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Senate Estimates: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 6 Jun 2013

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee

Estimates hearing, 5 June 2013

 

  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Ms Ann Thorpe, Chief Finance Officer
  • Mr Jeff Roach, Assistant Secretary, Executive Planning and Evaluation Branch
  • Mr Peter Varghese, Departmental Secretary
  • Mr Jon Merrill, Assistant Secretary, Head of UNSC Task Force
  • Ms Penny Williams, Global Ambassador for Women and Girls
  • Mr Allaster Cox, First Assistant Secretary, South-East Asia Division

 

Senator RHIANNON: I note that the DFAT allocation that is ODA eligible is $38 million. I just want to confirm that DFAT will, for 2013 14, administer $38 million in ODA. I notice this is a very large increase from 2012-13, when it was $18.7 million. Why the large increase, please? Could you also itemise what ODA spending DFAT is responsible for, including the amounts for each program?

Mr Varghese: I think that is probably in relation to our Development Assistance Program.

Senator RHIANNON: You mean the increase is because of the Development Assistance Program?

Mr Varghese: No. I do not think that program has increased, regrettably, by that amount.

Senator RHIANNON: The $38 million I took from Mr Carr's budget statement in table 4, page 127. Then I took the $18.7 million from last year's documents. Can you just confirm if they are correct figures? That is why I was asking why there has been such a large increase.

Ms Thorpe: This is really an AusAID matter. AusAID actually calculate that. I suspect part of the statement that was released by the minister was in the AusAID section. What happens is that we have DAP funding, which the secretary referred to, but a number of our new measures are actually part of that; it is what is called ODA able. It falls under the heading of ODA.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Ms Thorpe: For example, some of our RAMSI money for the Solomon Islands is able to be recognised as ODA. There are other components of measures. AusAID is the one who is the keeper of what forms into that amount, not us.

Senator RHIANNON: I appreciate this. We get bounced around at each estimates. As it was in Mr Carr's budget statement, it did appear that it was what DFAT is administering. That is what I am just trying to understand. Is this what DFAT is administering, this $38 million?

Ms Thorpe: As I said, AusAID are the ones who calculate the 38. We know what we have got—

Senator RHIANNON: So how much do you have?

Ms Thorpe: I am just saying that we have our own budget and AusAID, as you know, have quite a large budget. When it falls into the heading of overseas development assistance, in effect, it is offset against their budget. So even though we might get new money, or we get additional money, it actually goes against their budget—that component of the spend.

Senator RHIANNON: But it is DFAT who is spending it.

Ms Thorpe: It is DFAT who is spending it. It is not actually in our appropriation. The calculation for it and what it is made up of is kept by AusAID and not by us.

Senator RHIANNON: To ask the question again: the ODA eligible money that DFAT spends—it appears from the documents that it is now $38 million. It was previously $18.7 million. One, is that correct and, two, can you itemise it, please?

Ms Thorpe: As I said, Senator, it is really something that AusAID puts together. We do not have that. We do not retain that sort of information. AusAID does a survey at the end of each year and asks us to identify the various components of our activities that would be considered as falling into the ODA. It then makes the assessment. It keeps the records. We do not—

Senator RHIANNON: You do not administer any of that?

Ms Thorpe: We administer it on behalf of AusAID, but the calculation of the amount is kept against AusAID and not against us. It actually is, in effect, drawn from their budget. Obviously there is a close dialogue when we are administering. They are very much party to how we go about it. We work very closely with them. The actual figure that you are citing would be something that AusAID have calculated and they would have the detail.

Senator RHIANNON: Are the programs then initiated by DFAT or AusAID?

Ms Thorpe: It is something that is worked together. As I said, there is a certain amount of money. I think it is $10 million that is actually the DAP program which is drawn against the AusAID budget. Then there are a number of other initiatives where we work together with them.

Senator RHIANNON: I am just trying to clarify the figures again. In the last estimates, in February, I asked a question and you took some of it on notice. I asked about a complete list of projects involving the Australia-Africa Mining Industry Group. You provided me with a comprehensive list, but it has been linked to the financial year 2012. I was unclear whether that was 2011-12 or 2012-13. It is question No. 15 on page 21 of what you supplied.

Ms Thorpe: I do not know if the area that would have responded to that is here, but we can take it on notice. I am sorry; I cannot answer that.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'take it on notice,' can we come back to that sometime during the course of the day?

