Thank you for joining us this evening.
It's a great pleasure to be here to address you this evening and discuss the work that we do through our foreign aid program, and how that contributes to the security, stability and prosperity of our region.
As Minister for International Development and the Pacific, I certainly have a lot of area to cover.
The Pacific, of course, is a highly strategic part of our foreign policy, with this government "stepping up" our engagement with our nearest neighbours.
We might have the biggest house in the street but we also have a massive backyard.
The Pacific Ocean is the largest in the world and covers just over 165 million square kilometres and covers 30% of the earth's surface.
It is almost half of the Earth's water surface and it is larger than all the land masses put together!
Within the vastness of the Pacific Ocean there are 22 unique small island countries and territories and a population of only 16 million people.
Our region includes 7 of the 10 most disaster prone countries in the world.
Since 2005, more than 700,000 people worldwide have been killed in natural disasters and 23 million have been rendered homeless.
Now, the impact of natural disasters across our region is greater because many of the Indo-Pacific countries are particularly vulnerable.
In fact 85% of global deaths- for all causes- between 1980 and 2009 happened in the Indo-Pacific, even though its countries only make up 61% of our entire population.
I have made 24 trips into the Pacific as Minister.
I have seen first-hand the many challenges that we face in helping to ensure our goals of security, stability and prosperity for the region are advanced.
Our Defence White Paper makes it very clear that security, stability and prosperity of our region are second only to the defence of Australia.
Everything we do comes back to these central goals.
Stable political and economically sound countries in our region are absolutely essential for Australia's peace and prosperity.
We spend 90% of our overseas development assistance (ODA) or foreign aid in the old parlance, in the Indo-Pacific region, complementing our diplomatic, trade and defence efforts.
ODA constitutes about $4 billion of DFAT's $5 billion budget.
More than a third of Australia's development spending is in the Pacific.
Ultimately, failed states in the region will end up costing the Australian taxpayer far more than the targeted and effective deployment of foreign aid.
We have made a conscious decision to refocus our efforts closer to home.
And tonight, I will outline why that focus is so important but also how vital it is to take the Australian public with us.
It is not always easy for the public to see where all of our investments go or what impact that they have.
Both the Government and the non-government sector have to work hard to promote our work, both at home and abroad.
When I became Minister I started to post my activities and so I used get nasty little comments about why we're wasting money overseas when we have people in need in Australia.
When I started referencing my posts to security, stability and prosperity, the trolls stopped!
This of course, reflects the changing political paradigm.
Various political figures here in Australia do question why we spend Australian taxpayer's money overseas helping countries when it could be better spent at home, or not spent at all.
This is my reality, especially in the Senate, and one which is likely to remain for some years to come.
Now, The 2017 Lowy Institute Poll showed that 3 out of 4 Australians feel that the Government spends either too much or about the right amount on overseas aid.
Research conducted by the ANU shows that 80% of the aid community seeks more spending on ODA compared to only 10% of the broader Australian public.
But, ODA comes from hardworking Australians. The Turnbull Government is ensuring that we deliver strategically targeted aid while still being fiscally responsible, because we do understand the need for budget repair.
Our opponents, Labor's overseas aid credentials are mixed at best. Penny Wong lauds the British government spending on ODA aid at 0.7% of gross national income (GNI).
In Australia, this would mean a spend of about $43 billion over the forward estimates.
So, now for us it's not just about what we do, but why we are actually doing it, but more importantly, what is the direct benefit to Australia.
Now, The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), it's Development Assistance Committee (DAC) defines what ODA covers. A recent change in definition means that certain security and in-country refugee spending can also be included.
In short, you know and I've said this repeatedly since I've been Minister, ODA is not charity: it is overseas development assistance. It helps countries and communities to develop and to help themselves.
As a middle power, we remain a consistent international donor. We are the 13th largest donor in the OECD by volume.
Currently there is a wide variance in donor countries application of the DAC definitions.
Now, we do not include spending on such things as security, like the United Kingdom does when it does calculate its ODA. In addition, Australia has settlement services spending which is separate to our ODA.
So therefore, it is not appropriate to directly compare our level of aid spending with other donors like the United Kingdom.
