Thank you very much, Sam for your warm welcome and kind introduction.

Yes of course, as with a surname like mine, yes I do have my piece of paper that tells me that I have renounced my Italian citizenship and I'm happy to show it in both Italian and in English for anybody that may be interested!

Look, can I thank you first of all, Sam, on behalf of the Australian Government for the time that you were President of ACFID. You brought a very balanced and pragmatic approach to your leadership, and can I thank you very, very much for all your work.

As your term does come to an end you have much to be proud of, and in particular the strengthening of the public-private partnerships.

Can I also acknowledge Senator Claire Moore, the Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific; can I welcome Susan Pascoe, the incoming ACFID President; can I also acknowledge Marc Purcell, your CEO; and also add my acknowledgement of country.

On behalf of the Australian Government I am very, very pleased to welcome you, Susan, to your new role.  Congratulations on your election this morning.

There is a lot to do and we look forward to working with you during your presidency.

Today, I'd like to take the opportunity to review progress over the past 12 months and to look ahead to the next 12 months.

When I was last here I asked for your help and your support in 3 key areas, all of which do impact on the effectiveness of our aid program.

First, I asked the sector to assist with the critical need to explain what we are doing, why we are doing these activities, and most importantly, the benefit to Australia.

Secondly, I asked you to engage and partner with diaspora in Australia to support the delivery of our aid program.

And finally, I asked you to consider partnering with the private sector to strengthen funding and aid delivery mechanisms.

So, 12 months on, what has been achieved towards these goals?
Now, The Lowy Institute's 2017 poll found that, as with previous years, Australians as a whole were largely unconcerned by reductions in our aid program.

Although most people overestimated the aid budget, almost three out of four feel that the Government still spends either too much, or about the right amount on aid.

Research conducted by the Australian National University Development Policy Centre also produced similar results.

Their comparison of the general Australian public's perception of the aid budget to the Australian aid community was particularly interesting, with more than 80% of the aid community seeking more spending on aid, compared to only 10% of the broad Australian public.

This research suggests there is a difference in perceptions between Australian tax payers and the aid sector.

So therefore, we have a responsibility to demonstrate to all Australians what the benefit is of our Australian aid program.

In so doing, we need to respond to those who ask why we spend taxpayers' money overseas rather than at home or not at all, and why we spend money on our neighbours when their economies in some areas are growing and their prosperity is rising.

Over the last 12 months, I have used every opportunity to explain how Australian aid benefits Australians, not just those in receipt of it.

I have stressed that Australia will benefit if citizens in our region are healthy, well educated, and making an economic contribution in their own country.

I have highlighted that Australia helps to build long-term stability and prosperity in our region, thereby reducing the potential cost of future dependence on aid, and opening up economic and trade opportunities.

On overseas visits, I have highlighted that the money we are investing not only helps the recipients, but it also helps Australians.

I am the first to admit that my efforts alone are by no means, and certainly, are not enough. We need many, many minds and many voices on the job.

We need to build that very necessary broad consensus in favour of an Australian aid program that grows stronger from year to year, as Australians increasingly recognise the benefits it brings to them.

We have a great story to tell.

The Turnbull Government increased our aid in the last Budget by a significant $84 million.

This included increasing our humanitarian and emergency budget by $60 million to $400 million to help preserve the gains communities make in the good times and recover more quickly from hard times.

Now, often you have commentary that we are compared to other countries in the world.

Now we know that the OECD, its Development Assistance Committee, redefined aid to include security and in-country refugee costs.

Australia has separate, we don't include that, we have a separate settlement services budget and so therefore I think often when there is a comparison made it's really comparing apples and oranges.

With 90% of our aid budget spent in the Indo-Pacific, we know full well that stability in our region is our collective prosperity.

It is of direct benefit to Australians.

We also increased funding to NGO and volunteer programs by $5 million, up to $183.4 million and we opened additional funding opportunities to NGOs.

