Senate debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020


Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019; Second Reading

1:20 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor has a proud history of supporting foreign aid. We know that it's not just in Australia's national interests but it's the right thing to do as a prosperous nation and a good global citizen. In supporting foreign aid, we also support the multilateral agreements and institutions that drive our global systems of development assistance. If passed, this bill, Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019, will make a special appropriation from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to meet Australia's payment obligations to six multilateral development funds. These six funds are: the International Development Association, which is the World Bank's development arm; the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative, a World Bank debt relief scheme administered by the International Development Association; the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, a World Bank debt relief scheme administered by the International Development Association; 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 sustainable development activities; and, finally, the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, which provides assistance to developing countries in phasing out ozone-depleting substances.

The six multilateral funds require pledging nations to provide an unqualified instrument of commitment stating that there is no impediment to making the pledged payments. However, since 2014-15 the annual appropriations bill has included automatic repeal provisions which extinguish unused appropriations three years after they are made. This is why these payments need a special appropriation instead of being included in the budget bills.

Australia's annual payments to the funds average around $350 million, but this will not have any impact on the underlying cash balance as they are funded out of existing aid appropriations. The bill continues the active role that Australia has played over many years in supporting these funds.

Labor is a big supporter of Australia's international development program, so of course we support these appropriations. In fact, Labor was behind many of the multilateral agreements that established these funds and the institutions behind them. Labor's commitment to the World Bank goes as far back as the Chifley government's decision to support Bretton Woods institutions in the aftermath of the Second World War. And it was the Hawke government in 1987 that made Australia one of the first countries to ratify the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances. This is undoubtably one of the most successful international agreements on the environment—if not the most successful—which has helped the ozone hole above Antarctica start to heal.

These funds are necessary not only as a part of our contribution to development assistance but also in supporting the multilateral institutions that are at the heart of this system. The work that these multilateral funds support is vital to many global development causes, such as tackling poverty, promoting sustainable development in some of the world's poorest countries and addressing environmental challenges which require global cooperation.

While we welcome this bill and appreciate the need for a special appropriation for these funds, it appears that this government has somewhat of a split personality when it comes to support for multilateral institutions. On the one hand, we have the bill we are now debating in the Senate in which the government is making a commitment to meeting its obligations to various multilateral funds. But, bizarrely, on the other hand, we had a speech from the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, late last year criticising what he refers to as negative globalism. After that speech, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Senate estimates that they had not heard the term 'negative globalism' before. If Mr Morrison was taking Australia's commitment to multilateralism in a different direction, then he certainly hadn't consulted DFAT. To get a sense of what negative globalism actually means, we can only look to the definition in Mr Morrison's speech. According to the Prime Minister, negative globalism:

… coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill defined borderless global community. And worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy.

I would like to know where this so-called unaccountable bureaucracy exists. Multilateral institutions are only given life and mandate by international treaties that countries like ours freely enter into. I, and I'm sure many Australians, would like some clarity around where the Prime Minister and his government are going with this concept of negative globalism. Does it represent a major policy shift away from a commitment to multilateralism or is it just another bizarre thought bubble from the Prime Minister? If there is one area in which the government's demonstrated commitment to multilateralism is badly lacking, it's their appalling record on official development assistance, or what is more commonly known as foreign aid.

Labor has a strong commitment to foreign aid because we understand and accept both the moral and the national interest arguments for it; and in government we followed through on this commitment. I am very proud of Labor's record on foreign aid investment. When we were last in government, we doubled foreign aid and we set out a timetable for increasing aid to 0.5 per cent of gross national income. This was an interim goal towards the agreed target of 0.7 per cent of GNI set by developed countries in 1970. So far only five members of the OECD have met this target: Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the UK.

Foreign aid is not just giving away money to people overseas; it's an investment in a prosperous, peaceful, healthy and secure world. There are two major reasons why foreign aid should be a policy priority of any government. Firstly, contributing to foreign aid is in Australia's national interest. We live in a global community, and the security of our country is, to a large extent, dictated by the security of the world beyond our borders. So many national security threats from overseas are exacerbated by extreme poverty. Poverty fuels transnational crime, conflict and terrorism. Of course, it can't be accepted as an excuse for crime or armed conflict, but it is often a contributing factor. Consider, for example, the social and economic cost from the flow of illicit drugs into Australia, which is running into the billions. When crime offers an escape from extreme poverty then those experiencing poverty are more likely to risk engaging it, and the rewards of doing so will be comparatively greater.

