House debates

Wednesday, 11 November 2020


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail

7:00 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to update the House on this expenditure and on the extensive efforts of the Morrison government responding to COVID-19 in our region, working with our Pacific family and our Indo-Pacific neighbours to achieve that shared recovery.

The 2020-21 budget provides $4 billion in official development assistance this year, with our development efforts focused on supporting a resilient, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. I'm proud that this includes $1.44 billion of ODA to be spent in the Pacific, which is a record amount for an Australian government. There is also $1 billion for South-East Asia. This is recognising our commitment to these two important regions.

The pandemic has had a serious economic impact on our region, and that's why the government has announced our supplementary two-year, $304.7 million COVID-19 recovery package, which will deliver critical temporary targeted economic and fiscal support to our Pacific partners and Timor Leste. This will help them maintain critical services in the region and protect the vulnerable people within these countries that are suffering under the pandemic.

We've pivoted, in this time, our development partnerships; we've redirected our redevelopment efforts to respond to the impacts of the pandemic on our regional partners, with a focus on maintaining health security, stability and stimulating economic recovery and activity. As part of our Partnerships for Recovery strategy, Minister Payne and I, in close consultation with our regional partners, released 27 country-specific COVID-19 development response plans. These provide a blueprint for support at country, regional and global levels. And it goes beyond ODA, drawing on all of the policy tools, including development, diplomatic, trade, immigration and security cooperation, for the first time capturing all of the whole-of-government effort.

There's no better example of the work we are doing in this region than our Pacific labour mobility programs. The government moved quickly to enable Pacific workers who were here in Australia when the pandemic struck to stay here and keep working. They were able to be redeployed and we ensured they moved successfully around Australia. I'm glad that during that time we didn't have a single case of COVID amongst that cohort, a very important benchmark. We've now recommenced recruitment under the Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme to keep vital remittances flowing to the Pacific while also filling critical workforce gaps in rural and regional Australia.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the Prime Minister, Minister Payne and I have been speaking regularly with our regional colleagues about how Australia can best contribute to the regional response as the impacts emerge. Australia has committed to procuring and delivering COVID-19 vaccines for the Pacific, Timor-Leste and South-East Asia. We've committed an additional $500 million, on top of the $23.2 million committed in the budget. That's $500 million for vaccinations in the Pacific and South-East Asia. This builds on the additional commitment of $80 million to Gavi COVAX Advanced Market Commitment, which will support access for eligible countries. This important commitment by Australia to ensure that our region receives vaccinations has been well received by our partners in the region.

We've reshaped our development program substantially, and Australia's immediate response included the $280 million Indo-Pacific Response and Recovery Package, which we announced in May—we moved fast to adapt to the situation—and between March and June we reworked about 400 of around 1,000 investments worth over $840 million to help regional partners manage immediate challenges posed by the pandemic. We've retained and mobilised over 100 critical aid and humanitarian advisers in our region, and our government has responded to more than 120 Pacific bilateral requests for assistance, delivering over 35 tonnes of humanitarian supplies, PPE, medical equipment and, importantly, 54,000 GeneXpert testing cartridges for COVID-19 to 13 Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste.

We've deployed AUSMAT teams, we've ensured essential medical, food and testing supplies, and we've certainly provided support through the traditional tropical cyclone season as well—Tropical Cyclone Harold, notably, devastated Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga. Australian support has enabled the government of Timor-Leste to establish independent testing capability. Increasingly we're integrating our climate change and disaster resilience into our development programs. Our COVID-19 response efforts pledged $500 million over five years to help Pacific nations invest in renewable energy and build climate and disaster resilience. How our region emerges from this crisis will influence our economic and strategic circumstances for decades to come. At this crucial time we're standing together as close and valued partners. We're here for the Pacific and Timor-Leste. We're going to get through this as a family. Australia will support our neighbours all the way.

7:05 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific and it relates to the aid program. Overseas development assistance is a key part of Australia's foreign policy. It's the way we support economic, social and human development. It's the way we help the poorest people in the world to climb out of destitution and despair. In a region where millions of people still live in extreme poverty it is also in Australia's national interest to strengthen our commitment to development. Development means greater prosperity, security and stability in our region.

