Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee
Estimates hearings 18 October 2012
- Senator RHIANNON
- Mr Baxter
- Mr Brazier
- Mr Tranter
- Mr Batley
- Senator KROGER
- Senator EGGLESTON
- Senator Conroy
- Mr Dawson
Senator RHIANNON: To assist my understanding when I read your document—when you talk about ODA funding, does that include ODA eligible projects?
Mr Baxter : ODA eligibility is decided in accordance, as I think you know, with the guidelines of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD. ODA funding means that whatever program is using that funding has been judged to meet the guidelines of the OECD.
Senator RHIANNON: I appreciate that, but last night I was speaking to Defence and they kept on correcting me, saying 'ODA eligible'. Therefore I was left with a sizeable amount of money. When I read your documents, I come across the term 'ODA funding'. Does that include ODA eligible funding which might come under Defence, AFP or any other department?
Mr Baxter : It does to the extent that, for the last two years now, we have included in what we call the blue book details of the aid funding, the ODA funding, that has been received by other departments and agencies apart from AusAID—the Federal Police, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship et cetera. That is in the back of that document. That funding has been given to those departments and agencies for activities that have been judged to be consistent with the guidelines of the OECD as legitimate uses of aid funding. Sometimes agencies and departments will undertake an activity only part of which can be funded through the aid program, because only part of it is eligible.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I think in answer to Senator Kroger's question you said that the aid to Latin America stands at about one per cent.
Mr Baxter : Less—Latin America and the Caribbean combined.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, it comes in at less than one per cent of ODA today. But can you confirm that the Latin American-Caribbean aid was nought per cent in 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09 and, since 2008-09— 2008 being the year the bid started for the United Nations Security Council—the total amount of aid given is just under $170 million?
Mr Baxter : Senator, the government made a four-year commitment of $60 million to the Caribbean and $100 to Latin America.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, so it is about that figure. I think that is important in the context of saying there is just one per cent. On Africa, in the year 2007-08, the figure I have seen is that aid to Africa was at $94 million and has steadily increased since that all-important year of 2008, standing at $354.6 million this year. Is that the case?
Mr Baxter : The first thing I would say before answering your question is that the overall aid program has increased markedly since 2006-07 because the government, as part of its election campaign, committed to increasing the overall size of the Australian aid budget to 0.5 per cent of Australia's gross national income. That, in effect, was a commitment to double the aid program over a period of several years. So there has been fast growth in every area of the Australian aid program over the period that you mention. In respect of the Africa program, we break down Africa into sub-Saharan Africa, and North Africa and the Middle East. Combined, those two regions were five per cent of the program in 2006-07 and then nine per cent of the program combined in 2012-13.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. In responding to Senator Kroger, did you say that, in terms of the future of aid to Latin America, it should level out?
Mr Baxter : Yes. There was a recommendation made in the independent review of aid effectiveness that our aid to Latin America and the Caribbean not increase, and it has not increased. It has stayed the same since the government made that commitment of $60 million over four years to the Caribbean and $100 over four years to Latin America.
Senator RHIANNON: I actually saw it had recommended—and maybe again it is the delights of the English language and how one interprets it—a phasing out of programs. The independent review said that there was:
… little case for further country program aid to Latin America and the Caribbean. This is a relatively prosperous region, not of great strategic importance for Australia.
That is why I have understood that people have interpreted that as phasing out the programs.
Mr Baxter : The independent review made a number of recommendations around allocations to particular regions. Budget matters are matters ultimately for the government. The government took account of the recommendations of the review, but it is for government to decide how to allocate the budget.
Senator RHIANNON: What is AusAID's involvement with the Direct Aid Program?
Mr Baxter : We provide some advice to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the issue of ODA eligibility. So, if there are particular programs that they may have concerns about whether or not they are suitable to be funded using aid funds, then we can provide them with that advice. But the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade develops its own guidelines around the expenditure of the Direct Aid Program.
Senator RHIANNON: Does that mean you therefore do play some role in making the final decision about what grants will be funded?
Mr Baxter : No, we play no role. It would only be if a particular project was referred by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to AusAID for an opinion as to whether or not that project was eligible for aid funding under the OECD guidelines.
Senator RHIANNON: Does that often happen?