One form of crime, in particular, that is having an impact on the lives of everyday Australians is, of course, cybercrime. I've said a great deal in this place over the years about cybersafety and the threat posed to Australians by scams. The ACCC's Targeting scams report found that in 2018 Australians lost close to half a billion dollars to scams, and that rate of loss has been increasing rapidly over time. Most of these scams are perpetuated from beyond our borders and often by people who see it as a way out of poverty. There is, of course, no excuse for trying to cheat innocent people out of their money—none at all—but if we are helping people find legitimate means to escape poverty then it will also help to reduce the incidence of crimes such as these.

Another security threat facing Australia is the spread of infectious diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of how connected we are to our global environment and how poverty in other countries can impact us here in Australia. In an opinion piece in The Guardian Australia, Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development at Oxford University, wrote:

… the poorer the country, the less capable it is of addressing people's pressing needs, from identifying and treating cases of the virus to supporting communities and businesses deprived of income.

A further observation in Professor Goldin's article read:

We are only as strong as our weakest links. In the case of Covid-19, if one country is a pandemic hotspot, we're all at risk of reinfection.

Professor Goldin went on to conclude that we need to show 'solidarity with those beyond our borders'.

I sympathise with those who talk about the challenges confronting struggling Australian families and who say that we should fix our problems at home before sending money overseas. But, if we can create a more secure and prosperous world, the money we save from having to defend against national security threats such as terrorism, crime and communicable diseases can be reinvested in helping Australians. Furthermore, when other countries develop economically, our economy benefits too.

It's worth recognising that a number of our most valuable export markets were, at some point in history, aid recipients. While foreign aid investment is in Australia's national interest, there is another really good reason to invest in foreign aid: it's simply the right thing to do. The good we can do in the world by such things as supporting economic development, feeding starving children and stopping the spread of preventable disease is our obligation as one of world's wealthiest nations and as a good global citizen. I have no doubt most Australians would agree. We are, after all, generous by nature.

Egalitarianism, mateship and fairness are principles integral to our culture and national identity. Each year Australians give around $11 billion in charity. In day-to-day life we help our friends, neighbours and even people in the street, not because it might be material advantage to us but because most people have the decency to lend a hand when somebody needs it. If we practice these principles when dealing with each other as individuals then as a nation we should behave the same way. A prosperous country like Australia should give generously to those less fortunate.

A 2019 Lowy Institute poll found Australians on average think about 14 per cent of Australia's budget is spent on foreign aid. The average response for how much of the budget Australia should spend on foreign aid is 10 per cent. The amount Australia actually spends is closer to around 0.8 per cent of the budget, about one-twelfth of what Australians, on average, consider reasonable. So if you look at that spending in terms of Australia's gross national income, our current contribution is only 0.19 per cent. This is the lowest level Australia's aid spending has been as a proportion of GNI since the data started being published in 1961. Australia's contribution to foreign aid has fallen to this record low because of $11.8 billion in savage cuts since the Liberals came to power in 2013. Australia's meagre aid budget under this government is doing irreparable damage to our international standing and bilateral relations. Australia used to have a reputation as one of the most responsible forward-thinking global citizens and now our standing is falling in the eyes of the world. What is even worse about these savage cuts is that they are short-changing some of the most desperate, impoverished and struggling people in the world. I'm not exaggerating when I say that these cuts are savage enough for thousands of people to die as a result. One estimate says that close to half a million lives may be at risk. These are not the actions of a government that is truly committed to international development.

I and my colleagues on this side of the chamber are appalled at this government's record on international development. Ever since those opposite came to government they have treated the foreign aid budget like an ATM that they can take money from any time they need to prop up the budget. If they are tempted to do so again in this year's budget using their recently established foreign aid review as cover, I would strongly caution against doing so. Cuts to foreign aid at any time are both cruel and counterproductive but during this crisis it is one of the absolute worst times to be making these cuts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated more than ever the importance of global solidarity. We know COVID-19 has had a disastrous economic impact at home, but for many developing countries it has been even more devastating. Not only do they need our assistance more than ever before, but the benefit of our assistance in how it lessens the pandemic threat to health and safety of Australians is so much greater.

While I welcome the bill that is now before the Senate, I would also welcome a commitment from this government to recognise the value of foreign aid and start working on reversing its savage cuts and reinvesting in international economic development. If I cannot convince those opposite that this is in the interests of Australians then let me appeal to their humanity. Let me implore those opposite to help more people have the means to eat, drink clean water, have access to shelter and electricity, go to school and stop dying of preventable diseases. If my appeal to the government's humanity is unsuccessful then it simply confirms what I have long suspected—that this government is heartless and uncaring, that they are devoid of compassion, decency and any sense of moral obligation. I would love for those opposite to prove me wrong and I invite them to do so. They can start by winding back their cuts to foreign aid and by treating the foreign aid budget as something to invest in, not a cookie jar they can raid any time they're short of funds. I commend the bill to the Senate.