The coronavirus pandemic makes the aid program more important than ever. Many countries in our region have poorly resourced health systems that have struggled to cope with the pandemic. Many countries in our region have also been hit hard by the economic fallout from COVID-19, particularly our Pacific neighbours who rely heavily on tourism. The World Bank has estimated that COVID-19 will push an extra 88 to 115 million people around the world into extreme poverty in 2020 alone. Extreme poverty means surviving on less than US$1 a day.

The pandemic has reversed 20 years of progress in global poverty reduction. That throws into stark relief the fact that this Liberal government has cut $11.8 billion from Australia's aid budget since it came to office in 2013—$11.8 billion in cuts. Those cuts have hurt some of the poorest people in the world and they've been contrary to Australia's national interests. The cuts have fallen heavily on countries in South-East Asia. The government has cut bilateral aid to Indonesia from $551.9 in 2014-15 to $255.7 million in 2021, a cut of 54 per cent. It has cut bilateral ODA for Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam by 44 per cent since 2014-15.

I do acknowledge that the budget provided $304.7 million over two years to help Pacific countries to recover from the impacts of COVID-19. I also acknowledge the minister's announcement after the budget of $500 million over three years to support access to COVID-19 vaccines in the Pacific and South-East Asia. Labor welcomes these measures. These are good measures, but the truth is they are a drop in the ocean following the government's $11.8 billion in cuts. The extra $805 million for development assistance represents only one per cent of the budget's $71.3 billion in new payment measures—one per cent. The ministers have said this funding will be a temporary increase, rather than an ongoing increase, to the aid budget.

An important issue for the development program is the need to evaluate whether aid investments are achieving the desired outcome and represent value for money. Minister Payne and Minister Hawke have used the pandemic as cover to dismantle the aid performance framework. They've systemically removed key elements of the performance framework for ensuring that our $4 billion aid program is performing effectively. They have abolished the office of development effectiveness, the agency introduced by Alexander Downer to conduct rigorous and independent evaluations of aid projects. They have scrapped the performance of Australian aid report, the independently verified annual report card on the aid program which was introduced by Julie Bishop. They are no longer are publishing annual aid program performance reports, which report whether Australia, as a major country in regional aid programs, are meeting their performance benchmarks. They have even abandoned Julie Bishop's strategic target of ensuring 80 per cent of the Australia's aid investments address the gender equality issues—a curious decision by Minister Payne given since she is also the Minister for Women.

They government has not met the gender target in any year since it was set back in 2014. Instead of stepping up the focus on gender issues, these ministers responded by dropping the target. One can wonder whether that was the motivation to drop the target, the systematic underperformance and inability to hit the gender target. This dismantling of the performance framework has been carried out secretively with no public announcements and no consultation with stakeholders, all under the cloak of reshaping the ODA program in response to COVID-19. These changes represent a massive erosion of accountability and transparency.

Having cut the aid program by $11.8 billion, these ministers are now scrapping the key mechanisms which have ensured our aid dollars are spent effectively. Taxpayers can no longer be confident that the $4 billion aid program represents value for money and delivers real outcomes. My questions to the minister are: when will this government provide an ongoing boost to the aid budget? Why has the minister dismantled the entire aid performance framework? Why has the Pacific Step-up resulted in a step-down everywhere else?

7:10 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

As we on this side of the House know, Australia's exporters are vital to the ongoing success of our economy. This month we recorded our 33rd monthly trade surplus—it's quite an achievement. This is the result of the hard work of Australian farmers and Australian businesses, large and small, right across our country, complemented by unwavering support from those on this side of the House.

When COVID-19 disrupted global supply chains earlier this year, we swiftly stood up the International Freight Assistance Mechanism. This has helped over 7,000 flights depart Australia, carrying over $2.6 billion worth of high-quality, high-value Australian produce since March. It's supported over 155,000 jobs and provided an economic lifeline to thousands of Australia's highest value producers. The International Freight Assistance Mechanism will continue until the middle of next year, thanks to an extra $317.1 million announced in the budget.

We've also stepped up efforts to provide exporters the information they need to make the most of opportunities in Australia's free trade agreements, whether that be through the delivery of the 12-part digital seminar series during COVID-19 or the free trade advantage digital learning platform launched by Minister Birmingham last Monday.

