the Asian Development Bank itself recently made a statement that it would stop allowing asbestos products to be used in their projects from 2020. It is important that chrysotile is included in the definition of asbestos products. I urge the Treasurer to raise this issue at the Asia Development Bank annual general meeting in South Korea in May this year.
The continued use of this product is simply adding to the woes of people in developing countries and will continue to do so for decades to come if it is allowed to continue. This is one mechanism we have, as a nation, to try and help those people by ensuring that the funds that we assist them with are only used in projects where this product is not being used, and it will in turn help stop those countries who are profiteering from the use of this product and selling it to the needy developing countries of the world.
Most of the other matters that I would have otherwise touched on have been touched on by other speakers on this side of the House, and I concur with what has been said. As others have quite rightly emphasised: this is in Australia's national interest and I, like so many others, quite often out in the community hear concerns about the level of aid that we make. The level of aid pales into insignificance compared to what other countries are doing—and to what we should be doing, given that it is not only in our long-term interests but also, as I said at the outset, the right thing to do.
I note that, regardless of government, as I get around my community, there are church groups, service clubs, schools, businesses and individuals who are taking on board responsibility for overseas aid programs they, individually or collectively, donate towards. This must amount to millions and millions of dollars each year that this country sends overseas because of the goodwill of the people of this country. I applaud and thank all of those people for doing that. But they are setting an example that, quite frankly, this government would do better to follow, because the efforts of this government simply don't match the goodwill of the Australian people.
I rise to speak in support of this bill, the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019, but I do join my voice to those urging the government to do more. Whilst this bill provides funding to meet Australia's official development assistance obligations to the various multilateral organisations that we are members of, it is also a timely reminder of the importance of Australia's international aid program.
In the last sitting week of last year, on behalf of Micah Australia many young Australians visited Parliament House to speak to us about the pressing global justice issues of our time and Australia's role in addressing them. A number of them came from my own electorate, representing community organisations and churches like Seaforth Baptist Church. I thank them for their passionate and dedicated advocacy. They respect the challenges this government faces. Australia needs strong trading partners, reliable allies and close relationships in our immediate Indo-Pacific region. Each of those is key to ensuring Australia's ongoing freedom, security and prosperity, and they do reasonably expect Australia's aid budget to help fulfil such a vision for our nation. However, they also passionately believe, as do I, that, as a nation that values fairness, kindness and compassion, Australia has a moral obligation to ensure that Australian aid is supporting the world's most poor, vulnerable and oppressed people, beyond just their strategic value, acknowledging that every life is of value and worth. The reality is that we can have both: an Australian aid budget that is strategic and moral, through a principled approach to Australian aid that is also in the national interest.
The recent announcement by the government of a review of Australia's aid program with the stated goal of developing a new plan in the coming months is welcome. But, given the government's strong focus on the Pacific region and the Pacific step-up, I certainly hope that the new aid policy that emerges from the review will seek to empower local communities in the Pacific to lead their own inclusive and sustainable development; that it will recognise the need of the most vulnerable in the region, particularly women and children; that it will recognise the impact of climate change in the Pacific, including the increasing risks and impact of natural disasters; and that it will ensure the Pacific step-up is not at the cost of stepping down somewhere else in the world.
But we also need to look at the amount of funding allocated to our aid budget. This year we saw the sixth consecutive cut to the aid budget. The aid budget remains frozen at $4 billion per annum over the forward estimates. As a proportion of our gross national income, aid spending has now fallen to 0.21 per cent. As the Reverend Tim Costello has said on many occasions, Australia's aid budget should not be used by the government as an ATM to withdraw from the poor every time it needs to balance the budget.
Earlier this year, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, as part of its inquiry into Australia's aid budget, recommended that the government increase our aid funding to at least 0.5 per cent of gross national income within five years, and then to 0.7 per cent of GNI within 10 years, and that, like the UK aid budget, this be legislated so as to prevent an ATM approach. We must be able to be more compassionate and generous, especially with our Pacific neighbours. The government has not yet responded to that bipartisan report, so I add my voice to those urging the government to consider the committee's recommendations favourably and respond accordingly. On behalf of Warringah, I thank all those young people who visited at the end of last year to add their compassionate voices to many others from around Australia.
It is my understanding from the list there may still be speakers on this side of the House, so I may take just a couple of minutes to add my remarks to the debate, in the event that one of those speakers wishes to join us in the chamber. If not, I'm sure the minister will be pleased to wrap up.