I was surprised that these significant increases in the Australian aid effort were to a large degree missed at Budget time.

But in any case, the Australian Government is lifting our efforts in our region.

In September, Prime Minister Turnbull announced Australia's Pacific Step-Up at the Pacific Island Forum Meeting in Samoa.

This includes strengthening economic growth and resilience, enhancing security co-operation, and deepening people-to-people links across the region.

Australia is committed to continued cooperation with the Pacific Island countries to achieve our shared goal of a stronger, safer and more prosperous region.

Security and stability in the region means stability and security for Australia.

So, I've been asked to sort of share with you some of my observations on this particular point.

So today when we talk about security in our region, I tend to refer to it as small 's' security.

It's about today, transnational crime, it's about illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, it's about drug trafficking.

In the last three months we have had two of the largest drug hauls destined for Australia- over two tonnes of drugs.

Thanks to the efforts of our cooperation with our Pacific neighbours, we have been able to intercept those drugs.

It's about people, potential people trafficking.

These are the security issues that we are now facing in our region.

But, dealing with these security issues will only be dealt with effectively because of the strong people-to-people links that we do have.

It's about raising the capacity of our neighbouring countries, particularly in the Pacific region- where a third of our aid is spent- raising their capacity to meet these challenges. We have old challenges, but we have these new challenges.

One of the important things in the fabric and the framework of the work that we do, especially in the Pacific, is the work of our volunteers and the work of your organisations that are involved in the Pacific.

If I can say one thing about my travels, and now I've been… I've done 24 trips to the Pacific since I've been Minister, but really I only started travelling in August last year and one of the things that's very, very clear to me- and I really wanted to share this with you- is the genuineness of the work that we do and the work that you do.

It's about helping the people of our region. We go with a transparent, open approach that is very, very welcome.

In the many places that I have been I am always stopped and thanked for the contribution that Australia and Australian NGOs and Australian Volunteers make to our region.

I particularly wanted to pass that onto you today.

So, when we talk about our engagement and our engagement in the Pacific, the Australian Government is very committed to stepping-up and increasing opportunities, not just in terms of what we may do in country, but also bringing the Pacific to us.

One of the centrepieces of our step-up engagement is opportunities for Pacific Island workers to work in Australia.

We look to NGOs to work with our Pacific diasporas in Australia to maximise the support that the workers receive here.

I encourage those of you who work with the Australian Government in the Pacific to share your version of Australia's Pacific story with as many people as possible.

Staying in the Pacific, I represented Australia at the conclusion of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), where we invested $2.8 billion over 14 years.

I was very much touched by the comments as the leaders gathered in Honiara at the end of RAMSI and we had a meeting, and to hear Prime Minister Sogavare thank us and say 'yes, Australia is the biggest house on the block, but you are very much a part of the Pacific family.'

And so therefore, our collective efforts that we made as part of RAMSI have now become an international model for restoring stability and security to a troubled region.

As the Defence White Paper makes very, very clear, the stability, security and prosperity of our region is second only to the defence of Australia.

So, moving forward, yes RAMSI has concluded, but that doesn't mean that we just move on.

And so as part of the work that we've done in the Solomon Islands, we will provide a $141 million post-RAMSI Security and Stability Development Assistance Package, which basically composes three elements.

And I know that some of you are involved in the work that we're doing there.

There's a Justice Program, there's a Governance Program and there's a Police Development Program.

I am pleased to say that in addition to RAMSI creating peace and stability, it has also created the vital space for ACFID members to deliver important services in the Solomon Islands.

Of course, Australia's interests in our region extend beyond the Pacific. 

In March this year I visited Myanmar where I met with Aung San Suu Kyi and gained some personal insight into the complex situation there. 

We are deeply concerned at the ongoing violence in the Rakhine State and the devastating impact that this has had on over 600,000 Rohingya who have crossed the border into Bangladesh.

