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Senate Estimates: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee: Department of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade: Foreign Affairs Portfolio (Non-Trade Programs)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 4 Nov 2016

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Senator RHIANNON: The Australian government is committed to being at the forefront of efforts to empower women and girls and to promote gender equality, particularly in our region, and I know that this is an interest of the minister. One of the 10 performance targets for Australia's aid program is to ensure that more than 80 per cent of investments, regardless of their objectives, will effectively address gender issues. What is the percentage of overseas development investments that address gender issues?

Mr McDonald: In relation to the targets, you are right: we have a target that was set by the foreign minister to have 80 per cent of our investments effectively integrate gender into our investments. That target is a very robust target. It has progressively increased. You would know that the target is 80 per cent and it is up to about 78 per cent at the moment; we started when it was about 72 per cent. So we are very focused on it. It is being considered by all our staff in relation to aid investments both in Canberra and in overseas posts—and we are very focused on it. You would also be aware that the foreign minister established a gender fund, which was $50 million last year and is $55 million this year, and we have recently announced some proposals associated with that in terms of investments with NGOs and other partners. So this is a very high focus of ours.

Senator RHIANNON: What is the overall budget? Do you actually have a monetary amount or are you looking at it in a percentage sense because you are taking it across a whole range of programs?

Mr McDonald: I think we are taking it in two ways. There are specific initiatives that we put in place. There is also a requirement to integrate it in all our investments; and the reason for that is that you want people to think about gender as front and centre in our investments—that it is an integrated part of our investments—and that is the approach that we have been taking.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you give a budget allocation for the priority area of gender equality and empowering women and girls?

Mr McDonald: I can. I am happy to take that on notice, but can I say that it will be extensive when we have a budget of $3.8 billion. A large proportion of that will cover initiatives that cover gender-specific activities in terms of integrating those into our investments.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you provide a breakdown of that by country and by program?

Mr McDonald: I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: What I am trying to understand here—and I imagine that it is a challenge for you, considering the range of programs that you are responsible for—is, when you get to the specific project, how you determine the gender aspects and the empowering aspects of that. How do you ensure that they happen and how do you then decide what the percentage is? Can you provide that level of detail regarding how you make those determinations?

Mr McDonald: As I said we will take that on notice and provide it to you. It is important that you know that we are very focused on integrating this in our investments so that women's and girls' gender equality is always considered within our investments—and not only that they are put in the investments; I think it is important that they are effective. Part of the performance target around this is about effectiveness, and we measure the effectiveness. We have a very robust target. Being able to identify a specific component of an investment that just covers 'gender specific' is difficult because we want it to be integrated. From my point of view, over the last three years the focus on this has really improved in the organisation. People are very conscious of it and it is a very high priority for us.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you; I certainly hear that. I think it is important to understand that. You have come up with this specific figure of 80 per cent but you have just acknowledged in your answer how diffuse it is. In many ways you want it to be, because you want it to be integrated at the highest level. How do you then come up with such a percentage? If you could explain that, it would be useful.

Mr McDonald: The 80 per cent target is a very robust target because it is about the effectiveness of integrating gender-specific initiatives into our programs. How are they measured? They are measured through our performance system, which is very robust, and which looks at all of our programs and projects. Those assessments are then quality assured by our development and effectiveness area. So we have a very robust system to measure this. I do not think there is any problem in the sense that we are measuring it effectively. Your question was about the amount of money that is specifically for gender, and I think that is a more difficult thing to pull out when you are integrating it into our overall program.

Senator RHIANNON: I will have a look at it when it comes back and come back to you. I have a couple of specific questions. I noted that there was a particular emphasis on projects about reducing violence, in terms of the issue around gender and empowerment. Can you provide us with an update on the programs that are being undertaken in that field?

Mr McDonald: Yes, I certainly can. I will ask Dr Strahan to provide more detail on that.