Mr Baxter : I cannot recall one in my three and a bit years in AusAID. Other colleagues may have other advice. But this is very much a longstanding program and there is a very good understanding within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of what is in and what is out, if you like.
Senator RHIANNON: Right. What are AusAID's links with the Australia-Africa Mining Industry Group?
Mr Baxter : Beyond having the odd conversation with some of the members, we do not have any formal relationship with them.
Senator RHIANNON: So there is no working group with AAMIG?
Mr Baxter : No, there is not.
Senator RHIANNON: With regard to some of the projects under DA Program, because you have obviously signed off on them, confident that they qualify for ODA, how have you judged those projects that DAP has funded where they are in conjunction with mining companies, which often engage in projects in mining-impacted areas?
Mr Baxter : We do not get asked to pass judgement on them. They are decisions that are made, ultimately, by the heads of mission in the relevant embassy or high commission, and those decisions are entirely for DFAT. On AusAID's part—just to be very clear, on the record—we have not provided financial, in-kind or any other support to AAMIG.
Senator RHIANNON: I refer to one of the discussion papers that you have released this year with regard to partnerships between the mining sector, governments and civil society, which states: 'AusAID will not subsidise corporate social responsibility programs of miners or other work that would have occurred without AusAID's support.' So that is your policy position. You have said that your job with DAP is to ensure that these projects are ODA compliant. If DAP funding has gone into projects that support the corporate social responsibility initiatives of mining companies, as in a range of projects in local communities, wouldn't that be going against that policy position that came out this year?
Mr Baxter : The policy position that you are referring to governs the way in which we, AusAID, use our funding to help countries—and I emphasise we are about helping countries—develop their extractive industry sector. We do not provide funding to mining companies and we have no intention, under the Mining for Development Initiative, to do so. I understand that DFAT have agreed to fund a number of projects where mining companies have also contributed to those projects, but there is nothing in the OECD Development Assistance Committee's guidelines that would make that an illegitimate use of aid funding. That is a legitimate use of aid funding as long as the project itself is geared towards providing a benefit to the developing country that it is being implemented in.
Senator RHIANNON: But, considering it is widely recognised in Australia and internationally that mining companies have to carry out their own corporate social responsibility, and considering you have that clear policy, don't we have a grey area here that needs to at least be considered by AusAID to ensure that your funding is not compromised in any way?
Mr Baxter : This is funding that has been given to DFAT, and they are responsible for making decisions on its implementation in accordance with the OECD guidelines. But in no sense do AusAID police DFAT's expenditure. That is a matter for DFAT.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that, because that appears to contradict what you said at the start of my questions about DAP, that AusAID's role was to ensure that it was ODA compliant. If I have misunderstood, I apologise, but that is what I understood you had said.
Mr Baxter : What I also said is that, if DFAT has made a decision to support a project that a mining company has also provided funding for, that is perfectly fine and in accordance with the rules of the OECD, as long as that project delivers a benefit to the people living in that developing country.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you not recognise that there may be some challenges there for AusAID in determining if it is ODA eligible because of this factor of corporate social responsibility being the responsibility of mining companies, not something that aid money should be spent on?
Mr Baxter : I have no visibility of the details of these particular projects that DFAT has provided funding to and that mining companies have also contributed to.
Senator RHIANNON: So DAP has funded a project that Paladin Energy Ltd has also contributed to, and Paladin have been implicated in serious labour and environmental abuses in Africa and are currently the subject of allegations of corruption in Malawi. If such information was presented to you—and you have acknowledged that AusAID has this responsibility with DAP—would that be something that you would investigate to ensure that you had not made a wrong decision?
Mr Baxter : No, we would not investigate, because we have no role in the decision making. This is funding that is DFAT's responsibility. It would be the responsibility of the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to look into any such matters. As I have said to you, our only role in this is whether or not it meets the OECD guidelines. Those guidelines do not go to the matters that you have raised—they are much more narrow than that. They are talking about demonstrating the benefit to the developing country of the investment of ODA funds.
Senator RHIANNON: Thanks, Mr Baxter. I did want to move on to private contractors and I certainly did want to welcome AusAID's recent policy statements and efforts of transparency and engagement with civil society. It is certainly regularly raised with me when I meet with aid organisations. Is AusAID planning on outsourcing the management of the Mekong programs and partnerships with an Australian non-profit civil society organisation to a private contracting company?
