Union Aid Abroad-Apheda Annual Dinner

  • Speech, check against delivery


Thank you Kate and Andrew for the invitation to speak tonight.

It’s great to see so many friends here from the union movement and the progressive political movement.

By coming out tonight, you are lending your support to one of the most important causes there is today – fighting global poverty.

Let me also acknowledge that we meet on the land of the Eora nation.

I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and to all Indigenous people here tonight.

Pursuing justice and healing for Australia’s First Nations is a key priority for the Albanese Labor Government.

We are committed to the principles of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and we are committed to enshrining an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the Australian Constitution.

The Government is also committed to a First Nations approach to foreign policy.

As we formulate our foreign policies and programs, we will listen to and engage with Australia’s Indigenous people and with Indigenous people in our partner countries.

These perspectives are highly relevant to international development policy, which is all about tackling endemic poverty, entrenched disadvantage and systemic injustice.

Global Poverty

Friends, the challenge of tackling poverty remains urgent, despite remarkable progress over the last quarter century.

More than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990 – an achievement that should not be discounted.

Yet today there are still more than 650 million people around the world living in extreme poverty, struggling to survive on less than US$1.90 a day.

In today’s Australian dollars, adjusted for purchasing power, that equates to just $25 a week.

And more than 40 per cent of the world’s population – 3.25 billion people – live on less than US$5.50 a day, or less than A$75 a week.

Poverty is a serious problem in Australia and we need to help disadvantaged Australians.

But poverty is more extreme, more widespread and more entrenched in many developing countries.
Australia’s national income per head of population was at $US57,000 in 2021.

By contrast, per capita income in the world’s 30 poorest countries was only $US722.

On average, Australians’ incomes are almost 80 times the incomes of the people of the world’s lowest income countries.

Consider what these levels of grinding poverty and economic underdevelopment mean in human terms:

  • People go hungry every day.
  • Diseases which have been stamped out in rich countries like tuberculosis, polio and malaria remain prevalent in the world’s underdeveloped countries.
  • People suffer from illness and premature death because they don’t have access to healthcare.
  • People can’t afford basics of life such as shelter or accommodation, electricity to power their homes and access to clean water and decent sanitation.
  • Women and children suffer from violence.
  • Work can only be found in the informal sector where income levels, job security and protections are precarious.
  • Poverty becomes institutionalised and multi-generational, meaning it becomes harder and harder to break that cycle.

The challenge of global poverty and rising inequality has become more severe in recent years.

Even before the pandemic, the rate of poverty reduction had slowed significantly.

Over the 25 years from 1990 to 2015, the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty declined by an average of 1 percentage point a year.

But from 2015 to 2019 the decline in the extreme poverty rate slowed to just 0.6 percentage points a year.

Then came COVID, which caused unprecedented reversals in poverty reduction in 2020, followed by supply chain disruption, rising inflation and the war in Ukraine.

These cascading health, economic and security crises have added up to the biggest setback for international development in a generation.

COVID pushed an estimated 93 million more people into extreme poverty in 2020.

Two years later, the number of people living in extreme poverty is still estimated to be 75 to 95 million higher than pre-pandemic projections.

The World Bank has acknowledged that 2020 marked an historic turning point – the year an era of global income convergence gave way to global divergence.

The world’s poorest countries were hardest hit by COVID; while the world’s richest countries have recovered at a faster pace.

As the Bank points out, these diverging fortunes have ushered in the biggest rise in global inequality in decades.

And now we face sharp increases in the incidence of hunger, as the war in Ukraine exacerbates the impact of supply chain disruption and inflation on food supplies and prices.

Labor's Commitment to Development

Tackling these issues, I would argue, is core business for Australian Labor.

Our movement has a proud record of support for international development.

This is part of our wider commitment to social justice.

Labor’s industrial and political wings pursue better outcomes for the working people of this country.

And, just as we have a deep commitment to fairness at home, so we advocate for fairness abroad.

Global inequalities of wealth, income and power between people in rich and poor countries are far more stark than the inequalities within developed economies like Australia.

The progressive case for supporting international development is based on:

  • Concern to rectify inequalities in the international order.
  • Belief in human dignity and respect for human rights.
  • And compassion for our fellow human beings.

Labor does not accept the proposition that there is a stark dichotomy in international affairs between realism and idealism, or between nationalism and internationalism.

