Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, I note that at the Senate inquiry last Friday you gave evidence. You said words to the effect that aid could only be effective if it was aimed at promoting economic growth. I thought about this and remembered some of the comments from the UN Secretary-General in the context of the Millennium Development Goals, where he stated, in 2010:
While economic growth is necessary, it is not sufficient for progress on reducing poverty.
Could you comment on that? Do you disagree with the approach of the UN Secretary-General?
Mr Varghese : When we had this discussion in a different context last Friday, the point I was making is that, if you want a sustainable reduction in poverty, the best way to achieve it is through economic growth. That is quite different from saying that there is no place in the aid program for anything other than economic growth strategies, because clearly, to take one example, emergency humanitarian relief is something which is a very important part of our aid program, and I do not think anyone presents that as an economic growth strategy. I do not think there is necessarily any huge difference between what I was saying then and what the secretary-general is quoted as saying.
Senator RHIANNON: Have you read the United Nations Millennium Development Goals?
Mr Varghese : Some time ago.
Senator RHIANNON: Have you read them since the integration started between AusAID and DFAT?
Mr Varghese : No, I have not.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice to provide the committee with a statement clarifying exactly how the department intends to promote economic growth that is sustainable and that takes into account other social and structural factors that impact on the poverty of the most vulnerable and poorest people?
Mr Varghese : I think it has been very clear from what the Foreign Minister has said and what the government has said on just where the promotion of economic growth is going to sit in our aid program. It is going to be a central pillar.
Senator RHIANNON: I was just asking for you to take it on notice because we are short of time. If it is not possible to take it on notice—
Mr Varghese : I am happy to answer the question now rather than take it on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: If you could. If you cannot take it on notice, could you take on notice to indicate—
Mr Varghese : No—what I am saying is I do not need to take it on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: those statements that respond to that question?
Mr Varghese : I am very happy to respond to your question. I do not need to take it on notice.
CHAIR: Excellent. Would like to respond?
Senator RHIANNON: I was just asking, because of shortage of time, for you to take it on notice.
Senator Brandis: Senator Rhiannon, that is not the way this works, by the way. You ask a question and, if the official is prepared to give you an answer, then he has to be given the opportunity to give you an answer. If he feels he needs to take it on notice, he may. You know that there is a question on notice procedure that you can avail yourself of, but, if you come to these estimates and ask a question, not only are you entitled to an answer but the official of whom the question is asked is entitled to answer.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, and I think—
Senator FAULKNER: Can I add to that, Minister? I think if the official knows the answer, they actually should provide it.
Senator Brandis: I agree with you, Senator Faulkner.
Senator FAULKNER: I think it actually goes further than that.
Senator Brandis: I think Mr Varghese was trying to give the answer.
CHAIR: I gather from what he has said that the witness is happy to give you an answer, Senator Rhiannon. Let us let him do that.
Mr Varghese : The government has made very clear that a central objective of our aid program is the promotion of economic growth in order to have a sustainable reduction in poverty. That will be achieved in a number of ways. It will be achieved through a greater emphasis on aid and trade. By that I mean the use of the aid program to build up the capacity of developing countries to engage in the global trading system in a way that will contribute to their economic growth and raise their standard of living. It will include a greater role for the private sector as the driver of economic growth—so looking for ways to promote the role of the private sector, including in innovative ways and using technology. It will also mean that this benchmarking exercise that we have set out on, and that Senator Mason is leading, will address prominently the role that economic growth plays in contributing to poverty alleviation and how you benchmark success on that path. That is the core of the government's approach.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, is it the intention that the current integration of AusAID into DFAT will also integrate the humanitarian multilateral development and partnership in development policy divisions?
Mr Varghese : The intention of the integration is to integrate, and we are well advanced in the process of doing that.
Senator RHIANNON: Just to clarify, will they be integrated or will they be diffused? Could you be specific about how you are going to retain that expertise.
Mr Varghese : We will retain a separate division dealing with multilateral and humanitarian issues.
Senator RHIANNON: So only multilateral and humanitarian issues out of those divisions—
Mr Varghese : I think that is what you asked about.
Senator RHIANNON: because I understood there was the partnership in development policy division as well.
Mr Varghese : Yes, and that will also be retained.
Senator RHIANNON: How many staff have resigned or taken a redundancy since 1 November?
Mr Varghese : We have put out an expression of interest for voluntary redundancies at the non-SES level. Some 350 people have responded to that expression of interest. In other words, they have indicated that they would be interested in pursuing one. We are in the process now of putting together, as we are required to, estimates of what a redundancy package would consist of in each case. That is actually quite a time-consuming process. We are doing that progressively, so each week we make some more costed offers. So far, we have offered final packages that have been accepted to 26 of those who have responded. We will work our way through the numbers—
Senator RHIANNON: So that is 26 of the 350. How many months are part of the redundancy package, please?
Mr Varghese : Sorry, what do you mean by 'how many months as part of the redundancy package'?
Senator HEFFERNAN: How many months pay—12 months, two years, six weeks?
Mr Varghese : It is the standard—
Senator HEFFERNAN: What is the standard?
Mr Varghese : My recollection is that the standard is two weeks per year of service up until a ceiling which I think is less than 52 weeks.
Senator RHIANNON: Prior to the integration, the Office of Development Effectiveness reported directly to the Director-General of AusAID. I understand that they now report to a deputy secretary within DFAT. Can you confirm that change and explain why the ODE does not report directly to the secretary of the department.
Mr Varghese : Under AusAID it made sense and it was practical for that office to report directly to the Director-General. In an amalgamated department, which of course is a much bigger department, the direct reporting lines to the secretary are obviously going to be and look very different. The decision we came to was that the Office of Development Effectiveness would report to a deputy secretary, and I think in the circumstances that makes sense.
Senator RHIANNON: You said, 'we came to the decision'. Did you make the decision?
Mr Varghese : Ultimately I made the decision, but all of these integration decisions go through quite a well-structured process which involves the task force making recommendations to a steering committee, which I chair, and that steering committee then making decisions.
Senator RHIANNON: What strategies are being adopted in the integration of the country programs to attain development expertise within the structure and also the staffing?
Mr Varghese : I made it very clear from the beginning that while we wanted to pursue integration to the maximum extent possible we would not do so at the price of the loss of essential expertise. The way we have done this is, in the geographic divisions we have sought to integrate to the maximum extent possible, but in the areas of functional and specialist expertise we have retained separate divisions. So, even within the integrated geographic divisions they will be people with a very substantial development assistance background.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I did want to ask questions about some of the environment programs. I did not want to get into specifics but just to get your advice because I am still trying to understand the new system. Is now the time to ask them because I could not actually see on the program where the questions would come later?
CHAIR: That is under development assistance, I think.
Senator RHIANNON: When you get to development assistance we start to get into specifics of each country and I could not see where the general environment questions would come. Can I ask them now?
CHAIR: I think it is 1.10 to 1.12 and you are down for all of those.
Senator RHIANNON: I know I am down for them.
CHAIR: I think they are specific. This is a general section. That is where you should ask those more specific questions.
Senator RHIANNON: I cannot see where the environment is coming in on any of those specific programs later in the day.
CHAIR: I will ask the advice of the secretary.
Mr Varghese : Senator, we would be happy to field questions on the environment if that is convenient.
Senator RHIANNON: Okay, so I will keep going. Can you detail the exact programs and projects and the countries in which they operate that will be affected by the elimination of all funding to global environment programs from the $650 million in cuts announced in January?
Mr Varghese : I think we covered some of the principles behind this in a separate inquiry. We are working through the detailed consequences of the cuts that the government has announced to the current financial year aid program. That requires us to talk to our bilateral country partners and it requires us to talk to the multilateral organisations that are affected. That process is continuing and when it is finished we will have an answer to your question.
Senator RHIANNON: As you say, that is what you told us last Friday. But surely you are able to share more information. We know you had to arrive at a figure of $650 million. There is four months to go. There must be some work on this very issue that is locked in that you can share with us now.