Foreign aid is close to my heart, having as a child grown up in Indonesia, in Banda Aceh and Jakarta, seeing firsthand the impact of Australia's aid program on those communities. For want of simple treatments like oral rehydration, children have died around the world. Australian aid saves lives. It's been estimated by Reverend Tim Costello that the cuts to Australia's aid budget may have cost as many as 200,000 lives around the world. That's because our aid is going to health programs and to anti-poverty programs. It is directly assisting some of the world's most vulnerable. Australian aid is absolutely critical, as it looks to improve the wellbeing of the world's poorest.
My predecessor as member for Fraser was Bob McMullan, who once told me that his most rewarding job in two decades of politics was to serve as Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance in the Rudd government. In that capacity, he put in place Australia's disability-inclusive development program. In practice, this meant that Australia's school-building program in Indonesia ensured that schools built with Australian aid money had ramps leading to their front doors—so Indonesian children in wheelchairs were able to attend school for the first time thanks to Australia's aid program. My maternal uncle, Keith Stebbins, spent his career in Papua New Guinea, working with the education department and writing textbooks for that country. He spent a lot of time in remote areas of Papua New Guinea, working in those communities and seeing the impact that a great education can have on life prospects.
We know the importance of human capital in our aid program. We know how absolutely critical it is that Australia's aid program is focused on the most vulnerable and that it has human capital at its heart. Australia's aid, though, has been savagely cut by the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments. They've treated our aid budget like an ATM. As previous Labor speakers have noted, we've seen that the aid cuts have meant that Australia has withdrawn from regions with which we ought to have a stronger relationship. The Australian aid program to Indonesia has a long and distinguished history. Australia championed Indonesian independence, and Australian aid experts were there, working with the Sukarno government, immediately after independence. The Australian aid contribution in that region is vital, and to see it cut is a travesty. Likewise, the cuts that have occurred in countries like Pakistan are a travesty. I visited Myanmar at the beginning of 2017 with a bipartisan parliamentary delegation funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and auspiced by Save the Children. On that delegation, we saw the impact that Australia's aid program was having on everything from building wells to providing appropriate sanitation programs.
Last week at the Australasian AID Conference, the ANU's annual dev policy conference, we heard many speakers talking about the impact that aid can have on changing lives. Yes, economic growth is absolutely critical, and the trade liberalisation that's occurred worldwide over recent decades has been vital in spurring economic growth and bringing millions out of poverty. But it's critical, too, that we properly evaluate our aid programs. I would urge the minister to consider conducting more rigorous evaluations of Australia's aid programs.
Around the globe there is a randomised trials revolution taking place. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and aid agencies such as Britain's and America's have been at the forefront of this process of high-quality evaluation of aid programs. But Australia has been a laggard. That's disappointing, because it means that we are not effectively assessing the impact of our aid programs on the ground. So while I support the intention of the government in providing this replenishment, I do believe it is absolutely critical that the government properly funds our aid programs, that a Pacific step-up is reflected in an overall step-up in Australia's overseas development assistance budget relative to national income, and that we do a better job in letting the randomistas do their work in effectively evaluating the impact of Australia's aid programs.
It's a pleasure to follow the member for Fenner in this debate and to make a contribution towards this proposal on the table around the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019. I should say at the outset that Labor supports this bill because it's providing appropriation funds to support Australia's commitments to replenish a range of important multilateral development funds. And before I go to the heart of speaking to any of the detail of this bill, I would like to refer to the second reading amendment, which was moved by my Labor colleague the member for Maribyrnong. Quite rightly, it notes not just the importance of Australia's official development assistance, but also the grave concerns that we on this side of the House have with regard to the government's cuts of $11.8 billion out of the foreign aid budget. This places Australia's commitment to overseas development assistance as a share of our gross national income at a record low.
I think this House—let's hope most, if not all of us in this House—would agree that Australian aid saves lives. It's combatting poverty across the region. Importantly, it's helping to redress some very gross inequities between men and women that exist in many of these nations. And it's addressing real hunger as well as issues of gross food insecurity that exist across the globe. It's helping countries build the foundations that they need to grow sustainably. And it's building better infrastructure, health and education systems that help people lead happier, healthier and more productive lives in their communities.
Australian aid is also there to help tackle the root cause of instability, and that is economic disadvantage. Clearly aid investment is the right thing to do. It's the ethical thing to do. It's a commitment that this parliament has made over many, many decades now. And we know it's also the smart thing to do, because aid helps build our relationships with other countries; it increases our opportunities to build new trading partnerships and, indeed, strengthen old ones; it bolsters our international influence; and it improves our own security by addressing the insecurities and instability that is felt in other nations.