We see strong international engagement and good international citizenship as important ways of promoting Australia’s national interests.

By tackling poverty and supporting development we not only make the world a better place, we also advance Australia’s interests in regional stability and security.

APHEDA’s support for development is part of a Labor internationalist tradition, which reflects our commitment to justice, equality and human rights.

For the Australian union movement, this has often been a matter of solidarity with working people and their struggles around the world.

As long ago as 1921, the All-Australian Trade Union Congress adopted proposals for the development of international solidarity with other labour movements in the Pacific.

In 1945 Australian waterside workers famously supported Indonesian nationalists by banning Dutch ships bound for the newly-proclaimed Republic of Indonesia, formerly the Dutch East Indies.

A decade later, Australian maritime unions banned South African ships in response to calls for support in the fight against apartheid from the South African Congress of Trade Unions.

Support for the international campaign against apartheid spread during the 1960s and 1970s, drawing in the building unions, the metal workers, the transport workers, the Missos, the teachers and the ACTU.

For political Labor, internationalism is manifested in our commitment to multilateral institutions and the international rules-based order; and through our focus on building a strong future for Australia in the Asia-Pacific region.

This Labor tradition in international affairs can be traced back to the pivotal role played by H. V. Evatt in the founding of the United Nations and the drafting of the UN Charter in 1945.

It is reflected in Evatt’s achievements in promoting the values of individual liberty and social justice in international law through the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

And in the Chifley Government’s support for the post-war Bretton Woods international financial and trading architecture.

Chifley saw the new Bretton Woods multilateral institutions as the international system’s best hope to avoid the horrors of global Depression and war.

Tackling poverty and supporting economic development have been a key goal of the international system …

… from the formation of the World Bank following World War Two …

… to the UN’s adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 and the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

Labor internationalism today seeks to restore Australian leadership on the ultimate cross-border challenge – climate change – which can only be addressed through international cooperation.

Overseas aid to tackle poverty and promote development fits squarely into this Labor foreign policy tradition.

The origins of Australia’s foreign aid program can be traced back to the Curtin Government’s decision to join the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration established to relieve the devastation of the Second World War.

Over the years, Labor Governments have made significant reforms to improve Australia’s aid program.

Whitlam created a stand-alone Australian Development Assistance Agency in 1974.

Hawke and Keating established the Australian Development Assistance Bureau in 1987 and AusAID in 1995.

Rudd and Gillard delivered substantial increases in the Australian aid budget.

So my message tonight is that in your support for APHEDA, you are part of a rich Labor heritage.

You are supporting some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

You are fighting against profound injustice and inequality.

And you are helping to build a better world.

If this cause is not the modern-day light on the hill …

… “which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand” …

… then I don’t know what is.

Apheda's Contribution

This important work is not only pursued by Government but also by non-government organisations and by more than a million Australians who reach into their own pockets each year to support aid charities and NGOs.

NGOs like APHEDA are important players in Australia’s development efforts.

One of the strengths of Australia’s aid NGOs is their commitment to working with civil society in developing countries.

Support for civil society promotes better governance.

This, in turn, contributes to economic development, greater transparency and stronger democratic institutions.

Amongst the dozens of accredited aid NGOs that work with the Australian Government, I want to acknowledge APHEDA for its focus on workers’ rights.

Through APHEDA, Australian unions are working globally in pursuit of dignity at work, social justice, economic equality and human rights.

APHEDA works to achieve these goals through partnerships with trade unions, social movements and community groups in developing countries.

In recent years, APHEDA has worked in Cambodia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Vietnam, Lao and the Palestinian Territories.

Its projects have focused on human rights; gender; health; rural development and agriculture; governance; and economic development.

Just a few examples of APHEDA’s projects include:

  • Supporting the Working Women’s Centre of Timor-Leste in advocating for Timorese domestic workers, a cohort of often young working women who are at risk of exploitation and poor working conditions.
  • Working in Vietnam to provide training and increase awareness of the hazards of asbestos and the risks of asbestos-related diseases.
  • And providing early education to vulnerable Syrian and Palestinian children and women’s empowerment programs in refugee camps in Lebanon.

I want to acknowledge APHEDA’s long-standing support for the Palestinian people.