Dr Strahan: Several streams of our program go to the issue of reducing and eliminating violence against women. One component is a series of projects which are run through the department, usually by our posts in conjunction with external partners. To give you an example of some of the projects that we have run under that kind of program, for instance, in the last year we have done a program in Timor Leste on eradicating violence through innovative approaches to women's empowerment. We have done a program in Sri Lanka, working with the Sri Lankan police force, on a train the trainer module. We also have done a program in Afghanistan on eliminating violence against women, working with UN Women. We also provide some core funding to organisations like UN Women to end violence against women. That has several components. I will give you a couple of examples of how that component works. For instance, we have one stream which engages parliamentarians in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment, with an emphasis on violence. We contribute to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. We also contribute to a project called the joint UN essential services for women and girls subjected to violence package. As you can see, through a number of regional projects, specific projects on the ground, we do work on this front. We also contribute to a number of international programs.

Senator RHIANNON: Are any of the programs addressing violence linked with promoting and developing the economic independence of women?

Dr Strahan: Yes. We recognise that there is a clear linkage that, if you empower women economically, give them an income, it makes them more autonomous. I must admit that there is sometimes a backlash factor here. In some contexts, the economic empowerment of women has led to some male retribution. So we are always conscious, when we are implementing any of our projects, of making sure that we do not have any unintended consequences and we pay particular attention to these linkages, which are fairly complex, between economic empowerment and ending violence.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand there was a pilot program to provide curriculum materials on forced marriage. Can you provide any feedback on that? Where is this program going? Has more funding been provided for it and does it continue? Dr Strahan: I will quickly scan my notes and see whether I have some specific information about that project right now.

Mr McDonald: While Dr Strahan does that, Senator, perhaps we can go back to your question around the value of gender-specific initiatives in the program. I will ask Mr Wood to comment. There was a green book that we put out for the first time earlier this year. On page 19 there is a reference to our expenditure on gender— specific initiatives. I will ask Mr Wood to clarify that. Mr Wood: As Mr McDonald said, we issued our official statistical summary for 2014-15. In table 13 we specify our expenditure on our official development assistance for gender equality; that totalled $2.384 billion. As Mr McDonald was saying earlier, there are a lot of complexities in identifying this, so it is something that we are comfortable with reporting on retrospectively when we go through the data. In terms of other budget information, I would also highlight that, in our 2016-17 Australian aid budget summary, on page 52, we have a section on gender. That identifies some specific activities such as our $55 million Gender Equality Fund, plus some other initiatives, such as the Investing in Women Initiative. As Mr McDonald said, we will endeavour to provide as good information as we can in response to your question.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. I want to move on to human trafficking.

CHAIR: Before you do, Senator Moore has questions in the same space.

Senator MOORE: Thank you, Chair. I will come back to it later.

Senator WONG: We were proposing to come to aid a bit later, but I understand that Senator Rhiannon wants to—

Dr Strahan: Senator, would you like me to close the loop on the specific project which you asked about—the forced marriage? The information I have at hand does not cover that particular project, so we will come back to you with information about what we do on forced and child marriage. We see that as a very important theme and we work broadly, through the Commonwealth and the UN and with bilateral partners, on that issue. Lastly, just last week we had an extensive series of consultations on eliminating violence against women where we reached out to a whole series of NGOs and think-tanks. A very important element to this question is data, and capturing good data. So we are putting a lot of extra work into capturing good data. On your specific question, I will make sure that we come back to you, hopefully today; if not, later.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that update. You can come back on it. I want to ask about human trafficking. I would like an update on the department's work on projects to stop human trafficking in South-East Asia and the Pacific.

Mr McDonald: Mr Goledzinowski will be the best person to take that question. Senator RHIANNON: In the context of the question, I am also interested in what impact the expenditure cuts in this area have had on the projects.

