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Janet asking questions about Australian government assistance to Philippine National Police

Estimates & Committees
Janet Rice 31 May 2018

Senator RICE: Great. I will whip around the world in 15 minutes. I want to start in the Philippines. I want to know what the current status of Australian government assistance to the Philippine National Police is in the light of the ongoing murderous war on drugs. It's now estimated that 20,000 people have been killed.

Ms Heckscher: You asked a question about what assistance we are providing to the Philippines. Do you mean government assistance?

Senator RICE: Particularly to the police—for example, any training programs that we currently undertake with the Philippine National Police or any other development assistance that is provided to them.

Ms Heckscher: Questions about police-to-police cooperation would be a matter for the Australian Federal Police to respond to.

Senator RICE: In terms of overall foreign aid and assistance, do you know whether there is aid that would end up being directed towards the police?

Ms Heckscher: I'm just looking for my material on development assistance to the Philippines to see if I can actually locate anything on police. We have quite a large development assistance program with the Philippines. It's quite wide-ranging. It covers things like support for human rights activities and the like. We have things like the partnerships for peace program that supports long-term stability and development in conflict areas of Mindanao. I'm just looking to see if I can find anything on police specifically. I actually think that is a question that needs to be put to the Australian Federal Police.

Senator RICE: Is there any vetting system that the Australian government has to ensure that the Philippine National Police units that are implicated in the unlawful killings are not beneficiaries of Australian government assistance? Ms Heckscher: All of Australian assistance is provided through credible partners and is carefully managed and monitored. Again, any questions about police-to-police collaboration needs to be put to the—

Senator RICE: Yes. But is there any vetting system in terms of any aid to make sure that it is not going to police implicated in the unlawful killings?

Ms Heckscher: Well, I can't answer questions about what assistance might be provided directly by the Australian Federal Police to their police counterparts.

Senator RICE: No. But beyond the Australian Federal Police assistance, is there is any other Australian government assistance? Is there any vetting to ensure that any of that assistance doesn't get funnelled through to police who are implicated in the unlawful killings?

Ms Heckscher: As I mentioned, there are a lot of governance structures in place in relation to Australia's aid programs that keep an eye on exactly where the aid is going, which is to credible partnerships through credible partners. So those processes are in place with our Philippines development program as they are with every program we have.

Senator RICE: Could you then take on notice as to what vetting systems are in place, if you can ensure that and can assure us that development assistance is—

Ms Heckscher: I can provide you some information about our general aid governance structures in relation to the Philippines. Any questions about collaboration and assistance to the police in the Philippines will need to be put to the Australian Federal Police.

Senator RICE: I am interested in broader aid to make sure that it's not going through to those police. Has the Australian government taken any action to protest about the prosecution of Senator Leila de Lima and to advocate for her release?

Ms Heckscher: We have ongoing contact with the Philippines on a whole raft of human rights issues. We consistently raise our concerns about human rights issues through a number of mechanisms. For example—

Senator RICE: I am sorry, but I have very limited time. I am wondering if there has been particular advocacy about the prosecution of Senator Leila de Lima.

Ms Heckscher: This is actually a process that has been underway for a little while. I would have to look back and see if we've made anything specific in the past. Are you talking about the very recent events concerning her?

Senator RICE: Yes. I am also interested to know whether any Australian diplomats visited her in prison where she currently is?

Ms Heckscher: I will need to get back to you on those specific questions.

Senator RICE: The Philippine government is pursuing a vendetta against the news platform as a reprisal for its reporting of the abusive anti-drug campaign. Has the Australian government done anything to convey its concerns about the government's efforts to silence Rappler?

Ms Heckscher: Well, Rappler isn't, of course, the only media organisation that has been subjected to some constraints over recent times. Australia's embassy in the Philippines is constantly engaged in monitoring and reporting in relation to Rappler and the other media episodes. We consistently raise concerns about the broad range of human rights with Philippines contacts. In particular, recently, during the ASEAN summit, there were discussions in bilateral meetings in the margins about a raft of human rights concerns and issues.

Senator RICE: Would that include about the Philippine justice ministry petition to declare more than 600 people terrorists, including the UN special rapporteur and the rights of indigenous peoples?