Under Labor, international development grew to its highest—that is, 0.34 per cent of gross national income—in 2012-13. Regretfully, the Liberals have worked hard at reversing this very proud achievement. Year on year we've seen cut upon cut. From budget to budget we have watched in horror as Australia's aid contribution has continued its downward slide. Under Labor, overseas development aid hit a high-water mark of 0.34 per cent of gross national income, as I said. But it's now on track to be just 0.19 per cent. This is the lowest level of Australian aid since the Commonwealth started publishing data back in 1961. The Liberals have set our country back—and, indeed, our planet. Their abject neglect of overseas assistance has damaged our relationships in the region, it has sullied our international reputation, and it has diluted our influence and opened up a space for damaging new alliances to form.
And now the government are refusing to lift a finger to address climate change, the very thing that we know will drive many poorer countries deeper into poverty and despair. This is a small-minded, ill-educated, petty approach that will be to the detriment of our country and the world. It's time for the Morrison government to grow up and start acting like responsible adults.
There may be some people who think it's an overreach to talk about just how serious climate change is for our region—an issue that this government chooses to ignore. The government can't cope with the debate domestically and it sure as hell can't cope with one at an international level. We saw some very unedifying debate here in this chamber earlier today on the issue. However, I was very privileged to be in this House in mid-January when the Australian parliament hosted the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum. A number of our parliamentary colleagues were present, and I had the honour of chairing the debate on climate change in the forum.
You might recall, Deputy Speaker McVeigh, that people arrived here in mid-January, at the height of the bushfires, the 'summer of dread'. There was toxic smoke all across the nation's capital. We were, indeed, issuing delegates with very-fine-particle face masks to wear whilst here in Canberra. In the debate on climate change that I chaired, every single nation—there were about 40-odd nations at the table—began their speeches with condolences to Australia for the pain that our country and our people were going through in that 'summer of dread', for those catastrophic bushfires that had taken place. And the next questions were: How can we help Australia to tackle this serious problem of climate change here? How do we get some cooperation amongst the Asia-Pacific nations? I can see the minister here in the chamber, and he addressed that forum. There were many Pacific nation members there, all of whom asked me: what will Australia be doing? Having seen the catastrophic fire season unfold in Australia, what would be this government's response to the long-term issues?
I was delighted to enable each of those Pacific island nations to participate in that debate, because many of them did not have full membership status at that forum; many were there as observers. And I do acknowledge the assistance of the Australian government in ensuring that many of our Pacific neighbours were able to attend that forum. But, make no mistake, climate change is front and centre of mind for the people in our nearest neighbourhood—what the impact on their nations will be and what Australia's role is going to be in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of a considered response to those issues of climate change.
I would like to go to the second issue that the member for Shortland has raised in his second reading amendment—that is, our grave concerns about the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison coalition government's cuts to the foreign aid budget. As I said, we know the cuts are now at 11.8 per cent. Despite a lot of rhetoric that we are now hearing from government with regard to the significance of the Pacific and the so-called Pacific step-up, which I will come to in a little while, it is very clear now, through the efforts of my Labor colleagues and Senate estimates processes, just where those cuts have been borne in our foreign aid budget. Cuts to Australian assistance in areas like health, in particular, are impacting on our Pacific neighbours in a particularly hard manner, despite the government's so-called rhetoric around the Pacific step-up. I would note that cutting health assistance to Samoa by 36 per cent in the aftermath of its tragic measles epidemic raises very serious questions about whether the Morrison government is genuinely responding to the needs of our Pacific friends.
The budget has seen big, savage cuts over consecutive years. The cuts in aid to Africa are so savage that aid is near non-existent. There is very little support going into that nation. There are massive cuts in aid to South-East Asian nations. It is unfathomable, given the government's big push for the Pacific step-up, that a lot of Pacific nations are now wearing the brunt of these cuts.
We have alarming figures that show that Australia's annual overseas development assistance spend on education to all developing nations has been slashed by $430 million, or 41 per cent. I already indicated the dire situation for Samoa in relation to health. Overall spending on health has gone down by $260.8 million, or 32.3 per cent, since 2014-15, when the coalition first came into power. We know that supporting education is vital to achieving gender equality in these nations, to preventing violent extremism in our region and to ensuring that people are as best placed as they possibly can be to secure an independent economic future.