Mr Varghese : There is a lot of work that is going on. I will ask Mr McDonald if there is anything in that category of locked in, as you put it, that we are in a position to share with you.
Mr McDonald : In relation to your comment about the $650 million, I think it is important to clarify that in relation to the global environment program the actual reduction occurred in the 2013-14 budget because of the end of a lot of the Fast Start money, so it was not actually part of the reprioritisation. It was a very small proportion that is part of the reprioritisation. Equally that occurred in our climate change and environmental sustainability line. Those substantive reductions in those had occurred in the 2013-14 budget. As part of the reprioritisation they have been reduced a little more. We are going through the consultation process now in relation to what they mean in terms of the programs we deliver.
Senator RHIANNON: Will you be funding any of the multilateral climate change funds whether it is part of the aid program or from elsewhere in the national budget? I was referring there to the Adaption Fund, the Least Developed Countries Funds, the Global Environment Facility, the Climate Investment Funds, and the Green Climate Fund. I do understand that the decision on those would have been made by now.
Mr McDonald : In terms of the multilateral funding, as I said, they predominantly expired at the end of the 2012-13 budget. In terms of the actual reprioritisation for this year there was actually no money in relation to that in the budget. Those issues need to be decided as part of the 2014-15 budget and beyond. I want to be clear that that is not money that has been taken out through the reprioritisation process. It has not.
Senator RHIANNON: To clarify, you are saying that the decision was obviously made on 2013-14 and for 2014-15 are you saying that there no decision or no money?
Mr McDonald : There are three things that have occurred. There is the 2013-14 budget that was put in place by the previous government. There is the reprioritisation process that the current government has recently announced. Then there is the 2014-15 budget process which is currently under way. They are the three bits. For future priorities in the program they will be part of the 2014-15 budget process.
Senator RHIANNON: I am trying to understand. Has the department altered the methodology used to account for climate finance within the aid budget? Maybe you can explain what the current methodology is, please.
Mr McDonald : I might need somebody with more technical expertise than me for that. Can I say that the methodology has not changed.
Senator RHIANNON: Hasn't changed?
Mr McDonald : No. In terms of our Fast Start commitments that were made under the previous government, they have been met. That is why that funding has ceased. In terms of the actual funding that is counted towards climate and environment as part of our bilateral programs, I do not believe that methodology has changed at all.
Senator RHIANNON: What I was also specifically after is what measures are taken to ensure there is no double counting of aid money and climate finance, because you would be aware that that is where there has been some controversy? I was also interested in that specific point.
Mr McDonald : I am not aware of the controversy that you are referring to.
Senator RHIANNON: I will just ask the question then. How are you ensuring that there is no double counting?
Mr Varghese : Perhaps Blair Exell could respond to that.
Mr Exell : Overall through the aid program there is a system of coding that we use to count our expenditure against various items. That is the method we use to make sure there is not double counting across a range of things, whether it be health, education, infrastructure or climate related activities. That has not changed.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. On the graduate program, is there any intention to retain a development stream within the graduate program and career development of employees of the department?
Mr Varghese : We will have, in effect, a development stream running through the department post integration, because it is a key part of the portfolio and we want to ensure that we have as good expertise as possible. Just as we have officers in the department who have over the course of a career developed specialisation in trade negotiations, in legal issues, and in strategic non-proliferation disarmament issues, we will have a cohort of officers who have expertise in development assistance.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, the question was specifically on the graduate program. I note you are saying that there will be a development theme running through. But to go back to the specific question again: will there be a development stream within the graduate program?
Mr Varghese : We recruit graduates to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and we train them during their graduate period to do the work that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does—of which development cooperation and development assistance is a major component. They will be trained accordingly.
Senator RHIANNON: Back to climate change: what will be the value, in terms of grant equivalent, of Australia's total support for climate change mitigation and adaptation overseas?
CHAIR: Senator, with respect: that is under section 1.4; this is the general section. So we might ask you to come back with these questions under 1.4.
Senator RHIANNON: Okay. Of the former AusAID staff who have either resigned or taken redundancy since 1 November, could you provide a breakdown of the number who filled specialist roles versus generalist roles?
CHAIR: Again, Senator: these are questions which are coded for further in the program. We are doing general inquiries now, and I think—
Senator RHIANNON: I made that inquiry at the beginning of my questions because there is obviously confusion about how we are breaking up our questions. I am happy to do it later, but it was not suggested where it will be.
CHAIR: I suggest you do that later, under program 1.4 and thereon.
Senator RHIANNON: No, 1.4 is specifically climate change. I was just asking about restructuring issues.
CHAIR: I think it is a fine line, Senator—and we need to get through the general sections so that we can move into the specifics. There is 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9.
Senator RHIANNON: My question had nothing to do with climate change, Chair.
CHAIR: I would really prefer you to come back and ask them later on, when we get to those areas, if you do not mind.
Senator RHIANNON: Can I ask my general question, Chair?
CHAIR: I am not sure that it was a general question.
Senator RHIANNON: It was just about redundancy and the restructuring.
CHAIR: That sounds like a specific question. I would like you to come back later and ask these questions under those programs so we can complete the general section. We have time to make up.
Senator RHIANNON: If you can make time when I can ask those restructuring questions later, I am happy to do that. If you can advise what program that is under, it would be helpful. At the moment I cannot see what it comes under. It is certainly not 1.4; 1.4 is climate change.
CHAIR: All right, you can ask that question.
Senator RHIANNON: So I can ask it?
CHAIR: You may, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Chair. Mr Varghese, of the former AusAID staff who have either resigned or taken redundancy since 1 November, could you provide a breakdown of the number who filled specialist roles versus generalist roles?
Mr Varghese : We have made offers of VR to 26 people. Are you are asking how many of those 26 people were former AusAID officers and, within that category, how many were specialists?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes.
Mr Varghese : It will raise some definitional issues, but we will certainly take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you also provide a breakdown of the staff who have either resigned or taken redundancy since 1 November on the basis of the agency or the department that employed them prior to the integration?
Mr Varghese : Yes, we could do that.
Senator RHIANNON: Has our ambassador to China spoken to Chinese officials about the trend of self-immolation amongst some Tibetans?
Mr Varghese : The issue of human rights in Tibet is the subject of conversations with China at several levels. It has indeed been raised by our ambassador in Beijing. Our ambassador in Beijing visited Tibet, and most recently it was one of the topics that was included in the Australia-China human rights dialogue, which was held in Beijing.
Senator RHIANNON: Just to ask the question again—I appreciate that there is discussion about human rights—has the current trend of self-immolation among Tibetans been discussed?
Mr Varghese : Yes, it has.
Senator RHIANNON: You said that our ambassador has visited Tibet. Has she visited without Chinese officials accompanying her?
Mr Varghese : I would have to take advice on that. My understanding of those sorts of official visits by ambassadors is that it usually does involve accompanying Chinese officials.
Mr Rowe : It would require them to approve travel to Tibet. I think that these days she would not have a minder, as such, but she would be talking to officials. She would presumably have to hire a car and driver while she was there—who would probably be official.
Senator RHIANNON: I would like to clarify that. There could be some variance with what Mr Varghese said. Mr Varghese, I think you said that you assumed she would, but then—
Mr Varghese : I am always happy to be corrected.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you need to take it on notice?
Mr Varghese : No, I am very happy to go with what Mr Rowe has said.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Rowe, has she visited there with no officials? Has she gone there with nobody, at whatever level—be it a Chinese driver or a Chinese government official—from any section of the Chinese government, or possibly associated with the government, accompanying her?
Mr Rowe : Do you mean accompanying her all the time?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes.
Mr Rowe : I assume it would be the same as any visit to any province. She would go there, taking the plane by herself—apart from other embassy officials. When she arrives, she may well be met by a car and driver or a protocol official. They would take her to the hotel, where she would be left by herself. She would take the car and driver to other official and unofficial appointments.