Ms Thorpe: Yes, we will try to do that.

Senator RHIANNON: If that was for 2011-12, can you also supply the same information for the 2012-13 financial year?

Ms Thorpe: They might need to take that component on notice, but we will see what we can do.

Senator RHIANNON: If it could be a similar table in the way that you have laid out before? Can you take that on notice so it can be part of it? It is all right to take it on notice in a table form?

Ms Thorpe: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: I think Mr Carr would appreciate this. I come from New South Wales and if we did not ask that something go on notice, we did not get the answers back. We had to be very specific. You would remember that, Mr Carr. They would not give us the answers unless we got it down as questions on notice. Memories!

Senator Bob Carr: Sweet memories!

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, they are actually.

Senator Bob Carr: The golden era; the good old days.

Senator RHIANNON: It is nice to share them with you. We continue to be on different sides. For 2012-13, could you provide a list of projects that have received DAP program funding that are not community groups or NGOs?

Mr Varghese: That level of detail—can I take that on notice?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, please. Could that include the name of the project, the location, the company involved, and can you name any NGO that has been hired to facilitate the project?

Mr Roach: We have oversight generally for the Direct Aid Program. In terms of the question that you are posing, is that specifically in regard to Africa?

Senator RHIANNON: No, it is not just Africa. It is about the DAP program in general.

Mr Roach: The DAP program in general?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. I did not mention Africa in that question. It was just about a list of projects that have received DAP program funding that are not community groups or NGOs.

Mr Varghese: Not community groups?

Senator RHIANNON: That are not community groups or NGOs.

Mr Roach: We will do our best to answer that. The nature of the Direct Aid Program is that it funds small projects worldwide. You are talking about a very long list of projects. We will endeavour to do our best to meet with your question.

Senator RHIANNON: I thought that DAP is largely what you have said, the community programs. I am trying to identify where companies have come into it. It probably should not be a big list so therefore it is not so much work. Would that not be achievable?

Mr Roach: We will just need to go and look at a very long list in a database of projects.

CHAIR: It would be a big list.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Mr Roach: We are happy to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: In total for 2012-13, how much did DFAT grant in DAP funds and how much are you planning in 2013-14?

Mr Roach: For 2012-13, we had $7,690,000. For the next financial year that allocation has not yet been determined. We will be working with AusAID on that figure over the coming weeks.

Senator RHIANNON: 'Coming weeks'. When will it be finalised?

Mr Roach: I would imagine it would be finalised within the next six weeks.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you take it on notice to supply it before the next estimates, please?

Mr Roach: I am happy to do that.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Please provide a list of DAP projects administered in the Philippines in the last two years—and, again, could we have it as you have been setting out the other material that you have supplied us with: the name of the project, the location, the company involved and the name of any NGO that is hired to facilitate the project.

Mr Roach: Specifically in regard to projects which have a private sector involvement?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, please.

Mr Roach: Okay.

Senator RHIANNON: Is there any public list of all projects funded through DAP?

Mr Roach: No, there is no publication that is put out in the sense of an annual report or something of that nature. The projects that we do in country are often given very high public diplomacy visibility; in other words, we like to talk about what they are. There is no mystery about what the direct aid program funds and the sorts of support that we provide.

Senator RHIANNON: So if there is no mystery about it, why isn't there a public list of the money? It is seen as an important program facilitating relations and, as you have just said, it is high profile; why isn't a public list provided?

Mr Roach: When you pull together these sorts of exercises, you need to think about who your audience is. The way that it is done in countries is generally by the mission concerned. For instance, if you went to the embassy in Manila, you would not pick up a handbook that would say, 'These are all the things that we have done in the Philippines.' But, through media releases, ambassadorial visits and things of that nature, we would seek the profile to it. We refer to the way that we do the direct aid program through some of the case studies that we pull out in our annual report; but we do not provide a stand-alone 'this is what the direct aid program does' from year to year, as much as anything because the audience for that message is one overseas rather than a domestic one.

Senator RHIANNON: But, as it is Australian public money and transparency is something that is increasingly being taken up or spoken about by the government, has consideration been given to doing this?