The recent outbreak of the coronavirus has shown the importance of building lasting infrastructure and partnerships to deal with regional health challenges. The women and children of Australia's most important neighbours have been found to be very much suffering as a result of the slashing of the health and education budgets in particular. You've really got to ask: how can the Pacific step-up be effective if we cut aid to Vanuatu by 42 per cent or aid to Samoa by 14 per cent? Cutting health assistance to Samoa by 36 per cent in the aftermath of the measles epidemic has to raise serious questions about this government's intent.
The Morrison government's ongoing review of aid policy will be nothing but window-dressing if it fails to address the impact of the coalition's aid cuts on Australia's national interests. The Minister for International Development and the Pacific is present in the chamber, and I hope he is listening very carefully. I've talked a bit about the Pacific, but I was recently in Timor-Leste and the cuts to their budget are also deeply regrettable. Timor-Leste is a very near nation with which we have a very special relationship. Having supported Timor-Leste to become a growing independent nation, the idea that we would cut their budget and put at risk, in any way, shape or form, their growing from strength to strength at a time when they are asking for assistance—it really is a diabolical situation. It's to this government's great shame that they have not been able to explain adequately to the Australian people the incredible significance of aid for our relationships in this region. (Time expired)
I rise today to speak on the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019. Labor will support this bill as we are leaders in international development and aid policy. I also want to state my support for the amendments moved earlier today by the member for Shortland. Those amendments are really important. It is really important that this House be concerned 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. I also urge the House to agree 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.
This bill provides a special appropriation to enable the Australian government to meet its commitment to replenish a range of multilateral development funds over the coming years. These 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 tackle very important environmental challenges which require global cooperation and have indeed worked with global cooperation. Australia has played an active role over many years in supporting these funds, and our support of them is part of Australia's commitment to being a good international citizen. It is one of the ways Australia contributes to global economic and social development and to tackling very challenging environmental issues across the globe.
We must always remember that supporting international development is always in Australia's best interests. Helping developing countries to grow and prosper will promote Australia's interests in a prosperous, stable, secure and, most importantly, peaceful region. While assisting our neighbours should not always be about Australian advantage, growth in developing countries will create new trade and investment opportunities for Australia that will not only help lift people in developing countries out of poverty but will also support jobs in Australia. Mutual benefit from international aid should be noted before this government seeks to cut that assistance as it has done in every budget since it's been elected.
It is manifestly in Australia's interest to tackle poverty in the region because it means a more stable and secure international environment. Poverty and social inequities can generate instability, insecurity and tensions in the international environment. By reducing economic disadvantage we tackle the root causes of that instability. This will not only improve the welfare of people in developing countries; it also improves our own security in the region. For this reason, Labor supports international aid and the funding of these institutions and these funds.
Tackling poverty is not only the best thing to do; it's the right thing to do. Tackling poverty is a reflection of Australian values. We want to help our neighbours in the region have better, more prosperous and peaceful lives. Australia has supported these multilateral development funds on a bipartisan basis for many years and we will continue to do so.
This bill covers a number of funds. One is the International Development Association, which is the World Bank's development arm and one of the world's main sources of multilateral official development assistance. Indeed, our commitment to the World Bank goes back to the international financial architecture adopted in the aftermath of the Second World War and to the Chifley government's 1947 decision for Australia to join the Bretton Woods Institutions. Labor always supports multilateral institutions and always will. Where those multilateral institutions are not performing, perhaps, as we might like, we would always seek to reform them rather than skulk away or take our bat and ball and go home when things don't work out as we might have hoped. It is important that Australia takes a leadership role in reform of all multilateral institutions where we think improvements can be made. That is what a good international citizen should do, and I urge the government to show leadership in this area.
Another fund is the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, which the Howard government committed to in 2005. This provides debt-relief arrangements administered by the International Development Association, which has relieved 36 of the world's poorest countries of some US$99 billion worth of debt. The appropriation also assists the Asian Development Fund, which provides development grants to low-income members of the Asian Development Bank. It also funds 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. The other fund which this appropriation bill will support is 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.
The Montreal protocol is really a stand-out example of international cooperation to take action to avoid a global disaster, which would have been the loss of the protective ozone layer. I remember when we had a worldwide movement to do something about the hole that had developed in the ozone layer above Antarctica. Indeed, Australia was a world leader, under the Hawke Labor government, in 1987 when action was required. Now, when the world is threatened by another environmental crisis—climate change—Australia lags behind in taking any action at all. This Liberal government and their inability to come to terms with climate change and how they might take action on it makes this nation look like that grumpy old uncle at a family reunion who can't accept the facts in a good debate or who won't debate anything at all, and who just cannot accept that the world is moving on. We run the risk of being left behind under this government's leadership in action on climate change.