This has been a major focus of the Government.  Indeed, we are one of the leading contributors to the international response to this crisis.  

On the 23 October, Foreign Minister Bishop announced additional Australian assistance of $10 million to help provide food, clean water, sanitation and shelter for displaced people.

This funding will also help to treat children for malnutrition, create safe and secure areas for women, and provide maternal health services.

This, of course, is additional assistance to what we announced of $20 million in September.

Our support is helping to meet the needs of the displaced Rohingya – especially the women.

By protecting vulnerable individuals and alleviating the need for potentially dangerous onward movement, we are contributing to regional stability and security.

But there is globally, one security threat to Australians that has no regard for borders – and that is disease.

We recognise that substantial funding, expertise and vision is required to manage the major health threats that we now face in our region.

This is why we trebled our $100 million election commitment to health security.

The new $300 million Health Security Initiative for the Indo-Pacific Region over 5 years represents the largest health and medical research commitment ever made under Australia's development assistance program.

It will drive research on drug-resistant TB- which we know is endemic particularly in certain parts of Papua New Guinea- and malaria; it will build partnerships between governments, universities, NGOs and business; and it will create a new Health Security Corps to build capacity in the health sector across the region.

The benefit of Australian's investment is crystal clear – it's about safety and it's about health.

This initiative will be implemented by the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security and I ask those of you who partner with us on this investment to make this case to the Australian taxpayers.

I also encourage you all to follow the Centre's progress and consider how you can work with it, to improve people's health in the communities that you know best.

Our vision for Australian Aid to be recognised as a leader in innovation, we want to deliver innovation, to deliver new and cost-effective solutions to pressing development challenges to improve the lives of people in the Indo-Pacific region.

This is being realised by the Government's flagship InnovationXchange.

We are finding new ways to improve lives through10 global challenges, sourcing over 1,000 ideas, and supporting over 65 innovations.

The Australian Government was pleased to support ACFID's efforts to encourage innovation through the development of the Innovation Guide that is being launched here at this conference.  

We were also pleased to see the implementation of your new Code of Conduct from July this year that will continue to build the capacity, accountability, and transparency of NGOs working overseas.

Susan, I am confident that your experience in regulation will be an asset to ACFID in supporting members to understand and comply with this new Code.

ACFID's contributions to a range of policy dialogues with DFAT are always welcomed.

We recognise ACFID's contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals and in particular on gender, and for example; on International Women's Day this year, Foreign Minister Bishop announced the Australian NGO Gender Action Platform.

This is generating new partnerships for the aid program between, for example, customary leaders in the Pacific and church leaders to counter gender-based violence.

Regrettably, this is something that is endemic in our region and is very much, I have to say, I believe a barrier to empowerment of women in the region.

It is really heartbreaking- as I've gone across and I make it a point when I go to the Pacific to speak to women and women's groups- to hear this continuous litany of issues about domestic violence.

And so therefore, empowerment and empowerment of women is really going to be a partnership that we are going to have to do with customary leaders and church leaders to combat these very high levels of gender-based violence.  

As I have said partnerships are very important, particularly with the private sector and diasporas.  From last year, I can see some very good movement in the right direction.

Under the Business Partnership Platform, the Department partners with business to help deliver our aid program.

The 9 partnerships that are now underway have brought in over $8 million in additional investment in support of development outcomes. 

ACFID has also been proactive in co-hosting meetings with major Australian companies that are interested in how they might support climate financing and the SDGs.

These examples are encouraging and I hope to see more private sector engagement in 2018.

It makes clear sense for Government and the sector to align our efforts with diaspora, particularly given that in 2016 Australian diaspora sent approximately $2.5 billion to the Pacific alone.

And also, I had occasion this year to attend the African Union Meeting in Addis Ababa and of course let's not forget that our African diaspora of around 350,000 people here in Australia remit about $1 billion to Africa as well.

