Back to All News

Estimates: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee: Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 13 Jun 2018

Friday, 1 June 2018

Climate finance, Sri Lanka, PNG, Cartagena Protocol

Senator RHIANNON: I start off with questions to do with Sri Lanka, attacks on Muslim communities and issues to do with terrorism. In May and April there were reports of Buddhist extremists attacking Muslim homes, businesses and mosques. Has the Australian ambassador to Sri Lanka, the foreign minister or any other government representative raised concerns with the Sri Lankan government about these developments or made any inquiries about what has happened? Can you update the committee on what DFAT understands has happened?

Ms Adamson : Thank you for those questions. My colleague Kathy Klugman, head of the South and West Asia division, will be able to answer them. We're hoping she will walk in the door any minute. Could I ask you to go to your next question? I have made notes of the first one.

Senator RHIANNON: Should I leave those questions, go to another area and come back to that?

Ms Adamson : If you wouldn't mind. I'm sorry; it's most unusual that she's not here.

Senator RHIANNON: I move to questions about climate finance.

Ms Adamson : Yes, we can answer those.

Senator RHIANNON: How much of the $1 billion over five years in international climate finance pledged by the Prime Minister under the 2015 Paris Agreement roadmap to US$100 billion has been expended to date?

Mr Suckling : I don't have a figure of how much has been expended to date. It's about $250 million a year since 2015, so around $750 million, but I can take on notice the exact figure.

Senator RHIANNON: What are the current allocations in this financial year, 2017-18? I am particularly interested in all major allocations for this current financial year, or at least some of them.

Mr Suckling : For this financial year I don't have those. I have what we spent last year on climate finance, which was $249 million, and $268 million in 2015, but I don't have the total allocations for this financial year.

Senator RHIANNON: That is surprising. It's estimates. We're going to be asking questions about this, as we regularly do. We don't have this information here at all?

Mr Suckling : We can try to get it, but we look at these things like climate finance retrospectively, because climate finance is fairly complicated in how it's—

Senator RHIANNON: But there's allocations of the money. It's not all retrospective. A point comes at which you make decisions and forward planning. If it could be supplied it while we're here this morning, I'd appreciate that. Can you take on notice the current allocations for 2017-18 and the expected allocations for 2018-19?

CHAIR: I reinforce the request from Senator Rhiannon. This is a budgets estimates. I appreciate your point about retrospectivity, but if you can get those figures today or explain in a bit more detail why they're not available, I think the committee would be grateful.

Mr Suckling : We'll do that.

Senator RHIANNON: How is DFAT tracking expenditure against this pledge of $1 billion over five years? Is it using climate markers? Can you talk me through the system? I'd like to understand the system DFAT is using.

Mr Suckling : We use the Rio markers, which are established through the OECD's DAC, to account for climate finance. There are different categories in the Rio markers for whether you count something as 100 per cent climate finance if it's dedicated to a climate finance project, or a lesser amount if it's part of a project but not 100 per cent climate finance. For example, if you're climate-proofing a road and the additional cost of climate-proofing that road is 10 per cent then only that 10 per cent gets counted as climate finance.

Senator RHIANNON: The Rio markers are the only system of climate markers you have?

Mr Suckling : They're the internationally accepted benchmarks for climate finance worked out by the OECD.

Senator RHIANNON: To be clear: that's all you're using?

Mr Suckling : Yes.

Ms Adamson : I think our chief financial officer will be able to help with your previous question.

Mr Wood : Thank you for your question. I would direct you to a couple of our budget documents, which I think can assist you. Firstly, our Australian aid budget summary 2018-19—the relevant pages are 107 and 108—talks about some of our programs in the climate change area. One of the big commitments that the government have made is the $200 million commitment to the Green Climate Fund. That's a commitment over a number of years to 2018-19. And, as our aid budget summary notes, we're committed to provide at least $1 billion to developing countries over five years to address climate challenges. In 2018-19—and it's the case for 2017-18 as well—we'll invest more than $200 million in a range of programs to reduce carbon emissions and build resilience. In addition to the Green Climate Fund, we have investments, such as the $75 million to the Australia Pacific Climate Change Action Program, and there's also some really important work that we're doing on the Pacific Blue Carbon Initiative. Those are some of the big-ticket items.