Mr Baxter : I will just asked my colleague Mr Brazier, but I am not familiar with this. I am certainly not aware of us outsourcing. Do you have any more details, Senator?
Senator RHIANNON: No, it has been raised with me that this could happen, so I took the opportunity while we were together to raise it.
Mr Brazier : I am not familiar with the activity that you refer to.
Senator RHIANNON: So there are no plans to outsource the management of any of your partnerships with Australian non-profit civil society organisations?
Mr Baxter : No. We have a partnership arrangement with the Australian Council for International Development, and now with eight of its larger members. These are multi-year agreements which have multi-year funding attached to them. We are in the process of finalising negotiations for our next four-year agreement with those organisations, and we do that directly.
Senator RHIANNON: And specifically on the AusAID-NGO Cooperation Program—you will continue to look after that?
Mr Baxter : Absolutely.
Senator RHIANNON: Chair, I just seek your advice. I have questions on the National Food Plan green paper. Should I ask them now?
CHAIR: I am not sure that that is relevant to AusAID, but you can try it now.
Senator RHIANNON: Was AusAID involved in the draft of the green paper as part of the National Food Plan?
Mr Baxter : Not that I am aware, no.
Senator RHIANNON: Does AusAID have a role in the formulation of Australia's national food strategy with respect to our role in ensuring global food security?
Mr Baxter : No, our focus is on food security in developing countries. My understanding is that the green paper is focused solely on domestic food security issues.
Senator RHIANNON: Will AusAID be ensuring that this strategy reflects the burgeoning recognition that empowering small-scale farming to be successful in low income countries is an essential ingredient to future food security? Would that sum up your approach?
Mr Baxter : We certainly believe that doing more to assess smallholder farmers is absolutely an essential part of building stronger food security in developing countries, yes.
[ . . . ]
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. The foreign minister, in response to a question I asked him in the Senate about the use of foreign aid to manage people seeking asylum in this country, stated:
It could well be that there are areas of support for asylum seekers where, according to the international tests, that is considered appropriate and other areas where it would not be appropriate.
Can you confirm that no aid money will go to building, staffing or maintaining detention centres on Nauru or Manus Island?
Mr Baxter : The financial implications of implementing the recommendations of the Houston panel report, including the impact on the ODA budget, are still being considered by government. But, as Senator Bob Carr said, there may well be legitimate costs associated with the response that are ODA eligible.
Senator RHIANNON: So, considering what is ODA eligible and considering you always give emphasis to the rules in terms of how this money is used, I ask again: can you confirm that no aid money will go to building, staffing or maintaining detention centres on Nauru or Manus Island? Or can you confirm what aspects of the detention centres in those locations will not receive any aid money?
Mr Baxter : Okay. At those offshore facilities, upgrades to infrastructure that may benefit the local population, or where a portion of them may benefit the local population, are eligible to be funded with ODA—
Senator RHIANNON: Are you referring to buildings that would be used for the detention centre?
Mr Baxter : No, I am referring to the public infrastructure. So it is things—
Senator RHIANNON: That are separate from the detention centre.
Mr Baxter : like you have to build a bigger water supply because the population on the island is larger: the local community gets a benefit because they get a better water supply than was there previously. You can work out what proportion of that cost can be attributed to the benefit to the local community and you can have some of that expenditure classified as being eligible for ODA funding. But the general principle is that those are costs that confer a benefit on the populations of the island is concerned. That is probably the broadest way of looking at it. So the buildings that house the detainees themselves would not be ODA eligible. But, if there was a big hospital that had to be built that benefited the local community, a proportion of that hospital could be booked as ODA.
Senator RHIANNON: Okay. Thank you. Could you take on notice to provide the committee with a breakdown of the funding committed to Nauru for the last four years and to Manus Island for the last four years—what the programs were and the amounts? Could you take that on notice, please.
Mr Baxter : Certainly.
Senator RHIANNON: Just to expand on your description of where money can be used to interact with asylum seekers, will any of the existing funding be used for migration management?
Mr Baxter : Senator, what do you define as 'migration management'?
