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Senate Estimates: AusAID

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 7 Jun 2012

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legisliation Committee

Estimates hearings 31 May 2012

  • Senator Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Mr Peter Baxter, Director General AusAID
  • Mr Roderick Brazier, First Assistant Director General, East Asia Division
  • Mr Jean-Bernard Carrasco, Assistant Director General, Climate Change and the Environment Branch
  • Mr Paul Wood, Chief Financial Officer

Full transcript available here

Senator RHIANNON: In February I heard that the government was considering joining the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. Is the government planning on joining this body and, if so, where is it up to?

Mr Baxter : I think that is a question best directed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade rather than to AusAID.

Senator RHIANNON: You do not have any input into that?

Mr Baxter : Not that I am aware of, but I can take it on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you take it—whether you have any input—on notice, and I will take it up. Another one—this is actually from the DAFF budget, but it lists it as 'official development assistance', so I want to see if AusAID has any input with regard to the money going to live animal exports going from $3 million to $4.8 million over the last two financial years. Did you have any input into that?

Mr Baxter : I will ask my colleague Mr Brazier to answer that. You are referring to Indonesia there?

Senator RHIANNON: It does not actually list Indonesia here; it just talks about improved supply chains. So I am assuming that that is what it is referring to, but the word 'Indonesia' does not appear.

Mr Brazier : Without knowing any more about that measure that you referred to I cannot comment specifically on it.

Senator RHIANNON: I will just read it out, then. It is a line item: 'Live animal exports—Business assistance—Improved supply chain and official development assistance' going from $3 million in 2011-12 to $4.8 million in 2012-13.

Mr Brazier : I am not familiar with that measure, but I can tell you that official development assistance funds have been appropriated to DAFF, as you mentioned, for the purpose of improving the quality of abattoirs in Indonesia. But further questions on that really need to be addressed to DAFF.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering that you have identified here that it is overseas development aid, can you inform the committee how this was measured against the aid objectives in making the decision to allocate this money to the live animal export trade?

Mr Baxter : As my colleague has mentioned, this is funding that has been appropriated to another government department, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, so your questions are best directed to them on that program. We are not part of the decision-making process to allocate that funding.

Senator RHIANNON: So, just to help me understand the process: do you have any involvement in the amount of money or the allocation, or does that never come within AusAID's ambit?

Mr Baxter : The government considers, on an annual basis, proposals from a range of government departments and agencies to have access to funding from the aid budget. So, the federal police have an allocation of ODA—

Senator RHIANNON: Do you sit in those meetings and have an input into those decisions of aid money going to these other agencies?

Mr Baxter : We do not have an input into those decisions, because they are budget decisions that are made by government.

Senator RHIANNON: So this aid money for live animal exports has nothing to do with AusAID?

Mr Baxter : No. It is a budget process that is managed by the government.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay; thank you very much. I would like to move on to issues to do with sexual and reproductive health. We are hearing more and more that reducing maternal mortality remains the least likely of all the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by the target date of 2015. And then there is that very alarming figure that the leading cause of death for girls aged between 15 to 19 in developing countries is pregnancy. So I was interested in some of the AusAID developments in this area. How much of this year's aid budget is spent on reproductive health? And Minister, here I am not asking about maternal health. I am asking about how much you have spent on reproductive health—not maternal health, which is clearly important, but specifically family planning and contraception.

Senator Bob Carr: Let me see if I have a breakdown on those figures.

Senator RHIANNON: And I am interested in how it differs from last year, please.

Senator Bob Carr: The figures I have here show AusAID expenditure on activities with family planning as a major component or primary objective. In 2009-2010 it was $10 million, in 2010-11 it was $42 million and in 2011-12 it was $36 million—not yet finalised, with a further increase likely.

Senator RHIANNON: So it has dropped?

Senator Bob Carr: On 2010-11, yes, but I am advised that that figure will go up. This is due to a major contribution to the United Nations Family Planning Agency commodity fund of $10 million and a larger-than-usual IPPF payment in 2010-11 of $9 million, reflecting two years of funding due to administrative delays in moving to multi-year funding agreement. I will just ask Peter to interpret.