In terms of our retrospective reporting, we provide some really detailed information in what we call our statistical summary. Its official title is Australia's international development assistance: official sector statistical summary. Table 11, which is on page 15, discloses in quite a considerable amount of detail the type of climate finance work we do. For the 2016-17 financial year, that added up to $249 million—

CHAIR: Mr Wood—sorry to interrupt—I'm not sure Senator Rhiannon has a copy of that particular document. Have you got another copy or perhaps one that you could provide?

Mr Wood : I don't, but I'm happy to arrange a photocopy.

CHAIR: That's all right. I think the secretary's got it. Thank you, Secretary.

Mr Wood : We have two documents. That's the budget one, which is for the forward years. The one for historical data is our statistical summary. I can arrange for a copy of that also to be provided to Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: That would be great. Thank you.

Mr Wood : There's a heap of really detailed information in here and I'm sure that will be of use to—

CHAIR: It's very helpful information. I just wanted to make sure that Senator Rhiannon had something there to refer to when you were discussing it. I think we've got the document from the secretary.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. You've actually answered many of my questions. There was one I wanted to ask specifically—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Senator Rhiannon, could I add to that, if I may? A good portion of the funding that's gone to the Green Climate Fund—about 10 per cent of that funding—was actually given to Pacific Island countries and the Pacific, for building resilience and a whole range of other things. In addition to that, about $300 million of that $1 billion over four years is actually committed to assisting in the Pacific. So there are a lot of things that we are doing in the Pacific to help build resilience and to help adaptation and mitigation. They're small things but very, very valuable things in terms of the work that we're doing in the Pacific. We can go down a bit more granular if you like, particularly in some of the work that we're doing in the Pacific.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much.

Mr Wood : The page that I could arrange to be photocopied supports the minister's statement: a considerable proportion of that assistance is for the Pacific, for PNG and the other Pacific countries. We'd be pleased to provide that.

Senator RHIANNON: I really appreciate that. You've second-guessed my questions, so most of them have been asked. I just have one more in this section. You mentioned the Australia Pacific Climate Change Action Program. When is it expected to begin operations?

Mr Wood : I have my fingers crossed that Mr Sloper has the answer.

Mr Sloper : The new regional program you're talking about, the Pacific Climate Change Action Program, consists of $75 million. It will run from 2018-19 to 2021-22. We're in the process now of concluding that design, and it should be implemented very shortly. It will provide a range of services to our posts, in terms of giving advice on how to insert climate related resilience, if you like, in more standard projects, but it will also undertake a range of other activities, which I can outline if you wish.

Senator RHIANNON: Have you got any material on that? I'm conscious of time and I've got a meeting.

Mr Sloper : I don't. We don't have a glossier or a statistical table yet, but we can prepare some information for you on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay; you can prepare the information on notice. Thank you. I want to move on to West Papua and pick up on some questions that my colleague Senator Rice asked yesterday.

Ms Adamson : Ms Klugman is now here, when you want to go to Sri Lanka.

Senator RHIANNON: I'll go to Sri Lanka then. In March and April this year, and I think for a period of time, there was a state of emergency called. There were scores of mosques and homes and businesses of Muslim people destroyed. Could you provide the committee with an update, first, on what DFAT's understanding is of what happened and, second, has the Australian ambassador to Sri Lanka, the foreign minister or any other government representative raised concerns about these developments with the Sri Lankan government?

Ms Klugman : You're referring to some disturbing communal violence that happened, as you say, in the March-April period in a few different parts of Sri Lanka. There was some trouble in the eastern province, which, as I think you know, is an area where the population mix is about equal between Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim. Then there was a spike relatedly in the middle of the country, in Kandy, from 5 to 7 March. There was violence and there was damage done. The details of who did what to who are still playing out.

We have been urging the Sri Lankan government to undertake an independent inquiry into what happened. The Sri Lankan government was most immediately concerned to deal with the communal violence. It declared a state of emergency, as you say, for 12 days, sparked by that communal violence in Kandy from 5 to 7 March. We have been active on that front and in relation to the rights of all minorities in Sri Lanka, urging the Sri Lankan government to deal swiftly and in a transparent and accountable way to bring the perpetrators in this particular case to justice but also, as you know, more broadly adding our voice to those encouraging the Sri Lankan government to move forward with its broader reconciliation agenda in Sri Lanka.