Senator RHIANNON: Is she free to meet people in Tibet with no Chinese officials or Chinese at any level of employment?
Mr Rowe : I do not know. I would have to take that on notice.
Senator FAWCETT: Mr Varghese, in February this year, the ambassador from China here in Canberra made the following remarks. He said:
We are happy to see China-Australia relations have grown from strength to strength since 1972. The friendship between our two peoples has been deepened. And our wide-ranging cooperation is growing and promising. Working together, we can secure a better future and the well-being of our people. Bearing that in mind, we need to make the pie of our cooperation bigger and our stronger strategic partnership stronger.
Is it your opinion that that reflects the Chinese view of our relationship—as stated by their ambassador?
Mr Varghese : It does, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, can you update the committee on what interactions the embassy or our representatives in Mongolia have had with Rio Tinto—or what assistance they have provided Rio Tinto—with regard to their mining plans in that country?
Mr Varghese : I will see if anyone has more details, but Rio Tinto is a large Australian company. We do not have an embassy in Mongolia. We have an Austrade office. I would imagine that the Austrade office in Mongolia would have a great deal to do with one of Australia's largest miners who are engaged in a project which, I think, represents a very substantial proportion of Mongolia's GDP.
Senator RHIANNON: Are you happy to take it on notice?
Mr Varghese : I do not need to take it on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: I was asking for details.
Mr Varghese : They probably deal with Rio Tinto on a very regular basis.
Senator RHIANNON: At the moment you are just saying 'probably'. I was actually asking for details.
Mr Varghese : Are you asking me to find out every time our Austrade officers had contact with Rio Tinto?
Senator RHIANNON: You know I am not doing that, Mr Varghese. All I am asking is for some real details rather than just saying: 'They are a big company, so probably it happens.'
Senator Brandis : I think Mr Varghese is entitled to know what it is that you are asking. To simply say: 'I would like the details' is terribly vague. If Mr Varghese can answer you, he will; if he cannot, we will take the question on notice. But he needs to know what you are asking.
Senator RHIANNON: What I was asking was: what interactions and what assistance do Australian embassy officials, who represent our interests in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, have with and provide to Rio Tinto?
Mr Varghese : I am happy to take your question on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I was referring to interactions and support.
Mr Varghese : If they have a daily conversation, I am not going to our ask Austrade officers to provide us with—
Senator RHIANNON: It is not about daily conversations. They have got business interests there. How are you facilitating their business interests? It is a pretty basic question and does not need to be avoided.
Mr Varghese : I was not avoiding it.
Proceedings suspended from 12:31 to 13:36
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator—if the department is willing to do that. Senator Rhiannon.
Senator RHIANNON: I would like to ask you about the situation in Grenada with regard to their parliament building and our interaction with that. How was the decision made to cut the $5 million promised for the construction of their parliamentary building?
Mr Varghese : That was a decision taken in the context of the broader reduction in the aid program for the current financial year, 2013-14. The government had to make cuts in a number of different areas. Latin America and Africa were two regions where we did make cuts. That particular project was one of the cuts that were made.
Senator RHIANNON: How were the authorities in Grenada informed?
Mr Varghese : We have informed the Grenada government of the decision.
Senator RHIANNON: Is it true that this cancellation was reported in the paper before the government was officially informed?
Mr Varghese : I do not know the answer to that question. I would be a bit surprised if that were the case, but I am happy to check it.
Senator RHIANNON: You will take that on notice?
Mr Varghese : I will.
Senator RHIANNON: Has any compensation been given to people or companies who had already been contracted to undertake the work to build this parliament?
Mr Varghese : Some of the money in the original agreement has already been paid. From memory, it is about $1 million, but I will have to check that. Obviously that is money that has been spent and cannot be recouped. But, for the balance of what we committed to that is unspent, we will not be proceeding.
Senator RHIANNON: The question was: have any of the contractors or companies, or anybody associated with the work, not been paid for the work that they commenced? Clearly it was an ongoing project. At the point you decided to stop it, did you ensure that everybody was paid up until that point?
Mr Hammer : The support to Grenada on the building of their new parliament house was a staged exercise. This secretary has already mentioned that about $1 million had been spent already. That concluded the first phase—planning and design and so on and so forth. It is really the next phase, which is a $3.5 million phase, which the government decided not to proceed with. My understanding is that there are in fact no legally binding contracts in relation to that phase. So there are no people on contract who would need to be contacted.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you need to take it on notice to check that?
Mr Hammer : No. I have checked. I did ask, before I came up here, whether there are any contractual obligations. The check has been done a number of times by my people, so I am quite confident that there are no contractual obligations.
Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware of the recent report released by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre on Sri Lanka entitled, Island of impunity? Investigation into international crimes in the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war?
Mr Robilliard : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Given that the report highlights strong evidence for the need for an international investigation into war crimes and the Sri Lankan civil war, has the department had any discussions with Sri Lankan government with regard to the possibility of an international investigation?
Mr Robilliard : The government engages with Sri Lanka on a range of issues relating to human rights matters.
Senator RHIANNON: Have you specifically spoken about and international investigation?
Mr Robilliard : I think the issue of an international investigation is part of the general debate or discussion on the Sri Lankan human rights record; yes.
Senator RHIANNON: You said that you think that is the case; does that mean you need to check?
Mr Robilliard : I will take it on notice to see if there are any specific occasions.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you; take it on notice. The United States is preparing to introduce a resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in March with regard to an independent international investigation into Sri Lanka. Has the department approached the US or any other nation in relation to this resolution?
Mr Robilliard : I think the resolution is about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. I am not sure that it is directly directed at the matter of an international conference or an international investigation.
Senator RHIANNON: Again, you said that you think that is the case. Does that mean you have approached the department about this and that is what you now understand the motion is, or is it that you speculate that it may be?
Mr Robilliard : This resolution has been run for the past two years. This will be the third year. In the past two years the resolution has been about the general situation.
Senator RHIANNON: So at the moment you have not had any discussions with the department that the content of the motion may have changed.
Mr Robilliard : We have not sent a draft of a resolution.
Senator RHIANNON: Recent reports have suggested Australia is attempting to weaken or derail negotiations around the US resolution. Has Australia been engaging in any discussions that may not be consistent with the US position?
Mr Robilliard : To the best of my knowledge, Australia has not been engaged in any discussions along the lines of the report to which you refer.
Senator RHIANNON: Again, you said, that that was to the best of your knowledge. Could you take the question on notice so that you can confirm that, one way or the other.
Mr Robilliard : I think I could confirm that we would not have engaged in a way that that report has characterised.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. What is the position you have been asked to advocate?
Ms Sidhu : We have not formally been asked to advocate a position. We are waiting to see the text of the resolution before we determine what position we will take.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you explain why there is a difference in reporting on conditions of Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka between statements from the Australian High Commission and the findings of non-government organisations that work in this area?
Mr Robilliard : Which statements of the High Commission are you referring to?
Senator RHIANNON: We saw the comments that the Prime Minister made when he was at CHOGM, and there have been statements effectively negating that crimes against humanity have continued since 2009.
Senator Brandis: Senator Rhiannon, I think you should not, if I may say so, attribute words to the Prime Minister without quoting his actual words. The statement you have just made, although you have attributed it to the Prime Minister, is, to the best of my knowledge, not a statement that the Prime Minister has ever made. He has made some observations in relation to the Sri Lankan civil war but not as sweeping or as simple as what you have just attributed to him. So if you are going to ask the official to comment on something the Prime Minister might have said, I think you should do both the Prime Minister and the official justice by quoting his actual words, not your interpretation of his words.
Senator RHIANNON: I do ask for the official to comment again that the Australian government has a different position from the NGOs. The Australian government did supply two Bay-class patrol boats to the Sri Lankan government. When the Foreign Minister, prior to the election, was in the northern part of Sri Lanka and when she was questioned about that, it was not acknowledged that there were crimes against humanity. Similarly, if the Prime Minister stands with the President of Sri Lanka, Mr Rajapaksa, and again does not acknowledge crimes against humanity, this is a fair question. So could I ask: why is there a difference in reporting on the conditions of Tamils in the north between Australia's position and non-government organisations that work in that area?
