Launch of Australian Volunteers for International Development

Parliament House, Canberra

Speech. Check against delivery, E&OE

26 May 2011

Thank you Ruth for that wonderful welcome to country.

And I begin, too, by acknowledging the first Australians on whose lands we meet and whose cultures we celebrate as the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

And that is particularly important on National Sorry Day. Remember this is a process of reconciliation which works its way through, day by day, year by year. And apologising to Indigenous Australians is an important step. But it's one step in a long journey — which continues.

But some of us intend to be partners in that journey for a long, long time ahead.

This is a very good day for Australia which is why we have so many folk from right across the country.

I acknowledge Julie Bishop who is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. I have other friends and parliamentary colleagues here. I see Andrew Leigh, who is the Member here in the ACT. And I'm sure I see Senator Ursula Stephens — I don't have a complete cheat sheet of who is here — I see other Senators here as well.

Members of the Diplomatic Corps — and those of you who have been out there labouring in the fields as Australian volunteers around the world, I acknowledge each and every one of you for what you have done.

It is a good day for Australia because it says something about our values. It says something about who we are as a people. It says something about the fact that when we see people in distress, anywhere in the world, that the natural response of Australians is one of saying — and what can I do?

This is a very good value.

You don't find it everywhere in the world. You find it in many countries, but you don't find it everywhere in the world.

But here it is writ large on the souls of the Australian national psyche. It is deep, and it's entrenched, and it is part of who we are as a people. And when we seek to give effect to that around the world we often talk about it as being part of our embrace of good international citizenship.

And that is that this thing we call fairness at home extends to fairness abroad — that if a fair go is good enough for Australians then a fair go is good enough for all the peoples of the world.

That's why we embraced the Millennium Development Goals, that's why we say it's not good enough for 1 billion people to still be living in poverty, and below the world poverty line of $1.25 a day.

The fact that thousands of kids today will have their lives threatened, and many will die, through basic things still like malnutrition — that women today will suffer death through maternal mortality which is in childbirth, or post-childbirth which is entirely avoidable.

The fact today that we have extraordinary acts of violence being committed against innocents and civilians around the world in various war zones.

So these challenges are real. They are material — as are the broader challenges of lifting these countries and communities out of poverty across the world. And the wonderful thing about Australia is that when we say — and ask ourselves this question, and what shall we do, that it isn't just a ‘and what shall the government do?’.

That's an important question. It's why we're lifting our overseas development assistance to 0.5 of GNI, and I acknowledge the Shadow Minister, Julie Bishop's bipartisan support for that. It's an important thing for our country. And it's why we are engaged in poverty alleviation programs right across the world.

It's important that we do that.

But it's also important that we're out there as individual Australians, as individual volunteers, doing our bit. And when I have run into Australian volunteers around the world, it is a sight to behold.

They are out there with traditional landmark Australian senses of humour, often incomprehensible to the cultures in which they work. Ever tried to translate an Australian joke into Swahili? Actually it probably works better in Swahili than it does in some other languages. But it's also the other great Australian character trait which you see there which is a gutsy determination. A very practical attitude of how do we fix this well?

A very gutsy attitude, like the Fred Hollows of this world, about how we enable a person to see for the first time in 30 years because of avoidable blindness.

And these are character traits of Australians, which we see all across the world. And what you as volunteers perhaps don't grasp is that what you do as individual citizens in Australia's name, across the world, I believe counts more than what governments do — because you are out there as living ambassadors of Australian compassion, and it's you folk who are out there – in the fields, labouring, day in day out, after the officials have come and gone and provided funding for the program.

It's what you folk do which I think really counts for the credibility of the Australian name around the world.

There are two or three things of which I'm particularly proud that the government has embraced. One was conceived in this room when we had the 2020 Summit only about three years ago, and that was that we should have a beast called the Australian Civilian Corps.

What's the Australian Civilian Corps? Well we've legislated it, bipartisan basis. It's come into being. And essentially through government we are now bringing together a ready reaction Corps of highly-skilled professionals, medical, engineers, and the rest, so that when a disaster hits anywhere in the world, these folks, these Australian civilians, can be deployed.

The legislation is through. Our first deployments will commence soon. And this is a good thing. The Australian Civilian Corps.

And then there's this other thing we're doing which is about volunteering, and that's where we have sought to work with all of you in partnership with the previously existing and longstanding volunteers associations within Australia, to bring it together into a single institution which we call Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID). ‘AVID’. I kind of like that.

People who are avid about what they're doing. But Australian Volunteers for short. Pre-existing bodies you're familiar with — Australian Volunteers International. I know them well. And they've done excellent work, from memory over half a century or more. Volunteering for International Development for Australia, Australian Business Volunteers —  many of whom I've run into in various parts of the world, Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development — all doing terrific work.

But there's often a problem with the fragmentation of names. So bringing these together under a single roof, while not destroying the integrity of previous contributing institutions, a single roof entitled Australian Volunteers for International Development, I think, is a very good thing.

There's a third thing we do as well. And that is, I'm proud of the fact that we have instituted something called the Australia Awards, right around the world. What are these?

