Issues and committee view
Is there a need for legislation?
A key question for this inquiry is whether a legislative approach to
promoting gender equality is required. While the DFAT submission considered
promoting gender equality an important part of Australia's aid policy, it did
not consider the bill necessary:
DFAT considers that its current systems and processes meet
the intent of this legislation. As such, DFAT considers that this legislation
is not required to ensure that Australia's Official Development Assistance
(including humanitarian assistance) promotes gender equality and the
empowerment of women and girls.
DFAT's internal processes already appear to meet the requirements of s
4(1) (that in making a decision relating to the provision of ODA an official
must have regard to how the provision will contribute to reducing inequality
between persons of different gender). This is because Investment Designs
must include a discussion of how the investment addresses gender equality and
women's empowerment. The bill does, however, go further than the current DFAT
processes, as Investment Designs are only required for investments over
$3 million. As such, there is currently no requirement for officials to
consider gender equality for aid investments under
Similarly, Aid Quality Checks (AQCs) review the performance of aid
investments over the previous 12 months, but only apply to investments over
$3 million. DFAT explained:
The approach to aid quality checks, I think, reflects that
the department have limited resources, so we focus our monitoring resources on
those investments that are of the highest risk and the highest value. They are
not always the same. Sometimes low-value investments are also high risk. But
our processes involve identification of the level of risk regardless of value,
so we are able to pick up a low-value, low-risk investment and low-value,
high-risk investments as well. It is really a recognition that, within those
limited resources available to the department, we ask: where should we place
our largest effort? That is how we have come up with that approach to
investments greater than $3 million.
For humanitarian assistance, DFAT does not have a process equivalent to
an Investment Design, in which issues such as gender are considered
ahead of implementation. As such, DFAT does not currently appear to meet the s
4(2) requirement. DFAT's submission argued that its current processes are
justified by the need for a quick response to humanitarian disasters. It also argued
that the risk of Australia's humanitarian assistance having an adverse impact
on gender is mitigated by the use of ongoing partners who undergo regular
performance reviews which assess the partner's work promoting gender equality.
With the exception of DFAT, all submitters to this inquiry strongly
favoured a legislative approach. Submitters highlighted that similar
legislation had been implemented in the United Kingdom. However the UK, unlike
Australia, has an overarching legislative framework for its international
development spending. Consequently, the UK's International Development
(Gender Equality) Act 2014 is not a standalone piece of legislation, but
part of a broader scheme. As CBM Australia's submission pointed out:
Unlike the British Bill, the legislation before the Committee
would act as an individual legislative instrument and therefore pose an
additional administrative process to be met. Given there is no overarching
legislative framework guiding Australia's overseas development assistance, there
is no simple solution to this issue – but it is a factor that needs to be
Submitters indicated their support for Australia to consider
implementing a similar framework.
As CBM Australia noted:
...a much larger, broader legislative framework to guide
Australia's overseas development assistance would be beneficial for all, with
people with disabilities being included in that as well as a driver for change,
gender equality as well, both very important issues.
The committee notes that, one year after the UK's gender equality
legislation came into force, an evaluation of how the Act had been implemented
According to Plan International, the one-year review found improvements as a
result of the introduction of the legislation. The legislation led to
improvement of systems, processes and reporting, and also indicated where
processes might not be as robust as they could be.
Norway and Sweden also appear to be considering similar legislation.
Many submitters were positive about the current government's approach to
promoting gender equality through the aid program, but favoured legislation to
strengthen current practice and ensure it remained in place. The Australian
Council for International Development's (ACFID) submission stated:
We note that the Gender Equality Bill in large part reflects
the Australian Government's existing and commendable policy commitments to
promote the empowerment of women and girls as part of Australia's international
development assistance... We believe the Gender Equality Bill would serve to
strengthen these policy commitments, and highlight the Government's ongoing
progress in this critical area.
Similarly, CARE Australia argued that:
Without legislation, priorities are liable to shift with the
political mood, and not receive the sustained and long-term investment required
to have the most impact. By supporting this bill Australia could cement its
leadership on gender equality in the Indian Ocean Asia–Pacific region, where we
seek to enhance our diplomatic and commercial leverage and development
The IWDA agreed that Australia is already largely meeting the
requirements of the bill. As stated in their submission, 'There is no downside
to requiring the aid program to do what it has been policy to do for many
Quality of reporting
Several submitters noted that the quality of reporting by DFAT could be
improved. It appears a number of factors have affected the current quality of
data and subsequent reporting by DFAT, which are explored below.