Senator RHIANNON: I acknowledge it is a broad term, and that is why I am trying to understand. We have two islands here, and people will be moving around the islands. So, again, can aid money be used to facilitate the movement or relocation of asylum seekers in any way on those islands?
Mr Baxter : I am not trying to be unhelpful but it is difficult to know without more precision around your question, because there are issues of interpretation that are related to specific elements of expenditure. But if your question is, for instance, 'Can the staffing of the processing centres be claimed as ODA,' the answer to that is no. Can the physical infrastructure be classified as ODA? The answer to that is no if it does not confer a benefit directly on the local population.
Senator RHIANNON: So can you confirm whether money will be spent—and, if so, how much—either directly on or in relation to the government's regional processing plan for refugees, or on any other measures suggested by the Houston report?
Mr Baxter : No, Senator, because those decisions are before the government at the moment. AusAID is not the lead agency on this; as you would imagine, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I turn to Solomon Islands. Considering the high levels of deforestation in Solomon Islands, is AusAID looking to the Mining for Development Initiative or other support to develop mining as a viable industry after logging, as something you judge would assist the islands?
Mr Baxter : Senator, your comment on the rate of deforestation is of course correct. It is a significant problem for Solomon Islands in the years ahead, in that that renewable resource will be gone and the revenue for government from it will be gone. There is, as I think you are aware, a goldmine on Guadalcanal which was closed during the period of detentions, which is, as I understand it, being reopened. There has been some activity by some mining companies looking at deposits in other parts of Solomon Islands, although I am not aware of any active development. The Solomon Islands government, to my knowledge, has not come to us and requested assistance with developing their mining sector; and, as I said earlier, we respond to requests from governments that want to develop their natural resources. I do not know if Mr Tranter has any other information that is different from that—
Mr Tranter : No. That is correct.
Mr Baxter : but they have not come to us and asked us, so it is not a part of our partnership for development.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you need to take that on notice, to check?
Mr Baxter : No. The four people who deal with Solomons are all at the table.
Senator RHIANNON: What is AusAID's involvement with communities that are impacted by logging? I am particularly interested in whether you are providing any assistance to combat the worrying trend of the commercial sexual exploitation of children in areas that have been logged.
Mr Baxter : I will ask Mr Tranter if he knows anything about that. I am sure we do provide assistance to communities that have been affected by logging, but the second part of your question, about the exploitation of children, is something Mr Batley or Mr Tranter might have an answer for.
Mr Batley : Senator, the question of sexual exploitation of children is one that has come to the attention of the police authorities in Solomons over a number of years, and I am aware that it is an issue that has been pursued by the police. So it is not something that AusAID specifically has been involved in. But I think, under the RAMSI program, it is something that has been the subject of discussion between the participating police force sent by Pacific island countries, including Australia, and the Solomon Islands police.
Senator RHIANNON: There is a report out, by Tania Herbert, that identifies it as a recent problem in Solomon Islands. Understandably, it says that, if one can stop this in the early stages, one has a much greater chance of eliminating it. So it sounds like you are aware of it, but is it something that AusAID, in terms of the aid that you are delivering to that country, would be giving attention to in terms of (1) ensuring that terrible trade stops and (2) looking at ways to assist locals to manage their forests in a sustainable way so they do not get caught up with these overseas loggers, who are the main perpetrators of these crimes?
Mr Baxter : To the extent that you are referring to criminal activity such as sexual exploitation, that is a matter for the law and order authorities in Solomon Islands. On the broader question of Solomon Islands' natural resources, natural endowment, I think the focus of our work, including through the regional assistance mission, has been to strengthen the capacity of the central agencies in Solomon Islands, such as the finance ministry, to manage and set priorities for Solomon Islands. But forestry specifically has not been a sector in which we have been involved in recent years.
Senator RHIANNON: Is there any reason that you make that judgement, considering it dominates the economy so considerably and as it has been so clear that the industry is winding down and so much of the government's revenue will start to dry up? Why did AusAID choose not to work on that industry?
Mr Batley : Because we have been so closely involved in the central agencies, particularly in the finance ministry, we have certainly been deeply involved in the work of looking at the impact of that industry on national finances and looking at the projections of future government revenue and therefore drawing to the attention of government the need to consider their future financial situation in light of the gradual decline of that industry. The sector itself is not one that the government has sought our assistance in.