As I have said, 90% of our aid is spent in our region, the Indo-Pacific and a third of this is actually in the Pacific.
There are plenty of players internationally that deal with the Indo-Pacific component…of the Indo-Asia component of Indo-Pacific, but the Pacific is very much our backyard. It's the area which we support most and our allies have historically looked to us to continue this support of our Pacific family.
Australia's ODA includes both bilateral and multilateral contributions, including with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Both will be scaling up their concessional finance to the Pacific in coming years, to support opportunities.
I signed a Tripartite Commitment on Development in the Pacific with the Banks last year to increase collaboration and help the Bank increase its staff and operational resources in the Pacific.
We are already seeing the fruits of this collaboration – as our investments scale up and the impact of those investments are actually seen. Although we engage internationally to support our region, a lot of the heavy lifting still remains with us.
Of course, the United Nations and its various entities are key players in the international humanitarian and aid space. Australia supports the UN system but recognises the challenges it faces and the need for reform.
Accordingly, we welcome the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' plans to reform the United Nations to make it more efficient and accountable.
Our development policy called, Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty, enhancing stability, and our Making Performance Count: enhancing the accountability and effectiveness of Australian aid, have introduced key shifts in our aid program.
These reforms have built on the work we've done in the past, but now effectively promote economic growth and reducing poverty and one that projects and protects our broader interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
It is a program that has ensured a stronger focus on performance, on results and above all on value-for-money.
Against this background, what we've done is entered into aid investment plans with governments, which set out mutually agreed priorities for aid programs in those countries.
I just wanted just to share some initiatives in the Pacific.
As part of our $1 billion commitment under the Paris Agreement, we are actually providing practical assistance in the Pacific, $300 million over 4 years to deal with climate events and also disaster resilience support in the Pacific.
And, what we're doing is basically spending predominately on building resilience in country and across the region. Also, as part of that, on our humanitarian partnerships to prepare countries to manage their risk and also both at the community levels and across the region.
Over the last 5 years, Australia has Co-Chaired the Green Climate Fund where we have promoted vulnerability to climate events and the opportunity for climate investments.
So, with our support, we have assisted the Pacific to access the Fund and champion the region. Our championing has resulted in about $360 million being approved for project funding for the Pacific to date, which represents about 11% of the Fund's current portfolio.
We have increased our humanitarian and our emergency budget to ensure that the gains that the communities are making, including in the Pacific, in the good times are retained, but also to help them recover quickly when the hard times hit.
Globally, there is one security threat to Australians that has no regard for borders – and that of course is disease.
We announced and we have given details recently of a new $300 million Health Security Initiative for the Indo-Pacific Region over 5 years. This represents the largest health and medical research commitment ever made under our aid program.
Pandemics pose one of the most dangerous threats to Australians, so therefore this is one of our most significant initiatives to safeguard our regional security.
And, of course, with 10 million movements of Australians outside of Australia every year we can appreciate why disease picked up overseas can easily come back to Australia.
But, of course the world has changed—and our aid program is changing also.
Many developing countries today are growing rapidly, and so the aid component is an increasingly smaller proportion of development finance.
As I said, the purpose of our aid program is to promote our national interests by contributing to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.
Our projects contribute to economic growth, stability and prosperity in these countries which in turn contributes to the stability and security of our region and in turn, Australia.
It's important that we remember the long history that we share with our region and with our neighbours.
For example, later this week I will be travelling to Papua New Guinea to commemorate the re-capture of Kokoda 75 years ago.
While distant theatres of war such as Gallipoli, the Somme and Beersheba, as we're seeing today, have gained prominence in the Australian psyche, it is those lesser known battles like Milne Bay, like the Coral Sea, like Guadalcanal that well and truly cement our deep and longstanding relationships in the Pacific.
These were the battles that protected our northern front, which had they been lost, would have changed our history. They helped to shape the democracy and the way of life that we enjoy today.
75 years ago during the Battle of Guadalcanal we lost Australia's largest-ever ship, HMAS Canberra when she put herself in the line of fire to protect American forces- American Marines and allied landings on the Solomon Islands. She rests at the bottom of a sea aptly named Iron Bottom Sound.
