Thank you Professor Harding for the introduction, Michael Wesley good to see you, and distinguished guests, friends all.

These are challenging times for those of us working in international policy.

The geopolitical landscape has entered a period of rapid change.

We have seen that in the United States – with the election of President Trump on the back of policies designed to reframe America’s relationship with other nations.

In Europe, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has undermined European solidarity and given momentum to anti-EU parties on the continent.

The orthodoxy of increasing interconnectedness in international relations has essentially been turned on its head.

We see the same trends in many other countries, including Australia, where some people are questioning whether globalisation and international economic engagement have delivered in their interests.

Strains of protectionism and economic nationalism are appearing in nations around the world. 

Australia is an open export oriented market economy and our economic growth, our prosperity, our standard of living depends on our ability to sell our goods and services to consumers and marketplaces around the world.

Yet politicians are being urged to respond to calls to revisit and re-examine the terms of our engagement with the world.

I believe we have to be advocates for the benefits of open liberalised trade and investment and explain how and why it is in our interest in terms of jobs and economic growth.

International development faces the same pressures as other areas of policy.

So like other strands of globalisation, our international aid sector must step up and explain – and re-explain, in clear and effective terms, why it is in our national interest, to support the development of developing countries.

The benefits are often less visible at home, harder to quantify, and harder still to communicate effectively.

The result is that Australia’s $3.8 billion aid program is often seen through the outdated lens of some sort of benevolent charity.

To a large degree, that outdated perspective misses the extent to which Australia’s aid program works in our national interest, as much in the interests of those in developing countries.

Currently, all around the world, more than 65 million people are on the move fleeing war, persecution or major failures of governance.

Through our aid program, Australia plays a significant role in addressing the needs of refugees and displaced people within their own countries, or as close to their countries as possible – that is, in countries of first asylum.

We do that by helping to educate children, creating job opportunities, and helping to make peoples’ lives safer.

The announcement I made of a $220 million package of humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of Syrian refugees was motivated by these factors.

Working through aid organisations, our package helps support Jordan and Lebanon in educating and allowing access to jobs for millions of Syrian refugees living in those countries, waiting to go home to Syria when the conflict is over.

Without that assistance, the refugees would be more likely to move further afield in search of safety – movements that could further destabilise countries in the region and beyond.

In Myanmar, another example, Australia helps educate more than 30,000 children in displaced communities.

We help make women and girls feel safer by investing in services that respond to gender-based violence and work to prevent it.

We have deployed Australian protection experts into the UNHCR and local humanitarian organisations, and support organisations such as Red Cross, Save the Children, and the UN Population Fund to deliver education and protection to the most vulnerable.

Our aid program also seeks to tackle the root causes of instability, which often comes from political or social upheaval.

Regional stability can be threatened when individual societies descend into chaos.

Our experience in the Solomon Islands in the past decade or so is a clear example of the effectiveness of interventions when supported by local communities.

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands – RAMSI – was an example of regional cooperation to help stabilise a vulnerable state. 

Now Australia invested $2.5 billion over 14 years helping to restore law and order to the Solomon Islands.

It is evident that had we not so invested, we would have been dealing with a far more precarious situation in our neighbourhood.

Countering violent extremism in the region is another obvious way our development program works to promote stability and prosperity – in line with our national interest.

In 2015, in addition to the many lives it took, terrorism wiped $96 billion off global GDP.

The ongoing conflict in Syria, to put it in context, has set that country back 30 years at least, in terms of lost economic growth.

Associated with extremism, terrorism is a force multiplier for the irregular movement of people, civil instability, weak governance, and for health epidemics.

It also diminishes opportunities for trade, reduces investment and slows economic growth – all critical factors undermining regional and global security and prosperity.

As a result, I’ve unveiled a new framework to guide aid programs in countering violent extremism in our region – and this is an important step that offers fresh ways to support regional security.

The framework will guide spending decisions to ensure Australian aid investments support countering violent extremism work in locally appropriate, targeted and sensitive ways.

Last year, Australia worked with other developed countries to change the rules on the use of Official Development Assistance.

The changes mean that certain peace and security assistance to developing countries, including non-coercive approaches to countering violent extremism, is now ODA-eligible.  

Stability also comes under huge pressure during natural disasters.

In our part of the world, the Pacific is vulnerable to the full range of natural disasters and particularly cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Natural disasters can be catastrophic for economic development, particularly for small states.

Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and Cyclone Winston in Fiji caused damage and losses equivalent to 64 per cent and 31 per cent of their GDP respectively.

More than half the population of Vanuatu and Fiji were affected, causing major upheaval and dislocation.

Australia’s aid program builds the resilience of our neighbourhood, so national governments and local communities are better prepared to respond to natural disasters.

To mitigate the impact of natural disasters, we invest in early warning systems, we preposition supplies to quickly and effectively make a difference after a disaster strikes.

We’ve also invested in innovation to embrace new technologies and ideas to improve humanitarian responses.

Through our Pacific Humanitarian and Humanitarian Supplies challenges, where we called for new ideas and approaches to tackle this issue, we’re rolling out the use of drones, for example, in assessing the damage caused by natural disasters, so we can more quickly identify areas of greatest need.

As severe weather events become more frequent and more damaging with climate change, it is in Australia’s national interest to keep our region stable and secure by working with our aid partners in the Pacific.

Climate change is an immediate concern for our neighbours, and for that reason, we’ve committed $1 billion to helping developing countries in our region and beyond deliver their climate change priorities.

We also want to make sure that the most vulnerable countries, particularly in the Pacific, can access the climate finance they need.

As Co-Chair of the Green Climate Fund Board, Australia has secured more than $130 million in additional funding for the Pacific – this is a global board so we have been focusing on security and funding for the Pacific – helping build security and stability in our neighbourhood.

We are working with other governments in our region, and with private enterprise, to meet the challenge of mitigating and adapting to climate change, mindful of the need to maintain long-term economic stability.

Another area where our aid program helps make our region a better and safer place is in health.

Regional health threats present an immediate and ongoing challenge to our national health which is why our government made an election commitment to invest an additional $100 million in regional health security.

In our region, HIV/AIDS and drug-resistant TB strains are much more widespread than in Australia – so helping countries limit the spread of disease helps inoculate us against outbreaks of disease here.

Economic modelling suggests a SARS-like outbreak in our region, if it were not quickly contained, could cost us as much as $121 billion 1 – without counting the human toll.

I have also made the health sector a priority for the innovative partnerships that we’re entering into that can extend our reach and effectiveness.

Our ‘Water Abundance Prize’ is one such partnership – struck with the XPRIZE Foundation – this is an innovation incubator based in California and I visited it recently, they are doing extraordinary work around the world – and we’ve partnered with them and India’s Tata Group.

Together we’re hoping to tackle the challenge of water security, a particularly acute problem in the Indo-Pacific region, and a problem that presents in the form of chronic health challenges.

Our approach is a $2 million dollar prize to discover an innovative and effective technology to harvest water from air.

Another innovative partnership is our investment in mSupply, a project to map health facilities and digitally manage the supply of essential medicines. 

By using smartphones to replace paper based health systems, mSupply will ensure our Pacific Island neighbours have the tools they need to meet health challenges, including in emergencies. 

This will be a first for the region, and the world for that matter – enabling crowd sourced medical supplies in a simple and effective manner.

Our partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies on Data for Health is another great example of how innovation supports health systems – helping developing countries to better plan for service delivery needs.

In one component Bloomberg and the Australian Government through DFAT are augmenting traditional public health surveys with new, faster mobile phone surveys – leading to improved data and greater use of evidence in public health financing decisions for countries in our region.

Introducing mobile phone data collection eliminates the need for field operations, potentially reducing the time to carry out a survey from two years to less than six months.

The innovationXchange that I launched in 2015 has been leading the way the Government approaches intractable problems in development – finding solutions by embracing collaboration, partnership and bold new perspectives. 

This new approach to aid delivery has brokered some transformative new partnerships, including those I mentioned today.

I’ve also mainstreamed gender equality and the protection of women in crisis across our development program.

I have set a target that at least 80 per cent of our aid investments must effectively address gender issues in their implementation.

It’s the right thing to do, as a matter of principle.

It’s also the smart thing to do, as improving gender equality promotes economic prosperity.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services, particularly family planning, also helps reduce maternal and child mortality.

Such needs often increase during disasters, so Australia supports access to sexual and reproductive health services, including safe birthing, access to contraception, and services for victims of rape, during crises.

So far, through the SPRINT program – for Sexual and Reproductive Health in Crisis and Post Crisis Settings – we have helped 890,000 people during humanitarian crises, including in Fiji, Nepal, the Philippines and elsewhere.