Senator RHIANNON: So where do you see the future going? It sounds like you are giving advice about the development of the economy of the Solomon Islands—does a point not come where you are actually advising them on what their future industries are? Is that your role?
Mr Batley : The advice that external advisers put to the government is information about the options and choices that Solomon Islanders, as policymakers, are going to have to make.
Senator RHIANNON: What are those options that you have put to them?
Mr Batley : I cannot give you an answer on that question but what I am saying is that the advice is that over the course of perhaps the next decade government revenue from logging will decline.
Senator RHIANNON: So why can you not tell us what the options are?
Mr Batley : I simply am not enough across the detail of that work.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you take that on notice, please.
Mr Batley : Certainly.
CHAIR: You mentioned the recent Papua New Guinea elections. I understand three women were elected to the PNG parliament and also there were a significant number of women candidates. How did Australian government funding assist women to get elected to the PNG parliament?
Mr Baxter : I know some of the candidates were recipients of Australian training assistance, both the programs that we support through the United Nations Development Program and more directly, and I know from my recent visit that at least one of the three candidates attributed a significant element of her success to that leadership and electoral training. We were delighted to see three women elected. As you said, there were probably at least another three who came second in their contests, so we could have had up to six—and that was going from one before—when there was a concern that perhaps we would not see any women elected. One of those three women elected has been made the minister responsible for community development and youth, and I know Senator McLucas met all three of the successful women candidates when she was in Papua New Guinea earlier this month. We hope that that is the start of a trend. I know the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, the Hon. Peter O'Neil, is also very pleased to see that and he has, as I say, appointed one of the women as a minister in his government.
As you know, the Prime Minister announced a major new initiative on gender in the Pacific region at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Rarotonga not too long ago. It is a $320 million initiative over 10 years. One of the key components of that initiative is to work in the individual countries in the Pacific to have more women elected to positions of leadership at both the community level and hopefully the national level.
We have committed to developing country-specific programs for each of the Pacific Island countries because the context will differ as to what will work. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Cook Islands are the first three countries we are prioritising, and we will have their country strategies in place by the end of this year and we will have all country strategies in place by the next Pacific Islands Forum, which will be held in the Marshall Islands next year. One of the things that we are going to do is set up a mentoring program between Australian female politicians and their counterparts in the Pacific Islands. That kind of direct mentoring can be very effective.
Senator KROGER: Has the $320 million that you just mentioned come out of the existing budget or is that out of future funds?
Mr Baxter : It is based on our projected growth in the aid budget. Obviously it is unusual to have a 10-year program, but the government did that very deliberately because we know it is going to take at least that long particularly on issues like attitudinal change. We have the forward estimates and the Comprehensive Aid Policy Framework which cover the next four years. It will be within that budget envelope and the growth—
Senator KROGER: I am hoping you can assure me that it is not including existing programs that we are rebadging and putting under a broader title.
Mr Baxter : No, this is all going to be new funding.
Senator EGGLESTON: I have a question about what was called the climate change voyage. According to media reports, AusAID funded a canoe voyage from Manus Island in Papua New Guinea through the Pacific region, and the two-month voyage had the objective of raising awareness of climate change and inspiring community-based adaptation action. Do you know about this?
Mr Baxter : No, we do not. We will take that on notice—none of us are aware of it.
Senator EGGLESTON: The questions are: did Australia provide funds for this voyage and if so how much; how will AusAID assess the outcome of the voyage; what steps are in place to verify whether it has delivered what it said it would; and are there any KPIs to assess whether this use of taxpayer money has been worthwhile, and if so can they be provided in detail.
Mr Baxter : We will certainly do that.
CHAIR: We are done with PNG and the Pacific, and will move onto program 1.2, East Asia.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering reports that nearly two million acres of farmland in Burma has been seized by authorities from farmers and redistributed to over 200 companies and that this has left thousands of farmers with no land or livelihood, what steps is Australia taking to ensure Australian investment in Burma is not compounding poverty in that country?
Mr Baxter : That is a question that is best directed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. AusAID does not get involved in investment policy.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you outline any of the AusAID programs in Burma that address human rights issues in that country.
Mr Baxter : I will ask my colleague Mr Brazier to do that.