On shore, there are memorials, but at sea, there is only a watery grave. I recently commemorated this battle off Savo Island along with some veterans and the families of the 84 men who lost their lives as the Canberra went down.
It was a poignant reminder as we watched the wreaths and the 84 crosses that had been made by Australian schoolchildren thrown overboard as we watched from HMAS Success.
Our coast watchers and scouts sent early warnings of Japanese advances in the Pacific, which enabled Allied forces to defend hard won territory. It was wonderful when I was in Honiara to meet an 110-year old former scout who had worked with Australians who proudly accepted a medal in recognition of his efforts.
In Nauru, I have been told I am the first Minister to tackle what's called the "bomber walk" to see the Japanese bunkers and walk right up this very steep hill to see the remains of a B-25 Bomber which was shot down on a bombing mission – most of which still remains at this highest point of Nauru.
Nauru and Kiribati today, they still have the Australian dollar as their currencies, of course as former Australian protectorates.
These events remind us how pivotal the Pacific Islands were in our shared military history and how deep those connections go.
Our neighbours suffered greatly. We shared their suffering and we still respond to their security needs.
This was most obvious when Australia led the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
RAMSI was a wonderful example of how, under the auspices of the Biketawa Declaration of 2000, the smallest and the largest countries of the Pacific family came together to help the people of the Solomon Islands in operation "Helpem Fren".
Yes, we were the biggest contributor financially, but the RAMSI model was built on consultation and respect and collaboration between our combined military, police and diplomatic forces.
During the closing session of RAMSI, Solomon Island Prime Minister Sogavare addressed me across the room and he said:
"RAMSI showed us that you are not just the biggest house on the block…but you are a real partner, a real member of our Pacific family".
It was a touching moment, and it proved to me that these bonds are crucial, they are historic, and they will ensure that we are better equipped to respond in times of crisis.
When we talk about security in the Pacific today, I call it small 's' security. It's not just about old challenges, but it's about new challenges like transnational crime, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, it's about drug trafficking, it's about irregular people movements, health risks and climate related events.
Last month I accompanied Prime Minister Turnbull to the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' meeting in Samoa where discussions focused on maritime domain awareness, managing our oceans and improving security cooperation.
We remain committed to enhancing the maritime security of our Pacific neighbours. Our Pacific Patrol Boats program has played a vital role in maritime surveillance and enforcement operations, such as combating illegal fishing and transnational crime.
Which is why from 2018, the Pacific Maritime Security Program will build on the success of our Patrol Boat program and invest $2 billion in providing replacement vessels to 12 countries, along with aerial surveillance capability and enhanced coordination.
The Pacific Maritime Security Program will complement the efforts we are making in partnerships with organisations such as the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Pacific Transnational Crime Network, to strengthen regional information sharing and response coordination.
The Australian Federal Police is also at the forefront of police-led diplomacy. AFP international relationships - built around concerns we share with our partners on terrorism, child exploitation, the flow of drugs, money and guns – are an important part of Australia's broader diplomatic efforts and help to stabilise and build resilience in our bilateral and our regional relationships.
With Australian support, the Pacific Transnational Crime Network in particular has significantly improved understanding of the emerging transnational crime in the region and delivered operational successes.
This has included a recent detection and arrest of transnational ATM skimming syndicate operating across the Pacific and the interception of record-breaking hauls of drugs headed for Australia.
Just in the last 3 months or so, 2 major hauls of over 2 tonnes of drugs have been seized by French authorities in and around New Caledonia.
Those drugs were headed for Australia.
Late last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, working with the Pacific Islands Forum, reported that global criminal activity is now fully integrated in the Pacific.
The sheer vastness of the Pacific Ocean makes Pacific Islands countries an ideal hiding place, and ideal transit point for drug runners and organised criminals that are targeting the Australian market.
So, stability and security in the Pacific can only be achieved by us working together.
That is why at the last Pacific Islands Forum Meeting, Pacific Islands leaders agreed to commence work on a new regional security declaration, Biketawa Plus.
Australia has strong interests in a more integrated approach to regional security, by working with national and regional law enforcement organisations to improve the region's ability to identify, evaluate and respond to specific security issues.
