ACFID National Virtual Conference

  • Speech, check against delivery

Good morning.

I want to begin by acknowledging that I am speaking to you today from Ngunnawal land, and acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land.

I also want to acknowledge that there are hundreds of participants joining this event from across Australia and internationally – and I pay my respects to the traditional owners of all those lands.

I also acknowledge the First Nations people of Australia and the Pacific who are with us online today.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this year's ACFID National Virtual Conference.

I've been engaging with ACFID and its members for several years now.

I want to thank you for your work bringing the nation's international development organisations together and advancing the goal of a world without poverty.

Back in May, I gave a speech to your International Development Election Forum with my pitch for why a Labor Government would be better for international development.

I mapped out Labor's vision for an international development program grounded in values of fairness, equality and compassion.

Today, I'm honoured to be addressing you as Minister for International Development and the Pacific and to outline how the Albanese Government is reinvigorating Australia's international development program.

It's been a busy few months for our government.

We've wasted no time in enshrining new carbon emissions reduction targets into legislation – a minimum of 43 per cent reduction by 2030, and net zero by 2050.

Those targets are partnered with achieving 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

Our Ministers and the Prime Minister have traversed our Indo-Pacific region – from Fiji to Timor-Leste; from Solomon Islands to Cambodia – deepening our relationships with our friends and neighbours.

We are bringing new energy and resources to Australia's Pacific relationships and our international development program.

The Budget Jim Chalmers delivered this week increases Official Development Assistance to the Pacific by $900 million and to Southeast Asia by $470 million.

It provides an additional $30 million for the Australian NGO Cooperation Program.

That is a better outcome than we took to the election.

Let's be clear.

The former Government had budgeted for further cuts to ODA in 2023-23 and again in 2024-25.

We are budgeting for ODA to rise each year over the forward estimates to reach $4.87 billion in 2025-26.

This will take the aid budget to its highest level since 2014-15.

These increases are sorely needed after a decade of cuts to aid by the former Government.

At a time of massive economic pressures, it is a testament to this Government's commitment that we have not just held to our undertakings – we have made an even bigger contribution than we said we would.

As we rebuild from the former Government's legacy of cuts, I believe that as supporters of development we need to do a better job of articulating the case for aid in the Australian community.

That's a responsibility for Government – it's also a responsibility for the aid sector if we want to build public support for our development investments.

It's not enough to lobby government.

In a difficult economic environment, where so many Australians are struggling, you also need to make a persuasive argument with the Australian people.

And I appreciate that you are undertaking this endeavour.

Global and domestic economic pressures mean it will only get harder to marshal the resources to be more active in facing regional challenges. 

The Albanese Government is committed to the Australian aid program for several reasons.

Development assistance promotes economic growth and growth is a key driver in lifting people out of poverty.

Studies have consistently found that development assistance has a positive long-term impact on a country's economic growth.

Growth boosts incomes, creates jobs, lifts people out of poverty and enables governments to invest in public services.

The Government also sees the aid program as a key element in Australia's foreign policy toolkit.

It is an important way in which Australia engages with our neighbours and cooperates on shared challenges to shape a region and a world we want to live in …

A region and a world characterised by prosperity, stability, respect for sovereignty and a rules-based international system.

We support Australian aid because it can improve security.

Extreme poverty and sharp inequalities can lead to social tensions, instability, conflict and radicalisation.

By tackling these extremes of poverty and by promoting development we support regional security.

Our Government also supports Australian aid because it is the right thing to do …

  • Helping people in extreme poverty to build better lives …
  • Helping those whose lives have been upended by humanitarian crises and disasters …
  • Tackling violence against women and girls …
  • Supporting better healthcare, education and basic services like water, sanitation and hygiene …

There is a clear moral case for an Australian aid program that supports these goals.

Australia's future is entwined with the future of our region – more so now than any other time.

Our region is on the frontline of climate change.

COVID has set back development gains, especially in the Pacific.

The global Human Development Index has dropped for two years in a row, for the first time on record.

