Randomista revolution for foreign aid - Speech, House of Representatives

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 24 FEBRUARY 2020

Foreign aid is close to my heart, having as a child grown up in Indonesia, in Banda Aceh and Jakarta, seeing firsthand the impact of Australia's aid program on those communities. For want of simple treatments like oral rehydration, children have died around the world. Australian aid saves lives. It's been estimated by Reverend Tim Costello that the cuts to Australia's aid budget may have cost as many as 200,000 lives around the world. That's because our aid is going to health programs and to anti-poverty programs. It is directly assisting some of the world's most vulnerable. Australian aid is absolutely critical, as it looks to improve the wellbeing of the world's poorest.

My predecessor as member for Fraser was Bob McMullan, who once told me that his most rewarding job in two decades of politics was to serve as Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance in the Rudd government. In that capacity, he put in place Australia's disability-inclusive development program. In practice, this meant that Australia's school-building program in Indonesia ensured that schools built with Australian aid money had ramps leading to their front doors—so Indonesian children in wheelchairs were able to attend school for the first time thanks to Australia's aid program. My maternal uncle, Keith Stebbins, spent his career in Papua New Guinea, working with the education department and writing textbooks for that country. He spent a lot of time in remote areas of Papua New Guinea, working in those communities and seeing the impact that a great education can have on life prospects.

We know the importance of human capital in our aid program. We know how absolutely critical it is that Australia's aid program is focused on the most vulnerable and that it has human capital at its heart. Australia's aid, though, has been savagely cut by the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments. They've treated our aid budget like an ATM. As previous Labor speakers have noted, we've seen that the aid cuts have meant that Australia has withdrawn from regions with which we ought to have a stronger relationship. The Australian aid program to Indonesia has a long and distinguished history. Australia championed Indonesian independence, and Australian aid experts were there, working with the Sukarno government, immediately after independence. The Australian aid contribution in that region is vital, and to see it cut is a travesty. Likewise, the cuts that have occurred in countries like Pakistan are a travesty. I visited Myanmar at the beginning of 2017 with a bipartisan parliamentary delegation funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and auspiced by Save the Children. On that delegation, we saw the impact that Australia's aid program was having on everything from building wells to providing appropriate sanitation programs.

Last week at the Australasian AID Conference, the ANU's annual dev policy conference, we heard many speakers talking about the impact that aid can have on changing lives. Yes, economic growth is absolutely critical, and the trade liberalisation that's occurred worldwide over recent decades has been vital in spurring economic growth and bringing millions out of poverty. But it's critical, too, that we properly evaluate our aid programs. I would urge the minister to consider conducting more rigorous evaluations of Australia's aid programs.

Around the globe there is a randomised trials revolution taking place. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and aid agencies such as Britain's and America's have been at the forefront of this process of high-quality evaluation of aid programs. But Australia has been a laggard. That's disappointing, because it means that we are not effectively assessing the impact of our aid programs on the ground. So while I support the intention of the government in providing this replenishment, I do believe it is absolutely critical that the government properly funds our aid programs, that a Pacific step-up is reflected in an overall step-up in Australia's overseas development assistance budget relative to national income, and that we do a better job in letting the randomistas do their work in effectively evaluating the impact of Australia's aid programs.

ENDS

Authorised by  Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.