1:34 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant of the people of Queensland and Australia, I oppose the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019, One Nation opposes it and we do so because we support and love our country, Australia. One Nation opposes any remuneration bill that does not specify how much money is being spent. Do the taxpayers know right now that this bill has no spending limit? It's an open cheque to the UN.

I understand that the agreements we signed specify how total budgets are to be broken up amongst members but not how much the total budget should be. How can we do this? There are five different UN organisations that are the subject of this bill. The Global Environmental Facility, to take an example, has grown from $1 billion in the original agreement that we signed to $4 billion today. The World Bank International Development Association has gone from $24 billion to $35 billion in just the last two years—our money. This bill gives the United Nations a blank cheque to waste taxpayers' money and just hold its hand out for more.

I do not believe these organisations are good value for money. In fact, many are corrupt to the core. The World Bank's International Development Association spent 24 per cent, almost a quarter, of its funds on public administration—that is a quarter blown out the door through administration—and 19 per cent, almost one-fifth, on subsidising renewable energy. That does not lift people out of poverty because it is too unreliable. It consigns people to poverty and that's what it's doing to this country. What does the World Bank's International Development Association spend on health? Mr Acting Deputy President, do you have any idea? It is just eight per cent, and on education—the one thing that does lift people out of poverty—also a measly eight per cent. Perhaps the International Development Association could spend more lifting people out of poverty if it was not spending $3.3 billion every year on administrative expenses, including our cash.

The Asian Development Fund has been providing low-interest loans to lift people out of poverty since 1974. So in 46 years its low-interest loans have not lifted the people of Asia out of poverty but maybe the millions more we are about to give the Asian Development Fund will do the trick—maybe. In the past 46 years, there has been nothing much, but let's see what happens. Actually, I'm not sure why we're even funding the Asian Development Fund. They currently have $457 billion in outstanding loans.

I'm not suggesting that the scheme has been unsuccessful. The two largest recipients have done extremely well. India has $68 billion of those loans and is now the world's fifth-largest economy. Not because of the Asian Development Fund, I might add. China has $62 billion of those loans and is now the world's second-largest economy. I wonder if they're using that to make islands in the South China Sea. Perhaps if Australia can get some of these loans, we can stop Australia sliding out of the top 10 of the world's largest economies. I remind every Australian that, early last century, in the early days of our federated nationhood, Australia led the world in per capita income. We were No. 1 in the world. We're now sliding out of the top 10 and heading to slide out of the top 20. Sorry, we have already slid out of the top 10 largest economies.

Australia should be grateful that at least the Asian Development Bank is careful with its administrative expenses, only spending $1 billion last year on administration. I did note though, the Asian Development Fund spent $25 million last year on salaries and expenses for their board of directors—their 12-member board of directors. The amount of $2 million per director seems a little high for unelected internationalist bureaucrats or, as the Prime Minister said, unaccountable internationalist bureaucrats. When the Asian Development Fund talk about lifting people out of poverty, I don't think the Australian taxpayers would take that to mean the Asian Development Fund's board of directors being lifted out of poverty.

The Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol is another soak for taxpayer cash. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer—yes, that's another title—was ratified in 1987. It requires countries to reduce levels of production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances according to an agreed schedule. I expect Australian taxpayers thought that the ban on CFCs in the eighties was the end of the CFC crisis. I won't even mention—well, I will mention—that the hole in the ozone layer stopped growing before the CFC ban came in and is better explained by natural variability caused by variations in solar energy than by world-killer spray cans. The UN, though, has spent half a billion dollars a year—half a billion dollars a year, including our money—on the multilateral fund for the last 25 years, and for nothing. In true Yes Minister style, the multilateral fund has kept itself in line for taxpayer handouts by moving on to other substances that also have nothing to do with the ozone layer. They're in general use, in situations where they're very hard to replace. That includes refrigeration. At this rate, refrigeration will be relegated to the footnotes of history. This won't be a problem because, with renewable power, everyday Australians won't be able to afford to run our refrigerators, except perhaps for those UN development officials with a $2-million-a-year price tag. They should be keeping the Moet nice and cold.

