Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
May I acknowledge my friend and colleague, Trevor Evans the Member for Brisbane, my friends from PNG and the Solomon Islands, all those who are supporting the humanitarian effort that Australia takes part in around the world.
I am delighted to see so many people here today for what is a very important announcement and I’m pleased to be in Brisbane to discuss the issue of natural disaster response and preparedness for this affects us all.
Let me put it in some context. We are in an upgraded humanitarian supplies warehouse and this depot is a hub – not only for Australia’s response to the region – but also for NGOs and United Nations partners. Being strategically placed here in Brisbane gives us the ability to respond quickly, effectively, efficiently to natural disasters in our region.
The fact is our part of the world is prone to natural disasters and the humanitarian crises that can so often follow. Whether it be a cyclone, or earthquake, a tsunami, floods, fire and drought, our part of the world tragically, sadly, receives more than its fair share.
Australian communities understand the impact of natural disasters. Here in our own nation it seems that every year we are hit by some kind of natural disaster and particularly in Queensland, cyclones, floods, fires and drought, and we have learned to be adaptable and responsive. But we understand the impact, the tragic loss of life, the loss of homes, the loss of income and the loss of economic livelihood from some of our most fundamental economic drivers, agriculture, tourism.
Through the experiences that we have had, and from government responses – state, territory and federal level – we have developed an expertise in natural disaster preparedness and response.
As a global leader I believe we have an obligation to share the experience that we have gained over decades of heart breaking, tragic responses to natural disasters.
That obligation extends specifically to our neighbourhood, the Pacific. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that Australia’s response can have on our friends and neighbours from the Pacific.
In Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam in 2015, and in Fiji in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston in 2016, seeing the Australian response teams on the ground, providing supplies, support, rebuilding efforts, and the appreciation of our neighbours is overwhelming.
I don’t know whether you’ve been on the ground in a cyclone devastated area in the Pacific and seen an Australian C17 military aeroplane fly overhead to land with supplies and personnel ready to bring hope to those who have been devastated by natural disaster and seen the response by the people - Australia is here, Australia is with us, Australia is our friend.
We are so well served by our Australian defence personnel and I acknowledge the presence of the ADF here today and they are a fundamental part of our humanitarian response. Our ADF personnel are able to assist in transport, in equipment, in providing the personnel who have the expertise – engineers and others – who can help put communities and nations back on their feet.
We also work closely with state emergency services, crisis response teams, those who can bring expertise quickly to ensure that the impact can be minimalised, medical teams and search and rescue teams.
And of course we work with international partners, International Red Cross, NGOs and UN partners. The effort is widespread, it’s extraordinary, but it’s underpinned by some dedicated, very experienced personnel.
One of the lessons we have learnt here in Australia and that we can share in our region and indeed globally is the merit of early warning systems and preventative measures in advance of natural disasters. We know they are going to occur on a heartbreakingly regular basis. We know that the early warning systems that Australia has invested in have saved lives.
In the case of Vanuatu, tragically 11 people died and there was severe infrastructure damage, but we know that had there not been an early warning system in place that Australia helped implement, the loss would have been even greater.
In 2015 I brought together the Pacific Island Foreign Ministers – for the first time the foreign ministers gathered in Sydney – and one of the issues that we focussed on was natural disaster preparedness, early warning systems and we committed to having a joint response, a joint Pacific response, to these disasters.
We’ve had an example of incredible regional cooperation from RAMSI as the Consul from the Solomon Islands will attest. The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands led by Australia and other nations in the Pacific has bought stability to an otherwise troubled time in Solomon Islands. RAMSI which will be winding up on 30 June this year has been an extraordinary example of regional cooperation.
And again in the area of natural disaster response the region’s commitment was in fact endorsed at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016.
So today I am very pleased to announce a new $50 million Humanitarian Response Partnership. This partnership will be between the Australian Government and six Australian based international NGOs – Care, Caritas, Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision and their consortium.
Together we will work to ensure that the impact of natural disasters can be minimised, that our response is rapid and effective and that we work with local communities - with church groups, with family groups – we work with those on the ground to ensure that our assistance is delivered in timely fashion to those who need it most.
We have been involved in this kind of work for some time but this is the first time we’ve bought together six Australian based international NGOs to work in partnership with the Australian Government, building on the expertise we have to ensure that we can bring as much relief to our region in the wake of natural disasters, as we possibly can.
The second announcement I’m very pleased to make relates to innovation and those who follow the Australian aid budget closely will know that I have put innovation at the heart of our aid program.
We’ve brought together the very best and brightest we can find in the private sector, in the public sector, to be part of what I call the innovationXchange and this is a hub within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that comes up with new ideas, creative ideas, different ways of responding to, in some cases, age old problems.
It is just not acceptable for the Australian tax payer, the Australian Government, to continue to invest through our aid budget and not make a positive difference to the lives of those we seek to support.
This innovationXchange turns thinking on its head. If something isn’t working find a way to make it work and come up with solutions to some of the most intractable aid problems and development problems that our region faces.
We’ve had a number of challenges - which is a brilliant way of putting up money, seed capital for ideas challenges - putting it out to the world and saying this is our problem let’s see what answers we can come up with, what solutions we can come up with.
On World Humanitarian Day last year I announced a $1 million Humanitarian Supplies Challenge. We wanted to come up with a range of ideas that would give us better products to help us provide supplies to those in need in the wake of a natural disaster in the areas of water, energy and shelter – three fundamental issues in the moments after a natural disaster strikes.
So we put out our Humanitarian Supplies Challenge to the world and 77 brilliant submissions were received from 12 countries and today I’m proud to announce 13 products have been selected by an expert panel to assist us in our humanitarian responses. Lighting solutions, water filtration and purification, different shelter concepts, and a number of these products have been developed here in Australia including one in Trevor Evans’ electorate. They will be on display here.
Those 13 products they will be trialled and tested through our warehouses, through our hubs, we’ll trial them in the Pacific - if they work they will then become part of our regular supplies to respond to natural disasters. In this way, we’re at the cutting edge of responses and also ensuring that the innovative and creative ideas of Australians and others in this field are recognised.
As Jamie said the Australian Government is placing a significant focus on our humanitarian effort.
In this year’s budget I increased our humanitarian fund by $60 million – it’s almost $400 million and we need to use every dollar wisely - we need to invest the Australian taxpayer’s funds wisely.
That is why we are focusing on working efficiently with our partners, working effectively with the best products available to respond and ensuring that as a global citizen and as a trust neighbour we can bring relief to those who need it.
I’m delighted to make those two announcements today – our humanitarian partnership and our Humanitarian Supplies Challenge.
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