Mr Roach: I have been in the current job for about six or seven weeks, so I cannot say whether or not we have had debates and discussions about that; possibly we have. But we also need to keep an eye on the administration around this. A lot of these grants are $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 across over 30 to 40 countries where the money is expended. You have to think about how much time and effort is going to be put into actually telling a domestic story about it, or whether we actually want to put the emphasis on the projects in the delivering country. So there is a judgement question there.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, I want to go to the national action plan on women, peace and security. I understand that DFAT is one of the departments required to implement this plan. What measures have DFAT put in place to implement the plan in Afghanistan?

Mr Varghese: I will let Ambassador Williams handle that.

Senator RHIANNON: I am interested in the measures and how it is actually going in overseas countries. Wednesday,

Ms Williams: From a very broad perspective, perhaps I can give you a run-through on what we are doing on resolution 1325 and then hand over to my colleague Jon Merrill in terms of the Security Council. If you look at the plan, the first strategy is to build 1325 into consideration across the range of policy. If you look at our annual report, we are very pleased that this year we actually have three pages that set out exactly what the department is doing across gender equality across the department, through my role and also across all divisions. So we think that we have made a really good start. We are engaged with civil society. Then, in the Security Council context, perhaps Jon Merrill can lead off on what we are doing there, and then I can flick back to some of the broader work and we can touch also on Afghanistan.

Mr Merrill: The women, peace and security agenda is an important priority for the Australian government in our term on the council. We have seen some good progress in terms of practical implementation. Provisions of 1325 are reflected in work that we have been doing on a range of mission mandates and council resolutions over the course of this year. I can take you through a few examples of that. That is specifically in relation to work on African missions. We have also done work in terms of the mandate renewal for the UNAMA mission and the work that the UN is doing in Afghanistan, and I could probably touch on that a little bit. Certainly we are working constructively with our partners on the council to ensure that UN Security Council mandates for various missions, including a number of new missions that have been established this year, have appropriate WPS provisions. The UN recently established MINUSMA mission in Mali, as an example. That mandate includes specific requirements for the UN to provide women's participation in the national dialogue and reconciliation process. That is underway now, and that is really around the whole participation side of the spectrum. There is also language in that mandate on ensuring the protection of women from armed conflict, including through the use of the expanded deployment of women protection advisers.

These are all areas that are part of our national action plan in relation to 1325. We have seen similar provisions in the recently established UN mission in Somalia, with a specific focus on promoting respect for human rights and women's empowerment, again through the provision and deployment of gender advisers and human rights advisers, and specific provisions around prevention of sexual violence and gender based violence in conflict—again, being operationalised in part through the deployment of women protection advisers.

There are a couple of examples there. For the Australian government, as penholder on Afghanistan on the council, one of our first tasks was the renewal of the UNAMA mandate in Afghanistan. That mandate, again, includes strong provisions for the work of the UN mission there, around, in the gender area, deployment of gender advisers there. That complements work that NATO and ISAF are doing. In addition there are a range of things that we are doing outside UN Security Council auspices.

Senator RHIANNON: Thanks very much for that; I know that the chair wants me to wind up. Could I also ask you how it is being coordinated with other government departments. The ADF were quite frank yesterday in saying that they have been pretty slow off the mark. When you talk to different departments, it seems to be very variable in terms of how it is progressing. Are you the point of contact? Are you driving the work between departments so that everyone is actually getting on and doing their job? How is that working?

Ms Williams: There is a working group across government. It is actually chaired by the Office for Women. They coordinated the original national action plan. Obviously, we play—and my position plays—a critical role in that, but actually, in bureaucratic terms, it is driven by the Office for Women. In terms of my role, and the normative angle of women, peace and security, I do play a role in terms of briefing other departments and getting them up to speed around some of the issues that we need to focus on. There is also a reporting process as part of the national action plan. There are reports next year and then a review the year after that.

Senator RHIANNON: Is that set out anywhere with a time line?

Ms Williams: Yes. It is set out in the national action plan, at the back.

Senator RHIANNON: What communication, if any, has DFAT had with the Mongolian government regarding the Oyu Tolgoi mine? What was the nature of these discussions?

Senator Bob Carr: I raised the attempt by the government to reopen negotiations on the arrangements for the mine when I paid my official visit to Mongolia. It is a huge investment. It is a big proportion of the economy of Mongolia. There is an issue here of the honouring of contracts. It is a legitimate commercial concern of Rio, as you know, an Australian listed company.

