Progress on the implementation of an effective aid program for Australia

Speech, E&OE, check against delivery

23 November 2011

Mr Speaker – in July this year I addressed the House on Australia's new aid policy, and our efforts to position Australia as a leading, effective global aid donor.

At the time, I promised to regularly update the House on the implementation of the new policy which has aid effectiveness at its core.

At the end of this year's Parliamentary session, it is timely that I do so today.

Next week, I will attend the Global Forum on Aid Effectiveness in South Korea which will review overall effectiveness criteria for the world's total annual aid allocations to the poorest members of the international community.

Purpose of our aid policy

Australia's aid program is an integral part of our broader foreign and security policy objectives. These are to:

  • maintain our national security;
  • build our national prosperity; and
  • act as a good international citizen in building a stable and just international rules- based order.

Within this framework, the fundamental purpose of Australian aid is to help people overcome poverty.

This also serves Australia's national interests by promoting stability and prosperity in our region and beyond.

We want to be judged not by how much we spend, but what results we produce – the number of lives we save, the number of children we educate, the number of people we lift out of poverty.

Why we give aid

We give aid because it is a natural expression of Australian values.

As a decent people, we believe in a fair go for all.

As a people, therefore, we find it unacceptable that:

  • 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty;
  • 7 million children die every year from preventable causes; and
  • 67 million children, including 35 million girls, do not receive basic primary-level education.

Poverty, left unaddressed, causes instability.

Of Australia's 24 nearest neighbours, 22 are developing countries.

We have a significant national interest in reducing poverty and promoting prosperity and stability in our region and beyond.

Effective aid delivery acts against political and religious radicalisation.

It is therefore capable of reducing dangerous, irregular people movements around the world.

It is also a powerful weapon against the causes of terrorism.

Effective aid, by building prosperity, also in time builds global trade, which also helps Australian trade and therefore generates jobs.

Take for example Malaysia.

Malaysia was once a recipient of Australian aid.

Malaysia is now Australia's tenth largest trading partner.

Responding to Global Challenges

Eradicating poverty is therefore not just the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do.

The global community committed, at the turn of the millennium, to lift a billion people out of poverty.

We agreed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as the way to measure our progress.

This has been a bipartisan commitment in Australia since 2000.

The truth is globally, not all pledges made have been met and not all of our goals have been achieved.

There have been successes in some areas.

We are reducing poverty.

School enrolments are rising.

But we are struggling in other areas – regrettably on maternal health and child nutrition.

The global community can, and must, do more to achieve the goals we set ourselves.

The lives of millions hang in the balance.

Yet, what we see around the world is many donor governments cutting back because of the ongoing flow-on impacts of the Global Financial Crisis.

And – tragically – these cuts are taking place at the very time when the crisis itself has increased global need.

One exception is the United Kingdom where the Conservative Government has committed to reaching 0.7 per cent of GNI in 2013.

Despite considerable budgetary pressure in the UK, its aid is already at 0.56 per cent of GNI – well above Australia's.

The reason for this is that the UK Government has recognised overseas aid as fundamental to their national interest.

As my counterpart Andrew Mitchell says "it's not aid from Britain, it's aid for Britain".

What Australia is doing

When we came to Government, Australia's aid program was 0.28 per cent of GNI – one of the lowest levels in the OECD.

Prior to the 2007 election, as Leader of the Opposition, I committed the Labor Party in government to increase ODA to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015-16.

We currently stand at approximately 0.35 per cent of GNI.

This still places us in the bottom third of OECD countries.

But when we reach 0.5 per cent, we will be around the average of OECD countries.

This is a goal which the Opposition has subsequently formally adopted.

As the Leader of the Opposition stated in a speech on 21 June 2010:

"I want to make it very clear that the goal of 0.5 per cent of national income in overseas development aid is a bipartisan one."

I further thank my counterpart, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, for her strong personal leadership within the Coalition where we have seen occasional attempts to break from this bipartisan position.

The Government's new aid policy, An Effective Aid Program for Australia: Making a real difference – Delivering real results, launched in July 2011, commits us to deliver real and measureable results.

The Independent Review found we had an aid program that, against international benchmarks, was a good program but could be made better.

The new aid policy outlines how our future efforts will be focused on five strategic goals:

  1. Saving lives – For example, our support to immunising children through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).

