Can I start by acknowledging my Federal parliamentary colleagues, Claire Moore and Richard Di Natale; ACFID President Sam Mostyn; Marc Purcell and to all your team; Dame Meg Taylor; other distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
Can I also add my acknowledgement to country.
I am very pleased to be here amongst some of the Australian Government’s valued partners in the delivery of our overseas development assistance (ODA).
We know that the complex challenges of development require government, NGOs and business to work together.
The civil society groups represented here today are an embodiment of the desire of Australians to make a difference in our neighbourhood and beyond.
ACFID and its members play an important role within our ODA program, as you have for many decades.
Yet, many Australians are not aware of how closely the Australian Government works with you to deliver ODA.
Australians are a generous people.
Whilst we have a $4 billion ODA program, it is not always easy for the public to see where all our investments go, or how they contribute to the big picture of building stability in our region and reducing poverty.
Public survey results show that when Australians are asked to estimate how much the Government spends on aid, they often estimate a higher dollar figure or proportion of government revenue than is actually the case.
And the surveys show that many Australians believe our ODA budget should reflect our tight budgetary environment.
Some Australians are asking whether we are spending money on our neighbours at a time when wealth relativities around the world are changing.
As a result, the paradigm within which we promote ODA has changed.
The question is no longer whether we are spending enough on international development.
The sum of the question is why we are spending so much.
We need to make very clear the reasons why it is good government to require Australians to contribute to development abroad.
In short, we need to promote our work at home and abroad.
We have not done well in taking the Australian public along with us.
We need to make clear what we are doing, why we are doing it, and more importantly, what is the benefit to Australia and we need to do this together.
Everyone here knows that a breakdown of law and order in a fragile state can very quickly wipe out the progress made through decades of development work.
We know that the security and prosperity of other nations reduces risk in our international environment and creates opportunity, including for trade and investment.
So it is good policy for the Australian Government to deploy our wealth, our skill and our goodwill to assist developing countries to achieve the inclusive, sustainable economic growth that produces peace and prosperity.
It makes sense for us to focus this assistance on our region, where we have the most at stake.
A strong program – and we have a strong program – is a vote for wider peace and prosperity and is a true reflection of who we are as Australians.
Australia’s ODA has a key role in promoting a safe and stable neighbourhood and wider region.
This was clearly recognised in the 2016 Defence White Paper which identified Australia’s immediate neighbourhood as our highest strategic priority after the defence of Australia.
Hence, 90% of our ODA is spent in our region – the Indo Pacific.
Aid complements our diplomatic, our trade, dour efence and our policing efforts.
Our support helps our regional partners to be peaceful, democratic, well governed and follow the rule of law.
We know the causes of instability and conflict are complex.
That is why Australia ensures its ODA is well targeted to where we make the biggest difference.
We work to strengthen law and order, reduce conflict, fight corruption and improve access to justice.
We have a strong record, as demonstrated by the achievements of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
RAMSI is a success story and over thirteen years has helped to: rebuild law and order institutions; stabilise government finances; restore business confidence; and create the conditions for development and economic growth in the Solomon Islands.
We are the principal security partner for many of our Pacific neighbours.
For example, we are providing replacement maritime patrol boats to twelve Pacific Island countries from 2018.
Through our ODA program, we are also supporting neighbouring countries to counter terrorism and violent extremism.
For example, over the next 5 years our Australia-Indonesia Justice and Security Partnership will include support for the Government of Indonesia to counter violent extremism and build its counter-terrorism capacity.
For long term stability, governments need to provide security as well as services and economic opportunities.
These need to be available to all, including women, girls, people with a disability and minorities.
Our ODA helps our partners to respond to these needs.
To that end, for example, we are helping to build the education sector in the conflict-affected Muslim Mindanao region in southern Philippines where we enabled 76,000 children to attend school in 2015-16 and provided training to more than 2,400 teachers.
Educating young people gives them the opportunity to participate in the workforce, lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to economic growth, which in turn contributes to economic and political stability in that country and, in turn, in the region.
Instability is a brake on growth. By helping to remove this brake, our ODA supports more economic activity in our region.
This leads to more trade and investment opportunities which benefit Australians and our neighbours.
Investing in stability saves money in the future.
Investing in the resilience of communities to reduce the impact of crises when they happen is far more effective than funding recovery operations.
The sooner work on early recovery begins, the more effective the post-crisis recovery process is likely to be.
Despite important differences between the Government’s ODA program and the work of NGOs, our interests lie side by side, which makes us partners in development.
The Australian Government is committed to working closely with you, so much so that we collaborated closely with the sector to develop our policy for engaging and working with NGOs.
Our collaboration has evolved over decades, and is given formal expression through our partnership with ACFID.
I am pleased we will continue to work together having signed a new three-year partnership this month.
We have very good reason to be proud of what we have achieved together.
But we need to do more together to explain the big picture of how ODA works and why it is important to all of us.
I am personally committed to this work and I ask for your help.
Of course, this requires regular and substantive communication.
Since becoming Minister for International Development and the Pacific, I have taken the opportunity to meet with many of you and will continue to do so.
Some of you I have known over many years given my various activities in the social policy area.
As you know, I have spent a lot of time travelling. Indeed, I have become such a frequent flyer through Nadi airport, that I am on first name basis with the Fijian protocol staff!
Just as you have unique strengths in delivering ODA, you also have unique advantages in advocating it.
Your humanitarian purpose and independence from Government, mean that your voice can explain powerfully why ODA is so important.
Of course, the Australian Government respects your right to hold and prosecute independent positions.
But, we also need to acknowledge that the role of NGOs is changing.