Financial data is limited
Submitters expressed difficulty when attempting to locate data on actual
gender equality aid expenditure.
As the IWDA explained:
Currently, Australia’s aid program only tracks and reports
actual expenditure where gender equality and women’s empowerment is a specific
line item. The 2013-14 APPR for Papua New Guinea shows $2.9 million of a nearly
$500 million budget, or some 1 per cent of expenditure, as spent on the
specific line item ‘gender equality and women’s empowerment’. No financial information is available about
expenditure on activities to mainstream gender equality and women’s empowerment
elsewhere in the program, the bulk of the aid program’s investment in gender
equality and women’s rights.
Plan International agreed:
At present, DFAT’s reporting on the gender impacts of
Australian aid focus largely on headline figures (such as the “number of women
survivors of violence receiving services such as counselling”) and give only a
limited picture of the effectiveness of Australian aid in redressing gender
Submitters considered that DFAT is not currently tracking and reporting
all of the key information it needs to realise its commitment to gender
equality implementation. The IWDA reasoned:
Without financial information about how much is going to that
objective and what kind of expenditure is going to that objective, you do not
know whether that lack of progress is because you are not spending enough, you
are spending it in the wrong places or you are spending it inefficiently.
The IWDA argued that further reporting is necessary for the government
to conduct cost-benefit analyses and any burden would be outweighed by the
benefits of having access to complete and detailed information.
Limited by the abilities of financial information systems, DFAT may not
currently be able to track expenditure on activities related to promoting
gender equality, which are not expressly identified as an objective of a
program. Plan International commented:
We think current arrangements with the department do not
allow the government to monitor how much of the aid budget is actually spent on
advancing gender equality at the point of implementation. At present, it
appears that the aid program tracks expenditure that is targeted, has a
principal objective, but does not provide information on activities to
integrate gender equality objectives in and through mainstream programming...
Submitters speculated how expenditure on aid programs, where gender equality
has been specified as an objective, is tracked by the department. DFAT
explained that its financial management system can track gender expenditure
over the life of a program, but how this occurs still remains unclear. DFAT did
not provide a comprehensive response when asked how it substantiates the claim
that 'Over 50 per cent of Australia's aid budget is spent on initiatives that
promote gender equality':
Ms Moyle: ...The gender spend, as we call it, is the
other measure, and you pointed out that over 50 per cent of our aid program
either principally or significantly is marked as advancing gender equality. So
they are related but they are different measures. We would expect, as our aid
policy requires, that all of our investments take account of gender equality in
their implementation and they are required to take account of gender equality
whether they marked at the beginning of the investment that gender equality was
a principal objective, a significant objective or not marked as an objective.
They are still required to have plans in place to implement gender equality
during the course of the program and to be able to reflect on the gender
equality results they have achieved.
Senator RHIANNON: ...I still do not understand how you
can say it has been spent on these initiatives when you have just explained
that the process that is undertaken, reflecting self-assessment is at the start
of the process. I cannot see how you can use the word 'spent'.
Ms Moyle: I hear you, but the funding is allocated at
the time the activity is entered into our aid management system, so the funding
Senator RHIANNON: Is it more correct to say it is the
funding allocation for what you are planning on doing rather than actually
Ms Stutsel: When we establish a new activity or investment,
we enter it into our financial management system. We might enter it as a
three-year program. And at the point of entering it into the system—so it has
been approved and agreed—we enter all of the DAC codes. There are environment
codes, gender codes and all sorts of things. During the life of the program,
officers are able to go in and alter it, but it is at the start when it is
compulsory: you cannot actually start it without entering them. What the system
can do is pick up all of those programs that were coded in that way to figure
out how much was spent at the end of the financial year. If the program is cut
at the end of year one or if it is reduced part-way through, the system will
pick up that we programmed it at $3 million but we cut it to $2 million. So
what did we spend? We spent $2 million, because that was coded as gender.
Submitters were supportive of the concept of an annual report to be presented
to parliament by the minister. The report would track investment, expenditure
and performance on gender equality across the aid program. Oxfam Australia
We are seeking to suggest that this annual reporting
mechanism builds and extends upon the great work that is already being done. It
helps to showcase it...Particularly in terms of improvements to the data that is
required to make that annual report, we suggest greater tracking of expenditure
on actions to integrate gender considerations and to improve gender equality
outcomes across the aid portfolio beyond where it is a particular line item or
a principal objective. This means where investments are made in so-called
mainstream areas that we are able to track more accurately the expenditure needed
to achieve gender equality through those mainstream endeavours.