Mr Brazier : The three key pillars of our program in Myanmar are education, health and rural development. We do, however, have an interest in promoting democracy and are looking into support for Myanmar's parliament and associated activities in the area of good governance. I am not aware of activities beyond the good governance area specifically addressing human rights issues at this time.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you take it on notice if there are other government departments that would have ODA eligible funding that may be covering such programs?
Mr Baxter : We are happy to take that on notice. We do of course provide humanitarian relief and we have been doing so for some years, including in those areas that have been affected by conflict in Rakhine, including the Rohingya people who have been impacted by that conflict.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Could I move on to Cambodia. I would like to start with the AusAID country strategy. It states:
Land management processes in Cambodia, which impinge on many facets of development, need significant strengthening. The pre-conditions are not present for us to directly re-engage in this arena and be effective.
Could you explain what that last sentence means, please.
Mr Brazier : Do you mean in the area of land reform?
Senator RHIANNON: I am not sure. It comes from the Australia-Cambodia Joint Aid Program Strategy 2010-2015, on page 10. I was just trying to understand what you meant.
Mr Brazier : I am sorry; I do not have that document in front of me, but I can confirm that land issues in Cambodia are, and have been for some time, a very difficult problem, and many donors and international NGOs have tried in the past to work on that subject and encountered difficulties.
Senator RHIANNON: Because there is this ongoing issue about land disputes, a number of other countries and their aid agencies are urging respect for human rights. They are taking that up quite strongly and calling for respect for the rule of law. Has AusAID considered adding its voice to theirs in its engagement with the Cambodian government?
Mr Brazier : I think that is a policy handled by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Senator Conroy: That is probably more of a policy question. I am happy to take it on notice and see if Mr Carr has anything he would like to add.
Senator RHIANNON: I would appreciate your taking it on notice. I did want to add that aid agencies from some European countries have been raising this directly, but I appreciate your point and if you could take that on notice it would be useful. Is AusAID reconsidering its engagement with the Cambodian government in light of the escalation of human rights abuses?
Mr Baxter : No. We have an ongoing program in Cambodia. As the minister has said, we are concerned about human rights, and our embassy and our ambassador in Cambodia raise issues as they arise and express the views of the Australian government on those issues, but we are continuing to implement our programs, because our programs are aimed at bringing benefit to the people in Cambodia living in poverty rather than aimed at supporting the government.
Senator RHIANNON: That actually provides an interesting lead-in to my next question. Earlier this month, it was reported that families resettled by the AusAID funded Cambodia Railway Rehabilitation Project have filed a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission. The complaint alleges that they have suffered serious violations of their human rights as a result of resettlement under this project. I understand the allegations include that the Australian government failed to uphold its international human rights obligations in that it provided significant funding to the project without taking sufficient measures to safeguard against breaches of human rights. Will AusAID defend itself against these allegations?
Mr Baxter : Based on advice we have received from the Australian Government Solicitor, in the circumstances and out of deference to the Australian Human Rights Commission and the important function it carries out, we do not consider to it appropriate to comment on this matter in any detail beyond stating that the government does not accept the correctness of a number of the factual assertions made in the complaint and that it is firmly of the view that the decision to fund the project did not involve, or amount to, an act or practice which is inconsistent with, or contrary to, human rights.
Senator RHIANNON: Will you defend the case?
Mr Baxter : There is no decision yet made, as far as I am aware, by the Australian Human Rights Commission as to whether or not the complaint falls within their jurisdiction. My understanding is that that would be the first step.
Senator RHIANNON: My understanding is that, when they take their first step in responding to this complaint, AusAID will have the right to put in a submission. Is that how the process works?
Mr Baxter : As I understand it, there are a couple of options available to the Human Rights Commission. For instance, they might make a decision based around a call for mediation. I think that, depending on what their judgement is, there are a number of steps they can take. We do not want to pay any disrespect to that process. But I would say this generally about the program—it is one we keep under constant and close supervision.
Senator RHIANNON: You are referring to the railways project in Cambodia?
Mr Baxter : Yes. The resettlement of people for infrastructure projects is difficult wherever you do it. It is particularly difficult in the context which applies in Cambodia. We have gone to considerable lengths to try and address issues relating to the resettlement of people who have been affected by the railway development.