This includes the Pacific Islands Law Officers Network, which we have supported to put in place the necessary legislative and legal policy arrangements to prosecute illegal activity in the Pacific
We are working with partners to implement the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement, which provides the necessary legal framework for strengthening cooperative fisheries surveillance and enforcement capacities.
Maritime surveillance and security is crucial to our ability to fight transnational crime, but also to protect vital marine resources in the Pacific.
No one country and no one entity can meet the challenges of maritime security and transnational crime on their own, especially not in a place like the Pacific.
We support the Forum Fisheries Agencies and the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre to collect and disseminate information on fishing and vessel movements.
By assisting our Pacific Island neighbours with surveillance, we are helping them to protect their fish stocks and develop their own fish industries.
During my last visit to Kiribati earlier this year, I was able to see the remarkable results that this surveillance work has had upon the local tuna industry.
Indeed, for Kiribati with an enormous EZ, its ability to develop its fishing resources and process seafood products for the export market have been significantly assisted by the disruption of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
That's why exchanging data on fisheries and combating illegal maritime, marine and transnational crime is so important.
Currently, nations and regional organisations hold a lot of this information which needs to be shared and needs to be shared more extensively.
We need a better coordinated approach to collecting and using information, and the goal must be for all Pacific organisations and national agencies to share the information and to operate as one.
Our maritime cooperation not only helps to protect these vast maritime resources, but it enhances our regional security, but more importantly for us it helps to protect our own borders and our own Australian community, especially those travelling in the region.
Of course, the Pacific provides unique challenges in tackling- as I said 7 of the 10 most disaster prone countries are actually in our region- so, climate events, natural disasters impact on security and stability.
Now, many of you would be aware of the extraordinary work that goes into humanitarian responses and we saw it with Tropical Cyclone Pam and Winston, respectively in Vanuatu and Fiji.
But we are doing more than responding. We are helping our neighbours to prepare for, to respond and to recover from disasters themselves.
This includes the capacity building of organisations and disaster management authorities, so that countries can better manage the risks.
Last year, Pacific leaders endorsed the 'Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific', basically to strengthen regional disaster and risk management co-operation through a mechanism that guides more coherent regional and international assistance.
There is strong evidence that upfront investment in resilience can save significant costs after the disasters occur. Every $1 that is invested in preparing for a disaster actually saves $15 in response and recovery costs in the aftermath of the disaster.
By investing in local disaster response capabilities, and helping countries to build that resilience to the impacts of climate events, we can reduce the impact for the future.
All over the Pacific, National Disaster Management Offices are benefitting from investments.
Also, the positioning of advisers in those offices means that we can supplement that country's ability to coordinate their response efforts.
With early warning, better coordination, we can help reduce the impact of disasters, and of course further assisting and maintaining prosperity and security in the region.
Over the years we have not only responded to major significant crises and those of course have included the extraordinary efforts of our Australian Defence Forces, which have added considerably to the value of our response contribution.
Just recently, we saw in Vanuatu, Manaro volcano- one of the most dangerous in the world- threatened to erupt and so we helped the Vanuatu Government to evacuate 11,000 residents, also with delivery of food, tents and clean drinking water through HMAS Choules.
Now one of the things that's also important in the Pacific is debt sustainability. This is a significant concern which threatens the economic stability countries have worked hard to maintain.
Burdensome debt can divert scarce public resources from more immediate needs such as health and education.
It is essential for partners and donors to work together to ensure the sustainable management of existing public debt and to ensure future debt is economically productive.
Now, concessional loans – such as those that are given through the World Bank and the ADB – can make credit significantly more affordable for Pacific Island countries, providing important economic opportunities.
In addition, this affords the opportunity for the World Bank and the ADB to have visibility of the existing loan books of these countries and assess the viability and sustainability of repaying those loans.
We all want to avoid the reputational risk of supporting programs, projects or investments that fail or leave an unwanted legacy.
We support initiatives in the region that basically have infrastructure which is economically productive infrastructure. In other words, there's no point building something if it's not going to give you some sort of economic value, and so therefore we very much push for economically productive infrastructure to be built.
Now, one of the other important factors of our ODA is gender empowerment.