Senator RHIANNON: You say it is an issue of honouring contracts. What about the issue of the local people who may lose their livelihood and their land? Is that something you touched on in your talks?

Senator Bob Carr: Well, no. The government of Mongolia made a decision to approve this development. On that basis, capital was raised to proceed with the development that is going to lift the economy of Mongolia, give it a pathway to prosperity, employ local people and do considerable good for Mongolia. It is a valid concern of Rio that, having gained a development approval and locked into place a contract with the previous government, a new government is talking about reopening it. So that was a considerable concern to be pursued in the context of our bilateral relationship.

Senator RHIANNON: Local people have taken up the issue. Some have been arrested in the course of that. I am sure you are aware, Minister, that while you speak in quite glowing terms about the benefits that can flow to a low-income country like Mongolia, there are many examples around the world where low-income countries have not benefitted from mining companies close to home—Bougainville, Nigeria et cetera. That is why I was very surprised that you did not comment, because for many of the local people who are nomadic herdsmen, they are going to have their land divided. I got the impression that you have not taken up the issue or you are not aware of it. Could you expand on that, please?

Senator Bob Carr: Well, I raised this when I was in Mongolia last year, I think in September. I recall that this mine is the biggest single item of investment in Mongolia. If that country is going to enrich itself, it needs to send a message that a valid contract and a valid development approval continue beyond changes in government. The concern that Rio had was, we thought, entirely valid—namely, that having secured these agreements, a new government was seeking to reopen things. Mongolia has the opportunity to sustain a mining boom like Australia's with the benefit for its people that that would bring. One area of Australian aid is mining for development to lift the capacity of that country to develop governance and environmental and social safeguards around its mining sector. We are funding the World Bank to work with Mongolian government agencies to improve groundwater management in the main mining areas. A Mongolia mining for development program is being designed, with implementation to commence in 2014. We are supporting vulnerable communities. It will focus on supporting disadvantaged populations, working with UNICEF to improve water, sanitation and hygiene facilities for approximately 7,800 rural people. But aid like this will not drag the country forward and change its economic prospects. What will do that is private sector investment. For private sector investment to proceed, you need development certainty and the honouring of contracts. That was the Rio concern. We endorse it. We think it is a valid concern. We passed on their concerns to representatives of the Mongolian government.

Mr P. Rowe: The issue in Mongolia had been about ownership of resources. The battle had not been about the dispossession of people in Mongolia. It is a vigorous democracy. During the election campaign and leading up to the presidential campaign, the issue has been about the ownership of the resources, not about dispossession.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Minister, what communication, if any, have you or DFAT had with Rio Tinto regarding this mine? What was the nature of those discussions?

Senator Bob Carr: I would need to check the records, but I think it was raised with me by their representatives in Ulan Bator. There may have been a meeting in Canberra.

Senator RHIANNON: Is there anybody here who can elaborate, or can you take it on notice, please?

Senator Bob Carr: I am happy to take it on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: So you have spoken again about mining for development and the benefits that this will bring to the country. Again, we know that so often the profits leave the country. Did the Mongolian government attempt to introduce its own mining tax? Were any of your talks with representatives of that country about that tax?

Senator Bob Carr: It was about the conditions of the approval of the mine. What Rio wants is entirely reasonable, and that is certainty so that an approval given under one government continues as it would in any other country that is providing a reasonable investment climate given a change of government. I have not heard about this matter since—

Senator RHIANNON: So you are not aware about their mining tax that was actually overturned? The Mongolians came to Australia about the issue. You do not have information about that?

Senator Bob Carr: No. When was that?

Senator RHIANNON: In 2010.

Senator Bob Carr: In 2010?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Senator Bob Carr: I became minister in March 2012.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to ask the question to DFAT, then. The government introduces a tax of up to 68 per cent on mining profits. It is subsequently overturned. You have just informed the committee that the Australian government has spoken to the Mongolian government about providing certainty for one of the world's biggest mining multinationals. Has that, what you call certainty, resulted in a benefit to a mining company to the disadvantage of a country?

Senator Bob Carr: No. It is a huge benefit to Mongolia.

Senator RHIANNON: But if they have lost that mining tax, Minister, how are they getting the benefit?

