ABC Capital Hill with Julie Doyle









SUBJECT/S: foreign aid

JULIE DOYLE: Tanya Plibersek thanks for coming in. Now, Julie Bishop has outlined the Government's new approach to the delivery of foreign aid. She's talking about a focus on the region closer to home on the Pacific. Is that suitable?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, I guess this is a valiant effort to disguise the largest single cut in the Budget as good news. There's a $7.6 billion cut to aid in the Budget, the single largest cut in the Budget and that includes $110 million cut to aid in the Asia Pacific region in one year alone. So talking about a re-focus on the Pacific is a bit rich when we're actually cutting our aid funding.

DOYLE: Should we be looking though when it comes to aid, the limited dollars that need to be distributed, should we be looking at the regions closest to home?

PLIBERSEK: I think that our responsibility of course is greatest in the Pacific and to our near neighbours, that's a principle that I would support. But we're actually cutting funding to those countries. So saying that we're refocussing on the region while we’re at the same time cutting funding is just - it's a contradiction. Also the idea that we haven't had a focus on benchmarking and performance evaluation in the past is just an absolute false understanding of what Australian aid has delivered, what it's been in the past. We've done our own evaluation of Australian aid effectiveness that showed that our aid was generally well spent and well delivered but we made some changes coming out of that evaluation. We've also been evaluated internationally and again that international evaluation shows that Australian aid dollar for dollar is very good value indeed and –

DOYLE: So when she's talking about introducing another one of the elements, is these performance benchmarks, so that there’ll be greater accountability about how money is spent, do you think that's not necessary, that the protections over the way money is spent are there already?

PLIBERSEK: I think that the point is to divert people from the fact that $7.6 billion has been cut from the aid budget. Of course I support aid effectiveness. Anybody supports getting good value for Australian taxpayers' dollars and indeed, you know, that's true of any area of government spending. Every dollar should be well spent. That's a completely uncontroversial thing to say. What is very much controversial though is the $7.6 billion cut to the aid budget. The idea that you can do anything approaching the same amount of good work with the $7.6 billion cut is absolutely false.

DOYLE: When it comes to aid though and we're talking about performance benchmarks, how do you measure what's value for money?

PLIBERSEK: Well, you'd have to talk to Julie Bishop about that. I think that this has been a completely muddled piece of thinking from the Government –

DOYLE: But in the past how did you measure?

PLIBERSEK: In the past we measured it in outcomes, how many children are vaccinated, how many women have a skilled birth attendant, how many more kids are getting a primary school education, how many schools have we built, how many people have we helped lift out of poverty by improving the safety of women to sell their goods in a marketplace in Port Moresby? They are very concrete measures indeed because aid funding delivers real changes in people's lives. It's about their health, education, safety, security, a roof over their heads, the ability to go about their daily lives unmolested. All of these are measurable and all of these achieved excellent outcomes under Australia's aid spending.

DOYLE: Just finally, she's also talking about the involvement of the private sector more. Now the Greens have raised some concerns about that and the way that could play out on the ground. What do you think of that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, there's nothing wrong with private sector involvement in delivery of any service as long as it's actually doing a better job than the 500 people that have been sacked from the Department of Foreign Affairs, and aid…We've got people who have been extremely experienced in delivering aid on the ground and we're saying we're going to get rid of them and we’re going to replace their years of expertise, their connections with local communities, their experience in working with NGOs in developing countries, with people from the private sector. I'm yet to be convinced that that will give us better results.

DOYLE: Tanya Plibersek, we'll leave it there, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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