Mr Goledzinowski: This is one of the priorities identified for the government in this area. This has been underlined by a number of initiatives that have taken place this year. The first one was the release by the government of Australia's International Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery, which has articulated the sorts of activities that we are currently undertaking in the region and the sorts of activities that we would propose to continue.
That includes some major investments in this area which it is true to say still constitute Australia as the largest investor in human trafficking activities in our immediate region. This includes a $50 million investment to combat trafficking in persons in the Asian region, called AAPTIP, which is the Australia—Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons; and a $20 million investment, in partnership with the International Labour Organisation, called the TRIANGLE program, which particularly focuses on the situation of migrant workers in the region, who, as you know, Senator, are particularly vulnerable to situations of trafficking and forced labour.
At the same time as Minister Bishop announced this strategy, she also announced that my title will be changed. Since the position of ambassador has existed, it has been a position which has dealt with people smuggling. The change in my title in March this year now formally allows me to deal with people trafficking. Symbolically, that really demonstrates Australia's sensitivity to the fact that people trafficking is a significant and growing problem in our region and one which, quite frankly, the countries in our region are more focused on sometimes than people smuggling. That is a very positive development and one which has given us the opportunity to really lead in this region.
In terms of other activities, within the Bali process, of which Australia is co-chair—I co-chair the senior officials level; the minister co-chairs the ministerial level of the Bali process—there are a number of important working groups. The one that has been in existence for the longest and which Australia co-chairs with Indonesia is the working group on human trafficking. In that working group, a number of activities have taken place to combat human trafficking and to strengthen the levels of cooperation between countries and also to strengthen the level of capacity within countries. One example—here we work closely with the Attorney-General's Department—is the development of policy guides, which have been developed by working groups within the region under the Bali process umbrella to create guidelines for countries to legislate on human trafficking and, in particular, to ensure that, within that legislation, proper regard is paid to the need to protect the victims. There was a time when legislation sometimes, in its eagerness to attack the perpetrators, forgot the situation of those who are caught up within that trade.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you expand on that, in terms of what the cuts are to your area of work and what impact that has had—what changes you have had to make?

Mr Goledzinowski: In my particular area of work there have been no cuts; in fact the budget for my particular office was increased in the context of the last budget. In fact we have more money this financial year than we did last financial year.

Senator RHIANNON: I will finish up with a question on water.

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Senator RHIANNON: I had a question on the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council. How much funding to this critical sanitation program has been cut and what is the impact of those cuts?

Mr McDonald: I will ask Mr Exell to come up. Can I just comment on that, in relation to water, that you would be aware of the focus on SDG6 around safe drinking water and sanitation, and just note that in Australia the Prime Minister is part of the High Level Panel on Water, which delivered its action plan in New York last month. So we are very involved in that.

Senator RHIANNON: Thanks. Mr Exell: In regard to the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, my understanding is that there have not been any cuts to the contribution to that organisation. DFAT provided approximately $2.4 million in 2015-16. That runs through to 2018. DFAT also has an agreement with UNICEF to support the sanitation of water for all, through the secretariat for total of $1.1 million. That runs through to December 2019.

Senator RHIANNON: So there have been no cuts?

Mr Exell: That is correct.

Senator RHIANNON: I had figures here that it was moving from $3 million per year that ran from 2012-15 to $1.5 million per year from this year to 2019. Is that inaccurate or are we just looking at the figures in different ways?

Mr Exell: We could be. I am happy to take that on notice. If you add those two figures I quoted, 2.4 and 1.1, you get close to the $3 million that was the previous funding. But I am happy to take that on notice, the difference from the previous period to this period. I do not have a comparison here.

Senator RHIANNON: If you could take it on notice, because what I have from our calculations is that over four years the council is looking at a drop in funding from $12 million to $6 million. If you could just look at the figures?

Mr Exell: And you are referring to specific Australian funding?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Mr Exell: Not total donor funding?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Mr Exell: I will take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you Senator Rhiannon.

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