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Estimates: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee (Vietnam)

Lee questions Mr Chittick, First Assistant Secretary from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Reconstruction and Development) about the resettlement program necessitated by the building of the Cao Lanh Bridge in Vietnam and the extent of Australian oversight of the project.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. Moving on to Vietnam, has the state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation been selected as part of a consortium to construct the Cao Lanh Bridge project in Vietnam?

Mr Chittick: The construction of the Cao Lanh Bridge is over half built now. I do not have with me the specific names of the contractors of each aspect of that, so I will be very happy to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: After five questions on notice, I am not doing too well. I thought you would have had that information available. Does nobody else here have information on this?

Mr Chittick: There are many contractors in our aid program in Vietnam and Cambodia. I do not have all of those at hand right at this moment.

Senator RHIANNON: Who is responsible for overseeing resettlement activities under this project, and are there independent checks to ensure that affected populations are adequately compensated and housed as per DFAT's resettlement policy?

Mr Chittick: I have visited the site and some of the communities who have been resettled. The project, which is managed out of our embassy in Vietnam, has a very substantial component for resettlement. The embassy oversees that. There will be a contractor, the name of which I do not have, which is responsible for implementing a very substantial resettlement program. That program is underway. When I visited Vietnam last year I met with a number of the community members that we had resettled. That is an ongoing process. But, as you indicate, it is a very important element of any infrastructure project undertaken under the Australian aid program. It is a very important part of our infrastructure program at the Cao Lanh bridge-overseen by our embassy in Hanoi, but with a particular contract to deliver that program.

Senator RHIANNON: Do I take from that answer in response to my question about independent checks that it is a contractor who undertakes the independent checks?

Mr Chittick: There is a contractor that delivers the services. Again, I do not have quite the detail with me about the quality assurance process, but I am aware of a range of quality assurance processes, which are separate to the contractor responsible for resettlement, that verify the quality of the resettlement process. But I would like to take the details of that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice the essence of the question and particularly, with regard to the independent checks, if the work of the contractor is in accord with DFAT's resettlement policy and how that is determined.

Mr Chittick: Certainly. To the essence of your question: I can confirm that DFAT's very important policies on resettlement are fully implemented through our aid program in Vietnam, particularly in the case of a large infrastructure project such as the Cao Lanh bridge, which does displace a number of community members in its construction. At a policy level, I can confirm that it is a very important part, which is why there are particular elements of the implementation of that program that relate to resettlement. But I would be very happy to get you the specific details of the contractor for the resettlement process and the details of our quality assurance process.

Senator RHIANNON: With regard to the embassy-and hopefully you can answer this or take it on notice-what specialist expertise does DFAT have at post to oversee this project, particularly in the context of occupational health and safety and resettlement? In your previous answer you describe the embassy and the contractor. Can you start with the embassy. What expertise is there for this work?

Mr Chittick: At our embassy in Hanoi we have a significant number of staff. I would have to find out, separately, the details of the number of staff. There is a combination of Australian-based staff and also Vietnamese-based staff. The people who are responsible for that are professional aid managers in a general sense. Some of those people will have acquired, during their career, specific experience in terms of OH&S or resettlement. But it is an important part of our design and implementation framework that we comply with all of the aid program's policies, including workplace health and safety and resettlement. I do not have with me any specific details about the skill sets of the specific managers of this project in the embassy, but expertise, where we do not have it in house, is something that we acquire through seeking expertise on a contract or seeking expertise, where it is available, in the department in Canberra through engagement from the post with the relevant part of the department that is responsible for either workplace health and safety or resettlement.

Mr McDonald: Mr Chittick referred to the Performance of Australian aid report that was put our earlier this week, and I think that provides a good snapshot of the evaluation that we do of our programs. So if you take East Asia, for example, which we have been talking about-

Senator RHIANNON: Can I just ask does it specifically include the bridge project?

Mr McDonald: No.

Senator RHIANNON: It is more general.

Mr McDonald: For example, we have looked at safeguards as a part of that in terms of their alignment and whether that is being satisfactorily addressed. So that happens annually. So, as Mr Chittick said, we take that issue very seriously and we do evaluations of those and report those publicly. So I would encourage you, if you get the opportunity, to just have a look. It is page 37 of that report.

Senator RHIANNON: Just one more question on Vietnam. Is there an estimate for the cost of research and development and design innovations needed to protect this bridge infrastructure from the impacts of climate change, considering that it has been identified that the Mekong is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts?

Mr Chittick: I do not have that level of specific detail with me, so I would be very happy to take it on notice.


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