2017 ANU Australasian Aid Conference

  • Speech, check against delivery
15 February 2017

Thank you Professor Harding for the introduction, Michael Wesley good tosee you, and distinguished guests, friends all.

These are challenging times for those of us working in internationalpolicy.

The geopolitical landscape has entered a period of rapid change.

We have seen that in the United States – with the election of PresidentTrump on the back of policies designed to reframe America's relationship withother nations.

In Europe, Britain's decision to leave the European Union has underminedEuropean solidarity and given momentum to anti-EU parties on the continent.

The orthodoxy of increasing interconnectedness in internationalrelations has essentially been turned on its head.

We see the same trends in many other countries, including Australia,where some people are questioning whether globalisation and internationaleconomic engagement have delivered in their interests.

Strains of protectionism and economic nationalism are appearing innations around the world.

Australia is an open export oriented market economy and our economicgrowth, our prosperity, our standard of living depends on our ability to sellour goods and services to consumers and marketplaces around the world.

Yet politicians are being urged to respond to calls to revisit andre-examine the terms of our engagement with the world.

I believe we have to be advocates for the benefits of open liberalisedtrade and investment and explain how and why it is in our interest in terms ofjobs and economic growth.

International development faces the same pressures as other areas ofpolicy.

So like other strands of globalisation, our international aid sectormust step up and explain – and re-explain, in clear and effective terms, why itis in our national interest, to support the development of developingcountries.

The benefits are often less visible at home, harder to quantify, andharder still to communicate effectively.

The result is that Australia's $3.8 billion aid program is often seenthrough the outdated lens of some sort of benevolent charity.

To a large degree, that outdated perspective misses the extent to whichAustralia's aid program works in our national interest, as much in theinterests of those in developing countries.

Currently, all around the world, more than 65 million people are on themove fleeing war, persecution or major failures of governance.

Through our aid program, Australia plays a significant role inaddressing the needs of refugees and displaced people within their owncountries, or as close to their countries as possible – that is, in countriesof first asylum.

We do that by helping to educate children, creating job opportunities,and helping to make peoples' lives safer.

The announcement I made of a $220 million package of humanitarianassistance to meet the needs of Syrian refugees was motivated by these factors.

Working through aid organisations, our package helps support Jordan andLebanon in educating and allowing access to jobs for millions of Syrianrefugees living in those countries, waiting to go home to Syria when theconflict is over.

Without that assistance, the refugees would be more likely to movefurther afield in search of safety – movements that could further destabilisecountries in the region and beyond.

In Myanmar, another example, Australia helps educate more than 30,000children in displaced communities.

We help make women and girls feel safer by investing in services thatrespond to gender-based violence and work to prevent it.

We have deployed Australian protection experts into the UNHCR and localhumanitarian organisations, and support organisations such as Red Cross, Savethe Children, and the UN Population Fund to deliver education and protection tothe most vulnerable.

Our aid program also seeks to tackle the root causes of instability,which often comes from political or social upheaval.

Regional stability can be threatened when individual societies descendinto chaos.

Our experience in the Solomon Islands in the past decade or so is aclear example of the effectiveness of interventions when supported by localcommunities.

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands – RAMSI – was anexample of regional cooperation to help stabilise a vulnerable state.

Now Australia invested $2.5 billion over 14 years helping to restore lawand order to the Solomon Islands.

It is evident that had we not so invested, we would have been dealingwith a far more precarious situation in our neighbourhood.

Countering violent extremism in the region is another obvious way ourdevelopment program works to promote stability and prosperity – in line withour national interest.

In 2015, in addition to the many lives it took, terrorism wiped $96billion off global GDP.

The ongoing conflict in Syria, to put it in context, has set thatcountry back 30 years at least, in terms of lost economic growth.

Associated with extremism, terrorism is a force multiplier for theirregular movement of people, civil instability, weak governance, and forhealth epidemics.

It also diminishes opportunities for trade, reduces investment and slowseconomic growth – all critical factors undermining regional and global securityand prosperity.

As a result, I've unveiled a new framework to guide aid programs incountering violent extremism in our region – and this is an important step thatoffers fresh ways to support regional security.

The framework will guide spending decisions to ensure Australian aidinvestments support countering violent extremism work in locally appropriate,targeted and sensitive ways.

Last year, Australia worked with other developed countries to change therules on the use of Official Development Assistance.

The changes mean that certain peace and security assistance todeveloping countries, including non-coercive approaches to countering violentextremism, is now ODA-eligible.

Stability also comes under huge pressure during natural disasters.

In our part of the world, the Pacific is vulnerable to the full range ofnatural disasters and particularly cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Natural disasters can be catastrophic for economic development,particularly for small states.

Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and Cyclone Winston in Fiji caused damage andlosses equivalent to 64 per cent and 31 per cent of their GDP respectively.

More than half the population of Vanuatu and Fiji were affected, causingmajor upheaval and dislocation.

Australia's aid program builds the resilience of our neighbourhood, sonational governments and local communities are better prepared to respond tonatural disasters.

To mitigate the impact of natural disasters, we invest in early warningsystems, we preposition supplies to quickly and effectively make a differenceafter a disaster strikes.

We've also invested in innovation to embrace new technologies and ideasto improve humanitarian responses.

Through our Pacific Humanitarian and Humanitarian Supplies challenges,where we called for new ideas and approaches to tackle this issue, we'rerolling out the use of drones, for example, in assessing the damage caused bynatural disasters, so we can more quickly identify areas of greatest need.

As severe weather events become more frequent and more damaging withclimate change, it is in Australia's national interest to keep our regionstable and secure by working with our aid partners in the Pacific.

Climate change is an immediate concern for our neighbours, and for thatreason, we've committed $1 billion to helping developing countries in ourregion and beyond deliver their climate change priorities.

We also want to make sure that the most vulnerable countries, particularlyin the Pacific, can access the climate finance they need.

As Co-Chair of the Green Climate Fund Board, Australia has secured morethan $130 million in additional funding for the Pacific – this is a globalboard so we have been focusing on security and funding for the Pacific –helping build security and stability in our neighbourhood.We are working with other governments in our region, and with privateenterprise, to meet the challenge of mitigating and adapting to climate change,mindful of the need to maintain long-term economic stability.

Another area where our aid program helps make our region a better andsafer place is in health.

Regional health threats present an immediate and ongoing challenge toour national health which is why our government made an election commitment toinvest an additional $100 million in regional health security.

In our region, HIV/AIDS and drug-resistant TB strains are much morewidespread than in Australia – so helping countries limit the spread of diseasehelps inoculate us against outbreaks of disease here.

Economic modelling suggests a SARS-like outbreak in our region, if itwere not quickly contained, could cost us as much as $121 billion 1 – without counting the human toll.

I have also made the health sector a priority for the innovativepartnerships that we're entering into that can extend our reach andeffectiveness.

Our 'Water Abundance Prize' is one such partnership – struck with theXPRIZE Foundation – this is an innovation incubator based in California and Ivisited it recently, they are doing extraordinary work around the world – andwe've partnered with them and India's Tata Group.

Together we're hoping to tackle the challenge of water security, aparticularly acute problem in the Indo-Pacific region, and a problem thatpresents in the form of chronic health challenges.

Our approach is a $2 million dollar prize to discover an innovative andeffective technology to harvest water from air.

Another innovative partnership is our investment in mSupply, a projectto map health facilities and digitally manage the supply of essentialmedicines.

By using smartphones to replace paper based health systems, mSupply willensure our Pacific Island neighbours have the tools they need to meet healthchallenges, including in emergencies.

This will be a first for the region, and the world for that matter –enabling crowd sourced medical supplies in a simple and effective manner.

Our partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies on Data for Health isanother great example of how innovation supports health systems – helpingdeveloping countries to better plan for service delivery needs.

In one component Bloomberg and the Australian Government through DFATare augmenting traditional public health surveys with new, faster mobile phonesurveys – leading to improved data and greater use of evidence in public healthfinancing decisions for countries in our region.Introducing mobile phone data collection eliminates the need for fieldoperations, potentially reducing the time to carry out a survey from two yearsto less than six months.

The innovationXchange that I launched in 2015 has been leading the waythe Government approaches intractable problems in development – findingsolutions by embracing collaboration, partnership and bold newperspectives.

This new approach to aid delivery has brokered some transformative newpartnerships, including those I mentioned today.

I've also mainstreamed gender equality and the protection of women incrisis across our development program.

I have set a target that at least 80 per cent of our aid investmentsmust effectively address gender issues in their implementation.

It's the right thing to do, as a matter of principle.

It's also the smart thing to do, as improving gender equality promoteseconomic prosperity.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services, particularly familyplanning, also helps reduce maternal and child mortality.

Such needs often increase during disasters, so Australia supports accessto sexual and reproductive health services, including safe birthing, access tocontraception, and services for victims of rape, during crises.

So far, through the SPRINT program – for Sexual and Reproductive Healthin Crisis and Post Crisis Settings – we have helped 890,000 people duringhumanitarian crises, including in Fiji, Nepal, the Philippines and elsewhere.