And an estimated 47 million extra women and girls will be pushed into poverty by the pandemic.

As we face these challenges, we need to consider more than just the next financial year, or even the next four years.

We need to consider the long term direction of Australia's development program.

In her address to the UN General Assembly last month, Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced that we are working on a new international development policy.

This policy will outline how Australia's development program will help reinforce the foundations of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

It will focus on four key areas which we believe are critical to our region's future.

The first is building effective, accountable states that can sustain their own development.

This encapsulates our partnerships with other governments – which are vital in helping our neighbours deliver greater health, education and social security outcomes for their peoples …

As well as engagement with civil society – which is indispensable for sustainable development, social cohesion, and accountability and transparency.

In times of crisis, and in times of stability, civil society organisations support governments in delivering essential services – especially to marginalised groups.

They defend citizen rights, and advocate for good policy.

Australian NGOs have a rich history of engaging with and supporting civil society across the Indo-Pacific region.

We want that tradition to continue and to grow.

Secondly, we want to enhance resilience to external pressures and shocks.

COVID has taught us some hard lessons about not being prepared.

And climate change is affecting our region right now – displacing communities, endangering food and water supplies, damaging vital infrastructure.

How we plan and prepare for future disasters, and how we build resilience – especially in developing and fragile countries – has consequences for all the nations in our region.

Australian NGOs are key to this – many of your organisations are already working to build resilience in our region.

A great example of this is our Water for Women Fund which has been successfully running 20 water, sanitation and hygiene programs in 15 Indo-Pacific countries for the past five years.

DFAT has worked with the ten NGO partners that deliver WASH programs to re-engineer these programs to be climate resilient.

I am pleased to say that, today, I can confirm we are committing an extra $36 million to this fund, bringing our total to almost $155 million.

The third focus area of our new policy is connecting partners with Australia and regional architecture.

Australia has many strengths, including the power of our economy, institutions, culture and expertise.

Recipients of our scholarships return to their communities with a first-class qualification and strong networks in Australia.

Our labour mobility programs allow workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste to gain skills, experience and a decent income, which supports their families and communities.

As the Foreign Minister said recently in New York, Australians want to be better, more involved, and more helpful members of the Pacific family.

A successful development program also requires partnerships at the regional level, built upon shared interests and a shared vision.

Take for example our comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN.

Every day, Australians and their ASEAN counterparts work on issues from climate change, renewable energy and health security to education, infrastructure and economic growth.

This work makes a tangible contribution to a more stable, prosperous region that is respectful of sovereignty.

The fourth and final area of focus is generating collective action on global challenges that impact our region.

Global challenges require effective global cooperation.

Multilateral partners are a critical complement to what Australia does through our bilateral and regional programs.

They provide technical expertise and sustainable finance on a large scale in the Indo-Pacific.

They have the presence and the legitimacy to work on sensitive issues in places where we sometimes find it harder to operate.

They broker international agreements and monitor adherence to them – the rules-based order that underpins stability, security and prosperity in our region.

So, we will continue to invest in global cooperation that contributes to a better, fairer and more equitable world.

These are the key areas we are focusing on as we develop our new international development policy.

This is the start of a conversation.

It's vital that we hear from as many experts and partners as possible – including those attending this conference today.

We've called for public submissions and will be holding discussions across a broad spectrum of stakeholders − from civil society, thought leaders and the private sector.

We will listen to and respect the perspectives of our partners in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and seek their ideas on how we should work together.

We will consider options to improve our toolkit, including the findings of the DFAT-led Development Finance Review.

We will ensure the new policy has a robust performance and delivery framework to promote effectiveness, transparency and accountability.

We will also be working closely with DFAT on capability and leadership to ensure that it is a world-class development agency, equipped to deliver a development program for the 21st century.

Our new development cooperation policy will set the long-term direction and ambition for Australia's international development program.

I look forward to hearing your perspectives in the coming months.

Thank you to the ACFID team for pulling this event together and thank you for your commitment to a better, fairer region for all of us.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7840
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555