It's really important to remember that it wasn't easy to agree the Montreal protocol to save the ozone layer. Large industries lobbied heavily against it; particularly, I must note, in the US, where the Ronald Reagan White House was urged to not ratify this agreement to reduce the use of ozone-destroying chemicals. And we in this place know the effects of lobbyists—they come in here, they meet with all of us, on all sides of this chamber and in the other place. We know how powerful vested interests can be. The world is fortunate that the Ronald Reagan led White House did the right thing and enacted and ratified the Montreal protocol; likewise in Australia, we were lucky that Bob Hawke and his government enacted the Montreal protocol.
Once the protocol was enacted, the world changed and industry developed new products—and we still have fridges and aerosols. The scare campaign was very similar to what we see today, as some predict economic doom from seeking to develop a strong carbon-neutral economy to limit the warming of the planet. With the Montreal protocol, the sky did not fall in—and, quite frankly, it would have fallen in, without action to get rid of CFCs—and, because of what Australia and other nations agreed to in 1987, the ozone layer should recover by 2050. It's taken a long time for the ozone layer to start to recover, and it's going to take a long time yet for it to fully recover. But the recovery had to get started with an objective, followed by a plan, which, in turn, was followed by action—action despite naysayers and vested interests. We could learn a lot from what the world did with the Montreal protocol. It has saved Antarctica, for one, and the ozone layer that protected those parts of our planet that are more susceptible to the hole in that very thin part of our atmosphere that protects us all from dangerous UV rays. The government might like to take a leaf out of the book of the Montreal Protocol when it's thinking about how it deals with international action and international institutions to address important and dangerous environmental challenges.
I'd like to reflect for a moment on the government's failure on international aid. We cannot ignore the cuts the Liberals and Nationals have made to Australia's aid budget and the Prime Minister's undermining of Australia's role in multilateral institutions. Since this government came to office in 2013, it has cut no less than $11.8 billion from Australia's aid programs. As a result, Australia's official development assistance is on track to fall to just 0.19 per cent of gross national income. That's the lowest level of ODA as a share of gross national income since the Commonwealth started publishing data in 1961.
Under the current Prime Minister, Prime Minister Morrison, Australia's international aid is lower as a share of national income than it was under Liberal Prime Ministers Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Fraser and Howard. What a legacy that is! Australia's aid budget as a share of GNI has fallen from the middle of the pack of the OECD to one of the least generous amongst OECD Development Assistance Committee member countries. That's not a record to be proud of. It's contrary to Australia's interests in promoting economic development and the prosperity, stability and security that we all know economic development brings. It's harming our international standing and our bilateral relationships. What's worse, it's hurting some of the poorest people in the world. Does this government think that no-one is watching? Well, they are watching, and people are suffering because of the government's $11.8 billion in cuts to the foreign aid budget.
I'm also concerned about the hypocrisy we see from this government concerning international institutions. I'm really glad that this legislation is here to support these multilateral funds. That is a good thing, and I support it. On the other hand, in the public arena, the current Prime Minister seeks to undermine our commitment to multilateral institutions with that weird rhetoric about negative globalism. What exactly does he mean by negative globalism? Is it the 70-plus nations that have committed to reducing carbon emissions and setting actual targets? Is it the negative globalism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson or the negative globalism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel committing to have their great nations address the challenges of climate change? Is it the Paris Agreement itself? Whether it's all or one of them, who can tell? This strange conspiracy-theory-laden language of negative globalism has become another example of the Prime Minister's approach: playing political games rather than developing actual policies to tackle the important issues for our future.
Labor will support this bill as it supports our continuing participation in multilateral development institutions. It's part of the Labor legacy. It's part of Australia's legacy on the world stage. It's something that this government tends to ignore, and it doesn't pay much respect to the legacy of this nation and its efforts and leadership in international affairs throughout the years. Labor will continue to retain its commitment to strengthening Australia's foreign aid investments, because we know a strong international development program and active positive engagement in global institutions will further Australia's interests in a stable, secure and prosperous international environment. Moreover, it is the right thing to do to be a good international citizen and play a leadership role.
