Interview with Rachel Mason Nunn and Jessica Mckenzie, Good Will Hunters Podcast – The Reimagining Development Series

  • Transcript, E&OE

Subjects: Vision for Australia’s development policy, the new development policy, listening to the development sector, the moral case for aid, private sector investment, First Nations Foreign Policy, development effectiveness, AusAID and DFAT development capacity.

Rachel Mason Nunn: Hello, and welcome to ‘Reimagining Development; Conversations on the New Development Policy’. This series is brought to you by Goodwill Hunters in collaboration with the Australian Council for International Development, or ACFID. As the name spells out this breakout series is all about the new development policy. It's an opportunity for us to think critically about how we want this policy to be as it will pave the way for how we do development over the coming years. I'm Rachel Mason Nunn, founder of Good Will Hunters and director with Equity Economics.

Jessica McKenzie: And I'm Jessica Mackenzie, ACFID’S Chief of Policy and Advocacy. Most of us in the development world have spent the past couple of months deep in thought and conversation, about how the new development policy should look, and the aim of this podcast is to bring those conversations to you.

We're casting a wide lens on the aid, development and humanitarian sector. This series brings together established thought leaders, emerging thought leaders, exciting new voices and perspectives from around the sector and beyond.

Rachel Mason Nunn: Now I'm doing something we don't do too often on Good Will Hunters today, I'm repeating a guest. A guest who was last on the show back in 2019, and life has changed dramatically for this guest, as well as all of us. 2019 was pre-Covid, of course. But back when I interviewed this guest I called him Pat, and now he's Minister Pat Conroy, Minister for International Development and the Pacific and Minister for Defence Industry. Pat is an economist by training, and he's been in Parliament since 2013, and since then has spent time as the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, for Infrastructure, and most recently as Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Welcome back, Minister Conroy, it's great to have you here.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy: Thanks for having me, Rachel and Jess. You can still keep calling me Pat, but DFAT refused to call me Pat and the Department of Defence most definitely doesn't. But you're very welcome to call me Pat.

Rachel Mason Nunn: Well thank you Pat, that matches the hopefully informal nature of this conversation. Now I listened to our previous interview this morning. As a bit of a refresher, and among many other interesting points that you made, you talked particularly about your vision for the portfolio, should Labor be successful at the next election, which, of course, you were. You talked about your desire for an increasing aid budget, the revitalisation of DFAT. You talked about a greater emphasis on leveraging multilateral and private finance and a focus on human development. And you also talked a lot about your commitment to addressing climate change, as well as your desire to see a national security justification for aid. So I'm looking forward to unpacking some of those points with you today. But first I want to ask you a more abstract question. I don't know if you're the kind of person that has a word of the year. If not, I'm going to put you on the spot. Now what is your word of 2023, or sort of a north star for how you want this year to go?

Pat Conroy: It's an interesting question, because I don't really deal in abstracts, I'm sort of a very brutally straightforward person, much to sometimes my own personal cost. But if I was forced to think of a word, I think it's opportunity. I think that's what I'm really focused on in this portfolio is the opportunity that a really well resourced and well thought out international development policy can do, to provide opportunity for some of the world's most dispossessed and marginalised people - and so that that's going to be my north star this year.

Jessica Mackenzie: Hello Minister, thank you so much for the opportunity to speak to you. As we said at the start, the purpose of this podcast series is to create some debate and discussion around the new development policy, and I think it’s incredibly fitting that your word is opportunity, that seems to me to really bookmark what I think a lot of us are feeling. This is a really interesting window of opportunity for international development in Australia. The first really big window in in many years. And thank you also for the opportunity to submit to the review which we've just been doing, and we all appreciated that. In 2019, there was the chance for most of the sector to think about what we'd like an international development policy to look like, and that really got truncated. It never came to pass because COVID occurred, of course, and then we had Partnerships for Recovery. So, now a few months into this process, what are your thoughts and reflections on the new development policy?