Mr Robilliard : I cannot comment or speak on the basis NGOs may make their reports. Our high commission makes its reports based on its visits to the area and its discussions with a range of people in that area.
Senator RHIANNON: What discussions has DFAT taken to raise concerns about human rights abuses in Sri Lanka?
Mr Robilliard : The government has taken a very active position on issues relating to allegations of human rights violations. As you will be aware, and as you have referred to, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister were both in Sri Lanka at the time of CHOGM. There were discussions on human rights issues there. We take the matter of allegations of human rights abuses very seriously. The government takes the position that it is the most productive way to deal with these matters through engaging the Sri Lankan government rather than looking to isolate it.
Senator RHIANNON: How many AFP officers or personnel are attached to the Australian high commission?
Mr Robilliard : That is a question I think you would have to ask the AFP.
Senator RHIANNON: I am asking in the context of the Australian high commission—what understanding the high commission has with regard to the AFP people that work out of its headquarters?
Mr Robilliard : I am sorry, are you asking a question about how many there are or what work they do?
Senator RHIANNON: I would certainly like to know both, but I appreciate that you have said that I should go to the AFP. But as I understand that they work out of the Australian high commission I thought it was a relevant question to ask here at DFAT.
Mr Robilliard : There is nothing I can really offer you further.
Senator RHIANNON: You mean you have no information about how many AFP officers operate out of the high commission in Colombo?
Mr Robilliard : Not with me, no.
Senator RHIANNON: But surely you must. DFAT looks after the Australian high commission. Isn't there somebody here who would know?
Mr Varghese : We can take that on notice and get back to you with the number.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Also if you could take on notice what functions the AFP officers perform out of the Australian high commission, how many Australian Defence Force personnel are attached to the Australian high commission and I was interested in their length of attachment.
Mr Robilliard : Again, that is primarily a matter for the Department of Defence, but I will take it on notice and see what information we can provide.
Senator Brandis: That having been said, we are not going to be asking DFAT officials to make inquiries of the Department of Defence that you could have made.
Senator RHIANNON: I am not asking you to do that, and you know that, Minister. I am asking what your understanding is. DFAT looks after the Australian high commission in Sri Lanka, in Colombo, and clearly you would have some advice given to you about how many AFP/ADF people work out of there.
Senator Brandis: That is true, and that question was taken on notice by Mr Varghese. But then you asked other questions like, for example, the length of the rotations and so on. It is by no means obvious to me that DFAT would be possessed of that knowledge, because—
Senator RHIANNON: I would say it would be relevant because the high commission would have to know how many personnel it has operating out of the high commission. Otherwise it is not being very effective and efficient.
Senator Brandis: That may be so, but at any given time DFAT, you would expect, would know how many personnel are operating out of the high commission. That is why the question was taken on notice. Nobody said that was not a proper question. But you then asked other things about the rotation of AFP personnel through this post, which it seems to me—
Senator RHIANNON: Actually I said time of attachment, which is relevant to who is operating out of the high commission. It is a very straightforward question.
Senator Brandis: As I say, I think that is a question for the AFP or perhaps the defence department, but in any event the DFAT officers will respond to so much of the question as is within their knowledge, but I am not going to expect them, and I am sure the minister will not expect them, to make inquiries of other departments and other agencies to supply you with information that you neglected to ask about in the correct estimates hearing.
Senator DASTYARI: I am conscious of the time constraints so I will put some more detailed questions on notice. Is it fair to say that there was a reversal of Australia's position in the UN on Israeli settlements, as was flagged by the Prime Minister and the foreign minister before the election in their election documents?
Mr Varghese : I think there were three resolutions at the most recent General Assembly where Australia's voting position differed from the voting position of the previous government. The reasons for that would go to the balance of the resolution and a range of factors, so it is not necessarily just a matter of the one issue.
Senator DASTYARI: Sure, and I do not want to harp on this because I do not think it is contested that there were different positions on this issue taken to the last federal election, and that is what elections do—they settle these things. Did the foreign minister visit Israel in January of this year?
Mr Varghese : She went for the funeral of Ariel Sharon.
Senator DASTYARI: But was there a visit around that as well?
Mr Varghese : It was a very short visit—I think she might have had a meeting with the foreign minister of Israel. It was not a bilateral visit—she was there for the funeral.
Senator DASTYARI: I know we have already put a question on notice about getting some information in the table form that we always get it in, so I will leave that. Is it is a matter of fact that the minister made statements to the Israeli media regarding the legality of settlements?
Mr Varghese : I do not think she made statements that had the effect of offering a view about the legality of the settlements, if that is what you are suggesting.
Senator DASTYARI: Has the department been asked to provide advice in relation to the legality of settlements?
Mr Varghese : The department has provided advice on the legality of settlements.
Senator DASTYARI: Was that advice provided to both the last government and this government?
Mr Varghese : I would expect we have provided advice on this issue to successive governments.
Senator DASTYARI: Has that advice changed?
Mr Varghese : I do not think the burden of the advice has changed but we have our legal adviser present and I am sure she could help.
Senator DASTYARI: I am not asking what the advice is; I am asking whether the same advice has been provided to both governments.
Mr Varghese : I think the departmental legal view has been fairly consistent for some time.
Ms Cooper : You would know, Senator, that as a general proposition we do not disclose the content of legal advice.
Senator DASTYARI: I am not asking for the content.
Ms Cooper : Questions about to what extent our advice has changed or not may well go to content advice in some circumstances. Certainly the general proposition that the secretary has outlined is correct.
Senator DASTYARI: We will go to the detail of the foreign minister's statements on notice. But was DFAT consulted on the foreign minister's statements?
Mr Varghese : Are you referring to the comments she made in an interview while she was in Israel?
Senator DASTYARI: Yes.
Mr Varghese : She made those comments in an interview. She was not working off a departmental script, if that is the question. She would of course had briefings as part of the visit to Israel.
Senator DASTYARI: Would there have been someone from DFAT travelling with her?
Mr Varghese : I am just trying to think, because this was put together very quickly. I know her chief of staff went with her.
Senator DASTYARI: I have already asked this on notice, so we can—
Mr Varghese : Actually, I do not think a departmental officer went with her.
Senator DASTYARI: The United Nations has called for a $6½ billion appeal for relief to the Syrian refugee camps. This is something I am quite passionate about. I congratulate the government on responding and pledging an additional $12 million in difficult economic times; I think it is the right thing to do.
I know there are many people—and there are many people in the community in Sydney and people I know quite well—who feel there may be the opportunity to provide more support as we put together the forward-going aid initiatives. I just want to get a quick understanding of what discussions are in place at the moment on possible further relief for the plight of the Syrian refugees.
Mr Varghese : We will address the question of aid to Syria in the context of the 2014-15 budget. That is where final decisions would be made. We have provided $112 million to Syria, which I think is a very substantial contribution. I know that the dimensions of the humanitarian crisis in Syria—
Senator DASTYARI: I noted that the $12 million was in addition to what had already been pledged.
Mr Varghese : That is right.
Senator DASTYARI: I am just wondering what budget allocation that came from.
Mr McDonald : That would have come from our mandated flexibility fund as well as from some of our program funding.
Senator DASTYARI: I think it is a good initiative, and I congratulate the government on it.
Senator FAWCETT: Mr Varghese, could you update the committee on the UN resolution on Syria and Australia's role in it?
Mr Varghese : I will see if colleagues want to add to this. I assume you are talking about the resolution that passed last weekend.