    Under the Coalition Government, Australia's support for GAVI in 2006 and 2007 paid for approximately 500,000 children to have vaccinations against diseases such as Hepatitis B, yellow fever, meningitis and pneumonia.

    Building on this, the Labor government supported the immunisation of another 1.1 million children by the end of 2010.

    Between 2011 and 2015 Australia will support the full immunisation of 7.7 million more children.

  2. Promoting opportunities for all – Through, for example, Australia's recent commitment to the Global Partnership for Education, which will result in over two million more children enrolled and completing primary school;
  3. Supporting sustainable economic development – Such as helping improve employment and social protection programs, so that the poorest and most vulnerable receive the support they need, benefiting 107.5 million people in Indonesia and the Philippines by 2015;
  4. Effective governance, human rights and law enforcement – For example, by providing counselling and support services to 3,734 women in Fiji subjected to violence over 2009 – 2010 through the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre; and
  5. Preparing for and responding to disasters and humanitarian crises – Such as our recent response to the humanitarian crisis in Libya and the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa, where Australia, as one of the largest bilateral donors, is working with others to provide food to nearly 8 million people affected by the drought.

We have also committed to delivering aid efficiently and effectively.

As the Brookings Institution has recently confirmed, Australia's aid administration costs are around one-third of a number of comparable donors.

AusAID has a zero tolerance policy on fraud.

The potential loss from fraud in 2010-11 is estimated to represent just 0.028 per cent of money appropriated to AusAID last financial year.

We will also continue to strengthen the overall accountability of Australia's aid program with the implementation of a rolling four-year Cabinet review of the program's overall performance against stated objectives.

Nonetheless, we believe there is still more to be done in boosting transparency and accountability for Australia's aid budget.

Mr Speaker, in July I also stated that the Government would further enhance transparency.

The Government wants Australians to know how their tax dollars are making a real difference in the lives of people in developing countries.

That is why I am launching today, a new Transparency Charter.

As part of this Charter, AusAID has today published detailed, current information about what the aid program is delivering in Vanuatu and the Philippines.

We will be making available similar information for major partner countries by early next year.

Information on all programs will be in this format by the end of 2012.

Second, AusAID will routinely publish its internal audit reports as these audits are completed.

Starting today, AusAID has published on its website, internal administrative audits from four bilateral country programs – Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Fiji and Kiribati.

Third, AusAID is making available today strategic direction documents which outline how the aid program will work towards the five strategic goals set out in the new aid policy.

These cover practical details of the sectors in which we will work, the challenges we face and what measures of success we will use.

We intend to be upfront about what has gone right, what might have gone wrong and what needs to be improved.

And we will welcome feedback from the public.

Progress in Implementation

Mr Speaker – We are progressing the 38 recommendations agreed or agreed-in-principle as part of the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness.

Of those 38 recommendations, 26 have been implemented. One is being considered by Government. Implementation of 11 recommendations is progressing.

This includes, for example, harnessing the power and innovation of Australian business.

To this end, in June 2012 AusAID will hold its first Annual Consultative Forum with Business.

The 2011 Australian of the Year, Simon McKeon, as well as representatives from peak business groups and civil society, are helping us prepare for the Forum.

Its purpose is to consider how AusAID partners with the Australian business community in delivering critical programs – for example, in areas such as micro-finance.

To reiterate Mr Speaker, Australia's aid program is a solid investment.

We are achieving results.

Our returns are measureable.

Over the last four years, Australia has:

  • In Uruzgan province Afghanistan, provided basic health and hygiene education to more than 7,950 primary school students, 34 per cent of whom are girls.
  • In East Timor, contributed to over 149,000 people gaining access to new and improved water systems.
  • Worked with the Government of Papua New Guinea to maintain 2,000km of roads allowing rural populations to access basic health and education services.
  • In Vietnam, provided 83 per cent of its rural population with access to clean water and 58 per cent with access to hygienic latrines by the end of 2011.

Mr Speaker – I am proud to say that Australia is on-track to meet the 0.5 per cent bi-partisan commitment by 2015.

With this investment, we will continue to build on the gains we have made in reducing poverty and furthering Australia's national interest.

As I stated earlier – it's not just the right thing to do – it's the smart thing too.

It is consistent with our values.

It is consistent with our interests.

ENDS

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