Pat Conroy: Well, I think, without pre-judging where we are going to land, and so far the process has been, I think, really well received, there's a lot of enthusiasm out there that you alluded to. I think we've had north of 200 submissions. We've had 300 different organisations be part of the consultation process, both within Australia and importantly in the countries that we partner with in development. And what I'd like to see is sort of building on what Rachel summarised my approach in 2019, which is putting humans back at the heart of development. I think it's critical. Listening and acting on the priorities of our development partners. Allocating more resources to development, and that's obviously something we've already done through the October Budget, and really using every I think opportunity to centre development, make development at the centre of not just the Government's foreign policy, but our approach to our broader national security. And this is not about securitising aid, that’s something I'm firmly opposed to, but it's something where I think the more development gets discussed at the National Security Committee of Cabinet the better for everyone, because it should not be a sort of an appendix to our deliberations with how we engage with the rest of the world. It should be at the heart of what we do. And that's what I'm beginning to see under this new Government, and it's what I am very confident the development policy will of cementing in to our sort of operating procedure.

Rachel Mason Nunn: I was in Canberra for the Australasian Aid Conference along with many others in the sector at the end of November 2022, and at the same time, submissions were due on the new policy. And you could really sense the energy and the optimism that our sector has. And so many made submissions, and you know many of the conversations at the Conference were about those submissions. And there really was a clear energy, optimism, and sort of a sense of revitalisation, amongst many, just having had the opportunity to contribute to this new policy. So, I wonder how are you hoping it might look? Without, of course, prejudicing what will come out, as you say, the new policy isn't prepared yet. But how are you hoping it might look, and also how are you hoping it will feel for us as a sector?

Pat Conroy: Well, I think, if I can answer the second question first, I hope how the sector feels is listened to. Like, there isn't one uniform view of what our development policy is, there’s a fervent debate out there, and that's good, that increases contestability of ideas. But I want people to feel listened to and respected. And I think that's really important, and I also think that while we have to actually make sure that the policy flows through into operations, like this how we will operate. But I do want to go back to, and I want the policy to be very strong on, why do we invest in overseas development systems? Why do we invest in aid? And it's something that at the ACFID Conference I talked a lot about, and I think some of the ministers haven't talked enough about - which is the moral case for aid. There's a national security case for aid that I talked about in 2019 on the podcast. There's the economic development case for aid, the fact that so many of our biggest markets for our products were once developing nations that we assisted. There's the sort of international diplomatic case for aid. But for me, the most fundament is the moral case for aid. We have an obligation as a human being, and a society of compassionate people, to lift people out of poverty, to help eradicate diseases that are killing kids in countries not too far from Australia, that we've eradicated in Australia. And so for me, the first objective of the new development policy is to articulate why we do aid. And then we talk about how we do aid and what sort of sectors we're going to concentrate on and obviously one thing that I've been very strong on in the three and a half years I've been in this portfolio is to really invest in human capital. So, infrastructure and investment is incredibly important, and we'll keep doing that. But investing in good health, education outcomes for people, investing in fighting for gender equality, for disability inclusion, for dealing with climate change, just investing in human beings is what I want to be at the heart of our development policy.

Rachel Mason Nunn: I've heard you speak vocally about the moral case and the moral impetus for our aid program. And you did speak back in 2019 to me about your desire to also pursue a national security justification for aid, though. Does that remain your desire?

Pat Conroy: Oh completely. And there's a there's a quote that I sort of, I paraphrase from General Mathis, from the US, who said that “if you cut the State Department budget, you better give me more money to buy bullets” and that’s a gross simplification of what he was trying to say. But it's very true that the best way we have a stable and prosperous region, which is in our national security interest, is by investing in the development of our neighbours, 22 of our 26 nearest neighbours are developing countries. Therefore, there is a huge national security justification for aid, and we continue to pursue that, and it's recognised. When I'm talking to the Department of Defence and their officials about, wearing my other hat as Minister for Defence Industry, and I’m talking about how we advance the national security objectives of Australia, they just don't talk about what we need to do with defence. They say they we need to increase and invest in aid, we need to invest in DFAT capability, because they go hand in hand. And so, I think there is a compelling case for the national security case for aid. And just to give you two concrete examples, one that's been massively destabilising around the world and is, I think a key instigator of so much misery, is one of the key drivers of the Syrian Civil War that sort of drove millions of migrants, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of deaths, you know misery on a huge scale was that there was a prolonged drought that drove huge movement of Syrian rural populations into the cities, destabilising their cities and leading to civil war. If aid had been more effective and in more quantities, some of that might have been mitigated. Another example closer to the home, when we have tens of thousands of cases of drug resistant tuberculosis in a country very close to our border, that's a national security threat for Australia and that's a case for foreign aid.