Senator FAWCETT: Yes
Mr Varghese : For a very long time, at least in terms of action in New York, we have been seeking in the Security Council to have a resolution passed which goes to the question of humanitarian access and which creates certain obligations on the part of the Syrian government, and also on the part of other parties, to permit humanitarian access—and particularly to permit cross-border access. We have been working very closely with, in particular, Luxembourg and Jordan on that. We were very pleased that finally, over the weekend, we were able to get that resolution through without attracting a veto.
I think the resolution is significant in that it calls for action which could significantly improve the provision of humanitarian relief in a situation which is of enormous dimensions. The big issue will be whether the calls in the resolution are abided by and observed by all of the parties—in particular the government of Syria.
Senator FAWCETT: You mentioned 'all of the parties'. Could you outline for the committee which parties you mean? The media are reporting it very much as a resolution that calls on the Syrian government to allow access. Are there other parties—
Mr Varghese : I will ask Mr Merrill to respond to that. It certainly places obligations on the Syrian government, but I do not think it is exclusively the Syrian government.
Mr Merrill : I might ask my colleague Marc Innes-Brown from the Middle East branch to add to this. The resolution very consciously addresses all parties to the conflict, but it also recognises that there is a disproportionate weight of responsibility. In the view of the council and of the international community the weight of responsibility does primarily fall on Syrian authorities there.
I would also add to the secretary's comments that it is a significant resolution—it is a breakthrough—but the importance really is now on implementation. The resolution does include provisions on monitoring. There will be a 30-day reporting cycle and the secretary will come back and—importantly; this was one of the sticking points in the negotiations—the resolution clearly states the intent to consider further steps if progress on implementation is not made to the satisfaction of the council. That is not going to be an easy thing to do, but, in the context of the Syrian conflict—with the exception of the chemical weapons resolution last year—in a three-year period, this is perhaps the most significant demonstration of council unity and willingness to address practical action to help the Syrian people.
Senator FAWCETT: I commend your team and the work that has happened to get this outcome. But it has been a military stalemate for the last 18 months, and it says that both sides have a significant amount of control in terms of access. So I am seeking some assurance that Australia will be pressing through the UN Security Council process for both parties and—given that there are many who believe this is a proxy war between different powers in the region—that we would also be looking to engage constructively with the supporters of both sides of the conflict to make sure that we can address the humanitarian side.
Mr Merrill : Yes, Senator. As I said, the provisions in the resolution are not exclusively directed at the Syrian authorities, and I think we will see that, through the 30-day reporting cycle and through the regular briefings we get from UN agencies which are working in opposition controlled areas, there will be advice provided on their assessments on implementation there.
I think that, if the council is going to take further steps, you would be looking at coercive measures such as sanctions and that they would apply to individuals and entities which could be government authorities or other opposition groups. I can guarantee that there are members of the council who will ensure that its approach is as even-handed as possible.
Senator FAWCETT: Is there any specific effort going into trying to assure the rights of minorities in Syria? Everyone there is suffering, but there appears to be particular suffering on the part of some of the minority groups in Syria, given that both of the major combatants—whether it is the disparate opposition side or the government side—do not include those minorities as part of their group, so to speak.
Mr Merrill : I think the council has been primarily focused, as it should be, on the principle of the protection of civilians, writ large. That encompasses all minority groups. I do not think any distinction is made there in the demands that the council has placed on parties in terms of their responsibilities and the priorities of access and getting humanitarian aid to vulnerable groups. That is where we are with the council. Mark, do you want to add anything on the minority question?
Mr Innes-Brown : As Mr Merrill said, the conflict as it has evolved has unfortunately taken on a sectarian dimension. It is affecting all communities whether they be Alawite, Sunni or Christian. The ethnic composition of Syria is very diverse and there are many different groups so it is of concern. Australia was a cosponsor of a UN General Assembly resolution late last year which did address the issue of ensuring that the protection of various groups and genders were protected as an observance of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is an issue but, unfortunately, as we have just been saying, the Syrian conflict has affected the whole of the Syrian community.
Senator FAWCETT: I recognise that within the borders of Syria it is obviously very difficult for the UN to enforce or carry out many things. But for the UN camps that are outside of the borders, I am still hearing reports of minority groups either being denied access or being denied the same level of service as the majority of the refugee population there. Has the UN taken any specific steps to address that?
Mr Innes-Brown : I am not aware of that. I have not heard those reports myself. I will have to make some inquiries and get back to you on that particular issue.
Senator FAWCETT: If you would like to follow up after estimates, I am happy to put you in contact with some people that could provide some information on that.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr Varghese, could you tell us where we at in the foreign minister's recent announcements on Fiji?
Mr Varghese : Prior to the election, the coalition indicated that they wished to reset the relationship with Fiji and to move, over time, to fully normalise it. That objective was very much at the forefront of the foreign minister's discussions with Frank Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of the interim government. It was a very constructive discussion. The foreign minister explained the new Australian position, obviously encouraged Fiji to ensure that credible elections were held in September or October and indicated some steps that Australia was willing to take in the lead up to those elections. They also discussed what we might be able to do in initiating a program of capacity building in the public sector as well as restoring and strengthening the business ties between the two countries, and began a discussion on a defence cooperation program which would be able to be implemented post a credible election.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: How was Ms Bishop's recent announcement greeted by other nations in the Pacific region?
Mr Varghese : She undertook the visit in the context of the so-called MCG, the ministerial contact group, in Fiji, which is chaired by New Zealand and includes a number of other Pacific Island Forum countries. We have ensured that we have kept all of our Pacific neighbours informed of developments in our thinking and of the direction in which our policy is heading. My sense is that the ministerial contact group was comfortable with the Australian position.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Finally, excluding PNG, what is Fiji's status economically, politically and population wise to all of the other Pacific Island nations?
Ms Klugman : Fiji traditionally and currently plays quite an important role in the region. It has one of the more substantial economies. It has some of the potentials associated with its hub status, both in the site of the largest Pacific university, for example, and in air connections. It has played quite an important role as a leader in the Pacific. We are hoping that it can resume that role, and one of the most important elements of that will be Fiji's return to the Pacific Island Forum—we hope, following credible elections—by September this year.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do we have an indication of when the elections will be?
Ms Klugman : Yes. The new constitution of Fiji requires elections to be held by September this year.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Going back to your previous answer, would it be true to say, in layman's terms, that apart from PNG Fiji would be the leading nation in the Pacific region?
Ms Klugman : I think that is right. You might have a few arguments from New Zealand. But both in economic terms and in the role they have played traditionally, yes, I would put Fiji in that category.
Senator FAWCETT: Mr Varghese, could you tell me whether the department carried out a review of Australia Network's effectiveness prior to the former government's decision to continue the service?
Mr Varghese : Prior to the former government's decision? We are going back to a time when I was not in Canberra. I will ask my colleagues. I know we certainly did address this question of how the network was functioning and what the view of our regional posts were, because I can remember contributing to it from Delhi.
Mr Trantor : The department has carried out regular reviews of the service over the years through seeking feedback through our post network. I am not aware of a formal major stocktake of this service ahead of that contracting process.
Senator FAWCETT: Was an evaluation done as to whether the service met its key performance indicators before it was renewed?
Mr Trantor : I will have to take that on notice.
Senator FAWCETT: Do you monitor other service providers in the region? Do you have an estimate or calculation of the market share of the Australia Network in the region? Is it holding its share? Is it declining? Is it gaining?
Mr Trantor : We receive regular reporting from ABC International about the progress of the Australian networks broadcasting in the region. The reporting from the ABC indicates that it is increasing slowly, with a very small market share. There are differences across different markets. As you are probably aware, it operates in 45 countries, through many rebroadcast arrangements through the region. But we do not as a matter of course make systematic assessments of the network against its competitors.
Senator FAWCETT: Are there any other sources of reporting that would give indications of ranking or numbers of viewers, as opposed to ABC self-reporting?
Mr Trantor : We receive reporting through our post network on perceptions and impressions of the service. In some of those markets there is some data available which would quantify the share of the Australia Network in a particular country. But there is no aggregate reporting across the whole of the region which would allow us to make a complete assessment.