The Fred Hollows Foundation suggested that reporting could be further
improved by including an assessment of whether Australia’s international aid
had a neutral or negative effect on gender equality.
Submitters considered that legislation would strengthen the government's
approach to promoting gender equality practice and ensure it remained in place.
Care Australia argued that:
Without legislation, priorities are liable to shift with the
political mood, and not receive the sustained and long-term investment required
to have the most impact.
Oxfam Australia agreed:
We have a foreign minister who is, in her words and her
deeds, committed to improving gender equality. But we know that that can change
over time. For example, over the last couple of years we have no longer seen an
aid budget statement brought down by the government. That has resulted in less
information coming to the aid sector. Before, this was a ministerial statement
which broke down by sector, by region and by program where Australia was
putting its aid money.
Moving from commitment to implementation presents its own difficulties.
As IWDA recommended, 'Not all of the things that happen to integrate gender are
readily captured in monetary terms, but some are. We need to start there and
look at how we can build from there.'
It is worth noting that the UK's legislation does not require a
stand-alone report on gender but requires that their existing report on aid
include reporting on gender.
DFAT highlighted that although the Performance of Australian Aid report
is not tabled in parliament, it is still able to be examined as part of the
Senate estimates process.
Collection of household-level data
Submitters noted that DFAT's poverty data is currently collected at the household-level
rather than at the individual level. As gender is unidentified inside a
household it is impossible to disaggregate the data for gender initiatives. The
Despite global consensus on the importance of empowering
women, it is difficult to determine the progress made on achieving gender
equality. Current approaches to measuring poverty tend to rely on
household-level data which fails to identify the unique and diverse challenges
faced by women and girls in developing countries.
Consistent and rigorous tracking of gender equality expenditure and
program performance is vital to ensure policy is based on evidence and that
impact is measured and improved.
Oxfam Australia agreed:
The challenge is that currently gender datasets in relation
to poverty are typically collected at the household level. So we know that on
intrahousehold gender inequality between women and men we are not accurately
capturing the potentially disproportionate and different experiences of women in
relation to poverty.
Monitoring and reporting on aggregated data may unintentionally mask
inequalities and render invisible parts of the population.
As Family Planning stated in their submission:
This is especially important for disempowered women and girls
as current approaches to alleviating poverty rely on household-level data that
does not identify the unique challenges faced by them.
It is currently difficult to identify Australia’s investments
in reproductive and sexual health and family planning in the aid program for a
number of reasons, including: family planning is often subsumed or grouped into
larger categories, Government reporting data formats have varied, and publicly
available DFAT documents in recent years do not easily identify expenditure on
DFAT acknowledged that further work was required to close gaps in
current data collection:
The sustainable development goals will be a step forward in
that regard, because they are advancing 169 targets and a greater number of indicators
underneath those. That will no doubt drive a great deal more attention to data
and information over the coming years.
Although it is continually seeking to improve data collection, DFAT
explained it is often difficult to gather comprehensive data. Examples include
countries which have poor data-collecting capabilities and fragile political
systems, and during a humanitarian crisis where governance has broken down.
As DFAT noted, 'Trying to get accurate contemporary data in that context is
profoundly difficult, and sometimes impossible.'
Disclosure of performance reports
DFAT's submission outlined its performance reporting and how gender
equality is assessed in each report. A number of reports are not publically disclosed.
During the hearing, DFAT detailed its reasons for not releasing the
In terms of partner performance assessments, these are robust
and rigorous assessments of the state of our relationship, if you like, with
each of our implementing partners, and it is important for us that they are
able to be robust and that we can talk about the state of that relationship in
an ungarnished way. Publishing those would bring sensitivities and that would
make it difficult for us to be quite so rigorous, and the same applies to
multilateral performance assessments and the aid quality checks.
Although AQCs and Partner Performance Assessments (PPAs) are kept
confidential, their cumulative results are reported within relevant Aid Program
Performance Reports. This information is also aggregated within the PAA report.
DFAT explained that:
...the Aid Program Performance Reports—the annual reports
prepared for each country and regional program—a lot of the information in
those reports is drawn from the Aid Quality Checks and from the Partner
Performance Assessments...They aggregate, they synthesise, all the information
that is available in these individual reports. They analyse them in a
considered way to present findings that are publicly released; the Aid Program
Performance Reports are published each year.
DFAT further confirmed that all country and regional aid programs will
have Aid Investment Plans in place and made public by September 2015,
but could not advise whether Investment Designs would be made public.