This year we've also expanded our collection of free trade agreements to 14 agreements and counting, following the entry into force of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in July, and there's been great interest right across the economy and around the nation in this new agreement. Our FTAs now cover over 70 per cent of our nation's two-way trade. No. 15 is just around the corner with the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, PACER Plus, due to enter into force on 13 December. This will herald a range of new trade and investment opportunities with our Pacific neighbours, and we won't stop there. Negotiations are continuing for FTAs with the European Union and also the United Kingdom, while the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is on track to be signed by the end of this year.

This is all about maximising choice for Australian exporters. This has proven to be especially important in 2020, given the disruptions to supply chains caused by COVID-19 and the recent escalating trade tensions with China. We've been working closely with Australian industry to support their efforts to diversify their export markets. At the same time, we continue to stand firmly alongside industries that have been impacted by the disruption of trade to China.

China is our largest trading partner and is likely to remain so into the foreseeable future. However, the government is deeply concerned by the escalating nature of the disputes we are currently experiencing and the challenges it is causing Australian exporters, whether that be the tariffs on barley, import restrictions on meat, investigations into wine or the increased testing of our rock lobsters at Chinese ports. As each issue has arisen, the government has engaged extensively with Chinese officials to understand and seek its resolution. At the same time, we continue to provide every possible assistance that we can to impacted exporters to ensure they maintain the access they ought to have to the Chinese market—access that has been secured through partnerships our exporters have fostered over a long period of time through incredibly hard work.

The government will continue to engage extensively with China at every available level and stand ready to facilitate ministerial-level dialogue. We'll also continue to call upon China to conduct its trading relationship with Australia in a manner consistent with its obligations, whether through the WTO or CHAFTA and the market orientated principles that underpin WTO membership.

Commitments that China has made to us privately, as well as to the international community more publicly, need to be honoured and we, on this side of the House, will always pursue the policy settings that support our farmers and exporting businesses because they are critical in generating jobs and investment in our regions.

7:14 pm

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

My question on this appropriation expenditure is for Minister Representing the Minister for Trade. I will start, however, with some irrefutable facts. We all know that Australia is a trading nation. One in five jobs in this country depends on our international trade. It is the Australian government's job to encourage businesses to export their goods and services to the world and to support these businesses in doing so.

It is also the government's role to ensure diversification in trade and to go beyond the mere inking of free trade agreements in this effort. I note the minister's earlier comment of 'collections of FTAs'. It's like they get an FTA done and they then put their feet up and say, 'Job done; no more to do.' But the truth is that, to achieve genuine trade diversification, it takes years of work, decades, often requiring skilled diplomacy and even personal intervention by senior ministers and a prime minister. Previous governments, Labor and Liberal, have managed to achieve all of the above. But we stand here today where it is painfully clear that the Morrison government is failing to do the same. Minister, why does this government have no plan to address the serious concerns being raised by Australian businesses, big and small, about our trading relationship with China? Minister, why have you abandoned our exporters?

Australia has long enjoyed a mutually beneficial trading relationship with China, a relationship that has boosted our national income by hundreds of billions of dollars and created countless thousands of jobs. But much of that is now at risk, and this government has no idea what to do next. It is frozen into inaction. In recent months our grain growers, winemakers, meat processors, coal companies, cotton growers and lobster fishers have all experienced problems getting their goods into China. We have seen media reports in recent days that Chinese authorities are planning to halt imports of even more Australian products. Minister, why is the government ignoring exporters' appeals for leadership?

Many of these exporters have contacted my office and many are now starting to speak out about their concerns in the media. John Orr, director of Premium Grain, in Fremantle told the Sydney Morning Herald last week that he was 'appalled' and really quite angry at the government for its handling with this crisis—he didn't use the word 'quite'. The article went on to say:

''The impact of that is going to destroy thousands of livelihoods and push our economy further into recession,'' Mr Orr said. ''The whole economy will suffer from their incompetence.''

In The Financial Review, it was reported that the Seafood Trade Advisory Group urged the government to restore meaningful dialogue and communication with China in order to resolve the disruption to trade. Wines of WA Chief Executive Larry Jorgensen told The West Australian that he believed nothing more could be done at an industry or agency level. Rather, he said:

It has to be sorted out at the higher ranks of government, which is where the problem originated and where it should be addressed.