Senator Bob Carr: I am not talking about a mining tax. I am talking about an attempt by, I think, a government elected in June last year to change the development approval, the contract that was given to Rio, for a mine that is going to vastly expand the economy of Mongolia and lift the living standards of its people.

Senator RHIANNON: So when you talk about the benefits that will flow, could you expand how you are seeing that? How is that achieved if the bulk of the profits leave Mongolia?

Senator Bob Carr: I have not been involved in this since September, but it is up to the government of Mongolia to lay out the return it wants as it gives approval. Rio argues that there is a considerable benefit to the people and government of Mongolia from the deal they have that is associated with their development approval.

Senator RHIANNON: When Rio say that to you, Minister, do you say, 'What benefits?' Can you give us details?

Senator Bob Carr: I have not revisited this since September. I am happy to get details of the benefit of the mine.

Senator RHIANNON: Of how you pursued.

Senator Bob Carr: We will get details of the benefit of the mine and share it with the committee tomorrow.

Mr P Rowe: The Mongolian government has a 34 per cent share in the mine.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. I am trying to determine—

Mr P Rowe: That is a 34 per cent share of the benefits of the mine.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. And benefits for the local people in terms of jobs to ensure that their people are not losing their livelihood and land. I would be interested to see what you have done about that.

Senator Bob Carr: The country will not be lifted to rich world status without developing its mineral resources. Both governments that we have seen in recent years in Mongolia have been aware of this. That is why they are interested in our advice and our aid in lifting their capacity to deal with the resources boom.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, would you not agree that the international mining companies have a poor record in their operations in low income countries and that that is why we need to ask these questions in great detail?

Senator Bob Carr: Rio argues that they have never signed up to a development deal that has had more benefits to a local community and to a government than for this huge mine.

Senator RHIANNON: I look forward to the answers, thank you. What DAP grants have DFAT awarded in Mongolia?

Mr P Rowe: I am sorry, what?

Senator RHIANNON: The DAP grants—the small grants that you put up?

Mr P Rowe: I would have to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Somebody was just coming up to join you. Thank you. Take it on notice. Thank you, Chair.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Minister, what communication, if any, have you or DFAT had with Rio Tinto regarding this mine? What was the nature of those discussions?

Senator Bob Carr: I would need to check the records, but I think it was raised with me by their representatives in Ulan Bator. There may have been a meeting in Canberra.

Senator RHIANNON: Is there anybody here who can elaborate, or can you take it on notice, please?

Senator Bob Carr: I am happy to take it on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: So you have spoken again about mining for development and the benefits that this will bring to the country. Again, we know that so often the profits leave the country. Did the Mongolian government attempt to introduce its own mining tax? Were any of your talks with representatives of that country about that tax?

Senator Bob Carr: It was about the conditions of the approval of the mine. What Rio wants is entirely reasonable, and that is certainty so that an approval given under one government continues as it would in any other country that is providing a reasonable investment climate given a change of government. I have not heard about this matter since—

Senator RHIANNON: So you are not aware about their mining tax that was actually overturned? The Mongolians came to Australia about the issue. You do not have information about that?

Senator Bob Carr: No. When was that?

Senator RHIANNON: In 2010.

Senator Bob Carr: In 2010?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Senator Bob Carr: I became minister in March 2012.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to ask the question to DFAT, then. The government introduces a tax of up to 68 per cent on mining profits. It is subsequently overturned. You have just informed the committee that the Australian government has spoken to the Mongolian government about providing certainty for one of the world's biggest mining multinationals. Has that, what you call certainty, resulted in a benefit to a mining company to the disadvantage of a country?

Senator Bob Carr: No. It is a huge benefit to Mongolia.

Senator RHIANNON: But if they have lost that mining tax, Minister, how are they getting the benefit?

Senator Bob Carr: I am not talking about a mining tax. I am talking about an attempt by, I think, a government elected in June last year to change the development approval, the contract that was given to Rio, for a mine that is going to vastly expand the economy of Mongolia and lift the living standards of its people.

Senator RHIANNON: So when you talk about the benefits that will flow, could you expand how you are seeing that? How is that achieved if the bulk of the profits leave Mongolia?

Senator Bob Carr: I have not been involved in this since September, but it is up to the government of Mongolia to lay out the return it wants as it gives approval. Rio argues that there is a considerable benefit to the people and government of Mongolia from the deal they have that is associated with their development approval.