A limited aid budget
Concerns were raised that imposing further reporting requirements on an
already limited aid budget could cause DFAT to spend more money on reporting
than actually delivering effective aid. DFAT considered that additional resources
would be required to comply with the terms of the legislation:
I just have to say that, every time we have to add another
document to that list, it means you have to divert another person off other
tasks to do the necessary reporting. We would have to get an idea of what the
dimensions of such a report would be before I could give you a sense of the
quantity of diverted resources; however, there would be an inevitable impact,
and some people in Sally's [Gender] branch would have to spend a chunk of time
doing another report. Yes, it would be based upon and fully consistent with the
other reports but it is still another task to add to a long list of tasks that
my very conscientious but sometimes overworked team are grappling with.
CBM Australia responded by arguing that a careful balance needed to be
The level of oversight and accountability that would be
induced by a stronger reporting mechanism would benefit not only the public
discourse about the outcomes of aid and its effectiveness; it would also shine
a light on where things are working and being able to utilise that...As to the
aspect of the reduced average staffing level within DFAT and a much reduced aid
program, I think that a balance needs to be struck. We do not want reporting to
be burdensome or reporting for reporting's sake.
Ms Crawford from the IWDA argued that the burden of extra reporting
would be outweighed by the benefits of having access to critical information:
If you analyse this in cost-benefit terms, we are talking
about a small marginal addition to the reporting in order to deliver
information about the bulk of the aid program so that you can see what it is
doing and manage it effectively...It is hard to imagine that the costs of the
kind of additional reporting that you might want to do is not going to be
outweighed, in terms of the additional insight it gives you to the bulk of the
aid program and a greater ability to manage that effectively.
...the department is already doing it. I think that is the
point. Would more money be expended? Perhaps. But there needs to be more money
expended now on data collection and recording outcomes to fulfil the existing
provisions under policy anyway, so I do not think an additional requirement for
whatever data that is already being gathered to be presented to parliament
would change that.
Although it would be less secure, a directive to DFAT to implement
reporting improvements internally would achieve similar outcomes without requiring
Weaknesses in the bill
Although many submitters supported the bill, a number of weaknesses were
identified during the committee's hearing. First, the responsibility for
considering issues of gender equality with regards to development assistance is
placed on the 'Commonwealth aid official', who would be unidentifiable for the
purposes of accountability. In the UK, the responsibility sits with the
'Secretary of State', which does not preclude officials from considering
issues, but provides accountability through the estimates process by placing
responsibility with the Minister.
Second, it was also noted that a difference between the UK bill and this
bill is the threshold of the decision to enact the legislation. It could be
argued that the lower threshold in the bill before the committee would be too
broad and go to routine departmental decisions that are made which may become
burdensome on the decision maker. CBM Australia pointed out that officials, for
example, may have to assess whether stationery supplies would affect gender
However, as stationery costs fall under a separate budget, DFAT confirmed this
would not be so.
Third, clause 5(1) of the bill requires the Minister for Foreign Affairs
to present to each House of Parliament 'a report setting out how, during the
previous financial year, the Commonwealth used international aid to promote
gender equality in recipient countries'. The intention is to increase the
availability and quality of information on how Australian aid funding is being
spent in promoting gender equality.
However, the bill itself does not contain guidance on the type of
information to be made available, or the desired level of detail. While the
legislation would require DFAT to table the information as a standalone report
within the timeframe set out in the bill, nothing in the bill appears to require
the report to contain more detail than what is currently included in the department's
Annual Report, its Performance of Australian Aid report or its Aid
Program Performance Reports.
The UK legislation is similarly broad and does not provide guidance on
how the provisions should be implemented. Plan International noted that in the
UK, implementation details were formed at a later date after discussions
between the Department for International Development and the sector were
Fourth, even though gender equality is an objective of the bill, no
definition is provided. Although concerns were raised that a definition could
limit the intent behind the legislation, submitters were supportive of
including a definition.
The IWDA cautioned that gender is not a binary, and any definition should have
consideration for future developments in gender identity:
...There are a range of other genders and identities, and there
is an increasing focus on the marginalisation experienced by people of diverse gender
identity, and I think we need to recognise that point in time so that, in
putting a definition of gender equality into legislation like this, we are not
locking in something that is backward looking, as opposed to recognising where
we are. For example, some of the definitions around gender equality that exist
will tend to talk in terms of men and women and boys and girls, and I think
this is a moment to look at how we might move beyond that so that wording is
more inclusive of the diversity that exists in the population.
