World Humanitarian Day

  • Speech, check against delivery
16 August 2017

To my parliamentary colleagues who are here today, my colleagues from DFAT and to all those involved in the UN Association here in Australia, and the Parliamentary Friends of the UN, I'm delighted to have this opportunity to address you at this event to celebrate World Humanitarian Day, which I understand will actually take place on Saturday 19 August.

We are in a time of unprecedented humanitarian need.

We estimate that something like 140 million people in 37 different countries are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

At this time of global volatility, with crises and conflicts and natural disasters, as well as government failures, we are seeing a growing level of displacements around the world.

It is extraordinary to think that it is estimated around 65 million people are considered displaced, and every day 28,000 people are forcibly displaced somewhere in the world.

The Australian Government is stepping up to make a powerful contribution to the global demand for assistance, and we've increased our humanitarian budget, within the aid budget, by $60 million this year to now total $400 million.

In our region, the Pacific, there is an extraordinary demand as a result of the natural disasters that hit our region – cyclones and earthquakes.

Often the size, the scale of these disasters can overwhelm the traditional coping strategies of small island states.

For example, Cyclone Pam that hit Vanuatu in 2015 affected 90 percent of the country and the damage caused equated to about 65 percent of its GDP.

Not 12 months later, Cyclone Winston hit neighbouring Fiji and over 60 percent of the population were affected and the damage bill was about $2 billion.

Australia and New Zealand and others came to the aid of both Vanuatu and Fiji.

We provide Defence and civilian support, supplies, humanitarian assistance, and longer term support for rebuilding efforts.

Last June in fact, in Brisbane I launched the Australian Humanitarian Partnership.

This was a new $50 million initiative between the Australian Government and leading Australian NGOs to ensure that we could better manage disaster risk reduction strategies, early warning systems for Pacific nations, having specialists deployed into their national disaster management offices, working with partners like the World Food Programme to ensure that we could better pre-position supplies, that we could ensure population mapping.

These kinds of partnerships I know make a substantial difference.

But it's not just in our region, we work with the United Nations agencies further afield.

For example, in the Middle East we are now focussing on longer term, multi-year funding arrangements so that there can be greater certainty and greater planning for better outcomes.

In Syria our three year package of about $220 million is enabling the UN agencies to better plan and to have a longer term outlook on what needs to be done, likewise our $100 million package in Iraq.

Working with RedR Australia we have also deployed over 350 specialists to assist in humanitarian relief, and I know Denise Oakenfull is an example of one of our Australian specialists who has worked with Jordanian authorities as part of the UN Office on Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Her role is to liaise between the Jordanian authorities and the UN to ensure safe passage of humanitarian convoys into southern Syria.

We are constantly having to deal with evolving threats, evolving challenges, evolving risks, and that means we need to bring new thinking, innovative, creative thinking.

This was the whole point behind my establishment of the innovationXchange within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and I'm delighted to see Ewen McDonald here, the Deputy Secretary of the Department who is responsible for the success might I say Ewen, of the innovationXchange. A brilliant idea that has really enabled us to be world leading in so many areas of the delivery of overseas development assistance and specifically humanitarian assistance.

The innovationXchange has been partnering with academic institutions, the private sector, private companies, other governments and bringing into the innovationXchange some of the brightest, most creative thinkers whether it's from Google or USAID or the World Bank. We work with Atlassian, we work with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we work with a whole range of partners to get the best ideas on how to most effectively and efficiently deliver assistance.

We have also taken part in a number of global challenges and one was the Humanitarian Supplies Challenge, where we put up seed funding, we put up prize money to the world saying: come up with your best and brightest ideas for new humanitarian supplies, because we know that the first 24-48 hours after a natural disaster can be utterly crucial, and what do people need? They need shelter, they need energy, they need clean water.

So how can we do better in providing support in those crucial 24-48 hours after a natural disaster?

We narrowed down the responses – there were some brilliant ideas – narrowed it down to 13 particular products and we are trialling them in the Pacific in partnership with our Pacific friends and neighbours, and we will find those that work, those that make a significant difference, and then they will be part of our pre-positioned supplies and part of our response.

Likewise we had a Pacific Humanitarian Challenge focussing specifically on the Pacific: how can we better respond when disasters strike our region?

We're working currently with five of the prize winners including one, Firetail, which is a start-up from Wagga Wagga, and they are using drones and satellite imagery to better map in real time and provide details and information in real time, as to the areas of disaster where relief is urgently required.

So these are some of the ways the Australian Government is making a significant contribution to this unprecedented global demand for humanitarian assistance.

I am really looking forward to Australia playing its part on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Now, I don't want to pre-empt a vote but I'm feeling comfortable that given that there are two nations now competing for two spots on the UNN Human Rights Council, Australia should receive a significant amount of support.

In that role, we will bring our very principled and pragmatic approach to promoting and defending human rights around the world, and that will add to very strong voices in relation to some of the humanitarian crises that we are seeing.

So, as I see my colleague Senator Fierravanti-Wells, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific here, may I thank the UN Association of Australia for the support that you provide us and thank the Parliamentary Friends of the UN for the work that you do in supporting our humanitarian efforts.

To all of you here this evening, thank you for attending because we need to reflect on the humanitarian need, the humanitarian crises that we are currently witnessing.

Australia can and will do its part in the global response to this extraordinary demand.

Thank you for being here this evening.

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