Senator RHIANNON: When Rio say that to you, Minister, do you say, 'What benefits?' Can you give us details?

Senator Bob Carr: I have not revisited this since September. I am happy to get details of the benefit of the mine.

Senator RHIANNON: Of how you pursued.

Senator Bob Carr: We will get details of the benefit of the mine and share it with the committee tomorrow.

Mr P Rowe: The Mongolian government has a 34 per cent share in the mine.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. I am trying to determine—

Mr P Rowe: That is a 34 per cent share of the benefits of the mine.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. And benefits for the local people in terms of jobs to ensure that their people are not losing their livelihood and land. I would be interested to see what you have done about that.

Senator Bob Carr: The country will not be lifted to rich world status without developing its mineral resources. Both governments that we have seen in recent years in Mongolia have been aware of this. That is why they are interested in our advice and our aid in lifting their capacity to deal with the resources boom.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, would you not agree that the international mining companies have a poor record in their operations in low income countries and that that is why we need to ask these questions in great detail?

Senator Bob Carr: Rio argues that they have never signed up to a development deal that has had more benefits to a local community and to a government than for this huge mine.

Senator RHIANNON: I look forward to the answers, thank you. What DAP grants have DFAT awarded in Mongolia?

Mr P Rowe: I am sorry, what?

Senator RHIANNON: The DAP grants—the small grants that you put up?

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, you have the call.

Senator RHIANNON: Thanks, Senator Ludlam, and thank you, Chair. Minister, I understand that at the moment a national census is currently underway directed by the Ministry of Immigration and Population and supported by the UN Population Fund. I understand that Australia has some role within that fund. Has DFAT, through our representatives, made representations to the government to ensure that this census fully complies with international standards, is non-discriminatory and covers all populations, including the Rohingya?

Senator Bob Carr: We will have to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you also take on notice, as part of that question, to make part of the representations the need to involve people from different communities like the Rohingya to be employed to conduct the census in those areas?

Senator Bob Carr: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the Australian government taken up the discriminatory issue that the Rohingya women are required to adhere to a two-child policy while this does not apply to other people in Burma?

Senator Bob Carr: According to information I have had in the last two days, there are reports that two local government entities in, I presume, Rakhine province are attempting to apply it. I will confirm that our mission has raised the strongest possible objection to the discriminatory application of a two-child policy.

Senator RHIANNON: So you will come back to us about that?

Senator Bob Carr: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you understand that it is the rainy season there and there are some quite appalling living conditions. Could you outline any steps that have been taken to ensure that the aid program is delivering adequate accommodation so people are not living under very wet and unsafe circumstances?

Senator Bob Carr: I will take that on notice. When we are talking about aid tomorrow, I will endeavour to give a full account. We will send that message through to the AusAID people.

Mr Cox: As I said in my earlier evidence, Senator, Senator Carr just announced further humanitarian assistance for Rakhine, including, I think, further assistance for humanitarian relief in the IDP camps. This is in addition to the significant humanitarian assistance we had already provided—almost $6 million to date for relief of people in those camps. So the government has been actively involved in that. But AusAID can provide further detail tomorrow.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Have representations been made to allow unhindered access for humanitarian organisations to all the detention facilities in Arakan state that are holding persons in connection with some of the disturbances involving the Rohingya community?

Senator Bob Carr: I do not know. But if they have not, I will see that they are.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Minister. Are you aware of issues to do with the 1982 citizenship law to eliminate provisions that are discriminatory or have a discriminatory impact on determining citizenship for reasons of ethnicity, race, religion or other protected status, and that this is one of the laws left over from the period of the generals? Is this something that DFAT is making representations on and working with the government to change?

Senator Bob Carr: Yes. We have made representations about the statelessness of the Rohingyas.

Senator RHIANNON: So would that come down to ensuring that citizens are recognised or citizenship comes without discrimination, that it is all equal?

Senator Bob Carr: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: So what measures are DFAT working on in that capacity, please?

Senator Bob Carr: I think we will be able to confirm when we get back to you that our mission has made representations about the Rohingyas that have included this at the top of the agenda.

