6 Australian government inquiries that could impact development

By Lisa Cornish 17 October 2016

The Parliament House in Canberra is home of Australia’s federal Parliament. Photo by: Michael Dawes / CC BY-NC

The new session of Australia’s federal Parliament is in full swing, and with it comes a range of new inquiries — 59 in total — that will impact the country’s decision-making on funding and policy, including on foreign aid.

The inquiries shed light on emerging political trends but are also a way for individuals and organizations, including nongovernmental organizations, to influence government policies including on foreign aid and international development. Anyone is entitled to make a submission, which is considered by the relevant committee as part of the inquiry process.

Devex delves into the inquiries to flag those the development sector should be keeping a close eye on.

1. Serious allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum-seekers in relation to the Nauru Regional Processing Center, and any like allegations in relation to the Manus Regional Processing Center.

Australia has been strongly criticized for its harsh treatment of refugees through a policy of mandatory offshore processing. Rights groups have documented children being held in detention and silencing of detention center workers about activities occurring within the facilities.

Australian NGOs have been a strong voice demanding change. Save the Children and UNICEF recently joining forces to analyze the human, economic and strategic costs of the current policy in the report titled, “At What Cost?

This inquiry is expected to be thorough, investigating allegations of abuse, how notifications of abuse and self-harm are investigated, Australian government obligations to refugees, whistleblower obligations, third-party resettlement plans and other relevant matters. The outcome will be closely watched within Australian and internationally to analyze Australia’s position on human rights.

This inquiry is accepting written submissions until Nov. 7, afterwhich the Parliament will hold public hearings.

2. Review of the declaration of Islamic State group as a declared terrorist organization under the Citizenship Act 2007.

The decision to strip citizenship from Australians who travel overseas to fight with the Islamic State group without a hearing has serious implications for human rights and foreign policy. The outcomes will highlight government direction regarding engagement with countries where the Islamic State group has a presence, including Syria, as well as perspectives on refugees. For the development community, this inquiry could provide clarity on Australian aid objectives regarding Syria including further programs, funding and support.

This inquiry is accepting written submissions which will be followed by public hearings.

3-4. Trans-Pacific Partnership and its effects.

Two inquiries are investigating the impact of Australia having signed the TPP, a trade agreement among 12 of the Pacific Rim countries excluding China.

Australian NGOs commonly support developing countries in the Pacific, so the outcomes of these inquiries could have an impact on projects as well as the communities this work supports through changes in legislation, economic and social conditions as well as the costs of delivering programs and services.

One submission to Parliament from ActionAid Australia identified that women in developing countries may be negatively impacting by the treaty. Women undertake the bulk of unpaid care and are large contributors to work that isn’t counted as part of a country’s gross domestic product. They are more likely to be experience an increased financial burden through higher costs for medicines and other services as well as reduced worker rights. The report argues that this stands to undermine the work Australia has done to improve gender equality including the launch of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will hold its next public hearing on Oct. 17 while the other inquiry is currently accepting written submissions.

5-6. Paris climate change agreement and the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol.

These inquiries are set to investigate how climate change agreements relate to Australia’s national interests. The recommendations of the inquiries could include possible withdrawal or changes to implementation or treaty actions.

Increased Australian support for action on climate change could have a direct impact on Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade programs and funding supporting climate mitigation programs in the Pacific.

In their submission to the Paris agreement inquiry, the Uniting Church in Australia are using the opportunity to highlight Australia’s responsibility to become a global leader in setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and supporting developing countries in climate change adaption.

The inquiries into the Paris agreement and Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol are currently accepting written submissions.

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About the author

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Lisa Cornishlisa_cornish

Lisa Cornish is a Devex reporter based in Canberra, Australia. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.

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