Mr Baxter : We provided a two-year payment to the International Planned Parenthood Federation rather than a one-year payment. So our increase between 2009-10 and 2010-11 from $10 million to $42 million included that multi-year payment to IPPF.

Senator RHIANNON: Was that a payment for the two past years?

Mr Baxter : That was a payment for 2010-11 and 2011-12. So we made a prepayment, if you like. As the minister said, our accounting shows that so far this year we have spent $36 million. We expect that figure will increase as we finalise our accounting for the year across a whole range of programs.

Senator RHIANNON: In real terms, is it an increase or a decrease? Or is it about the same?

Mr Baxter : We have increased dramatically over the past few years since the government issued its guidelines on funding for family planning activities in 2009, and you can see that by the fourfold increase from 2009-10 to 2010-11. We continue to increase our spending on broader maternal and child health, and the family planning components of that spending will increase in the coming years.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice what percentage of the health budget family planning comprises?

Mr Baxter : Certainly.

Senator RHIANNON: And how does this spending on sexual and reproductive health compare to Australia's commitment under the International Conference on Population and Development?

That is where donor countries made a commitment to allocate four per cent of ODA to population activities. Are we on track there?

Mr Baxter : My understanding is that we are on track.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you need to take it on notice? You said it was your understanding; does that need to be confirmed?

Mr Baxter : I am very happy to confirm that for you by taking it on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. Are there requirements as to what kind of services family planning must provide? Could, for example, a family planning program that promotes abstinence or the Billings method be considered as family planning?

Mr Baxter : The principle under which we provide our family planning assistance is that women in developing countries should be able to avail themselves of the full range of family planning services available in Australia, subject to the important proviso of the national laws of the countries in which we are operating. So we fund a whole range of interventions in the family planning area.

Senator RHIANNON: So could I take that as a yes, and that a program that promoted abstinence or the Billings methods would be considered?

Mr Baxter : I do not have any specific information that we have funded programs using those methodologies. So I think it is a hypothetical question. Our interventions are normally around education and the provision of information and family planning interventions to women through the national health systems of the countries that we are working with.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice whether any of the programs that you are funding run such programs?

Mr Baxter : I am happy to look at that but I do not think it is the case.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. Staying with this issue, I notice that the government has released a new Comprehensive Aid Policy Framework. It is the one that came out earlier this month. We have this four-year plan and I notice that we have the inclusion of skilled birth attendants but not family planning within the Comprehensive Aid Policy Framework. What is the evidence base for this decision, please?

Mr Baxter : It has been proven through experience and research that women having access to a skilled birth attendant at the time they are giving birth leads to major reductions in maternal mortality.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Baxter, I am sorry to interrupt; there is a shortage of time. I am not querying the great benefits of skilled birth attendants but there is clearly a difference between skilled birth attendants and family planning in terms of allowing women to make a choice—

Mr Baxter : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: and to control the number of births. The evidence on this is quite outstanding, as you are aware. That is why I was asking: why did the Comprehensive Aid Policy Framework not cover family planning?

Mr Baxter : Family planning would be covered by the commitments that we have made to maternal and child health. It is a subset of maternal and child health.

Mr Wood : If I could just assist for a second, you may be referring to the high-level results that were illustrated in our results framework. One of the high-level results we have under the saving lives strategic goal is that more than one million additional births will be attended by a skilled birth attendant. Those headline high-level results are a summary of a multitude of other key results and indicators. So it may be that we have just extracted a few of the larger results under strategic goals.

Mr Baxter : So they are indicative examples of the kinds of results that we are going to achieve. They are not to the exclusion of other objectives that we will continue to pursue through the aid program. Family planning assistance has, at its core, the objective of preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take that on notice, to ask the question again—I was interested in the evidence base for the decision—about the fact that family planning has not been included in the Comprehensive Aid Policy Framework. What was the evidence base for making that decision, please?

Mr Baxter : I repeat. We did not exclude family planning from the Comprehensive Aid Policy Framework. We took some examples of the kinds of results that we expect to achieve over the next four years but I can assure that we will continue to invest in family planning activities as part of our broader maternal and child health program, where the government is committed to spending over $1 billion between now and 2015-16.