Mr Cox: Basically, the measures are advocacy. The ambassador and members of the embassy, in discussion with Myanmar authorities in Naypyidaw, are advocating for a review or reconsideration of this alongside other issues, arguing that the Myanmar authorities ought to be looking afresh at this policy.

Senator RHIANNON: I was interested in getting some more detail there, particularly on the rights of the child. I understand that there is a quite disturbing situation that some young Rohingya people and their families find themselves in. They can be deemed to be stateless. Article 7 of the convention on the rights of the child sets out that children have the right to acquire a nationality. Have representations been made on that point?

Senator Bob Carr: We will have to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, over to you on Laos.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, when we were together last we did speak about the disturbing case of Sombath Somphone. Could you update us on the nature of the discussions you had about this case when you met the Prime Minister and the foreign minister in Laos in February?

Senator Bob Carr: I said to the three ministers that he had a lot of supporters in Australia and that this was of great concern to the world community. I said we were distressed that there could be parts of the government of Laos that knew more about his fate than was known publicly. I spoke to his wife by phone to tell her I would press these representations in all three meetings. Simon Crean took up the case when he was there in April this year. It remains of great concern that there is no account of his status. I can understand the alarm and apprehension his wife must feel all these months after.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Minister. So since that work was undertaken, could you update us on any further actions DFAT personnel have pursued with the Laos authorities regarding the investigation?

Senator Bob Carr: I will get details of the representations they have been making this year.

Senator RHIANNON: So you will take that on notice?

Senator Bob Carr: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: What measures is Australia taking to ensure the safety of Laos civil society partners who are working in sustainable participatory rural development in Laos, which is the area where Mr Sombath Somphone was working?

Senator Bob Carr: I will take that on notice as well.

Mr Cox: I could add that we do take up the human rights situation in Laos more generally on a consistent basis with the Laos government. We have a human rights dialogue with Laos, which we undertook last year in 2012. We are due for another round of Laos human rights talks. The Laos are willing to engage with us on a range of human rights concerns and issues. We have urged them to abolish the death penalty. We have urged Laos authorities to strengthen the commitment and understanding of human rights norms at central and local level to build the rule of law. We are providing, again through AusAID, funds for human rights training awareness and capacity building. Human rights are an important part of our broader dialogue through both our embassy and through engagement by our officials with Laos officials.

Senator RHIANNON: Is there more detail? Are you getting to the point where you are actually working with them on strengthening the rule of law and developing downwardly accountable governance? You have covered human rights, but I am interested in how you are doing it, if you are getting to that point. It appears that there have been some backward steps by the government with regard to respect for human rights.

Mr Cox: Perhaps, again, this is a question best for AusAID about exactly what programs they are funding. Certainly we would work with partners, both national and international, to provide training in human rights instruments and training to help judges and others—members of the security forces—to better understand what international human rights norms are all about. So a lot of it would be awareness raising. We would do that usually through funding partners on the ground and usually NGOs working in that space. They would be the sort of activities. AusAID could perhaps give further details of that tomorrow.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Mr Cox. Minister, will the Australian department of foreign affairs issue a formal state of concern on the disappearance of Sombath Somphone?

Senator Bob Carr: I will take advice on that. I thought that effectively we had done that in terms of my public comments after— Wednesday, 5 June 2013 Senate Page 77

FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE

 

Senator RHIANNON: Maybe I will ask it in a different way. I imagine that DFAT has a process when these issues arise. You are then making public statements. Have you gone to the highest point? That is where I am trying to get to.

Senator Bob Carr: I will take advice from our head of mission on whether any statement of a different character would be useful. I have no inhibitions about raising our concerns to another level.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I understand that yesterday you received a letter signed by Dr James Arvanitakis and 41 other academics that sets out the disturbing issues around the abduction of Mr Sombath Somphone. It says at the end:

We have seen the limits of a quiet approach and now appeal to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to take a more assertive stand on Sombath Somphone’s disappearance following the lead of public statements made by the United States Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, and the resolution on the case of Sombath Somphone passed by the European Parliament in February 2013. Since Australia is a major aid donor to the Laos PDR and recognising the dreadful example set—

I understand you only received the letter yesterday, but could you outline how you are going to respond to that call?

Senator Bob Carr: I have not seen the letter.

Mr Cox: I am not aware of the letter either.

Senator Bob Carr: But thank you for drawing my attention to it. I am happy to formulate a response.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

 

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