Senator RHIANNON: Before you arrived, when I was asking the question, I said I wanted to ask questions in the context of terrorism as well as what's happening in Sri Lanka. The reports that I have read about this have identified that attacks on mosques, Muslim businesses, et cetera, have increased since the end of the civil war in 2009. It has been raised, and this is where my questions go. I note that there's a group called BBS, Bodu Bala Sena, and a number of other Buddhist extremist groups that have been identified as being involved in this violence. Could you comment on that, please?

Ms Klugman : Yes. First, you asked if we had the sense that attacks against Muslims, like mosque burning and other events, had increased since the end of the civil war. It's hard to say. This year has seen a spike of instances. They were not unknown in the past, though. There were outbreaks of disturbance, communal unrest and some communal violence against and involving the small Sri Lankan Muslim community over the last couple of decades. It was masked, in terms of external attention, by the fact that the civil war with the Tamil Tigers was a more immediate concern in that country. You referred to politically engaged Buddhist extremist groups. Yes, they are definitely a factor in Sri Lanka.

Senator RHIANNON: This might be a question to your people working on the terrorist issues. I note reports that in 2014, Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk in Myanmar who was on the record as inciting violence against Rohingyan Muslims, offered to support the BBS, Bodu Bala Sena, in its fight with Muslims in Sri Lanka. Can you comment on those reports, please?

Ms Klugman : I am not aware of those reports. I haven't heard of those reports. But it's true to say that there are links in religious teaching and in a cultural sense between the Buddhist sangha in Sri Lanka and other parts of Asia, in particular in South-East Asia. But I'm not aware of those specific reports.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering a large part of the DFAT budget, I understand, goes to fighting terrorism, could you inform the committee what work is being done with regard to some of the Buddhist extremist groups that have been linked with terrorist acts, including BBS, Sinhala Ravaya, Sinhal and Mayasan Belaya. I acknowledge my pronunciation is not good, and I'm happy to spell those names if required!

Ms Klugman : That's fine; no need. The Australian effort, including through our aid program but more broadly in Sri Lanka, has a strong core that is about supporting reconciliation in that country. I could list for you some of the things we have done in the expenditure of about $400 million in aid to Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict in 2009. Some of that is in practical matters like taking landmines out of the ground, rebuilding houses, rebuilding schools in Muslim and Tamil areas—

Senator RHIANNON: Sorry to interrupt; I'm conscious of my time. I am specifically interested in the antiterrorism work that DFAT conducts in South-East Asia. What of that work is engaging with these Buddhist extremist groups that aren't just in Sri Lanka but in other parts of South-East Asia? What we hear about is the Islam groups. There are other groups, and I'm just trying to get a sense of what work is done in that area.

Ms Klugman : We don't have an extensive counterterrorism program in Sri Lanka these days. The work that we do, as I said, helps to strengthen institutions, including human rights-related institutions in Sri Lanka. Counterterrorism, in the sense that I think you're envisaging, is not a feature of our aid program in Sri Lanka.

Senator RHIANNON: Ms Adamson, I was trying to go beyond Sri Lanka to understand if Australia's antiterrorism program and the assistance we're providing South-East Asia go beyond the groups that are identified as being linked with Islam or Muslim groups?

Ms Adamson : We do indeed, with a particular focus on South-East Asia rather than on South-West Asia or South Asia, have a focus on countering violent extremism. I'll need to take on notice the specific elements of your question in relation to Buddhist extremists. I understand exactly where you're coming from. I'd like, potentially, to be able to come back in the course of the morning. If we can't, I'll take it on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thanks. I'll just mention the groups again: Bodu Bala Sena, Sinhala Ravaya, Sinhal and Mayasan Belaya. It is relevant to the issues that you deal with in the main. Some of the reports coming out of Sri Lanka say that, because of these tragic communal fights, Muslim youth can become radicalised. I would have thought your work would be quite developed in that area.


Senator RHIANNON: I still want to understand how you collect the data. It's so controversial. There is so little information that comes out about it, particularly very little, what appears to be, objective evidence based information. For many people in West Papua, Indonesia continues to be seen as the coloniser or the occupier. Can you inform us if you're meeting—it seems as though, and correct me if I'm wrong, that when I've asked this question you've answered it in the context of, 'We're meeting lots of people.' So when you're meeting lots of people are you meeting people who are strong critics of the Indonesian government and looking for independence for West Papua? Do you meet those organisations?

Ms Heckscher : I did say that we meet local human-rights activists and a very wide range of contacts.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, I realise that. I'm then asking the question: are some of those people working with West Papua to be independent from Indonesia? This is where there's a huge conflict. People are dying. It remains a big problem.