Australian and international NGOs need to remain relevant to rapidly changing development contexts.
When I met Mohammad Musa, Executive Director of BRAC earlier this week, he stressed to me the need to better appreciate the evolution of local NGOs and how international NGOs can work more innovatively with them to achieve better outcomes on the ground.
Looking even further afield, the Australian Government is concerned by moves in certain countries to curtail the role of civil society.
One of our objectives in seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council is to push back against this trend.
It is important to acknowledge the solid protections in law and policy that Australia has in place to support human rights, the contributions we have made globally to protect human rights and the fundamental freedoms we enjoy as a result of our liberal, democratic society.
We would welcome your support for our campaign.
The Government’s ODA program is changing to reflect the new opportunities and challenges out to 2025.
We have a good story to tell the Australian people.
The Turnbull Government has responded to the transformation of the Indo-Pacific by differentiating the way we deliver assistance there.
In recent decades, a billion people have been lifted out of poverty, and billions more have been enabled to connect to each other, and to a world of knowledge and aspiration barely imaginable a generation ago.
Now, private sector investment and remittances are driving development, so delivering ODA through new partnerships and innovation is key.
Most of our Asian neighbours have transitioned to middle-income status.
Our development partnerships with countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam are now economic partnerships, in recognition of the fact that these countries’ own economic momentum can lift their people out of poverty, and Australia has a real interest in their success.
We work with these partner governments to overcome pockets of poverty, and to bring relief and opportunity to those most in need.
But economic growth has been slower in the Pacific and the prospects for future growth remain challenging.
Our neighbours in the Pacific face some of the world’s most difficult development challenges.
The world looks to us to lead the international response and we look to do so in partnership with each Pacific Island country.
Last month I attended the meeting of the Pacific Island leaders at the Forum in Pohnpei, where Prime Minister Turnbull announced that Australia is preparing a step-change in the way we offer assistance to Pacific Island governments.
We are integrating all aspects of foreign policy to help these governments create the economic momentum that provides the best pathway to prosperity, including – especially – for the region’s poor.
One of the factors that can hold Pacific island countries back is the terrible costs they incur from natural disasters.
Also at last month’s Pacific Island Leaders Forum, Prime Minister Turnbull announced Australia’s major commitment to help the Pacific Island countries to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change and disasters.
In February this year, the strongest cyclone ever to make landfall in the Pacific devastated Fiji.
Our collective response, in collaboration with the Government of Fiji, was swift and effective.
We deployed Australian Defence Force planes, ships, helicopters and around 1,000 personnel to help the Fiji Government and NGOs get supplies and assistance to those most in need.
In August, I saw first-hand our ongoing work in Fiji.
We are helping Fiji rebuild essential services, health clinics and schools and ensuring that educational outcomes remain on track.
We are rebuilding markets, helping farmers and sellers get back to work and making the markets safer places for the women who work there.
Our humanitarian response and recovery assistance after disasters is already world class.
But, we want to do even better.
We have sought the wider community’s best ideas on how we can better assist Pacific communities to prepare for and respond to disasters.
We are pleased at the very positive response to our Humanitarian Supplies Challenge and we look forward to announcing the winners in December.
We are also rising to the challenge of major transnational issues that will impact development out to 2025.
Commitments the Australian Government, and many of the NGOs here today, made at the World Humanitarian Summit will support better and more effective humanitarian action worldwide.
We are particularly championing the need to support and empower vulnerable groups in crises, including women and girls, and people with disabilities.
We are increasing the profile of climate action across our ODA program, to which we have committed $1 billion over the next 5 years.
As co-chair of the Green Climate Fund, we are working closely to assist Pacific Island countries to access funding for bankable climate smart projects.
I see sustainable development as a positive development challenge, a stimulus to innovate.
The Australian Government is also taking a lead in response to transnational health challenges, and in this field also, we greatly value the contributions of NGOs.
The recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika have shown that infectious diseases can spread quickly across borders.
We have committed to a Regional Health Security Partnerships Fund over five years, to deploy our health expertise, research and innovation in the region to best effect.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have touched upon just a few of the many areas where the Australian Government and NGOs work together.
Important as this partnership is, it is only part of the picture.
Before I conclude, I would like to reiterate that Australia is committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Our whole-of-society vision recognises that development is achieved by the private sector and civil society, in partnership with governments.
I commend the many Australian CEOs, and there were more than thirty, who signed the CEO Statement of Support for the SDGs at your SDGs summit recently, at which I was privileged to give the opening address.
Likewise, I applaud the many NGOs and universities that have signed similar statements of support.
We know that businesses are interested in ways their commercial activities can help governments and NGOs achieve development outcomes.
To facilitate this we will match funding from business up to half a million dollars through our Business Partnerships Platform.
I know that many of you already work effectively with the private sector and I would encourage you to consider how business might help you to extend your impact.
I attribute particular importance to the SDGs’ focus upon women and girls in international development.
I have seen this first-hand the Pacific countries where I have met women and girls who are directly benefitting from our ten-year, $320 million Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program.
I am sure that Australian NGO Cooperation Program partners will make good use of our new $10 million Gender Action Platform for NGOs to promote women’s leadership, participation in the economy and to stand up to violence against women and girls.
In concluding, I would like to underline the importance of our collaboration.
Your reach on the ground, and our reach into developing country governments, is a powerful combination.
Together, we make the connections between the human rights of some of the poorest people in the world, the efforts of their governments and the enduring interests of the Australian people and nation.
This is a powerful force for Australia’s national interests, and for lasting good in our region and in the world.
Thank you for your kind attention.
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