This dates back to the organisation’s founding in 1984 based on a proposal by Australian nurse Helen McCue who had worked in Palestinian refugee camps.

Australia’s development assistance to the Palestinian Territories and Palestinians in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria responds to humanitarian and development needs.

It reflects the Australian Government’s support for a two-state solution and our interest in a stable and secure Middle East.

Funding operations in parts of the Palestinian Territories continues to be a complex issue, but we are committed to finding ways to offer support where we can.

That’s why the Government will be providing $27.1 million in development assistance for the Palestinian Territories in 2022-23, including $20 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, a doubling of Australia’s contribution to UNRWA.

Albanese Government's Policies

The Albanese Government will treat international development as a critical element of Australia’s foreign policy.

We believe that Australia needs to play its part in lifting people out of extreme poverty.

Simply, helping lift people out of poverty is the right thing to do.

It reflects the Australian character – a generous nation, committed to the fair go.

But fighting global poverty is also in squarely in Australia’s national interest.

It is in Australia’s interests to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality because these are amongst the root causes of instability, conflict and violence around the world.

Strategic competition in our region is growing – in that context a strong development program is in Australia’s interests because it advances prosperity, stability and security in our region.

Through overseas aid, Australia builds its relationships with the governments and people of our neighbouring countries.

That will improve our ability to work with neighbouring countries on shared challenges and to advance Australia’s foreign policy and national security interests.

Development policy is a key component in the toolkit for Australia’s international engagement.

This is why the new Labor Government has committed to reversing the decade of cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget under the former Liberal Government.

When the Liberals came to office in 2013, Australia’s official development assistance budget stood at just over $5 billion a year.

By 2019-20 they had cut the aid budget to $4 billion a year.

When COVID broke out, the Liberals’ response did not reflect the scale of the challenge.

They made some temporary increases to the aid budget in 2021 and 2022, but then planned to start cutting aid again.

Scott Morrison’s last Budget planned to cut the annual aid budget by $210 million in 2023-24.
In next week’s Budget, Labor will start the task of rebuilding Australia’s international development program.
We will implement our three key election commitments on aid.

We will increase Official Development Assistance for Pacific countries by $525 million over the four years from 2022-23.

This will boost Australia’s aid to the Pacific at a time when the region is still struggling with the economic and social fallout from COVID, on top of its long-standing development challenges.

We will increase ODA for Southeast Asian countries by $470 million over the next four years.

This will support bilateral and regional development programs for Southeast Asian developing countries including Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam.

And we will boost funding for the Australian NGO Cooperation Program by $30 million over four years.

The Australian NGO Cooperation Program provides funding to accredited Australian charities and NGOs, including APHEDA, for a range of development activities – including projects to improve healthcare and education, prevent violence against women and children and tackle hunger and deprivation.

Delivering these three election commitments will boost ODA by more than $1 billion over Budget’s forward estimates.

This is the biggest single commitment to increase the official aid budget since 2011-12.

This additional funding will increase resources for Australian development projects which help lift people out of poverty.

It will boost Australia’s bilateral and regional support for projects in health, education, human infrastructure needs (including water, sanitation and hygiene) and tackling gender inequality and violence against women and girls.

I am also pleased to say that climate finance will be an important focus of the aid program.

Labor sees climate change as a development issue as well as an environmental and economic issue.

That’s because the impacts of climate change will fall more heavily on the poor and the disadvantaged in developing countries, particularly our neighbours in the Pacific.

We will establish a new Pacific Climate Infrastructure Partnership to support climate and clean energy projects and an Australia-Indonesia Climate Resilience and Infrastructure Partnership to invest in infrastructure, disaster mitigation and renewable energy.

Under the Albanese Labor Government, Australia aspires to be the development partner of choice for countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

We want Australia to play a significant role in improving the lives and the prospects of people in our region by contributing to poverty alleviation.

That is why, for the first time in a decade, Labor will put the Australian Government’s aid budget on a footing to match these aspirations.


Let me conclude by thanking you again for supporting APHEDA and for your work in the union movement and beyond to support international development.

I hope I have conveyed the Albanese Government’s deep appreciation for your work …

… our view that this work is central to Labor’s values …

… our commitment to rebuild Australia’s aid program after a decade of Liberal cuts …

… and our willingness to work with partners like APHEDA to tackle the scourge of global poverty.

Good night.

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