Ms Heckscher : I do understand that. Our embassies right across the region are constantly monitoring human-rights situations and they are well aware of the need to meet broadly. I don't have in front of me a list, and I wouldn't expect to have a list either, of all the individual organisations, community groups and the like that our embassies meet on a regular basis. But our embassies go specifically so that they can get a clear sense from those on the ground—critics and supporters, a wide range of contacts—of what is going on. There is little better evidence than going to the province and visiting and talking to the people.

Senator RHIANNON: I'd like to move on to the Cartagena Protocol. It's an agreement designed to project nations from the possible negative impacts of importing living modified organisms. I'm still learning about this, but I understand the protocol establishes an advanced, informed agreement procedure for ensuring that countries are provided with the information necessary to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of organisms into their territory. What consideration has been given for Australia to become a party to the Cartagena Protocol?

Mr Sloper : I have come to the table not because I'm primarily responsible for this but because I might be able to provide a comment to assist your inquiries. The department is not responsible for the convention which this is attached to, the protocol, and, as you just noted, Australia is not a signatory. We've been advised that the department of environment has primary responsibility for this.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay, thank you. I was directed here because of the international treaty aspect of it, but you don't look after it.

Mr Sloper : That's right.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for correcting that. I'll finish off with some questions about PNG. It's fairly specific, with regard to the Torricelli Mountain Range Protected Area. This is quite a fascinating project and hopefully a good news story, but I'm not sure. I'm told that DFAT's involved with about 50 villages, UNDP, various conservation organisations, Australian volunteers et cetera. I would be interested to understand what DFAT's engagement is with the proposal in the first instance.

Mr Sloper : I'm afraid I don't have those details with me, but I'm happy to take them on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay. I think I've got about a minute, so I will just ask the rest of it. I said it was potentially a good news story, but you never know in this world. There are reports of a proposed new road to be built by a logging company through the middle of the proposed protected area. This protected area is really encompassing a huge territory of PNG, some of its amazing natural habitat, particularly its tree kangaroos. For some of these tree kangaroo species, there are not many of them left. So there's a concern about the road. So I would be interested to know: do you know about the proposal for the new road to be built by a logging company, and has the Australian government made any representations to the PNG government about it?

Mr Sloper : I'll take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.


CHAIR: Thank you. Just on that—and DFAT have taken that globally—there is more work to be done now, I think. It's not just Home Affairs; it's really to get past that dissonance in the Australian community and in some of our other domestic agencies. This is actually something that exists here. It's not just about DFAT working overseas with other countries; it's something that's right here that we need to deal with. Anyway, thank you—a little bit of chair's prerogative and a little bit of commentary. Again, my hearty thanks. Secretary, Senator Rhiannon has just got a question on notice that you were going to come back on today, I believe.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Chair. Ms Adamson, yesterday I asked about the terminology DFAT uses to describe the Israel-Palestine region. Could you share with us what you've ascertained in the last 24 hours.

Ms Adamson : Yes, of course I can, but I did read into the Hansard record last night the answer to that question. With a minute, I can probably find it again, but I did give a fairly complete answer.

Senator RHIANNON: Did you? Okay, I'll go and find it. Sorry, I missed that. Thank you.

Senator MOORE: If you can find the piece of paper, it might be useful.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, sure.

Ms Adamson : I'll be happy to do that.

[31 May, p. 110
Ms Adamson: ... Secondly, Senator Rhiannon asked about the occupied territories nomenclature in the travel advice. She was drawing on British travel advice. Our own Smartraveller travel advisory has been titled 'Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank' since it was first created, on 1 August 2000. Since then we have referred to the region in this way. The US and Canada also use the West Bank and Gaza in the title of their travel advisories. The Australian government's position with regard to the legal status of the Palestinian territories did not change following the referred marks by then Senator Brandis.]


Ms Adamson : Chair, with your agreement, could I respond to a question on notice from Senator Rhiannon, who asked whether Australia's delegation at the Human Rights Council was asked to sign a group statement on concern around the slowness of Sri Lanka's progress on human rights promises. The group statement was made by the US, the UK, Macedonia and Montenegro. The answer is that the UK informed Australia in advance that the core group would make a statement, but it was not open for other countries to join, including Australia.

CHAIR: Thank you. We'll make sure that Senator Rhiannon is aware of that.



Back to All News