So, Australians with family and business connections in the countries to which we give development assistance have expertise and contacts on which we should draw on to make our aid program as good as it can be.

Diasporas can help advocate an Australian aid program that both benefits their country of origin and builds stronger links with Australia.

I had the opportunity this year to visit Sri Lanka and I think that as we do look at what Sri Lanka has gone through over recent years, we do see the importance of the role that diaspora will play, including the Sri Lankan diaspora here in Australia, in terms of the future of Sri Lanka.

So, I would encourage this dialogue with diasporas because they do provide absolutely vitally important insights, particularly the younger and the next generation of those diasporas who do see engagement with countries and their parent's former country as vitally important to their future in trade and other economic links.

I would also welcome more initiatives from ACFID and members, bringing more diasporas into closer contact with our Australian Aid program.

I am encouraged to see that ACFID members, particularly NGOs engaged in the Australian NGO Cooperation Program, are now more active in their social media, acknowledging Government support, and sharing stories of what is being achieved with the help of Australian aid.

ACFID members have achieved impressive results through our Australia NGO Cooperation Program last financial year reaching almost 13 million people, including 4 million with essential medicines, and over 170,000 poor women with access to financial services, just to use some examples.

Those involved in delivering the aid program can be among our most effective communicators about the program's successes, you have on the ground examples and anecdotes that illustrate clearly the benefits, not just to the people receiving our Australian assistance, but to Australia and where Australia benefits. 

One way we can improve the Australian public's engagement with the aid program is through a more joined up approach to communicating about our collective efforts, including in response to humanitarian crises.

We know from international experience that, by providing a 'one stop shop' for public engagement and contributions, joint funding appeals for humanitarian crises can; increase revenue generation, diversify the donor base, provide opportunities for enhanced private sector partnerships; and enhance public understanding and perception of what humanitarian agencies do.

I welcome the ongoing discussions in the sector about developing a joint appeal mechanism for humanitarian crises. 

Done effectively, this has the potential to create a powerful platform for us to communicate with the public on how their contributions – as both taxpayers and private donors – are making a difference in our region.

So, overall, we have had a busy 12 months with significant progress on many fronts.  

No doubt 2018 will again bring challenges that we can meet with our continued partnership.

It will be a big year for our 2030 Agenda, with Australia presenting our first Voluntary National Review in New York in July. 

We will report on all our efforts to achieve the Goals, both domestically and internationally.

In recent months, DFAT has increased its website and social media focus on the SDGs, linking to the websites and social media accounts of several partners in this room, and highlighting initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Solutions Network's Universities Guide to the SDGs.

And can I say, following our meeting this morning, Sam, Susan and Marc agreed with us and we've agreed to a Government business forum with ACFID and the Government to promote SDGs, because after all- and we'll look at having this forum sometime next year- because after all SDGs do make good business sense.

That's really the message that we want to communicate, so we look forward to working with ACFID in terms of this engagement, particularly with business.  

2018 will also be the year when we all digest and respond to the guidance the Australian Government will provide, through the Foreign Policy White Paper, for our international engagement over the next 10 years.

Can I thank ACFID and its members for their valuable contributions through the White Paper process: it has been greatly appreciated.

The White Paper - the first since 2003 - will communicate our framework for seizing opportunities and mitigating risks in an international environment experiencing profound changes.

Development assistance will remain an important element of our international engagement.

I look forward to a year of marked progress, including in the 3 areas I have returned to again today; partnerships with business, partnerships with diaspora communities, and a much greater effort to advocate the benefits of Australian aid to all Australians.

If we can win stronger and broader Australian support for the Australian aid program, then the work we do together will be on a surer footing.

May the benefits flow far and wide across our continent and across our region.

Can I thank you for your kind attention and wish you all the very, very best in your efforts and again thank you very, very much for all the work that you do and your commitment to helping many, many people across the world who are in need.

Thank you.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7110
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555