Let's turn to the Global Environment Facility trust. I saved the best until last. The Global Environment Facility trust was founded at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to fund developing countries and countries with economies in transition to meet the objectives of the international environmental conventions and agreements—$1.5 billion a year to keep the global climate warming con going to enable the UN parasites to continue sucking our blood through deceit and lies. I notice that a generous federal government has increased our contribution to the Global Environment Facility from $23.5 million just two years ago to $38 million last year. That's an increase of about 60 per cent in one year. So when the World Wildlife Fund is used as a source for global warming proof, remember they're funded by the Global Environment Facility—funded to keep the greatest scientific swindle in history alive.

I'm going to discuss the bigger picture for a minute. And don't take my word for it. Mr Richard Court, at the time the Liberal Premier of Western Australia, wrote Rebuilding the Federation. In this book on page 8, he details the process that the internationalists use to usurp our sovereignty, take over our governance and put in place UN regulations. He deals with the UN or other unelected international bodies. Our Constitution has been pushed aside—bypassed by these criminals in the UN and other slick gangsters. Mr Richard Court details that, and he did so 26 years ago.

I'll now read from the opening page of the introduction of a UN Agenda 21 booklet. This came about at the UN Rio Convention in 1992, which Paul Keating's Labor government signed on our behalf. It says:

Agenda 21 stands as a comprehensive blueprint for action to be taken globally—from now into the twenty-first century—by Governments, United Nations organizations, development agencies, non-governmental organizations and independent-sector groups, in every area in which human activity impacts on the environment.

that is, every area of our civilisation—

The agenda should be studied in conjunction with both the Rio declaration, which provides a context for its specific proposals—

'specific proposals'; that's where the nitty-gritty is—

and the Statement of Forest Principles. It is hoped that the Forest Principles will form the basis for a future international level agreement.

That is how they put in place global governance and that is how, according to Richard Court, who is absolutely correct, that governance then takes over ours.

We have the UN's Lima declaration, signed in 1975 by the Whitlam Labor government and ratified in 1976 by the Fraser Liberal-National government. It destroyed our industry; it deliberately made it clear that they were transferring it. By the way, the United States didn't sign it, several major European countries didn't sign it, and I don't think Japan did. China did; it was a beneficiary.

The UN's Rio declaration, in 1992, brought about Agenda 21, which I've just discussed, is now killing land use for all of our farmers. It's killing employment, due to its so-called sustainability, and its killing governance through the climate change commitments—which are not commitments until they are legislated through here, or bypassed through here.

The UN's Kyoto protocol, in 1996, and the UN's Paris Agreement, in 2015, which is strangling our industry and exporting jobs—red tape strangling our country, green tape strangling our country, blue tape strangling our country. Blue tape is UN tape. Where does blue tape work? In the fishing industry. We now have 36 per cent of the world's marine parks in this country alone—more than one-third. We now import three-quarters of our seafood from China. The biggest exporter of seafood is China, which has a tiny coastline and 53 times our population. So the UN doesn't touch China but strangles our industry—and we're happily pushing jobs off overseas and closing down industries, including fishing. And we can't get permission to lift the dam level at Warragamba Dam because the UN doesn't like it. And World Heritage sites are another way the UN controls us.

And then we have the globalist mantra of 'interdependency'—and that's what these bills push. Interdependency means we are dependent on another country; it means we are dependent, not independent any more. Australia used to be No. 1 in the world in terms of per capita income, and then we started shoving all our jobs offshore and now we are dependent on other nations—to say nothing of the corruption that the UN has and the accountability that it doesn't have.

As I said in my first but in the Senate in 2016, we need an 'Ausexit'—Australia exiting the UN. The best thing we can do for people in poor countries is to kill the UN, get back to accountability and create a business environment that is not an environment for parasites. The best thing we can do for our country is to restore our sovereignty, restore our governance and restore our independence. We need to not fund entities like the UN. Instead, we need to look after ourselves and make ourselves strong again so that we can help neighbours as they need.

1:48 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

As we discuss this bill I want to highlight the critical role that multilateral organisations play right around the world and the importance of Australia's commitment to those organisations. In the current context of COVID-19 the role of international cooperation and strong global institutions should not be underplayed or underestimated. In this context, it's pleasing to see that we make critical commitments to multilateral initiatives such as the World Bank, the International Development Association, the debt relief program, the Asian Development Bank, the Asian Development Fund, the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund and the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol. These are just some of the multilateral institutions that exist. Some of them, of course, are auspiced by the World Health Organization, the UN, and others are put together through multilateral aid—such as the Global Vaccine Initiative, or Gavi, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

It is really important to see that global relationships are greatly enhanced through multilateral relationships rather than just nation to nation. Here we have expenditure in the order of $350 million a year, and the bill gives effect to those already budgeted commitments. But I want to put on record that this comes in the context of a cut of $11.8 billion to our international development assistance under the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments over the last few years.