Jessica Mackenzie: I completely agree, there's all these different lenses you can apply to why we do what we do. Speaking of the moral case for aid, Minister, and we were talking about why it's needed, and you just gave some great examples there. From what we understand this is $4.2 trillion financing gap if we’re meant to achieve the SDGs. And I like to think of this as an ecosystem of people. It's not just the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that's meant to be delivering on this or managing contractors, or the UN or the NGO sector. Really, we're all part of this big ecosystem trying to solve it, and I include the private sector in that. So, you've done something that's brand new in your seven months as Minister, you've announced a Development Finance Review for the first time and that's really interesting to me because it underpins a lot of what the new development policy should be looking at. So, I’d like to ask you about that, if that's okay, it's arguably not as visible as the development policy, but it's pretty important to work out how and where the funds for development will come from. So can you tell us a little bit about that, please?

Pat Conroy: Yeah, sure. And I'm really excited about it, because something that, as you said, isn't up there in lights. But I think if we get it right could be as impactful as increasing our direct public investment in aid. There are hundreds of billions of dollars of philanthropic funds floating around the world, and if we got just a tiny share in our region that would have a massive impact on human development in the Pacific, in Southeast Asia, and other places. So, this review is really focused on two things, and there's two areas of finance that I really think we need to do a lot more on. One is attracting philanthropic donations, there's lots of private foundations, you've got the giving pledge that certain billionaires are pushing, and other things. So how do we change our policy settings to make our area able to be more attractive for that philanthropic activity? And how do we partner with it where it makes sense? The second aspect, which is slightly different, is how do we change our policy settings to support and partner on impact investing? So, I know you and Rachel know all about this, but for your listeners who don’t, impact investing still has to provide a reasonable rate of return. The investment has to generate a profit, but it's profit investing in things that have an impact of a social nature, that has a social good. That could be gender equality, that could be repairing the environment. And it's an area where I think we're under done in terms of looking at our laws, our taxation system, our partnering perspectives to make sure that we support the impact investing in our region as well. I had a really productive meeting with this sort of council of superannuation trustees on this issue quite recently, because they're interested in this as well. So for me the Finance Review is doing two things: how do we capture philanthropic work how do we support impact investing?

Jessica Mackenzie: Brilliant. Because I think of it as three pillars in a way, there's loans that we give to countries when they're in need, as we did during Covid and the Department's already got that covered, we have a lot of established loans. Then there's the philanthropics which we're really embryonic on. We've done a few partnerships, but not many. And they're just such a big group of people to be able to work alongside and if we can really align what we're doing, there’s enormous potential there, and then impact investing completely agree, especially when we're sharing similar goals as a lot of the private sector. A lot of people are looking at green energy, particularly in Southeast Asia, and some of the programs I see where you invest $1 of ODA, you can see as many as $3 attracted from the private sector. So, it's a way of really amplifying what you're trying to do, and really getting the private sector to pay for our development outcomes in a way.

Pat Conroy: That's right, and it's one where governments, because of our resources, our - the flexibility that comes from being sovereign nations - have the ability to be path finders for private investment and make the first investment to give people confidence, like the Australian Government, no matter who is in power, has a very strong reputation like Australia, has a great reputation as being a stable, rational place to make decisions. And so, when we invest in a project, in a neighbour, that gives private investors confidence in it. And it also gives other public sector so, for example, while it's more wearing my Pacific hat rather than the international development, although I think there's a strong role for it when we supported Telstra acquiring Digicel, to really underpin and expand digital communications in the Pacific, that they gave confidence for the US Development Finance Corporation and the Japanese Development Bank to co-invest in that. So it's a way where we can be a pathfinder given we’re located in the region, we’re the biggest country in the region and we can really be a pathfinder for the private sector.

Jessica Mackenzie: I completely agree, and it's so, it's just so invigorating to hear someone in your position talking about these things, and I really welcome the first review of its kind for Australia. I think it couldn't be more timely. I think also, if we're the ones who are investing early in the riskiest projects that meet all of our criteria for development outcomes, we can really lead the sector. We're sort of playing a shaping role for the market, if you will. So, we've got these two reviews, the Development Finance Review, and there's the Development Policy Review which sits above it, really, and I thought one would come before the other. But I think they're now sort of intertwined. What are we all going to be doing differently as a result of these reviews?