At the heart of this is a goal of 80% of our aid aimed at improving gender balances in government, in bureaucracies, as well as helping empower women through entrepreneurship, land ownership and financial security. In 2015-16 we achieved 78% of our target.
Pacific women have one of the lowest rates of formal political representation in government in the world, just over 6% compared to a global average of 21%.
But we know that when we empower a woman, we empower her family, we empower her community, and in turn, we empower her nation.
Our flagship program in the Pacific, Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development which is a 10-year $320 million initiative, has given us some great results.
Everywhere I travel around the Pacific, I've met with women who have benefitted from the assistance that we have given them. It's improved their lives, it's improved the lives of their families and we know that if we empower women we help to eliminate the high levels of domestic violence which exist in the Pacific, regrettably.
The Pacific has some of the highest levels of domestic violence in the world.
Of course, if we do help women, as I said, we help them to contribute economically to their country and in turn to the stability of their country.
Coupled with the changes of the global political paradigm there have been also some significant changes in the architecture of aid delivery – all of this of course is driving us and driving a need for closer collaboration.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the 17 goals provide a roadmap for development efforts and those development goals are well and truly aligned with our foreign aid, security, development and trade interests especially in promoting regional stability and security.
It also helps us to advocate for a greater focus on economic growth and development in our region and to promote gender, governance and improving tax systems issues.
Australia is a founding member of the Pacific Islands Forum and we are active and we use the Pacific Islands Forum as a political framework to foster better cooperation and security in the region.
We work with other agencies, as I have mentioned, the Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA), our Pacific Community (SPC) which is a partnership between Australia and the Pacific community, and also the Secretariat of Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) which is basically focused on environmental issues.
We have proven to be an effective, an integral member of the Pacific family.
In that spirit of regional cooperation, we are "Stepping Up" our engagement - regional economic growth also drives regional security.
We are proud of our Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations – PACER Plus – which we and 13 other Forum members concluded in April this year.
This is a landmark trade and development agreement.
Like other FTAs, it liberalises flows in goods, services and investments between the Parties – but PACER Plus is unique and different to other trade agreements because it has development at its core.
We are committed to increasing a broader trade related development assistance with 20% what we term Aid for Trade in recognition of the importance of fostering economic opportunities.
Our Labour Mobility Arrangements is truly a different feature and an important feature of PACER Plus.
At the recent Pacific Islands Forum meeting, we reaffirmed our commitment to step up our engagement by signing a series of MOU's including enhanced labour mobility programs with countries like Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu.
We also have signed some bilateral security partnerships with countries and we have entered into MOUs to bolster health security by providing support on supply and pricing of pharmaceuticals.
We are exploring other avenues of purchasing and procurement arrangements.
As I travel across the region, I am always warmly thanked- people thank me, they stop me and they thank me and say please thank the Australian people for the transparency and the generosity of our aid.
We have a good name in the region because we've helped our friends, especially in their hour of need and most especially following Tropical Cyclones Pam and Winston.
But the genuineness of our motivation to help the people of the Pacific is seen most especially in the wonderful work that our volunteers do.
In all of our programs, as we "step up" we have been assisted by an amazing army of Australian volunteers; helping to build capacity in our region.
Over the next year over 900 volunteers will travel to the Indo-Pacific area to work, to train and to assist communities.
So, by the end of this year, I hope to have travelled to almost every Pacific Islands Forum country – some I've been to more than once as you can appreciate that makes me a very frequent flyer!
I've racked up thousands and thousands and thousands of air miles, but this experience has cemented for me the value of the work that we do.
There are signs of new prosperity and security in the Pacific as well as tremendous opportunities that are being afforded through labour mobility and trade potential.
Through our ODA we are building our soft power in the region; our closer partnerships and our greater understanding as we face the global challenges together.
The Pacific is vitally important to Australia and Australia is just as important to our Pacific neighbours – going back through our shared military history to our on-going security arrangements today.
Our step-up engagement is a true validation and testament that our aid is working and placing Australia as a central and valued partner within our Pacific family.
Our history has shown us as we've worked together in the past to defend our region so too we will now, working together, be able to face our common security challenges.
So, can I thank you for your kind attention and for inviting me here this evening.
- Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7110
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555