Senator FAWCETT: I am happy for you to take this on notice. Could you give us some feedback as to whether, when it comes to downloads from the website for the service, the majority of those downloads are domestic or whether they in fact occur overseas in the region.
Mr Tranter : I can say now that the vast majority are from overseas.
Senator FAWCETT: Mr Varghese, can I go to a separate issue—it is part of 1.2, I think—which is about the rollout of the subclass 600 visitor visa category. I understand that it extended to a further 21 countries for online applications to Australia. Is that correct?
Mr Varghese : I am not across it, and it sounds to me like a question for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. If it is going to visa issuing and subclasses of visas, that would be an Immigration matter.
Senator FAWCETT: Does DFAT have any involvement in an assessment of which countries will receive clearance? I am looking here particularly at the fact that, in the Middle East, seven countries in that region—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE—were included in that program, but Israel was excluded. I am wondering: does the department have any input into that? Do you have any concerns that a democratic nation which has a very low overstay rate, such as Israel, should have been excluded from that process?
Mr Varghese : I do not know, but perhaps our Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues might be able to help.
Mr Chittick : The department was not consulted and is not normally consulted as part of that process by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Senator RHIANNON: Did the government consult the Palestinian community before making changes to Australia's position on Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories?
Mr Varghese : What change are you referring to?
Senator RHIANNON: The changes with regard to our vote in the United Nations and the statements made by the foreign minister on settlements.
Mr Varghese : I am not aware of any process of consultation, but perhaps Mr Innes-Brown might be able to confirm or otherwise.
Mr Innes-Brown : No, there was no formal consultation.
Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'no formal consultation', do you—
Mr Innes-Brown : No consultation.
Senator RHIANNON: At all?
Mr Innes-Brown : Not that I am aware of.
Senator RHIANNON: Does that mean that you need to take it on notice to confirm?
Mr Innes-Brown : I did not hear all of your question. If you could just repeat the question, that might help, and I can give you a definitive answer, hopefully.
Senator RHIANNON: Did the government consult the Palestinian community before making the changes to Australia's position on Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories?
Mr Innes-Brown : No.
Senator RHIANNON: The foreign minister was quoted in the paper expressing concern about the mistreatment of Palestinian children. Was this a media statement only, or was it a statement conveyed to the Israeli authorities?
Mr Innes-Brown : It was an issue that we have taken up in Israel, and I took it up earlier this week with the Israeli deputy head of mission.
Senator RHIANNON: 'Taken up in Israel'?
Mr Innes-Brown : By our ambassador and the deputy head of mission, who have had a number of meetings and discussions with the Israeli foreign ministry and also the department of justice.
Senator RHIANNON: What were the issues? Could you give us an overview of the topics that were discussed in the context of the mistreatment of Palestinian children?
Mr Innes-Brown : They went to the general issue of security and judicial practices, raised concerns about those and encouraged further progress in addressing some of the concerns that we had.
Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'encourage progress in terms of the concerns that we have', does that imply that there will be follow-up? And will there be follow-up?
Mr Innes-Brown : It is an issue that has been under scrutiny for some time. It is not the first time we have raised the issue. I am advised that there have been some reforms over the past 12 months on this issue by the Israeli authorities, and obviously it is an issue we will continue to look at.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you inform us what the reforms are? You said that there have been reforms by Israeli authorities?
Mr Innes-Brown : I am not an expert on the subject, but I can give you some examples. For instance, the amount of time that a minor is held before being brought before a judge has come down. There is a suite of measures, but there are a couple of things that I am aware of. Minors now have separate hearings from adults. When a Palestine minor is arrest and Arabic language document that explains the circumstances and the rights is given to the parents. Another measure that is under consideration, it is being trialled, is that they are going to implement a summons system rather than the occasional practice of arresting people at night—going into houses and so on. There are obviously some reforms underway. I do not have complete information on that, but they are just a few examples that I am aware of.
Senator RHIANNON: You spoke of a suite of measures. Did you outline them all then, or do you need to take it on notice so that you can supply the committee?
Mr Innes-Brown : They are some of the ones that I am aware of.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you take it on notice.
Mr Innes-Brown : I listed four or five of them.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you take that on notice?
Mr Innes-Brown : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: In outlining these reforms, is the suggestion that there has been an improvement in the way Palestinian children are treated by the Israeli authorities?
Mr Innes-Brown : What I said was that there have been some changes to the way they handle these cases. They certainly believe that they are improvements and reforms. There is some international attention to this issue, including by their agencies, and I think the perception is that there has been progress.
Senator RHIANNON: You say that the perception is that there has been progress.
Mr Innes-Brown : That is the view of some people who are involved in the sector.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you expand on that? That is an important statement. When you say 'perception', who are you referring to?
Mr Innes-Brown : Agencies that are involved in these issues in Israel. As an embassy and as a government, we have conversations with people about various issues, and I am not going to divulge the contents of those sensitive conversations.
Senator RHIANNON: You know that I did not ask that question. You said that there is a perception that there has been an improvement, so the next question is: where do you get that perception from?
Mr Innes-Brown : From speaking to various people.
Senator RHIANNON: Are we talking about international—
Mr Innes-Brown : I am not going to go into the details of that.
Senator RHIANNON: You are not going to supply details on whether they are organisations, government authorities or NGOs? You cannot give us any suggestion where you picked that perception up?
Mr Innes-Brown : No, I am not going to go into the details.
CHAIR: Let us proceed now.
Senator RHIANNON: The Green Book, DFAT's annual and much looked forward to comprehensive statistical summary on Australian aid, was last published in 2011-12, as far as I know. When will the 2012-13 Green Book be out?
Mr Wood : Very shortly. I recall seeing a draft of it last week. That will cover the 2012-13 financial year and will also include the updates for the website with a statistical analysis.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you give us a date, because it is quite overdue?
Mr Wood : I think the time is consistent with the 2011-12 year. It is a really hard document to put together because there is a lot of data cleansing and analysis. There is a huge amount work that the team do in putting it together. It will be by the end of March.
Senator RHIANNON: When will you get the 2013-14 Green Book out? Will it be by the end of March next year, or can you bring it forward?
Mr Wood : I would like to say so. As I say, it does require a lot of work, so that would be an appropriate time.
Senator RHIANNON: DFAT answered a question on notice—number 306—from November 2013 estimates, that, as at November, Australia had spent $62.52 million on humanitarian emergency response. Is that correct?
Mr McDonald : That would be correct if it is in the answer.
Senator RHIANNON: If I understand correctly, the remaining budget for HER therefore should be $137.4 million, less the $75.57 million which comes from the money that the government has announced—$10 million for Syria, $3 million for South sedan and $50,000 for Tonga. This brings us to the $61.83 million. Is that correct?
Mr McDonald : I will ask Ms Walker to answer that. I think some of those last figures you were talking about relate to our Mandated Flexibility fund.
Senator RHIANNON: I am really trying to get a handle on HER, so that would be good.
Ms Walker : Perhaps I could start by indicating what we have contributed in 2013-14 to humanitarian emergencies. The total figure is $77.4 million, and the very large amounts in that—some $70 million—are $40,000 for typhoon Haiyan, and $30.5 million for the Syria conflict. There is also the response to tropical cyclone Ian in Tonga, to flooding and landslides in Indonesia, to some civil conflict in Mindanao and in Guinea-Bissau, to some demining in Mozambique and to the protracted crisis in South Sudan. That is the total, year-to-date, of our contributions to emergencies.
Senator RHIANNON: How much do we have left?
Ms Walker : The budget this year is $264.2 million. We do have some remaining flexibility to respond to any sudden onset emergencies between now and the end of the financial year.
Senator RHIANNON: So how much do we have left?
Ms Walker : We have in the order of $20 million to $30 million, as I understand it.
Senator RHIANNON: Given that there is $20 million to $30 million left, why has Australia only given one-tenth of its fair share to the global $6.5 billion appeal for the Syrian crisis?