David Olsen, the chairman of the Australia China Business Council told The Australian that he believed the government should use the business community to help find a circuit breaker. What an excellent idea.

A lobster fisher from my electorate of Brand emailed the other day to say that he's lost his entire market in China and, in his words, 'The future looks bleak.' Meanwhile Guardian Australia reported that, after Austrade officials held a phone hook-up with agricultural industry reps last Thursday, one of the attendees said:

Quite frankly they didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know. They basically said the relationship with China is poor and it doesn’t look like any chance of that improving in the foreseeable future. The main thing was you need to look to diversify your markets.

Minister, why on earth is the government abandoning Australian exporters and Australian jobs at this time of crisis? Minister, is this really the best the Morrison government can do to help Australian exporters? Minister, why is the government doing absolutely nothing to help exporters to achieve true and genuine diversification in this time of crisis?

The government has completely failed to uphold its bargain in this area. They talk a big game in diversification, yet do nothing. For example, as we have discovered in recent weeks at Senate estimates the government has implemented just one of the 20 priority recommendations contained in its 500-page India Economic Strategy, released more than two years ago. Minister, why has the government abandoned the Varghese India Economic Strategy? Why has the government not even bothered to appoint a dedicated trade minister to work on resolving this crisis? Right now we know that the 'minister for everything', the honourable Simon Birmingham, is entrusted with doing just about everything for the government. I think it's time that we had a really good look at that and perhaps appointed a minister for trade that could deal with this crisis. Minister, when will your government ever come up with a plan to support our exporters in this crisis? Do you think the best way to address this crisis is to put your head in the sand, pretend that nothing is really happening and just keep repeating the same old line, 'We're really concerned'? It's not helping. Minister, will this government do its job?

7:20 pm

Photo of Phillip ThompsonPhillip Thompson (Herbert, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I really appreciate being able to contribute today and take part in this consideration in detail. I will take some time to highlight the work that we've been doing in the Pacific, particularly with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, the Pacific nations are extremely important partners and neighbours of ours, and it's our duty to be good neighbours. Being from Townsville, I live a lot closer to the Pacific than most. We are the largest garrison city and the 3rd Brigade at Lavarack Barracks has done a lot with the Pacific. A lot of members have deployed to Papua New Guinea and Fiji, helping and building the forces which, as the PM has said, now have the ability to take on bigger responsibilities and work hand-in-glove with the ADF towards regional stability and security. In fact, the PM gave a speech at Lavarack Barracks to the members of the 3rd Brigade a couple of years ago. I spent many years there as a soldier. In his speech, he spoke about how important our partnership is with the Pacific, because it is a part of the Pacific family. He said we need to make sure that the South-West Pacific is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically, because a strong, stable region helps keep us more secure and enables our economies to grow and our peoples to prosper.

In that vein, this budget outlines a significant amount of spending which will be helping during this difficult time of COVID-19. This global pandemic has impacted the Pacific profoundly. Managing the social, economic and health impacts of COVID-19 is now the overriding challenge for the region. The region has done extraordinarily well in managing this crisis. I want to congratulate the Pacific governments, with the many nations in the Pacific still completely free of COVID-19. That is why I was proud to see the recent launch of our COVID-19 response plans. While working hard to keep our own health crisis under control and supporting our own people and our own economy, we haven't forgotten about our Pacific partners. We are very fortunate here in Australia to have been in a very strong budget position, which in many ways prepared us to weather the storm a bit better than many other nations. It wouldn't be right for us to just look after ourselves and not give any thought to the Pacific nations. Our COVID-19 response plans provide a pathway for the region out of this pandemic. These plans provide a detailed blueprint for the implementation of Partnerships for Recovery and have been tailored to reflect the unique COVID-19 context for each of our partners in the Pacific, Timor-Leste and South-East Asia. These plans build on the comprehensive package of support that we announced in the budget for the Pacific and Timor to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The package announced in this budget includes a record $1.44 billion to the Pacific, $1 billion to South-East Asia, and an additional $304.7 million in temporary support to the Pacific and Timor-Leste for recovery efforts from the impacts of COVID-19. We responded to more than 120 requests from our region for assistance in January. We are providing comprehensive assistance to the Pacific, including continuing to provide COVID-19 testing kits, PPE, critical care equipment, and other medical supplies to our region, including AUSMAT specialists to Papua New Guinea. There is funding for health authorities in PNG for health infrastructure and service delivery and frontline health workers to support in the provinces. And there is support for the Kiribati Women and Children Support Centre to provide ongoing service delivery during COVID-19, including establishing the Orange Door initiative, a shelter for women and children during lockdown periods. In addition, the government has announced a further government commitment of $23.3 million in support of the Pacific and South-East Asia market. My question to the minister is: how will we continue to ensure the Pacific is supported during the COVID-19 response?

