House debates

Tuesday, 8 August 2023

Questions without Notice

International Development Assistance

2:53 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific. How is the Albanese Labor government strengthening relationships with countries across the Indo-Pacific through Australia's international development program? What actions have been necessary, and why has it been important to update the government's policy settings?

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

I thank the member for Fremantle for his question and his ongoing advocacy for a strong international development policy. Later today, Senator Wong and I will be releasing the New International Development Policy, the first one in almost a decade. It will place international development at the heart of our statecraft, complementing our policing support in the region and complementing defence cooperation and the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, to secure Australia as the partner of choice in our region.

Twenty-two of our 26 closest neighbours are developing nations, and it's in our national interest to have a stable, prosperous and peaceful region. This update is necessary because of the incompetence of those opposite when they were in power. They slashed $11.8 billion from our foreign aid budget, creating a vacuum filled by other nations in the region at a time of great geostrategic competition.

We're rebuilding the aid budget and driving our policy based on our values and the priorities of our region. That includes prioritising local economic involvement so that when we fund infrastructure projects in the region they use local labour, in contrast to other countries. We're establishing a $250 million Australian development investments fund to stimulate private sector impact investment in our region. We're matching this with unprecedented transparency and evaluation mechanisms, to give confidence to our taxpayers that their funds are being invested wisely. And we're requiring 80 per cent of our programs to have gender and climate change objectives in their design.

And, on climate change: this is incredibly important because, for the Pacific, climate change is the No. 1 existential threat and their No. 1 priority. The truth is that this is necessary because the last government undermined our position in the region by not taking climate change seriously, including the now Leader of the Opposition making jokes about rising sea levels. I'm ashamed to say that we still need to push back on these attitudes from those opposite, and that's why this policy is so necessary. Senator Canavan, today, in response to our foreign aid announcement, said that talking about climate change was a Western eccentricity—a Western obsession. This undermines our position in the region, it creates a vacuum for other countries to fill and it shows that those opposite are not serious about governing. By contrast, our international development program supports our national interests, supports our efforts to be the partner of choice for our region and contributes to our national security.