Mr Varghese : I think we covered some of this earlier. The amount of money we have given to Syria is $112 million, as I understand it. I think by any measure that is a substantial amount of money, particularly set against the other countries, particularly in Europe, who have very important interests in Syria and have a capacity to pay.
Senator RHIANNON: What will the government do with the remaining CERF funding if it is not committed to emergencies by 30 June?
Mr McDonald : This issue was talked about a little bit on Friday when we met. The mandated flexibility fund that this funding comes out of was reduced from $120 million to $90 million at the start of the financial year. We work on the basis of around $10 million a month for these sorts of things. Given we have about $20-odd million left between now and the end of the year, it is quite likely that we will expend that funding.
Senator RHIANNON: Sorry, extend the funding?
Mr McDonald : No, expend it. So because of the time period to go—there are still four months to go, and we have $20 million left—and because we are, as you know, in a very disaster prone area, we will just have to wait and see.
Senator RHIANNON: So are you holding onto it in case there are typhoons in our area, or that sort of thing? Is that how it works?
Mr McDonald : Yes, or emergencies elsewhere in the world. We allocate a fund each year for that purpose because we have either cyclones or earthquakes, particularly in our region.
Senator RHIANNON: So come 30 June, and we still have $20 million or $15 million, what happens?
Mr McDonald : I would need to check.
Senator RHIANNON: Is it rolled over? Do you identify a crisis and decide to spend it on that crisis?
Mr Wood : That would not happen. Generally, that funding is paid out. As Mr McDonald said, we usually try to pro rata or ration it over the year, but I do not foresee a case where there would be the whole amount left over.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you explain that? How can you say it will not happen if you have $20 million now and there are no emergencies between now and 30 June? What do you do with your $20 million? How have you decided the pro rata arrangement?
Mr Wood : I do not think we have had an occasion where there has not been something happen somewhere in the world between March and the end of June.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you take it on notice and provide us with the policy guidance that you have to make decisions on any money that may remain?
Mr McDonald : The other thing on that is that in the first eight months of the year we have spent $70 million out of that fund.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, but you never know; the world might be peaceful for a while. The aid program Medical Research Strategy was established in response to the recommendations of the 2011 aid effectiveness review as an initiative that would deliver high returns on investment through the development of new vaccines and drugs for diseases in low-income countries. Why did DFAT terminate funding of its Medical Research Strategy in January this year, particularly considering it was in contradiction of the aid effectiveness review?
Mr McDonald : We did not terminate the funding in January of this year. The last allocation under that was made in June 2013. That was the last budgeted amount, so there was no funding in the budget for that this year. The program is still ongoing throughout a two-year period, I think, and is to be completed by 30 June, but I will ask Mr Exell to confirm that for me.
Mr Exell : That is correct. The PDPs, product development partnerships, were funded in June 2013. It actually runs for one year through to June 2014. From memory, that was a $10 million funding program across four partners.
Senator RHIANNON: So you are saying that you will continued to fund it up to June 2014?
Mr Exell : Correct.
Senator RHIANNON: So when will the next disbursement be?
Mr Exell : I will take that on notice just to check the payment schedule, but the activities are continuing in full.
Senator RHIANNON: Does the full financial commitment that was originally made continue?
Mr Exell : That is correct.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. The mining for development section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website states that the initiative received $42 million in funding for the last financial year. However, when you look at the website, the figures do not add up; it only discloses $14.25 million of spending. The International Mining for Development Centre came in at $7 million. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative cost $5.35 million. The Extractive Industries Technical Advisory Facility cost $1 million, and the Geoscience Strengthening Program cost $0.9 million. Can you clarify where the remaining $27.75 million has been spent?
Mr McDonald : We might need to take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Is there nobody here who can clarify that? It is one of your major projects.
Mr McDonald : You are talking about the website having one figure and then a set of other figures. We would need to look at that.
Senator RHIANNON: You do not give the full details of how the money is being spent.
Mr McDonald : We would need to take that on notice and have a look at what you are referring to.
Senator RHIANNON: Will the Mining for Development Initiative continue?
Mr McDonald : The Mining for Development Initiative is currently in place, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Are there plans for the program to continue?
Mr McDonald : As I said earlier, we are now going through the 2014-15 budget process and no decisions have yet been made by government.
Senator RHIANNON: When the cuts were made to various aid programs was this Mining for Development Initiative cut in any way?
Mr McDonald : I would need to take that on notice but I do not think so.
Senator RHIANNON: Seriously, there must be somebody here who knows.
Mr McDonald : I do not believe it was, no.
Senator RHIANNON: But you will check?
Mr McDonald : I will check.
Senator RHIANNON: Was Australian aid money used for the recent mining indaba in Cape Town which took place in early February?
Mr McDonald : I would be happy to take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware that in a Palestinian village, Susiya, in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, a kindergarten and a clinic that I understand is funded by DFAT are under imminent threat of demolition?
Mr Innes-Brown : We are aware there are some issues concerning proposed demolition orders on the West Bank. I do not have the specific information on the properties you mentioned. However, we are continuing to monitor the situation, obviously, to make sure that projects we have funded are not affected by any such activity.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you share with the committee what information you do have about threats to Australian funded aid projects in Palestine?
Mr Innes-Brown : We are generally aware that there are 3,000 proposed demolition orders, which could impact on around 16 schools in what is known as Area C of the Israeli administered area of the West Bank.
Senator RHIANNON: Are any of those schools funded by Australian bilateral aid or multilateral aid or NGO aid that may have an Australian component?
Mr Innes-Brown : Not in the information that I have before me but I think I would prefer to do some more checking for you and give you a very robust answer on that. But it is not in any information I have before me.
Senator RHIANNON: Does the department recognise that this is an extraordinary situation where it is Australian public money going to aid projects that people believe are doing something good in the world, and then they are being destroyed and you do not have the details about that? Could you explain whether this is because it is difficult to get the information or because it is not a priority?
Mr Innes-Brown : Before getting to the heart of your question I would like to get the facts, and once we have that information we can look at the issue. I cannot answer the question without definitive information on whether Australian funded projects are affected by this or not. I do not have that information before me. It is not a question of being a priority or not been a priority. There are obviously a lot of questions that can be asked in a session like this and sometimes we do not have all the information. I will make further inquiries for you.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering that these threats to a number of Australian aid projects in the West Bank—some of them have been dismantled; some of them have been destroyed to varying degrees—have happened for a number of years, what arrangement do you have with our representatives in the Palestinian occupied territories and in Israel to monitor this situation?
Mr Innes-Brown : Generally speaking we have representatives in Ramallah and in Israel, diplomatic representatives and aid officials, who are obviously keeping a close watch on issues that relate to our programs.
Senator RHIANNON: What does 'a close watch' mean, please?
Mr Innes-Brown : Obviously money has been disbursed or there might be ongoing programs, and they are monitoring the expenditure of that money. Issues impacting Australia and Australian money they take a close interest in.
Senator RHIANNON: Is there any Australian aid money funding projects in Gaza?
Mr Innes-Brown : I think there is.
Mr McDonald : Yes, there is.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you provide details please.
Mr McDonald : Under the AMENCA NGO program, there is funding that is providing support within Gaza.
Senator RHIANNON: Was that program cut in the recent rounds of reduction in aid?
Mr McDonald : I do not believe so, but I will check.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you check in terms of bilateral programs and multilateral programs that go into Gaza please?
Mr McDonald : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: And NGO aid money.
Senator FAULKNER: How can you say that, Mr McDonald, when there is no certainty about a range of other projects?
Mr McDonald : No, what I am saying is: in relation to the AMENCA program itself, which is one of the programs in the table, I do not believe there was any reduction in this, but I will check.
Mr Wood : We just have reporting at the level of Palestinian territories.