Senator RHIANNON: When the term is not actually used is, I think, where the concern is coming—it is hard to know what level of priority it has. To try and understand this more: why aren't sexual and reproductive health rights a priority indicator within the framework as they are with other bilateral donor frameworks?

Mr Baxter : They are a priority within our overall maternal and child health program.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that, but my question was with regard to the framework. Why aren't they in the comprehensive aid policy framework?

Mr Baxter : Because these are headline results that we gave as an example of the sorts of objectives that the aid program will seek to achieve over the next four years. We could not put every element of the aid program in the comprehensive aid policy framework; it is an extrapolation of some of the headline results. But I can assure you that our commitment to continuing to increase our assistance in the family planning area will be part of our objectives over the next four years.

Senator RHIANNON: You said in answer to a question earlier that you saw that family planning was a subset of the work of the skilled birth attendants and in terms of addressing maternal health. Isn't it the other way around—that addressing maternal health is a subset of family planning?

Mr Baxter : I see it as a subset of the broader issue of dealing with the health of women and children. There is significant evidence, as you know, that preventing unintended pregnancies through access to family planning would avert something like 20 to 35 per cent of all maternal deaths. So I think we are in vigorous agreement; we are just looking at it from a slightly different perspective.

Senator RHIANNON: Who will be representing Australia at the Family Planning Summit in July?

Mr Baxter : I will.

Senator RHIANNON: Excellent. Given that the summit will seek a set of commitments from the global community, will Australia as a donor country commit to meeting the summit's recommendations?

Mr Baxter : As recently as last week, I spoke to the Permanent Secretary of the Department for International Development in the UK, which is responsible for convening the conference. We are working very closely with DFID and with the Gates foundation on the commitments that will be made at that conference. Australia will play a significant role in it.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, have you considered going to the summit?

Senator Bob Carr: Yes, very much so. I discussed it with my UK counterpart when I met him in April. I regarded it as crucially important. If I remember correctly, I am committed, however, to be at meetings in the UN at that time related to Australia's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. But I agree with you completely about the fundamental importance of family planning and meeting any of our development goals.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. In 2012-13, what is Australia's contribution to the Global Program to Enhance Reproductive Health Commodity Security?

Mr Baxter : I would have to take that on notice. In 2010-11, we provided $10 million to support the implementation of the Global Program to Enhance Reproductive Health Commodity Security. That is in addition to $38½ million provided by Australia in the period 2009 to 2012. All up, that is just under $50 million in the period between 2009 and 2012.

Senator RHIANNON: Please take on notice the current allocation.

Mr Baxter : Certainly. I should add that an Australian has just taken up the position of deputy at UNFPA: Ms Kate Gilmore, whom I had the good fortune to meet recently. We are very pleased that, through the government's support, we have been able to get that very senior appointment in one of the critical areas of the UN's work.

Senator RHIANNON: That is good news. The 2012-13 budget notes indicate that AusAID will work through ASEAN and APEC to promote trade liberalisation. Is trade liberalisation a condition of any Australian aid funding to any recipient country?

Mr Baxter : No, it is not a condition.

Senator RHIANNON: Is membership of any bilateral or multilateral trade agreement or trade organisation a condition of any Australian aid funding to any recipient country?

Mr Baxter : No.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Just on the GAVI Alliance: last year we had that $200 million over 10 years. Whilst GAVI has projected a contribution of $79.6 million from Australia in 2012, the 2012-13 AusAID budget papers indicate only a $20 million contribution to GAVI this financial year. Where is the additional $59.6 million coming from, please?

Mr Baxter : I will ask my colleague to answer that in detail, but our contribution of $200 million was over a period of years.

Mr Wood : Perhaps I could just give you a reference to page 95 of the aid ministerial statement. We note that there was a commitment, and the payment of that is spread over a couple of years. The commitment is $200 million over the calendar years 2011 to 2013. Within the 2012-13 financial year, there will be a $20 million payment. A lot of that $200 million payment has already been made.