DFAT advised that any definition of gender equality and how it is
applied across the aid program would be guided by existing policy:
In terms of the definition in the legislation, it would be
interpreted, of course, subject to our aid policy, our gender strategy and the
guidance that we give across the department to our program-managing colleagues...
We need to give a fair degree of flexibility about this
because, while we have given clear guidance about what gender equality means
and what the gender equality issues that we focus on are, it is also still
important that each investment takes account of the particular context that it
is working in. Gender equality and what we can expect to achieve on it will be
different from Afghanistan to Papua New Guinea to Vietnam. We know that gender
equality is best advanced in the absolutely context-specific situation, and we
need to attach ourselves to that context. I think that the definitions that are
in the legislation would have to be guided by our overarching strategic
positions and then by the particular context on the ground.
The committee agrees with submitters that the Australian aid program
should promote gender equality. Gender equality is an important development
goal in its own right. It is an essential pre-condition to achieving progress
toward other development goals and should be taken into account (mainstreamed)
across all aid investments regardless of objective.
The committee also agrees that more could be done to improve the
public's understanding of Australia's official aid program and what is being
achieved, including information being more accessible on DFAT's website.
However, the committee is not convinced that legislation is required to meet
the intentions of this bill. The committee does not believe a persuasive case
was made to support the introduction of a standalone piece of legislation which
addresses two specific aspects of Australia's official aid program.
The committee understands that DFAT has already implemented a number of
initiatives to improve the gender outcomes of aid investments. First, the
Gender Target, which has been in place since June 2014, requires that at least
80 per cent of investments effectively address gender issues in their implementation.
Second, a new gender fund and a new gender branch are being created to ensure
visibility and coherence of DFAT's gender work across the department.
Third, DFAT's Aid Investment Plans, Investment Designs, Aid
Quality Checks, Partner Performance Assessments, Multilateral Performance
Assessments and Humanitarian Response Aid Quality Checks already mainstream
gender across much of the Australian aid program. The committee is aware that
it is a reflection of DFAT's finite resources that these processes are only
applied to investments over $3 million.
The committee considers that gaps in gender data and subsequent
reporting can be attributed to a number of factors, including DFAT's own
limited resources, privacy obligations to implementing partners and the poor
data collection capabilities of many countries. As these factors are not easily
mitigated, the department is somewhat restricted in its ability to close the gaps.
However, the committee does believe that DFAT, to some degree, could
improve its financial reporting on gender-specific expenditure. While the Annual
Report and PAA do address the question of how Australian aid promotes
gender equality, there is limited financial information available which effectively
determines Australia's impact on gender equality.
The committee recognises that DFAT's limited capacity affects its scope
for reporting; however the benefits of identifying gender-specific expenditure data
would appear to outweigh the cost. It is worth considering whether DFAT could
capture and track those aid investments with specific gender outcomes.
While the committee does not believe it is necessary for DFAT to produce
a separate report, it does see merit in releasing more information to the
public. The department's Annual Report, PAA and APPRs provide
comprehensive information on aid investments, however these reports are not widely
accessed. DFAT conceded it needed to better promote its existing aid work to
the Australian public and was considering ways it could communicate its efforts
in a more accessible way.
Notably, DFAT is endeavouring to make all Aid Investment Plans
public by the end of September 2015. The committee encourages DFAT to also make
Investment Designs publically available, unless there are good reasons for
withholding such information. Also, DFAT is currently developing a gender
equality strategy which will draw together the work being done over three
elements of the integrated department's work: development program, foreign
policy and economic diplomacy.
The committee notes that some operational aspects of the bill may have
unintended consequences. For example, the broad threshold of the bill may
capture superfluous activities and become burdensome on the decision maker.
The committee is also wary that the bill's provisions may affect more departmental
officers than anticipated, noting that gender work does not only reside with
the gender section, but extends across the department. For example, some gender
programs are not delivered directly by the gender section but by geographic
divisions. Officers from geographic divisions implementing these projects
receive training in the skills required to deliver programs effectively, with
the gender section providing a specialist support service.
While similar legislation has been enacted in the United Kingdom, it is an
element of a broader legislative framework pertaining to the UK's aid program.
The committee is not convinced that a legislative approach makes sense in
Australia in the absence of a broader legislative framework. If an overarching
legislative framework for Australia's aid program were to be considered in the
future, a requirement to have regard to gender as part of such an approach may
well be appropriate.
committee recommends that the bill not be passed.
Senator Chris Back
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