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I call the member for Brand, I remind members that the debate is due to finish at 7.30 pm. If you want to leave a bit of time for the minister to respond, the ball's in your court.

7:25 pm

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

My question on this appropriation is for the Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment. Last month, Japan and South Korea adopted targets of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. China adopted its net zero by 2060 target in September. Not only has the United Kingdom already passed laws to ensure net zero carbon emissions by 2050; British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called our own Prime Minister last month to ask him to do the same. Together, these economies receive more than $310 billion in Australian exports annually. Minister, why won't the Morrison government commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 when all our main trading partners and major economies already have?

As we know, the Prime Minister isn't for turning. Even though we know he's a pragmatist and a shapeshifter, it appears he is hamstrung on net zero emissions. In fact, when pressed on Australia's increasing isolation on climate change policy among trading partners, the Prime Minister has boldly stated he is not concerned about our future exports. Minister, why aren't the Prime Minister and the Morrison government concerned about our future exports? Given such global instability due to the coronavirus pandemic and staring down the barrel of a global recession, Minister, shouldn't Australia be doing all it can to be a competitive trading partner on the world stage? Does the minister agree that our future exports won't be adversely affected by the rest of the world moving ahead with net zero emission targets and introducing carbon tariffs while Australia lags behind?

Minister, why won't the Morrison government commit to net zero emissions by 2050 when important peak bodies such as the National Farmers Federation, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group have already committed to the target? Why won't the Morrison government commit to net zero by 2050 when resource and energy companies such as Woodside, BHP, BP, Rio Tinto and Santos—companies driving the economy and providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of Australians—have committed to a net zero emissions target by 2050?

Minister, why won't the Morrison government commit to net zero 2050 when other conservative governments have? Another question: has the Morrison government conducted modelling on the potential impact on Australia's projected trade wealth in response to these reports of carbon tariffs in international trade? Minister—I will leave time for an answer to these questions, even though I know I won't get any—again, given that global tariffs on carbon are likely to come in with the EU agreement and increasingly with the new Biden presidency in 2021, why is the Morrison government not concerned about our future exports?

7:27 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to make a few comments in reply to some of those that have been made by those opposite. It is highly amusing that those on the other side of the aisle seek to raise issues of climate, especially when you have the member for Hunter, who has clearly been marginalised in his own party room. I was reading the Sydney Morning Herald today. There was a very disturbing report about a shadow cabinet meeting whereby the member for Isaacs apparently called the member for Hunter an idiot.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Members on my left will cease interjecting.

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

And then the member for Hunter called the member for Isaacs an idiot. Very unparliamentary. It was very disturbing to see the dysfunction and division on that side of the House.

I was very heartened to see the member for Hunter in, I think, today's Sydney Morning Herald dispensing advice to the Leader of the Opposition in the third person—basically saying the Leader of the Opposition should listen to the member for Hunter. We won't be lectured by those opposite on issues of climate, particularly when we bear in mind that their uncosted climate policies played a big role in the Australian electorate dispensing them and dispatching them during the last election. I think the Australian people see through the shenanigans on the other side. I think they see the dysfunction.

We as a nation have welcomed the fact that the United States is committed to the Paris Agreement under president-elect Biden. We've already committed to it. We have been deeply committed to that agreement since its signing in 2015, and we're on track to meet it. I think the Prime Minister has made it very clear in question time that you have to be honest with the Australian people about where these policies go. I think we saw during the last election the paucity of policy work that had gone into the Labor Party's climate policies. We've seen it writ large with the dysfunction, disharmony and discord within the ranks of the opposition, abusing each other in shadow cabinet meetings. Very, very sad to see.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It being 7.30, the debate is interrupted. The question is that the proposed expenditure for the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio be agreed to.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

The debate is adjourned. Resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:31