Tanya Plibersek, my Parliamentary colleagues, members of ANCP, distinguished guests one and all.
We meet at a time when many of our dear friends and neighbours in the Pacific are feeling the full impact of Tropical Cyclone Pam. I am pleased that the Australian Government was able to respond rapidly to requests for assistance and in the last few days we have had eight RAAF planes filled with life-saving equipment and supplies and personnel land in Port Vila. We’ll continue to support our friends for as long as they need our assistance. This is what our humanitarian program is about and this is what our aid program is for - to assist people in need.
Tonight I am particularly delighted to open this photographic exhibition, a wonderfully visual depiction of 40 years of work, of successful NGOs and of the Australian Aid program. There are poignant photographs of young children with textbooks, of women attending medical clinics for pre-natal check-ups, of market stall holders trying to eke out a living. They all have a story to tell and I believe underscore what a difference the Australian Aid program and Australian NGOs have made, to our region in particular.
It is, as Secretary Varghese indicated, 40 years of a great partnership, the Australian Aid programs inception over 40 years ago and the partnership that was developed with the Australian NGO Cooperation Program. Partnership is the watch word in development work and in aid. There’s a strong partnership between the Australian Government and NGOs. There is an equally strong partnership between the Australian Government and the private sector in development work and what is important is the partnership between NGOs and the private sector. As Marc Purcell pointed out the NGOs bring to the table their experience, their technical knowhow, their connections with local communities, their understanding of how development work should succeed.
The private sector, that’s where we see jobs created, where innovation and progress and growth emanates and the private sector has also been responsible for considerable development within the NGO sector through board appointments and memberships, through pro bono support, through staff exchanges. So again a brilliant partnership concept that works in theory and in practice.
At a time when our Federal Budget is under pressure, at a time when governments around the world know that they have to live within their means, we too are experiencing pressure on our aid budget. As former Foreign Minister Bob Carr said, “you can’t run aid on borrowings”. So I have sought to meet the challenge that our Budget constraints have imposed by ensuring that we run the most efficient and effective aid program possible, that we bring to it the rigour, the focus on outcomes that is so absolutely necessary and ensure that we recognise failure when it occurs and we scale up success when we see it.
Our new aid paradigm (as I do like to call it Secretary, and I’m sure you’d love to call it that too) is focussed on partnerships with the private sector, particularly in our region – the Indian Ocean/Asia-Pacific. We are ensuring that we invest in the economic development of countries because the best way to lift people out of poverty, the best way to lift standards of living is ensuring that the economy of the recipient countries can grow and be sustained.
You mentioned China. China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, not through the amount of aid provided to it, but by its capacity to reform its economy and provide opportunities for the people of China to engage in international markets.
I think South Korea is another extraordinary example. From the Second World War until the 1990s, South Korea received $13 billion in aid from the international community. Yet today, through market reforms, through private sector growth, through innovation and creativity, built on the base of the aid provided, South Korea is now a significant donor to other countries. It is one of our largest trading partners, it is a G20 economy. These are the success stories that can come through a combination of aid, development work and economic reform through private sector support and growth.
Our aid program focusses on our region, focusses on the private sector, focusses on productivity enhancing infrastructure, but also focusses on gender equality. I firmly believe that the empowerment of women is a significant factor in driving better outcomes, reducing poverty, alleviating poverty, lifting standards of living. Our focus on gender equality is in three areas; women’s leadership – not just political leadership but in the business fields, in communities, economic empowerment- ensuring that women have the tools, the experience, the resources to take part in formal labour markets, in the economic growth of a country; and third, combatting domestic and sexual violence against women which prohibits them contributing to their full potential.
I believe that we need to look differently at how we deliver aid and I know Marc that your ten member organisations agree with me, we’ve discussed this on so many occasions. We need to bring fresh eyes and new ideas to the delivery of aid in our region. Failure in aid to me is the inability to learn from mistakes, the inability to adapt, the inability to be flexible and to innovate. I want innovation to be at the heart of Australia’s aid program.
On Monday, I will be launching the innovationXchange. This will be a unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade dedicated to creative, innovative thinking that will drive our aid program. We have brought together some of the best and brightest people from DFAT - and that’s a very rich pool from which to draw - from across the public sector and the private sector. We have people on secondment to our innovationXchange. We will have an international advisory board of some of the most creative thinkers in the world who are going to work with us in coming up with new ways, better ways, more effective and efficient ways of delivering aid.
We are already in partnership with the Global Innovation Fund - with the US, the UK, Sweden and others - and we are going to continue to come up with projects that focus on seemingly intractable aid problems in our region and we are going to solve them. When we solve them we’ll scale them up.
I believe that Australia will be a leader in innovation in the development work, not only in our region, but globally. I want to thank Peter Varghese, Ewan McDonald and the innovationXchange team for being so fully embracing of this concept. We announced it last year, we are launching it on Monday and I couldn’t be more excited about the prospects of what this new innovationXchange will be able to produce, the transformational impact that I believe we will be able to achieve. But we can’t do it alone and we will be looking to ANCP to be part of a grand partnership, a great contract that we will be able to harness and use for the betterment of communities in our region, and hopefully its impact will spread globally.
So to ANCP congratulations on 40 years of extraordinary work, 40 years of a partnership with the Australian Government. Long may it endure. I now have pleasure in launching the photographic exhibition to celebrate 40 years of this brilliant partnership.
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