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Adjournment Speech: Publish what you pay

Lee highlights the work of Publish What You Pay, designed to improve the transparency of extractive industries by having them report how much of their income goes back into the communities in which they operate.

As the coalition cuts back on Australia's aid program and cuts the aid budget, it really would be timely for the coalition to give support to the important work being undertaken by Publish What You Pay. This has great relevance to how aid and development is undertaken in low-income countries. Today, more than 60 per cent of the world's poorest people live in countries rich in natural resources, but they really share in the wealth. Secrecy and corruption often means that the income from oil, mining, gas and logging activities never reaches ordinary people.

To take Africa as an example, $148 billion of Africa's income is lost every year due to corruption-in a continent where 2.5 billion people do not have access to a proper toilet and nearly one billion lack access to clean water. That amount, $148 billion, is equivalent to one-quarter of Africa's income being lost. That is one-quarter of the whole continent's income lost-not lost altogether; lost by the African people to some of the world's richest companies. African exports of minerals, oil and gas in 2010 were worth roughly seven times the value of international aid to that continent: US$333 billion versus US$47 billion in aid. If those resources were harnessed effectively in the fight to end extreme poverty, resource-rich countries could exit from their dependency on international aid, a sustainable solution that surely we all want to see happen.

I have read and I have listened to many of the comments made by this government about the future of aid programs, and great emphasis is given to the need for economic growth. This issue is critical, and it has been identified by Publish What You Pay. But, surely, if you are going to have an emphasis on economic growth, the benefits need to stay with the people, who are truly the owners of that wealth. Yet the secrecy and corruption that surrounds deals between governments and multinational companies is a major barrier to the effective use of the financial resources that extractive industries generate.

Those multinational companies are largely headquartered in the developed world. We know many of them are in Australia and come from Australia. That is why the global Publish What You Pay campaign for transparency in the extractive industries was formed a decade ago. From small beginnings, it has grown into a coalition of more than 700 organisations active in more than 60 countries, including Australia. I very much congratulate them on the extraordinary and groundbreaking work they are undertaking.

Publish What You Pay has achieved a great deal since its inception, and I will share with you some examples of those achievements. Since 2010, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange has required prospective mining and oil and gas companies to disclose payments to governments in their listing applications. In August 2012, the United States adopted final rules that will operationalise its law, under section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, requiring all extractive industry companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission to report payments made to governments on a country-by-country and a project-by-project basis. In June 2013, the European Parliament voted to adopt new accounting and transparency directives that require all public and large private extractive and logging companies in the European Union to report their payments to governments on a project-by-project basis. In the same month, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada would establish mandatory reporting standards for extractive companies that are consistent with existing international standards. Norway committed to implementing payment disclosure legislation for extractive industry companies by 1 January 2014. In June 2013, the Swiss parliament adopted a resolution calling on the federal council to draft transparency rules that are in line with the US and European Union laws for private and publicly traded companies, and to include commodities traders as well as extractive companies.

It is an impressive list of examples, but I notice there is nothing about Australia. All of the major markets around the world are moving in the direction of greater transparency, except Australia. With more than 240 Australian mining companies operating in Africa, we have a key role to play in making sure that the resources they extract benefit local people as well as their shareholders. And we have a great opportunity to have a global impact too, because, as we know, Australia will host the G20 summit in Brisbane in November. Action from Australia-the last developed country to move on this-could precipitate action from the big developing countries, where we also need movement: China, Brazil, India and South Africa. Then we would truly have global rules and a more level playing field for Australian businesses.

We would be able to talk about the beginning of the end of the 'resource curse', whereby countries are burdened by their bounty instead of blessed by it. Our actions would be helping to end extreme poverty rather than exacerbating it. I acknowledge it is only a small step, but it is a very important step, particularly in assisting low-income countries to control their own resources and the distribution of wealth from those resources. That would be a G20 legacy that all Australians could be proud of. I think it is a very worthy suggestion from Publish What You Pay.


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