There have also been cuts to international health funding, which we found out in response to Senate estimates questions from Labor. Infrastructure spending is a good thing, but this government has robbed Peter to pay Paul by switching funding from health funding into infrastructure. Cutting assistance in international health is against our national interest. We're witnessing the terrible health and economic impacts of the outbreak of COVID-19 in our region, and we know some of our neighbours have less robust health systems. Outbreaks like this show how important it is that our regional neighbours maintain and prosper under strong health systems. In the face of this tragic set of circumstances with COVID-19, this government cuts health funding to our Pacific neighbours.
It has been reported that health funding has been cut by 75 per cent to the Cook Islands; 22 per cent to Fiji; 13 per cent to the Solomon Islands; and 36 per cent to Samoa, which has also been devastated by a measles outbreak that has claimed the lives of more than 80 people. This is unacceptable. This government likes to talk about its Pacific step-up, but, quite frankly, this reads like a Pacific step-back—a step way, way back—where we cut health funding to the people who need it most, to the people in our neighbourhood, to the people we should be showing leadership and friendship to. Not under this government's watch—no way. Leadership has been lost in the Pacific.
I look forward to the minister trying to do some more. I know he's going to have a battle with his Treasurer to stop funding for international aid and development, just like the foreign minister before him, the former member for Curtin, who we all know was powerless in the face of this government to stop cuts to foreign aid. It really must stop. I support the amendments moved by the member for Shortland.
I'd like to thank all the members who have made contributions to this debate, on the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019.
As the government has pointed out, the bill is a standing appropriation to meet Australia's international development commitments to the World Bank's International Development Association; the World Bank's debt relief schemes, including the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative; the Asian Development Bank's Asian Development Fund; the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund; and the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol.
Consistent with our membership arrangements with these organisations, Australia pledges to replenish our financial contribution every three to four years, with payments being made over a three- to 10-year period. The funds to meet the commitments authorised by the bill will come from the agreed official development assistance budget. Our contributions to these organisations constitute an important component of Australia's support for the promotion, protection and improvement of the international rules based order. These organisations complement Australia's efforts at the country and regional level to promote the prosperity and the security of the Indo-Pacific region. I'm glad to see that members unanimously support these measures within the bill.
I do want to briefly address the criticisms that have been raised by those opposite—and I do mean briefly—about the government's financial commitment for overseas development assistance. I particularly note that the government's position on the ODA budget was endorsed by the Australian people. It was the position we took to the Australian people at the election and it was endorsed by them just six months ago. The Morrison government's aid budget is affordable, targeted and effective. This year we're delivering $4 billion in official development assistance, including a record $1.4 billion for the Pacific. For the record, $1.4 billion is the most ever spent in a year by any Australian government.
This year our humanitarian funding is increasing to $450 million in 2019-20, allowing us to work with our friends and neighbours to help them prepare for, recover from and provide emergency relief during natural disasters.
The coalition's approach does contrast quite starkly with the Labor Party's. I'm asked here about that. When you do hear members in high dudgeon, I would just say that Labor's own cuts to overseas development assistance leave little for them to be proud of. In their last 15 months in office, the Labor government slashed $5.7 billion from the aid budget.
Dr Leigh interjecting—
I want to say that again: in their last 15 months in office, Labor slashed $5.7 billion from the aid budget. Who could forget that Labor redirected $475 million from the ODA budget to their failed border protection policies? For the first time we saw an Australian government redirect ODA funding to border protection policies. The House has gone quiet.
In addition to running up $240 billion in debt and deficit, Labor cut aid because of their failure to manage the budget properly. We know that from the diary of a foreign minister, Bob Carr, who said, 'The truth is, you can't run aid on borrowings'—that was a learning that he had from his time in government: you can't run the aid budget on borrowings. This government doesn't have to learn that from experience. We don't have to borrow money to fund the aid budget; we fund the aid budget from our incomings. We have real money attached to it.
We don't borrow every day to fund the ordinary services of the government, so we don't borrow to fund the aid budget either. But Bob Carr learnt that after his time in office, and he wrote a book about it.
The Labor approach, of course, to aid was rejected in 2013, 2016 and 2019. The people have endorsed the stable and certain approach to the aid budget at three elections now. It has been repeatedly endorsed, and it really highlights the government's commitment to a stable, secure and prosperous global community—indeed, a prosperous, stable and secure Indo-Pacific region. We're going to continue to prioritise aid spending in a way that meets Australians' national interest, with a particular focus on our region under the Pacific step-up, and we make no apology for prioritising aid spending in Australia's national interest with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region. I commend the bill to the House.
The original question was that this bill be now read the second time. To this, the honourable member for Shortland has moved as an amendment that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. So the immediate question is that the amendment moved by the member for Shortland be agreed to.