The Australian people think that we spend far more than we actually do spend on international aid. Some people think we literally spend 10 per cent of our national budget on foreign aid. We know that that is simply not true. We have a globalised world. As we shut our borders because of the COVID-19 pandemic we must remember that the health and safety of Australians is interwoven with the health and safety of other nations. International development aid is in our national interest. We can and must do more to ensure that we live in a peaceful, stable region and that countries, particularly those nearby in our region, do not sink into instability and chaos. There is drug-resistant tuberculosis coming in and out of Queensland. Even in our most narrow and selfish interest, it is in our interest to do more to support the countries to our north.

Poverty, of course, is a cause of these things. In poor countries with cramped living conditions and inadequate health systems, people are forced to work and, as a result, spread disease because these nations have no social safety net. We've certainly seen examples of that here as well. These are critical issues and highlight why debt relief and the development funds provided by this bill are so incredibly important. We don't want failed states on our doorstep. If you really want to take a hardline argument, foreign aid is cheaper than sending in the military.

Under this government, international development assistance is on track to fall to just 0.19 per cent of gross national income, and that is a disgrace. As I said before, $11.8 billion has been cut from the foreign aid budget. We are now at a record low percentage of GNI, and this is what our Prime Minister and this government are driving us towards. At the very time when we need to be more engaged in our region, we are cutting international development assistance.

These commitments in our ODA program advance Australia's interests and project our values but also tackle global poverty. With climate change we see an increasing need for humanitarian and aid assistance with rising natural disasters. We need to not just lift our game on mitigation—and, of course, that's a discussion for another day—but invest more in resilience and adaption. These are some of the very things that are funded in the multilateral organisations that we're discussing support for today.

Globally, as commentators have said, we have seen a deteriorating security environment which is challenging for the world. We are also yet to see the full impact of COVID-19 on developing nations. It's a virus that will have been spread around the world in considerable part by holiday-makers—more by wealthy people than by the large demographics of the poor in the developing world. Health systems in the developing world, which will be ill-equipped for this pandemic, have had this disease brought to them.

I want to pay special tribute to two organisations playing an important role in the response to COVID. They are also multilateral agencies like those we are discussing today. The Global Fund is providing a billion dollars in operational flexibility to help countries fight COVID-19. It's shoring up health systems and mitigating impacts on life-saving HIV, TB and malaria programs. Its emergency funding is available through its $500 million COVID response mechanism, and it's looked at how to make its funding more flexible in order to adapt to the COVID crisis. I want to also give a special shout-out to the global vaccine initiative.

I have to say that WHO—the World Health Organization—the global vaccine initiative and the Global Fund have been predicting pandemics for some time and have highlighted, indeed, why these pandemics are now more likely and why we need to be more prepared. I know that this government has attacked the World Health Organization at a difficult time, but it's interesting, because a lot of the international agencies have said that countries weren't as ready as we were told to be.

The triggers for a global pandemic include global travel and urbanisation. Climate change also contributes to pandemics. It can affect the spread of disease in a number of ways. It can alter the natural range of disease-carrying insects, like mosquitoes, or bats. So it's important to see that these multilateral bills that we are debating today also include commitments for the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund and the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol. The Special Climate Change Fund supports adaptation and technology transfer in developing countries that are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. So this is about both short- and long-term adaptation goals and things that very much support environmental management in developing nations. The Montreal Protocol, of course, is about substances that deplete the ozone layer. International cooperation has seen us take great steps in addressing depletion of the ozone layer, and it's really worth noting that ozone-layer-depleting substances are also greenhouse gases that vastly accelerate climate change.

As these multilateral organisations have also advised, increased human-animal contact is a driver for pandemics, as are health worker shortages. They've highlighted that those shortages are in part through migration, where you see countries like Australia pulling nurses and doctors out of developing nations to offer them employment. I would highlight that we have had this week the International Day of the Nurse, and I want to pay tribute to nurses all around the world, particularly those working in challenging circumstances in developing nations.

All of this shows how important global action is to health. In relation to a COVID-19 vaccine, I've been very pleased to see—again through multilateral discussions where international communities come together—$352 million committed to the European-led coronavirus vaccine research fund. That money will be spent and coordinated internationally to accelerate the search for a vaccine. We can see those multilateral organisations—the World Health Organization, the global vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations—and pledges from many countries coming together to really make a strong commitment to finding a vaccine for COVID-19. All of this highlights very much why this kind of multilateral cooperation is so critical for Australia's national interests and for everyone around the world. Fifteen million dollars from Australia is going to European research institutes, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, the Doherty Institute—

Debate interrupted.