Today I announce a further $9.5 million in funding over the next three years for International Planned Parenthood Foundation to deliver this essential program, which saves lives and rebuilds communities.

I’m pleased that Director General Melesse of IPPF is with us today.

It is important that our support has an impact.

And so I also announce today that the Australian Government is supporting a $9.5 million partnership with ANU and with the International Women’s Development Agency to research and implement a program that analyses the extent of the disadvantage faced by individuals – particularly women and girls in these scenarios.

The result will be the Individual Deprivation Measure, a data tool for policy makers to better target our aid – and improve its effectiveness. So congratulations ANU.

My address today is putting our aid program through the perspective of Australia’s national interest.

We must bring the Australian taxpayer and Australian public with us.

Many of our projects support sustainable and inclusive growth in our partner countries.

More prosperous, inclusive societies are more stable ones – which drives regional and Australian prosperity, and supports regional and our security.

In part for that reason, when we came to Government, I directed that 90 per cent of our aid program be spent close to home, in our region, where we can make the biggest difference and where we, particularly in the case of the Pacific, have a special responsibility.

It is a fact that the private sector continues to be the most important driver of economic growth that helps lift people out of poverty – nine out of ten jobs come from the private sector.

So I have directed that all new programs explore ways to involve the private sector to leverage our funding and embrace more effective ways to achieve our aims.

I have launched a Business Partnerships Platform which works with business to tackle development challenges in our region.

For example, under the Business Partnerships Platform, the department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is working with MasterCard, Vietnam’s Bank for Social Policy and The Asia Foundation to deploy the first mobile banking platform for low income populations in Vietnam. 

We are working with Digicel to provide affordable solar energy solutions to off-grid households and small businesses in PNG. 

Economically productive infrastructure is also part of this work – connecting entrepreneurs of all sizes to business opportunities.

Roads that connect ports to industrial hubs, bridges that connect buyers and sellers, these are the gateways to economic opportunity in the emerging economies of the Indo-Pacific.

Through the Private Infrastructure Development Group, we are helping to de-risk infrastructure investments across South and South East Asia, and mobilise private sector funding.

We are also about to commence a second phase of our Market Development Facility, which uses market based approaches to increase employment in rural and urban areas.  

Trade, too, is crucial – creating more jobs in our region. Higher incomes means more stable, successful partners for Australia.

That is why we have committed to increasing our trade-related assistance to 20 per cent of the total aid budget by 2020, and working to facilitate more trade amongst countries in our region.

It’s also why we support education through the aid program.

According to the World Bank, with each additional year of education, the risk of conflict drops by 20 per cent.

In the Philippines, for example, a large portion of Australia’s aid focuses on Mindanao, home to a sizeable Muslim population – in this region alone, 76,000 children are now going to school where previously they had no education.

Education is the key to economic opportunity and the best counter-weight to conflict and extremism.

By opening up opportunity for these students, we make Australia and the region a safer, more stable place.

I have also initiated, along with my fellow counterpart Foreign Ministers from Mexico, Indonesia, Korea and Turkey – it’s called MIKTA; Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey, Australia – it’s a new informal grouping of countries that are influential in their respective regions – I’ve initiated an innovation challenge focused on increasing access to education in emergencies, particularly for girls.

We will officially launch this MIKTA challenge in April and we’ll be seeking innovative solutions from around the globe to help target the complex issues keeping children from getting the education that they need.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are many ways in which development assistance is building sustainability and resilience in our region and thereby is in Australia’s national interest.

Now this is an important point, too often lost – because support for our invaluable aid program has to come from home, from the Australian taxpayer.

So the Australian taxpayers must support it, and that will come with a better appreciation of its purpose, its intent and the outcomes.

Inevitably, development assistance has a global focus.

There’s a reason why Australia came together with partners from all around the world to negotiate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Development is a global concern, and the best, most sustainable solutions will come about through global cooperation.

The 2030 Agenda gives us a global framework, one that recognises the scale of the task requires the mobilisation of resources well beyond those available to national governments.

Foreign direct investment, remittances, trade and innovative sources of private finance are all critical, as these would dwarf the collective funds from aid programs.

However, our aid program has a vital place and I look forward to engaging with you as Australia’s aid program continues to evolve as a crucial tool to advance our national interest, which is best served through regional stability and prosperity.


Footnote 1. Huszar A, Pearson M, Modelling of Health and Economic Impacts in 10 Indo-Pacific Countries, DFAT Health Resource Facility

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