Mr McDonald : Yes, we would need to break it down. The Palestinian territories budgeted figure was 38.7 and it is 33.4. Within that, there is an NGO program and there are other funds that go to—
Senator FAULKNER: Yes, I understand. I am just surprised that you could be definitive about that program in the context of the earlier evidence to the committee. I am not doubting it, but could you just explain to me how you can be?
Mr McDonald : Because within each of those lines there are reductions occurring, and I will need to check whether AMENCA, which is the program that is providing funding into Gaza, has been reduced or not. And, as I said, I do not believe it has, but I would need to check that.
Senator FAULKNER: That is fine. It is slightly different to say you need to check from 'No'.
Mr McDonald : That is what I said to the senator originally: I do not believe that there has been any reduction, but I would need to check.
Senator RHIANNON: I checked out the DFAT website about climate change research initiatives that the government is currently supporting. The website states that the Australian government is investing $32 million in the Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science and Adaptation Planning Program, and also the CSIRO Horizon 2 research for development alliance and the Center for International Forestry Research and the World Resources Institute. What I was trying to work out was: how much has been allocated for this budget for each of those initiatives? Can you inform us of the line items for those four, please? Just while you are preparing, I was also interested in trying to clarify the international climate change programs that are still under DFAT, or if they are being shifted to other departments.
Ms Sidhu : Many of the programs that you refer to were being conducted under what was known as the fast-start financing program. That ceased at the end of 2012-13. Some projects continued into 2013-14, but effectively there has been no financing for them in this financial year, given that the fast-start period has ceased.
Senator RHIANNON: So those four programs have all been wound up, have they, or are they out of funding?
Ms Sidhu : To be specific I would have to take that on notice and get back to you on those specific programs.
Senator RHIANNON: If you could inform us of the status of the programs and where their funding comes from and obviously, if it is not your department, who do I go to to find out.
Ms Sidhu : Yes, certainly.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you clarify what international climate change programs still are under DFAT. Are there any?
Ms Walsh : Most the line items are retained within the DFAT portfolio. There are some individual programs that might have been administered or managed by other departments, but the majority of the budget rests with DFAT.
Senator RHIANNON: Those four programs that I named are not getting funding and you are going to check if they still exist in some form, so is what you are saying that apart from those four programs by far the majority of programs continue?
Ms Walsh : No, that is not what I am saying.
Senator RHIANNON: I am sorry; I am just trying to clarify.
Ms Walsh : The majority of those line items in the budget are the responsibility of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Within those line items, in terms of what allocations are there and what funding decisions might be taken about their future, that is subject to the ongoing budget discussions that we have had today.
Senator RHIANNON: Sorry, I missed the last bit. So you are saying that we do not know?
Ms Walsh : They are under consideration, that is right.
Senator RHIANNON: So we will know when the budget comes out?
Ms Walsh : For most of them, that is right.
Senator RHIANNON: What amount of funding, if any, for Indonesian deforestation mitigation measures has been committed to date? Is the department continuing with AusAID's commitment to reducing deforestation in Indonesia.
Mr Brazier : The principal vehicle for the Australian government's work on deforestation in Indonesia has been for some years the Indonesia-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership, of which the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership forms the largest part. The bulk of that program ended on 30 June last year; some elements of it have continued and will continue until the middle of this year, and we have budgeted around $8 million for that in this financial year.
Senator RHIANNON: There were documents released under FOI last November that showed Indonesia actually asked for a two-year extension on that partnership that you have just mentioned, the Indonesia-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership. It appears that the government did not grant that two-year extension. Is that correct?
Mr Brazier : I would have to take that on notice. I was not aware of that FOI application. I may have to refresh my memory, but it would be surprising to me because the program ended when it was scheduled to and, of course, in settling on a one-year extension that was obtained with the full agreement of the Indonesian government.
Senator RHIANNON: Sorry, I may have misunderstood. So you are saying that this partnership has actually now wound up?
Mr Brazier : No. It has shrunk in size but it continues until 30 June this year.
We have continued this year with activities to continue to help communities, in central Kalimantan in particular, adapt to different lifestyles that do not depend on deforestation so much, and also on a national carbon accounting scheme, which helps Indonesia to track carbon emissions in order to meet its undertaking to reduce business-as-usual emissions by 26 per cent before 2020.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice just to give us an update on the budget allocation for that work?
Mr Brazier : I can take it on notice, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: thank you. How much aid money is being used for offshore processing for domestic detention of refugees and asylum seekers in detention centres and processing centres?
Mr Wood : Aid money is not being used for detention centres. As you know, there is a funding allocation to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for the sustenance of onshore asylum seekers within the community on bridging visas.
Senator RHIANNON: I am just trying to understand—and I am sorry if you went through this before; I had to go to another committee. So money for sustenance for asylum seekers in Australia, is that correct?
Mr Wood : Correct. There is a reference and a description to it in the 2013-14 aid ministerial statement—the blue book—and that just describes the criteria for reporting those costs.
Senator KROGER: Could you just remind us when the decision was made to reallocate that money for onshore processing? Was that under the former government?
Mr Wood : The decision was taken in December 2012.
Senator KROGER: Okay. So it was under the former government. Thank you.
Senator RHIANNON: Is any aid money that goes to PNG used for projects on Manus Island or associated with any activities on Manus Island?
Mr McDonald : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you provide the details, please, and the amount?
Mr McDonald : Yes. I will ask my colleagues to come back up to the table. From memory on Manus Island I think it is $40 million, but I will ask my colleagues to confirm that.
Mr Dunn : Are you asking about the expenditure on aid activities on Manus?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes. I am assuming it comes out of the aid budget that goes to PNG.
Mr Dunn : Yes, it does. It is part of the country program.
Senator RHIANNON: How much and what it is used for, please.
Mr Dunn : Australia is providing approximately $40 million in development assistance to Manus over the period 2012 to 2018. It comprises two elements: it is an existing $14 million as part of the PNG-Australia partnership for development and additional assistance of around $26 million, so in total $40 million.
Senator RHIANNON: What is it used for?
Mr Dunn : I will take you through the elements. It has a strong focus on support for the Lorengau hospital. This includes the delivery and installation of medical equipment, the majority of which has been delivered, with the remaining equipment to be delivered by early March; the provision of a new water system for the dental clinic—that work has been completed and the clinic reopened on 10 February this year; and the development of a master plan for further redevelopment work of the hospital. There is a significant component also focusing on education infrastructure. That includes the provision of 20 infrastructure school kits, nine of which have been completed and 11 are nearing completion. These are, effectively, small school infrastructure involving a dual classroom, teachers accommodation, an ablutions block and an administration office. As I say, nine are completed and a further 11 are nearing completion. It is also involving transport infrastructure, which is particularly around the maintenance and rehabilitation of some roads and bridges. Design and scoping is underway for that and construction is due to start in November this year. There is also work being done on the renovation of the market roof at the Lorengau market. That work has commenced, with formal construction to start in July. And there are community grants supporting small-scale sport, income generation and livelihoods. That is part of the additional assistance package. The existing country program I mentioned of $14 million has also a strong focus on health, education, law and justice, transport, infrastructure and community grants.
Senator RHIANNON: Is the $14 million part of the $40 million?
Mr Dunn : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Would asylum seekers or workers who are sick use that hospital?
Mr Dunn : I am not sure what the arrangements are.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you please take that on notice.
Mr Dunn : I am not sure I have the knowledge around the asylum seeker centre.
Mr Varghese : The operation of the facility on Manus Island is the responsibility of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Senator RHIANNON: I appreciate that but I am just asking about projects funded by Australian aid. Do you not follow through who uses those facilities?
Mr Varghese : As I understood your question, it was whether the medical facilities outside of the detention centre, namely the hospital that we are helping to fund, are available to detainees. I am saying to you the arrangements with those detainees including their medical care is a matter for the department of immigration.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you know who uses the schools? Is it just local children or is it the children of the workers at the centre? Is it children of detainees?
Mr Varghese : To the extent that it is schooling of people in the detention centre, you would have to direct that to the immigration department.