Senator RHIANNON: When do you expect to hear from the Human Rights Commission about your options with respect to this complaint?
Mr Baxter : The answer is that we do not know. The complaint was lodged a short period of time ago. We will obviously stand by for advice from the Human Rights Commission.
[ . . . ]
Senator RHIANNON: A question on notice, question No. 2128, concerns some questions I asked about demolition orders on possible aid projects in Palestine. The foreign minister stated: 'The Australian government is aware of reports that demolition orders were issued in June 2012 against approximately 50 structures in Susya village, south Hebron. Two of these structures are tents funded by AusAID through a $2,500 grant to ActionAid Australia under the AusAID NGO Cooperation Program in 2012. One tent houses the local preschool for 35 children and the other tent houses a local health clinic which provides 60 medical consultations per week for women and the elderly.' The foreign minister goes on: 'Australia has expressed concern to the Israeli authorities about the proposed demolitions and is committed to working with the Israeli authorities to find a solution which avoids demolition of these structures.' Could you outline what work was undertaken with the Israeli authorities and if it was successful in finding a solution to avoid demolition?
Mr Baxter : You are very up to date on this issue and, as you say, we have expressed our concern to the Israeli authorities about the proposed demolition. Australia's Ambassador to Israel raised the matter with the Israeli foreign ministry on 2 July. I am not aware of this issue actually being resolved, but I will ask Mr Dawson if he has any further information.
Mr Dawson : I think it was raised with the Israeli authorities on 2 July, again on 4 July and again on 30 July. So that is three times altogether. As far as we are aware, no action has been taken on the demolition of the structures, but there is an issue in front of the courts in Israel brought by a settler organisation at the moment. The tenor of the representations which have been made to the government of Israel has been about the significant humanitarian implications of the demolitions. We are aware as well that some other donors have been advocating the introduction of some kind of building master plan for communities in the area that may provide some possible way forward, but at the moment it is basically the status quo. The structures remain but they are said to be illegal structures and the registration process for them has proven very difficult for the communities.
Senator RHIANNON: What does the Australian government see as its next move? You said that they have contacted the Israeli authorities on three occasions. Could you first share with us what the response of the Israeli government was in those discussions, and what is the next step that the Australian government proposes to take considering these aid projects appear to still be under a threat of demolition?
Mr Dawson : This is part of a much larger picture of structures in the area, with representations being made to the Israeli authorities from a number of other donors. I think it is going to be best if Australia continues to work with other donors in bringing the issues to the attention of the Israeli authorities.
Senator RHIANNON: Who are the other donors we are working with, please?
Mr Dawson : I cannot give you a list of that at the moment. We can take that on notice. But certainly the European donors have been quite heavily involved in this issue.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, if you could take that on notice. What was the response of the Israeli government when you spoke to them or when representatives spoke to them?
Mr Dawson : It was a conversation where they understood the issues that were being put but were also obligated to respond that they viewed the structures as illegal structures.
Senator RHIANNON: They viewed the aid projects as illegal structures?
Mr Dawson : The structures, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Moving on to Afghanistan, I understand that AusAID recognises that the need to support the electoral process in Afghanistan is very important. What portion of the aid budget for Afghanistan is being spent on support for the electoral process?
Mr Baxter : We have in preparation a major new program to support the 2014 presidential elections and the subsequent parliamentary elections. We expect to contribute to a broader multidonor effort to strengthen the institutional capacity of the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission. We are currently looking at something like $30 million over four years.
Senator RHIANNON: Does your work in this area take into account recommendation 15 of the International Crisis Group report Talking about talks: toward a political settlement in Afghanistan, which sets out the need to:
Condition aid for future Afghan elections on the repeal of the February 2010 presidential decree on the electoral law, rationalisation of the electoral calendar and an overhaul of the voter registry, to include a redrawing of electoral constituencies to make them more responsive to present-day demographics and geographic divisions.
That is a quote from that publication. Is your work in the context of that recommendation?