Today I announce a further $9.5 million in funding over the next threeyears for International Planned Parenthood Foundation to deliver this essentialprogram, which saves lives and rebuilds communities.

I'm pleased that Director General Melesse of IPPF is with us today.

It is important that our support has an impact.

And so I also announce today that the Australian Government issupporting a $9.5 million partnership with ANU and with the InternationalWomen's Development Agency to research and implement a program that analysesthe extent of the disadvantage faced by individuals – particularly women andgirls in these scenarios.

The result will be the Individual Deprivation Measure, a data tool forpolicy makers to better target our aid – and improve its effectiveness. Socongratulations ANU.

My address today is putting our aid program through the perspective ofAustralia's national interest.

We must bring the Australian taxpayer and Australian public with us.

Many of our projects support sustainable and inclusive growth in ourpartner countries.

More prosperous, inclusive societies are more stable ones – which drivesregional and Australian prosperity, and supports regional and our security.

In part for that reason, when we came to Government, I directed that 90per cent of our aid program be spent close to home, in our region, where we canmake the biggest difference and where we, particularly in the case of thePacific, have a special responsibility.

It is a fact that the private sector continues to be the most importantdriver of economic growth that helps lift people out of poverty – nine out often jobs come from the private sector.

So I have directed that all new programs explore ways to involve theprivate sector to leverage our funding and embrace more effective ways toachieve our aims.

I have launched a Business Partnerships Platform which works withbusiness to tackle development challenges in our region.

For example, under the Business Partnerships Platform, the department ofForeign Affairs and Trade is working with MasterCard, Vietnam's Bank for SocialPolicy and The Asia Foundation to deploy the first mobile banking platform forlow income populations in Vietnam.

We are working with Digicel to provide affordable solar energy solutionsto off-grid households and small businesses in PNG.

Economically productive infrastructure is also part of this work –connecting entrepreneurs of all sizes to business opportunities.

Roads that connect ports to industrial hubs, bridges that connect buyersand sellers, these are the gateways to economic opportunity in the emergingeconomies of the Indo-Pacific.

Through the Private Infrastructure Development Group, we are helping tode-risk infrastructure investments across South and South East Asia, andmobilise private sector funding.

We are also about to commence a second phase of our Market DevelopmentFacility, which uses market based approaches to increase employment in ruraland urban areas.

Trade, too, is crucial – creating more jobs in our region. Higherincomes means more stable, successful partners for Australia.

That is why we have committed to increasing our trade-related assistanceto 20 per cent of the total aid budget by 2020, and working to facilitate moretrade amongst countries in our region.

It's also why we support education through the aid program.

According to the World Bank, with each additional year of education, therisk of conflict drops by 20 per cent.

In the Philippines, for example, a large portion of Australia's aidfocuses on Mindanao, home to a sizeable Muslim population – in this regionalone, 76,000 children are now going to school where previously they had noeducation.

Education is the key to economic opportunity and the best counter-weightto conflict and extremism.

By opening up opportunity for these students, we make Australia and theregion a safer, more stable place.

I have also initiated, along with my fellow counterpart ForeignMinisters from Mexico, Indonesia, Korea and Turkey – it's called MIKTA; Mexico,Indonesia, Korea, Turkey, Australia – it's a new informal grouping of countriesthat are influential in their respective regions – I've initiated an innovationchallenge focused on increasing access to education in emergencies, particularlyfor girls.

We will officially launch this MIKTA challenge in April and we'll beseeking innovative solutions from around the globe to help target the complexissues keeping children from getting the education that they need.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are many ways in which developmentassistance is building sustainability and resilience in our region and therebyis in Australia's national interest.

Now this is an important point, too often lost – because support for ourinvaluable aid program has to come from home, from the Australian taxpayer.

So the Australian taxpayers must support it, and that will come with abetter appreciation of its purpose, its intent and the outcomes.

Inevitably, development assistance has a global focus.

There's a reason why Australia came together with partners from allaround the world to negotiate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Development is a global concern, and the best, most sustainablesolutions will come about through global cooperation.

The 2030 Agenda gives us a global framework, one that recognises thescale of the task requires the mobilisation of resources well beyond thoseavailable to national governments.

Foreign direct investment, remittances, trade and innovative sources ofprivate finance are all critical, as these would dwarf the collective fundsfrom aid programs.

However, our aid program has a vital place and I look forward toengaging with you as Australia's aid program continues to evolve as a crucialtool to advance our national interest, which is best served through regionalstability and prosperity.

Footnote 1. HuszarA, Pearson M, Modelling of Health and Economic Impacts in 10 Indo-PacificCountries, DFAT Health Resource Facility

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