Ms Heckscher: I wouldn't go into detail on some of those confidential conversations that there were. However, I can say that there were generally discussions about human rights issues.

Senator RICE: So you cannot tell me whether there've been representations on that issue in particular to the government of the Philippines?

Ms Heckscher: We are closely monitoring the case. Let me just see if I can find specific reference to that.

Mr Exell: I will add a response to the question you asked earlier about assurances of funding for police. I want to provide comprehensive assurance that we have a three-tiered system that looks at the program investments, annual reporting, independent assessment and then spot-checks on the actual program to make sure that funding goes where it's meant to go. I want to come back very quickly on the assurance that you are after. We are very clear on the activities we are supporting and where that funding goes towards those activities.

Senator RICE: Thank you.

Ms Heckscher: I'll come back to you with a specific response to the question that you asked, Senator.

Senator RICE: Has the government made any representations regarding the deportation of Australian nun and human rights worker Sr Patricia Fox?

Ms Heckscher: That is a consular issue so I will call upon our colleague.

Mr Todd: Could you repeat your question, please?

Senator RICE: Has the government made any representations about the deportation of the Australian nun and human rights worker Sr Patricia Fox?

Mr Todd: The Australian government, under our consular services charter, continues to provide consular services to Sr Fox. We are not able to intervene in the legal processes or the visa processes of a foreign country.

Senator RICE: Have you made any representations more broadly, given the political nature of the reasons behind her deportation?

Mr Todd: Consistent with our consular services charter, the Australian government maintains a consistent position that it is unable to intervene in immigration matters or legal matters in a foreign country. We continue to provide extensive support to Sr Fox, but we are not in a position to intervene in the immigration laws of a foreign country.

Senator RICE: In the context of human rights, the fact is that you've been making representations on human rights issues. Has Sr Fox been mentioned in the context of that engagement and those representations on human rights issues?

Ms Adamson: I would like us to check that and get back to you, if you don't mind.

Senator RICE: I understand that Australia has committed $20 million over four years to support recovery and long-term peace and stability in the southern Philippines. I'm interested to know how much of that has been used for the rehabilitation of the city of Marawi.

Ms Heckscher: As you mention, to date—that is, 18 May—Australia has committed $24 million to support the response, recovery and long-term peace building efforts to Marawi. The Philippines has established a wholeof-government taskforce, Bangon Marawi, to lead recovery and reconstruction efforts. Through the World Bank, we have committed $2.3 million over the period 2017-19 to support technical assistance and advisory services to the Philippine government taskforce to help develop a comprehensive rehabilitation and recovery program for the city. Our support is focused on bringing international planning and engineering experience in a post-conflict scenario. The World Bank, with Australian funding, is drawing on staff who have relevant post-conflict reconstruction experience in the Middle East. Our support will also help mitigate the risk of further conflict arising from disputed land claims, for example. The World Bank is also working to establish a multi-donor trust fund as a platform to enable government, in international cooperation, to support Marawi's reconstruction. Australia has allocated $2.2 million to this trust fund to support small-scale development projects in vulnerable communities and to promote economic activity and community cohesion. In addition, Australia is funding international and local NGOs that are trusted by local communities and clans to ensure local views and interests are incorporated into reconstruction plans. This has already had a positive impact on the reconstruction plans for the city centre. Through Australia's Partnerships for Peace program, we've also committed $3 million over the period 2017 to 2020 to fund projects that promote moderation and tolerance to counter the extremist influence that gave rise to the Marawi siege.

Senator RICE: Have there been Australian personnel helping on the ground in Marawi? I have been informed there hasn't been engagement with communities and civil society organisations on the ground.

Ms Heckscher: You mean not Australian governmental staff but other NGOs and the like?

Senator RICE: Yes. Or people being funded by the Australian government to undertake rehabilitation works there—so working with civil society. The criticism I have heard is that there hasn't been much engagement and that the people on the ground don't know that Australia has been involved in giving aid to help with the rehabilitation.

Ms Heckscher: I think I'll need to check on the exact involvement of Australians in those programs.

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