Australian Red Cross humanitarian forum on conflict, displacement and disruption

Humanitarianism in the 21st Century

Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)

11 November 2013

Good morning.

President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dr Peter Maurer,

President of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Mr Tadateru Konoe,

Secretaries General, Mr Yves Daccord and Mr Bekele Geleta,

Heads of the National Societies,

Distinguished guests,

On behalf of the Australian Government, I am very pleased to welcome you, your fellow representatives and supporters to Australia for the 2013 General Assembly and Council of Delegates Meetings.

We congratulate the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on its special anniversary.

For 150 years, the Movement has rescued humanity from itself.

In a world too often divided, the Red Cross and Red Crescent are powerful symbols of our common humanity.

Beyond race, religion and gender – when all politics is put aside – we are reminded of our shared desire for security, opportunity and individual happiness.

To many of us, these symbols embody the goodness and reward that come from committing to the service of others.

For the men and women of the Movement, it is a commitment that often comes at great personal risk and sacrifice.

What is right and just, is rarely easy.

We are in debt to the courageous efforts of past generations, who have provided assistance and protection to those most vulnerable.

For the first time, Australia has the privilege of hosting the General Assembly and Council of Delegates meetings.

I make special mention of the Hon Robert Tickner, CEO of the Australian Red Cross, for the work he has done to bring today's event about.

As a Minister and a humanitarian, Robert has devoted his life's work to the betterment of others.

The Humanitarian Forum is an opportunity to contribute to the important ongoing public discussion of the changes and challenges confronting the humanitarian sector.

That it is held here in Sydney provides us with a chance to focus attention on the Asia Pacific – Indian Ocean region.

Home to many of the world's small and developing countries, the region confronts a range of issues – from disease and natural disasters, to endemic violence particularly against women.

It is a region where limited state capacity can see problems transform quickly into crises.

Through our economic and diplomatic engagement, and substantial aid program, Australia has a unique insight into these challenges; their causes and how they may be overcome.

It is here that the world looks to Australia to take the lead.

The recent Australian election provides an opportunity to reflect on, and energise Australia's humanitarian action.

Like all newly-elected government's, we come with a fresh set of ideas and perspectives.

The values that underpin our approach however remain the same.

Australia will continue to be an effective and principled humanitarian donor.

We will continue to give quickly and generously when help is needed.

And we will continue to work with our partners to reduce the human and economic costs of conflict and displacement.

We acknowledge the important role of independent humanitarian action, and the crucial role it plays in reaching those most in need.

This includes preventive diplomacy and disaster risk reduction.

Ultimately, it is only through sustainable economic growth that provides jobs and opportunity can we truly strengthen vulnerable communities.

When incomes rise, health and education standards follow.

The closer alignment of Australian aid, trade and foreign policy will enable our work to be pursued coherently and effectively.

Australia, like other advanced economies, faces significant economic challenges. It is therefore important that we maximise the effectiveness of our aid dollars.

This means focusing our investments on areas that will produce the greatest economic, social and humanitarian outcomes.

There is no doubt that humanitarian crises cost lives, reverse economic and social progress, and cost billions in recovery efforts.

In our region, Australia has spent over $2 billion on the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) from 2003-2013.

Looking further afield, the conflict in Syria is likely to result in a generation of young people lost to the education system.

A famous British poet (Thomas Gray – Elegy Written in a County Churchyard) once wrote of the sadness he felt imaging all the talent that had been lost to the world through lack of opportunity.

In Syria, as elsewhere, we can only imagine what could have been.

Around the world, the humanitarian system is increasingly stretched by such crises.

We must continue to search for ways to improve its efficiency, quality and reach.

I welcome the deeper engagement of theprivate enterprise in humanitarian action.

Innovative communications technology is providing access to real time information and testimony during humanitarian crises.

One only need witness the role played by Google following Haitian earthquake in 2010 to realise the enormous potential of modern technology.

Harnessing these new technologies will improve the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of the international humanitarian system.

In this sense, the Federation's 2013 World Disasters Report, Focus on technology and the future of humanitarian action, is extremely timely.

But changing the way the humanitarian sector operates is not enough.

Given that many of today's humanitarian crises are born of conflict, we also need to change the behaviour of the actors involved in these conflicts.

This means strengthening international legal norms to protect the most vulnerable in situations of conflict.

Ensuring that parties to conflict allow access for humanitarian assistance and refrain from attacks on protected medical personnel, vehicles and facilities is vital.

Australia is working hard to achieve this objective in the United Nations Security Council.

Together with Luxembourg, we secured the passage of a Presidential Statement urging all parties in the Syrian conflict to remove the obstacles that prevented relief reaching people in need.

And if we are genuine in our determination to limit the harm inflicted on civilians, the way weapons are traded must be reformed.

We are very pleased to have worked with the Committee and other countries over a number of years to finally realise an effective Arms Trade Treaty.

The unregulated spread of small arms is a disease at the heart of society.

In the Solomon Islands, Australia witnessed firsthand its destructive impact as ethnic tensions spilled over into conflict.v A three week amnesty saw more than 4,000 firearms either surrendered or confiscated by RAMSI.

In Timor-Leste and Bougainville, small arms and light weapons have exacerbated already fragile situations.

Under the Arms Trade Treaty, arms exports will be assessed against common criteria, including the likelihood that they will be used to commit serious violations of human rights.

We will continue to work with likeminded countries to promote the Treaty.

I thank the International Committee of the Red Cross and President Maurer for his contribution to our High-level event during our United Nations Security Council Presidency in September.

This is part of our effort to strength humanitarian protection more broadly.

A high-level of attention will be given to accountability, protecting people with disability, and preventing and responding to sexual and gender based violence.

I am a personal champion of the United Kingdom-led Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, and am strongly committed to better outcomes for women and girls in humanitarian crises.

I look forward to hearing the other perspectives on these challenges that will be discussed at today's Forum.

I wish all Movement delegates and other participant's productive and successful meetings in the week ahead and an enjoyable stay in Australia.

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