Address to the 10th Anniversary of WaterAid Australia

  • Speech, E&OE

Good morning to you all and I'm delighted to be here this morning. I congratulate WaterAid Australia for its tenth anniversary, a very important milestone for this organisation.

Recently, I spoke at the 40th Anniversary of Australian Aid. There was an exhibition here in Canberra reflecting on Australia's long term engagement as a reliable and effective development partner. Prior to the event I was asked to choose a photograph, from the exhibition that I thought encapsulated what our aid program is about and I chose the image on these screens - a WaterAid project in Timor Leste which shows children joyfully experiencing clean, safe water in their village. The image is also about empowering women and girls and speaks volumes about the impact Australian aid has had in an area of our expertise and that is water and sanitation.

WaterAid brings together the best of industry experience, the people on the ground with water technology, utility experts and development practitioners to achieve better, more cost effective and more innovative results in our development work. We have water technology being exported through partnerships and twinning arrangements to places that need for our expertise. Now it is this collaborative partnership between private and public sector players which has made WaterAid effective and that is what I expect of the Australian Aid program – cost-effective, innovative, collaborative solutions.

Two days ago my new initiative that I'm very excited about, the aid and development innovationXchange, was launched – a place to bring creative thinkers together, to work in partnership to deliver aid and generate aid investment in clever and strategic and innovative ways.

Innovation is the natural territory of entrepreneurs, businesses, private sector organisations, NGOs, academic institutions where necessity drives, where risk is accepted because of the rewards that can result, where creativity is embedded in the way people think and the way work is conducted and projects are run. It is not usually the area for the public sector.

We have commenced the work of the innovationXchange with a US$100m partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies called 'Data for Health'. The Australian Government is putting in US$15m, Bloomberg Philanthropies US$85m and this is about building the capacity of governments in developing countries to collect and use vital health information to build better health systems. Data is key - if you can't measure it you can't do it, and we are gathering information on births, deaths, causes of death that has not been collected or been available before. This is what will drive evidence-based aid work.

I've launched SEED Pacific, a mechanism to harness the collective power of business and society to solve development challenges in the Pacific, our neighbourhood, our region. This is echoed in the work WaterAid is doing under the Government's innovation and impact grant through the civil society WASH fund program - piloting an innovative data collection analysis system, bringing mobile phone technology into the homes of families in Timor Leste.

It is a cost-effective, smart approach to capture actual information about people in their homes and drive better services for them, make sure they have water and sanitation where they need it so that they can be free to maximise other opportunities to go to work, to go to school, to start businesses and care for their families in health and safe ways.

This work is all about recognising simple solutions to fundamental problems can have far reaching impacts, recognising Australia's world class expertise in water management and the power of business to apply that expertise and get things done.

Infrastructure is one of my priorities for the aid program. Now when we talk of infrastructure there is a tendency to think of bridges and roads but there are other types of infrastructure just as critically important to our societies. The infrastructure of water supply so people can turn on a tap and get clean water, infrastructure of hygiene and sanitation, being able to go to the toilet discreetly and safely, and have functional sewerage systems. This assists in disease control and prevention and it is among the most important infrastructure for without it other development goals like education, health, economic development can't be achieved.

Investment in women and girls is another of my priorities for the aid program. I have stipulated that by next year at least 80 per cent of aid spending from Australia must have a component that benefits women and girls.

The impact of lack of access to clean water and safe sanitation is perhaps greatest on women and girls. Clean water and safe sanitation underpin almost everything else we are trying to achieve. Investing in community-based sanitation and hygiene programs is one of the most effective ways to improve the health, self esteem, education prospects for girls and women.

This is very much about economic empowerment and economic growth. It is a concept very much understood by the partners in another successful multi-sector partnership - between Unilever – the British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company founded back in 1929 - and civil society organisations. Unilever's Sustainable Business and Community Manager Aneta Ilievcsa is here, thank you for being here and thank you for presenting this report to me.

I'm delighted with the partnership's report - "Water for Women" - which explores the link between access to clean water and development and how that can seriously impede development. As the report says, "(water is) not just about thirst, and sanitation it is about opportunity. Without access to clean water, the world's poorest people will stay poor… and at every stage of life, the absence of safe water robs women of opportunity and even life itself."

One startling statistic is that every day women and girls in developing countries spend 200 million hours carrying water. The responsibility for carrying water falls disproportionately on women and girls - on average, women in some regions spend 25 per cent of their day collecting water for their families. This means significant economic loss for our region and a waste of the potential contribution of these women to development and growth.

In PNG Australia is running hygiene education programs and research, working with our partners at WaterAid and at the International Water Centre to improve conditions for our neighbours. This includes in the rural and remote areas Sepik Region (East Sepik and Sanduan provinces), Western Highlands, Enga, Oro and Simbu provinces and the National Capital District.

Extended freshwater supply to the Simbu Province means children are not getting sick from contaminated water, houses are clean, there is water to drink at the schools, girls feel comfortable going to school, people with disabilities have water nearby - totally transforming their lives. Similar basic infrastructure and hygiene practice education is also being conducted across Timor Leste, and indeed across 26 countries throughout the world.

I congratulate WaterAid on the work it has been doing over the past ten years. Your collaborative partnership and innovative approach has been making a difference to the lives of our neighbours and strengthening our region to deliver the prosperity and stability that we need. Long may your good work endure.

Media enquiries