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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE - 26/02/2009 - FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE

Senator Hanson-Young -I have some brief questions around some questions that I put on notice last time. I wonder if we have any updates. I was interested in knowing whether there was a time frame on when we were likely to see a decision from the minister about the current ban on AusAID funded services providing certain family planning services and advice. Given various responses and announcements made by the minister over the last 12 months, I am wondering if the minister could give us any update on time frames. It is obviously the guidelines that I am referring to.

Senator Faulkner -This is on family planning?

Senator Hanson-Young -Yes.

Senator Faulkner -You might recall that, on behalf of the minister, I answered a question on this particular issue in the parliament. I do not have any additional information in relation to a time frame. I am advised by officials that the status of this remains that the minister intends to make an announcement on this soon. I suspect you are going to ask me to define the word 'soon'-

Senator Hanson-Young -If you could, that would be very helpful.

Senator Faulkner -and all I can refer to you in this regard is-

Senator Hanson-Young -The dictionary!

Senator Faulkner -Yes. I cannot define it further than that. I would like to be able to help you. I am just being frank with you.

Senator Hanson-Young -Do you think it is 'very soon'?

Senator Faulkner -I did not qualify 'soon'. I can only give you that level of assistance. I understand that that is not in any sense an advance on any of the knowledge you currently have.

Senator Hanson-Young -You might be able to enlighten me on whether the minister-or, in fact, the department-has met with any of the AusAID officials in relation to planning for any type of change in guidelines and what impact that may or may not have on programs and funding.

Senator Faulkner -I cannot enlighten you on that, but I am sure officials will be able to indicate to you whether the minister has had contact with them. I invite the relevant officials to outline that to assist you.

Mr Proctor -Over some months, we have provided information at various times to the minister's office, but I cannot really enlighten you beyond that. It was under consideration by government and remains so.

Senator Hanson-Young -But obviously there has been some thought to what adjustments may need to be made if these guidelines are changed?

Mr Proctor -We have certainly advised them what the guidelines are at the moment and what were the recommendations of the all-party group that came down over a year ago; but, beyond that, it is really in the hands of the minister.

Senator Hanson-Young -Do you have any idea about possible changes to budgetary requirements? If the guidelines were changed, what might that mean for certain programs?

Senator Faulkner -Your question is a little bit hypothetical, but I understand what you are driving at. I am not sure, because of your question's hypothetical nature, that officials can assist you. I will ask officials to provide whatever information they can in relation to the funding aspects of this element of our aid programs, and perhaps we can take it from there.

Mr Proctor -All I can really tell you is the Prime Minister in New York last September at a major UN meeting gave a commitment on a major amount of spending on maternal and child health over four years. Part of that certainly has to be for reproductive health services, but it was not more clearly defined than that. There is clearly a commitment by the government to increase overall aid levels over years. Undoubtedly, health will be part of that increase-it is a major part of the MDGs, for instance.

Senator Hanson-Young -Maternal health is a goal on its own, isn't it?

Mr Proctor -Correct-maternal health and child health, separately. For all those reasons, it is quite reasonable to infer that a substantial increase will occur in assistance in that area.

Senator Hanson-Young -Have you received any requests to change the guidelines from organisations that you currently fund?

Mr Proctor -There are certainly regular comments by a number of the non-government organisations in favour of changing the guidelines. I think you would have seen in the Australian about two weeks ago a letter from the heads of three NGOs, including Care and Oxfam, along these lines. Comments we receive are similar to the comments in that letter.

Senator Hanson-Young -What is your general response to them when they raise these concerns?

Mr Proctor -'It's under consideration by the government.'

Senator PAYNE -Soon!

Senator Hanson-Young -Very soon!

Senator Faulkner -That is not fair-'under consideration by the government'.

Senator PAYNE -It was just a discussion between me and Senator «Hanson»-«Young».

Senator Faulkner -Yes, I know that. I was being droll.

Senator Hanson-Young -Thank you for correcting us.

Senator PAYNE -Yes, we need correcting.

Senator Hanson-Young -That is probably it from me.

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