Speech to Parliament: Coalition Cuts to Pacific Aid

On 19 December, on a steamy day in Port Vila, I was fortunate to visit the Vanuatu Women's Centre in a modest cottage on the outskirts of that nation's capital.

There, with the delegation that I was with, I met some special people: young women who had left abusive relationships and who were rebuilding their lives with the support of the remarkable staff of that centre; women who were optimistic about their futures, having received support and training through an Australian technical college; women whose confidence had returned and who were setting up their lives and their own businesses to secure their and their children's futures. This is one of many Australian aid success stories: tackling problems—big problems—at the heart of Melanesian society, namely violence against women and a lack of job opportunities.

I was in the Pacific as part of a delegation led by our nation's foreign minister, Julie Bishop. Also on the delegation were the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and shadow foreign minister, Tanya Plibersek, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Brett Mason. Days earlier we had visited the Solomon Islands, and sat in on some training being provided to enthusiastic new recruits of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force undertaking very important training and cultural awareness for when it comes to domestic violence.

Of course, the training was part of a government program largely funded by Australian aid. Both these nations—the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu—are good friends of the Australian people and the Australian nation. In those nations, our foreign minister gave a commitment to the respective prime ministers and publicly that there would be no cuts to foreign aid to Pacific nations. The leaders of those nations were pleased to receive that commitment from the foreign minister. I must say that I was also pleasantly surprised and pleased to hear that commitment given by our nation's foreign minister.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you could have blown me over when I read in the Australian press on 18 January that $650 million was being cut from Australia's development aid in 2013-14, and that $61.4 million was being cut in the Pacific. When I read it my first thought was that it was a mistake, that it could not be right. I was with the foreign minister when she gave the commitment to the people of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. But, unfortunately, the story was right and $61.4 million is being cut from the aid budget to our Pacific neighbours.

No details have yet been announced. We do not know which programs or which services are going to be cut. Are some of those programs that we saw—those positive results that we viewed in the Pacific, combating violence against women—going to be cut? Perhaps that is something that some of the coalition speakers can enlighten us on. These nations—our neighbours and our friends—and our program partners, those wonderful NGOs that deliver these programs on behalf of Australia in these developing nations, deserve the right to know which programs in which services that are funded by the people of Australia are going to be cut.

I suspect that coalition speakers are going to claim that we are currently undertaking a review of aid effectiveness; that our aid is spread too thinly across the world and that it is ineffective. That is complete rubbish! The programs I witnessed, and which the delegation witnessed, tackling big problems at the heart of society in the Pacific, were worth every cent. They are delivered by NGOs that are proven at getting results and improving the living standards of our neighbours. They are programs that are fully audited by the Australian National Audit Office and other checks and balances in our government.

In 2011 the then Labor government undertook an independent review of Australia's aid effectiveness, and answered and adopted all 39 recommendations. This motion calls on our foreign minister to deliver on the commitment that she gave to the people of the Pacific and to deliver to the NGOs, to tell them where these programs are going to be cut.


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