Mr Baxter : And the $200 million covers the period 2011 to 2013. It is not over 10 years; it is a much shorter period than that.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. This month, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a report that there was a review of the Australian-Indonesian carbon programs. Was this review commissioned by AusAID?

Mr Carrasco : Yes. AusAID, as part of its normal business, does reviews of a range of programs. We had a mid-term review of the Indonesia-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership.

Senator RHIANNON: Why did it take over a year for AusAID to release the report?

Mr Carrasco : The report was released as part of AusAID's current focus on transparency, at the same time as a whole raft of other products from the Indonesia program were also released.

Senator RHIANNON: But it was a long period of time. I understand that it had been ready earlier. Why was there a delay?

Mr Carrasco : It was not a delay. It was released at the same time as the other products for the Indonesia program were released.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand that the review calls for the Sumatra pilot to be reconsidered in light of the challenge and delays in the Kalimantan project. What is AusAID's response to that, please?

Mr Carrasco : The government intends to work with the Jambi province, Sumatra, on climate change, but the scope of work is currently under review as a result of a number of changes, including the independent review that you have alluded to. The scope of that work is currently under consideration by the governments of both Australia and Indonesia.

Senator RHIANNON: What impact has the $1 billion investment from Norway had on all these developments?

Mr Carrasco : The $1 billion investment from Norway—and I use that term loosely, because it is based upon Indonesia's performance—has had a significant impact in terms of supporting Indonesia's efforts to reduce its emissions. As you know, Australia has been working with Indonesia on forest carbon for quite a while and we are constantly working in partnership with the Indonesian government to refine our work and to change it with changing circumstances. As a result of that investment we are also working closely with Norway to ensure that our work and their work matches up. For example, under the $1 billion investment they chose Central Kalimantan as the pilot province where they would be doing their work and, as this committee is aware and as you are aware, Senator, that is also where we are doing some work under the Kalimantan forest carbon partnership. So we are certainly ensuring that our work is consistent and supports Indonesia's efforts.

Senator RHIANNON: But hasn't the Kalimantan project that was launched five years ago been scaled back and isn't it suffering delays?

Mr Carrasco : The area of land rehabilitated by the Kalimantan project, yes, is expected to be less than was originally announced. This has occurred for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was decided at an early stage, during the design stage, that this would be a demonstration activity and that we would not focus on the total area covered but on demonstrating the viability of various approaches which could, if successful, be scaled up. Secondly, the initial targets were based on a much larger total funding envelope of $100 million, on the assumption of additional funding from external partners, and this funding has not eventuated. So the revision of those goals and targets is not unusual for a complex aid program such as this, which needs to be flexible and responsive to the changing situations to remain effective.

Senator RHIANNON: Is there any intention for Australian aid funded REDD projects to provide carbon offset credits that could be used by Australian companies either voluntarily or as part of compliance requirements in an Australian emissions trading scheme?

Mr Carrasco : That would be a question that you would need to refer to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, but my understanding is no.





Senator RHIANNON: The 2012-13 aid budget provides funding to extend the Pacific seasonal worker pilot scheme for the cotton, cane sugar and other industries, I understand. The budget notes that the department of immigration will ensure the workers' conditions. What is being done to protect the rights of these temporary workers? Will they work under the same conditions that Australian workers would?

Mr Baxter : That is a matter for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. AusAID is not involved in the domestic aspects of the program.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'the domestic aspects', what aspects are AusAID involved in?

Mr Baxter : The program is largely the responsibility of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Our role is to provide support to the countries to manage recruitment and processing for people coming to Australia. But our role finishes within the source countries for that particular scheme.

Senator RHIANNON: What long-term development model justifies spending aid money to provide temporary and insecure jobs in Australian industries?

Mr Baxter : The importance of remittances to developing economies cannot be understated. In some Pacific island countries remittances make up over half of gross national income. I am talking about countries like Samoa and Tonga. The remittances that are already being sent back to the countries that are the source of the guest worker scheme are having a very positive impact on particularly disadvantaged households, which is where many of the workers come from.

