Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Questions without Notice
International Development Assistance
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, released their 41st quarterly report on 30 October, revealing that billions of dollars in Western foreign aid has been lost to widespread waste, lax oversight and endemic corruption. Special Inspector John Sopko stated that aid had been used to build medical clinics with no power or water, schools without children and programs that hired ghost workers—non-existent bureaucrats, police and soldiers. SIGAR highlighted major probity issues with two key funds: the World Bank's Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and the UN administered Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan. Given the history of the US and DFAT concerns, and Canada declaring on Thursday that it may start its own independent audits, will the minister commit to SIGAR-style independent audits to this parliament?
I thank Senator Bernardi for his question. Australia makes a very significant contribution to security and to development assistance in Afghanistan and has done over many years now. In fact, a significant number of Australians have paid for our support for counterterrorism efforts and freedom in Afghanistan with their lives. The issues that Senator Bernardi raises in relation to integrity, transparency and accountability in terms of the delivery of development assistance are, of course, very important ones. They are ones that we take seriously in the administration of our own contributions. I will take the detail of Senator Bernardi's question on notice in relation to specific aspects of the report that he has raised and return to the chamber with further information.
I thank the minister and I say that Mr Sopko said the World Bank did not know how the money was being spent and:
… most of what we have identified are just head-smacking stupid programs and really poorly managed and no accountability.
From 2003 to 2020, Australia may be exposed to the tune of $520 million to the World Bank fund and $70 million to the UN fund. What exactly are Australia's past, present and future commitments to these funds, and what assurances can the government give that Australian taxpayer money isn't being lost in this black hole of corrupt bureaucracy?
Australia has historically taken and continues to take a very responsible approach to the delivery of our development assistance not just in Afghanistan but, indeed, much more broadly. We are very focused on ensuring that what we contribute is delivered in an appropriate way and is delivered in an accountable and transparent way. As I have said in relation to the specific details of the report, I will take those questions on notice and return to the chamber.
I thank the minister. I note that Mr Sopko also said:
I have chased more ghosts in Afghanistan than probably those comedians in Ghost Busters have done. We are talking millions if not billions of dollars that may have been diverted to ghosts.
In light of this damning evidence of corruption, waste and stupidity, why would we send another cent of Australian taxpayers' money to Afghanistan before we can be assured the funds are being equipped with due probity?
I think it would be unfortunate if the chamber were not reminded of some of the extraordinary achievements that we have made in Afghanistan in recent years, in delivering support, for example, for the education of girls. The number of girls in education in Afghanistan has increased exponentially in the years in which we have been involved through the NATO Resolute Support Mission—
I do have a point of order. My question was specifically about the funds we are delivering to these two organisations that have been found to be corrupt ghost programs—not extraneous commitments or anything else. I'm asking about the probity and accountability of these organisations with Australian money.
Again I would indicate to Senator Bernardi I've said to him I'll take the specific details of the report on notice. But I do want to reinforce the significant advances which have been made with the support of Australia and Australian funds to development and growth in Afghanistan. It was extremely challenging, for example, for Afghanistan to undertake their most recent round of elections. They faced that challenge—in terms of the violence perpetrated by extremists, including the Taliban—to carry out elections which were, by and large, regarded as successful— (Time expired)