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Budget estimates - Lee questions AusAID on aid for Nauru or Manus Island

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 18 Oct 2012

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. The foreign minister, in response to a question I asked him in the Senate about the use of foreign aid to manage people seeking asylum in this country, stated:

It could well be that there are areas of support for asylum seekers where, according to the international tests, that is considered appropriate and other areas where it would not be appropriate.

Can you confirm that no aid money will go to building, staffing or maintaining detention centres on Nauru or Manus Island?

Mr Baxter: The financial implications of implementing the recommendations of the Houston panel report, including the impact on the ODA budget, are still being considered by government. But, as Senator Bob Carr said, there may well be legitimate costs associated with the response that are ODA eligible.

Senator RHIANNON: So, considering what is ODA eligible and considering you always give emphasis to the rules in terms of how this money is used, I ask again: can you confirm that no aid money will go to building, staffing or maintaining detention centres on Nauru or Manus Island? Or can you confirm what aspects of the detention centres in those locations will not receive any aid money?

Mr Baxter: Okay. At those offshore facilities, upgrades to infrastructure that may benefit the local population, or where a portion of them may benefit the local population, are eligible to be funded with ODA-

Senator RHIANNON: Are you referring to buildings that would be used for the detention centre?

Mr Baxter: No, I am referring to the public infrastructure. So it is things-

Senator RHIANNON: That are separate from the detention centre.

Mr Baxter: like you have to build a bigger water supply because the population on the island is larger: the local community gets a benefit because they get a better water supply than was there previously. You can work out what proportion of that cost can be attributed to the benefit to the local community and you can have some of that expenditure classified as being eligible for ODA funding. But the general principle is that those are costs that confer a benefit on the populations of the island is concerned. That is probably the broadest way of looking at it. So the buildings that house the detainees themselves would not be ODA eligible. But, if there was a big hospital that had to be built that benefited the local community, a proportion of that hospital could be booked as ODA.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay. Thank you. Could you take on notice to provide the committee with a breakdown of the funding committed to Nauru for the last four years and to Manus Island for the last four years-what the programs were and the amounts? Could you take that on notice, please.

Mr Baxter: Certainly.

Senator RHIANNON: Just to expand on your description of where money can be used to interact with asylum seekers, will any of the existing funding be used for migration management?

Mr Baxter: Senator, what do you define as 'migration management'?

Senator RHIANNON: I acknowledge it is a broad term, and that is why I am trying to understand. We have two islands here, and people will be moving around the islands. So, again, can aid money be used to facilitate the movement or relocation of asylum seekers in any way on those islands?

Mr Baxter: I am not trying to be unhelpful but it is difficult to know without more precision around your question, because there are issues of interpretation that are related to specific elements of expenditure. But if your question is, for instance, 'Can the staffing of the processing centres be claimed as ODA,' the answer to that is no. Can the physical infrastructure be classified as ODA? The answer to that is no if it does not confer a benefit directly on the local population.

Senator RHIANNON: So can you confirm whether money will be spent-and, if so, how much-either directly on or in relation to the government's regional processing plan for refugees, or on any other measures suggested by the Houston report?

Mr Baxter: No, Senator, because those decisions are before the government at the moment. AusAID is not the lead agency on this; as you would imagine, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is.


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