Senator RHIANNON: As you have put an emphasis on how important remittances are, wouldn't part of that responsibility for AusAID then require some involvement in ensuring that equivalent wages and conditions were afforded to these workers?

Mr Baxter : I understand your question but it is not part of AusAID's responsibility to look at the conditions of workers in Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: You said your job is confined to the countries where these workers are recruited. In those recruitment programs that you undertake, are details provided of the conditions and pay that these workers will have in Australia?

Mr Baxter : We provide assistance to the recruitment process; we do not conduct it ourselves. So I am not aware of that. I can take that on notice.

Senator KROGER: Take on notice what the assistance entails and what information is supplied to those intending to or considering coming to work here.

Mr Baxter : I can tell you that we have an evaluation by the World Bank of the pilot, which found that, typically, a worker under the scheme was earning about $12,000 and they were remitting about $5,000 of that to pay school fees, purchase farm equipment and make improvements in people's houses.

Senator RHIANNON: Over what period of time did they earn $12,000?

Mr Baxter : This was over the period that they were in Australia as guest workers.

Senator RHIANNON: There was a report on ABC Radio Australia on 30 April that Australian aid is contributing to the creation of private armies in PNG used to defend Malaysian logging interests. The report pointed the finger at the lack of administration and management of the police force fuelling corruption. One of AusAID's priorities for PNG is improving policing, safety and crime prevention. What management and monitoring is AusAID doing that is in any way linked to these developments?

Mr Baxter : I am not aware of the report that you have referred to, but I can assure you that AusAID does not fund the establishment of private militias or anything else. The cooperation program between Australia and the Royal PNG Constabulary is managed by the Australian Federal Police, so you should direct your questions to them.

Senator RHIANNON: You say you are not aware of these developments. Could you take it on notice to find out whether AusAID is investigating any aspects of these claims and a formal response will be released?

Mr Baxter : We are not aware of the claims. I can answer the question now. We are not conducting an investigation.

Senator RHIANNON: Given the very burden and growing threat that TB poses to our neighbours in PNG and many other patients in the Asia-Pacific, will AusAID develop a strategy to tackle TB in our region?

Mr Baxter : Australia does provide significant funding to help countries tackle TB, particularly through our contribution to the global fund on malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS, to which Australia is one of the largest funders in the world. Through the global fund, we provide support to a broad range of countries in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. We have a particular focus at the moment in Papua New Guinea, where there are issues relating to the emergence of multi-drug-resistant TB. We are working in partnership with the PNG and World Vision, particularly in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, to improve the treatments available to Papua New Guinea citizens living in that area and to upgrade the facilities that are available to them.

Senator RHIANNON: Aside from that new $8 million project to update facilities in Daru, does the government have any bilateral program in the Asia-Pacific which specifically target TB control? I am trying to get a sense of this as it is so serious. Is there a strategy or are we just funding a project here and a project there?

Mr Baxter : That is a very valid concern. The spread of tuberculosis is one of the most serious health threats facing the region. But we work with other donors, principally through the global fund, to apply resources to the problem. The global fund, with our support, is able to run programs in countries throughout South-East Asia, including East Timor and Papua New Guinea, that provide capability and funding for the governments to address this issue. So we are part of a global effort. We do some programs bilaterally but the largest focus of our effort is through these multilateral mechanisms which provide funding directly into the health systems of the countries that are dealing with the problems.

Senator RHIANNON: What I am hearing is that the Daru upgrade is going well. How can AusAID leverage the Daru upgrade to serve as an example of a well-functioning service-delivery model within PNG and other Pacific countries?

Mr Baxter : Again, I think that is a very good point. We hope that we can develop a catalogue, if you like, of best practice of how we have dealt with this issue. Part of the problem, as you know, Senator, in Papua New Guinea is access to health facilities given the topographical nature of the country. In Western Province we have recently delivered to the authorities a purpose built vessel which will allow them to get around to the different remote communities by boat with a facility that can help treat people and ensure that they are diagnosed accurately and given the right kind of drugs.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Mr Baxter. Thank you, Chair.


Full transcript available here

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