Bishop, Plibersek spar over foreign aid

The major parties' deputy leaders have sparred over foreign aid and East Timor maritime borders during an election campaign debate.

The two women seeking to fly the flag for Australia's interests abroad have put aside diplomatic niceties during a robust foreign affairs election campaign debate.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her opposition counterpart Tanya Plibersek sparred over the New Colombo Plan, foreign aid, innovation and the maritime border with East Timor at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

Ms Bishop is miffed that Labor wants to axe her ideas hub called the InnovationXchange, which she once described as a "little funky, hipster, Googly, Facebooky-type place".

She's also unimpressed that Ms Plibersek plans to scale back her signature exchange program that is sending Australians students to study and do internships in the Asia Pacific.

"Our leaders of tomorrow are our ambassadors of today," Ms Bishop said.

But Ms Plibersek argued some scholarships available are too generous.

"What's a bit extraordinary about the New Colombo Plan is that you can get up to $60,000 or more to undertake this," she said.

"I think, given that the age pension is about $20,000 bucks a year, the extraordinary amounts involved are really difficult to explain."

The gloves came off when the debate turned to foreign aid.

"We inherited an absolutely trashed aid budget," Ms Bishop said as she justified the coalition's $11.3 billion aid cuts and attacked the previous Labor government's unaffordable trajectory.

The coalition had refocused efforts away from projects such as rebuilding Grenada's parliament house in the Caribbean to win their vote for the UN Security Council, to the more immediate neighbourhood.

Ms Plibersek defended the aid program's effectiveness under Labor, pointing to a Papua New Guinea program that had transformed the lives of women through extra security at local markets.

While she played the "good global citizen" card, Ms Plibersek would not commit the opposition to restoring the full aid budget.

Labor is only pledging an extra $800 million over four years.

More than half would go to the United Nations refugee agency to help with the growing humanitarian crisis of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people, the number of which has risen to 65 million worldwide.

On East Timor, Ms Bishop noted it was a shame Ms Plibersek hadn't sought a detailed briefing before announcing Labor would seek to reopen negotiations on the maritime border.

The move that would have implications for Indonesia and on the carve up of oil and gas reserves.

Ms Plibersek maintained she had extensive briefings and East Timor's court action against Australia meant the status quo was not viable.

"You say there is certainty that the treaty arrangements have provided certainty but, plainly, they haven't or we wouldn't be in court right now.

Source AAP

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