Mr Baxter : No, it is not. It is part of our ongoing discussion with our partner donors and the Afghan government. There is broad recognition, certainly within the international community and within the Afghanistan government, that credible, inclusive and transparent elections are an important platform for improved governance and human rights in Afghanistan and that the credible, inclusive and transparent elections in 2014 will be fundamental for stability in Afghanistan moving forward. At a major international conference in Tokyo that was held in July this year and attended by the Foreign Minister, the government of Afghanistan committed to detailing the timetable for elections by early next year, including the arrangements under which those elections would be held, including the security arrangements under which those elections will be held. It is one of the fundamental elements of what is called the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, which was agreed at that conference. Donors pledged support for Afghanistan through to 2014 and beyond on the basis that Afghanistan agreed to meet certain commitments, and credible, inclusive and transparent elections are part of that commitment.
Senator RHIANNON: In terms of that recommendation, which appears to set out the need for redrawing of electoral boundaries, issues to do with the actual rolls, is it that you disagree with that recommendation?
Mr Baxter : No, not at all.
Senator RHIANNON: It is more that it is just not part of your work?
Mr Baxter : Yes. Everything we are doing is actually consistent with that recommendation; it has just come from a process of intergovernmental discussions.
Senator RHIANNON: I am just trying to understand how it all works. Given your commitment to continue the support for the electoral process, does AusAID recognise the need to ensure adequate security for voting centres? I gather that was a fairly key priority.
Mr Baxter : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Is it something that our money is going into, or are you just making sure that it happens?
Mr Baxter : No, that would not be funded from aid funding. The government, along with other governments that are part of the international coalition in Afghanistan, have made commitments to support and sustain the Afghan National Security Forces, and so security would obviously be provided by the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. They would be funded from those funds. Our work is to work on the machinery of the election itself.
Senator RHIANNON: In the May estimates I asked you how much of the money allocated for ADF related projects will be spent directly on projects and how much will be absorbed into new net additional costs of ADF personnel support and associated costs. You stated that none of it is aimed at meeting any of the costs of ADF personnel who have been deployed. In the same estimates, in question on notice No. 41, ADF gave a very useful table on provincial reconstruction teams. The table is called 'Summary of ODA eligible individual project costings undertaken by Defence for period 2006 to 2011'. The costs are broken up, so you can see the breakdown. We have a column for direct project costings, a column for defence employee costs and a column for defence employee support costs. Taking those latter two columns, where considerable money is spent—in most years more than 90 per cent of the money for individual projects goes on employee costs or support costs—does that not contradict the comment that you made that none of the money goes on costs of ADF personnel?
Mr Baxter : None of the ODA funding spent by AusAID in Afghanistan goes towards covering the costs of ADF personnel.
Senator RHIANNON: I acknowledge that they call it ODA eligible—
Mr Baxter : That table goes back to a date prior to AusAID working in Uruzgan province. We stepped up our representation on the ground and the expansion of our programs starting from August 2010. There was a period up until the end of 2009 when the proportion of development assistance from Australia delivered by the defence forces was high. That has fallen significantly following the increased civilian presence in Afghanistan. We do not pay AusAID funds to the ADF to protect us; that is covered within the ADF's budget.
Senator RHIANNON: But it is still called ODA eligible, and it goes beyond 2009-10. There is a breakdown here for 2010-11 and the money is said to be detailed for 2011-12, and we have those two columns. Can you take that on notice. There might be a clear explanation but it is down there that ODA eligible money is going to defence employee costs and defence employee support costs right up to the present time.
Mr Baxter : I am happy to take that on notice but I will again say it is not funding that is coming out of the AusAID budget.
Senator RHIANNON: Even if you can take on notice how you explain that ODA eligible money is being spent on defence costs.
Mr Baxter : I obviously do not have that table in front of me so I am happy to look at it.
Senator RHIANNON: It is question No. 41 from the May estimates.
Senator KROGER: Before I begin my questions, Senator Rhiannon might like to look at a submission by the ADF to the inquiry on aid into Afghanistan. It gives a clear understanding of what the Defence Force does in support of aid. It is worthwhile looking at. Mr Baxter, I return to the liaison office. It was touched on earlier, very briefly, and we discussed it and I tabled the report at the last estimates.
I understand that you have an FOI request from the member for Mayo, Mr Jamie Briggs, in relation to documents?
Mr Baxter : That is my understanding. I add that AusAID has offered Mr Briggs and Ms Gambaro a briefing on our relationship with the liaison office as well.