The first - the Australian Civilian Corps — sending out teams of professionals and ready reaction to natural disasters, that's good, involving civilians.

The second, what we're launching here today, Australian Volunteers for International Development, hundreds and thousands of volunteers in all parts of the world, and that is good as well because they are volunteers.

But these Australia Awards — these are scholarships which we're rolling out to bring those who will subsequently build their own countries to Australia to study.

We've had for decades this thing called the Colombo Plan. And many of the Ambassadors and High Commissioners here have been beneficiaries of this Colombo Plan — or many who work in their missions or many who now occupy cabinet positions within their governments.

But somehow it sort of drifted away during the '80s and '90s.

No-one's fault in particular. It just did. And so what we have done as a government is bring this back into something called the Australia Awards. I'm proud to say that we're now extending, as of 2011, AusAID will administer 3100 of these across the developing world every year, growing to 4000 a couple of years ahead.

And the whole idea is within, again, this single name — the Australia Awards — to bring here the young professionals of tomorrow in each of the developing countries of the world.

We'll be extending 1000 of these scholarships across Africa. We'll be extending them across the Caribbean and parts of Latin America. Right across South Asia and of course right across the South Pacific and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region to help build the capacity that is needed in so many developing countries.

So these are three strong pillars of our engagement, people to people, around the world, which brings me to one other point. What we do as ambassadors — in going out to the world — is terrific. Australian Civilian Corps, Australian Volunteers for International Development — bringing folk into Australia to learn to study, that's terrific as well. But what actually we are doing also is building bridges to the world at a very personal human level — right across the planet, in the good name of Australia.

And this is an unintended but very valuable consequence of what we are doing through each of these particular programs.

We're going to call this institution Australian Volunteers.

You may have noticed there's a new logo too. I'm told that any institution has to have a logo and we've now got one. I hope you've all voted on it democratically and approve it. What is it by the way? There you go.

Launching Australian Volunteers that places these four volunteer programs that I referred to before under one identifiable brand name allows three important things to happen.

Firstly, it allows the Australian public to access volunteer information through one single entry point through the AusAID website portal, which is www.ausaid.gov.au/volunteer. I assume that's on the screen before you now.

Second, it allows the Australian Government to further collaborate with volunteer service providers who share our objective of helping developing countries to achieve poverty reduction and sustainable development.

And finally, and most importantly, it creates a united sense of Australians working together towards a common goal.

Three organisations were selected to work in partnership with AusAID to recruit, place and manage Australian Volunteers: AVI, Australian Volunteers International, Austraining International and the Australian Red Cross.

These three organisations will work with AusAID to ensure that, like the rest of the aid program, the volunteer component is effective and transparent. There'll be a common set of standards, terms of — and conditions for all volunteers, regardless of which volunteer partner manages their assignment.

We've also set up a pilot volunteer fund. This enables selected small organisations to receive grant funding to support their own volunteer programs in developing countries. With innovations and technology, online volunteering has grown exponentially in the last 10 years.

The Australian Government will also be providing funding to the United Nations Volunteers agency, the UNV, to expand their well-established online volunteering service.

And the changes that we're announcing today to our volunteer program come at a good time. In the recent budget we announced that funding for volunteers will increase from $47 million this financial year to $55 million in '11-12.

Such an increase enables us to engage an extra 120 new volunteer assignments, including expanded range of locations beyond the Asia-Pacific region into Africa and elsewhere.

This will take the total number of new volunteer assignments next year to over 900 and almost touching the 1000 point. And this is a very good thing. A significant step forward to achieving the government's goal of 1000 new volunteer assignments by the time we get to 2012-13.

We expect Australian volunteers to be located in 43 countries by the time we hit that 1000 mark, and this is a reflection of the value we place on volunteering itself. So, that's what we're doing and that's very practical work.

I'd like also to acknowledge here the work of AusAID and the Director-General, Peter Baxter, and his senior staff. Bringing together all the previous institutions to agree on all of this — those of us who are familiar with the institutional dynamics of non-government organisations, I'm sure there's never been any politics in this. You're nodding are you? Yeah.

But given that we've had so many pre-existing institutions with their own cultures, who achieve great things, I would just like to thank AusAID, and Peter and his leadership team, but each of the leadership teams of the longstanding volunteering organisations in Australia for putting their minds and their hearts together to work out a common vision and a common identity for the future.

This helps us brand within Australia what we are doing, so that more volunteers can register. It helps us brand globally what we're doing and adding to the good name of Australia. And these, therefore, are important things for us all.

I began by talking about Australian values and virtues, and I think what you're doing through this institution is adding to a very simple prospect and a very simple Australian project.

I said we always ask ourselves as Australians when disaster hits around the world, or when we see poverty ‘what can we do?’.

The answer to that is, we can make a difference.

And each and every one of the volunteers represented in this room, and those who are not here that are currently, as we speak, volunteering in the field, they are making a difference.

And that's what Australia is on about.

And it is in this spirit that I'm pleased to launch Australian Volunteers for International Development.

ENDS

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