Questioned the impact of the Trump administration’s decision to defund UNRWA and Australia’s aid funding to Palestine.
Going to Palestine, I want to talk about the Trump administration announcing that it wouldn’t fund the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Was the government aware of this decision before it was announced?
Whole interaction with Ms HK Yu (First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division, DFAT) and Ms Frances Adamson (Secretary, DFAT) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).
Senator DI NATALE: Thank you. Going to Palestine, I want to talk about the Trump administration announcing that it wouldn’t fund the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Was the government aware of this decision before it was announced?
Ms Yu : No, we were not.
Senator DI NATALE: Have we made any representations to the US about this?
Ms Yu : The decision about the aid by the US is really a matter for the US government, so we have not.
Senator DI NATALE: In terms of the impact that it’s having on the ground in Palestine and Jordan, have we seen an impact as a result of that significant cut?
Ms Yu : It is true that as a result of the US’s announcement there was a bit of a shortage in UNRWA’s funding for last year. But the shortfall was filled by other donors that came forward. We understand that, for this current financial year, they are once again facing a bit of a shortage, but once again they are going through measures to try to fill the shortage.
Senator DI NATALE: Is the Australian government considering increasing its ODA budget to the Palestinian territories?
Ms Yu : The Australian government’s decision on UNRWA funding is through the strategic partnership that we have with them. For 2018-19 that will be at $15 million.
Senator DI NATALE: The ODA estimate I’ve got for 2018-19 is $43 million.
Ms Yu : That’s the total for the PT aid. I think you were referring to funding to UNRWA.
Senator DI NATALE: Yes—perhaps both, actually.
Ms Yu : For the whole of the PT it’s $43 million, as you stated. For UNRWA it’s $15 million, because we put forward $5 million from this year to the previous year when they had a shortfall. So, instead of providing $20 million last year, we provided $25 million.
Senator DI NATALE: What was that decision based on?
Ms Yu : This is what usually happens with our aid bucket of money. We’ll talk to some our recipients, and there is room for us to bring forward some of the payments, depending on the shortfall.
Senator DI NATALE: Was that partly based on the fact that there was a cut from the US?
Ms Yu : That may have had some impact, but this was a request made by UNRWA. We considered it carefully and it was decided that we would bring forward the $5 million.
Senator DI NATALE: Is the government on track to spend the $43 million?
Ms Yu : Yes. We have actually committed parts of it. For others we are currently considering the options.
Senator DI NATALE: But there won’t be an underspend? You’re not anticipating that?
Ms Yu : We’re not at this stage. At the moment we have committed and spent a certain amount.
Ms Adamson : Senator, we don’t want to underspend that aid anywhere.
Senator DI NATALE: Good. There’s precious little of it, so it needs to be spent. Can I get a breakdown of the ODA spending for Palestine for the current financial year and for the last financial year, if possible, including the contracts and dates of funding disbursement? Could you take that on notice?
Ms Yu : Yes.
Senator DI NATALE: Since last estimates, what representations has the Australian government made to the Israeli government regarding illegal settlement construction?
Ms Yu : There hasn’t been further demolition. As you know, leading up to the last Senate estimates we made a number of representations because of concern that there may be demolition. Since then, all of that has been put on hold. I’ll have to check with our post whether they’ve made additional representations, but we haven’t since.
Senator DI NATALE: Could you take that on notice, please?
Ms Yu : Yes.