Pat Conroy: Well, the Development Finance Review will feed into the Development Review so that they are sequenced. But what's going to change is one, I think it's going to be a whole of government ownership of our development policy. I think there was some good people in the last Government, so this isn't a political point. There were good people committed to foreign aid and international development, but I think the last Government had really two groups of people: people who were opposed to foreign aid and all the people who support foreign aid but were scared of talking about it. And that's why, I think one of the reasons why, they had temporary targeted increases in the foreign aid budget after $11.8 billion worth of cuts, rather than permanent increases. So, one of the things this Development Review will do is, it will go through the National Security Committee of Cabinet. It will be signed off by Cabinet. Cabinet will own this policy and that means that we'll be putting development policy at the heart of the Australian Government’s policy and that I think is really important; and secondly, it will link into the rest of the Government's activity. So, there's development activities that occur in other portfolios that we don't call development, but they exist and they're really powerful. And so, the development policy will really bring those together as well, shine a spotlight on it and say, “these are other activities that the Australian Government does to support development, and we're proud of that, that's a good thing”. Then thirdly, it will mobilise the community sector, the private sector, more effectively than we have in the past. And I think that's another thing that will be done differently, this won't be a sectarian debate about whether we use development contractors, or NGOs, or multilateral organisations like the UN. This is about saying we need to partner more effectively and that's what we'll be doing. One really big hobby horse I have out of the development policy which I bore people with a lot is, one of the KPIs is that we'll invest more in local capacity and local content. This is what I call the double dividend, for when we do invest in an infrastructure project, in a country say in the Pacific, I want as much as possible for there to be local content to get a second economic dividend around the infrastructure, and to do proper skills transfer. I am sick of projects where we haven't done adequate skills transfer. So that in a couple of years’ time the infrastructure has broken down that doesn't help Australia's reputation and doesn't help the country we’re partnering. So there, that's just a taste of some of the areas where I really want to see movement after the Development Policy is released.

Rachel Mason Nunn: I think the double dividend point is a really important one and I think what's interesting about it as well is, we are uniquely situated in a region with a huge youth population and accordingly there is much entrepreneurship in our region in the Pacific and in Southeast Asia, and there have been initiatives that have seen Australia tap into that entrepreneurship, and try and foster the ecosystem that supports it. But I think when we also think about the double dividend and the skills transfer, we're also forced to think about, how can we continue to foster entrepreneurship and small business throughout the region?

Pat Conroy: Yeah, absolutely. And I was at a reception for small and big business managers and owners in Honiara in Solomon Islands when I was there in September this year, and I was talking to a guy who- a young gentleman who developed an app because one of the big challenges for the primary producers and Solomon Islands people who make, cocoa, coffee, or other things, is they often don't have enough produce to fill an entire container by themselves. So, he’s developed an app which can aggregate and get enough so materials, enough exports to send an entire fill, an entire container to ship to Brisbane, or wherever. So supporting local entrepreneurship is really important, and it's critical. And then really supporting their growth model, both internally in their country and also in Australia, we should be buying more products from countries in the Pacific, for example. But that also means investing in supporting the biosecurity so that those products can be safely imported.

Rachel Mason Nunn: Yeah. We are uniquely placed to support entrepreneurship and impact investing as well as you've already touched on. The other big initiative that we've heard in the last seven months is around the pursuit of a First Nations foreign policy, which at this stage remains quite I would say vague, in the absence of sort of a detailed plan around what that's going to look like, which is, of course, a really sensitive but very important initiative to pursue. But it is another area where Australia is uniquely positioned to share and partner and cooperate with the region. Tell us a bit about that.

Pat Conroy: Yeah. Well, this is a part of our foreign policy that I'm so proud of that's been driven by Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, which is a First Nations approach to our foreign policy, because we have to recognise that we're proud of the fact that for at least 80,000 years we've had, we've got the longest continuous culture in the world. But this is a culture of traders and diplomats. You look at the north of Australia, trading with the islands to our north. So we really want to inject that wisdom and approach into not only how we do conventional foreign policy, but also development. First step is appointing a First Nation's Ambassador and we're very, we've got the process underway, and I think we'll be appointing someone relatively soon, and then that will help drive the development. But it's informing things like, for example, I was in Vanuatu with Foreign Minister Wong only last month and we were talking to people in both NGOs and Government about our First Nations approach, and how that's changing the way we're doing things, investing more in personal relationships, taking a longer time horizon, really recognising the link between culture and environment and focusing on climate change as well. So it's already informing our approach, and that will be turbo charged when we get our First Nations Ambassador. And in the meantime so, for example, Penny took Senator Patrick Dodson, the father of reconciliation to the UN General Assembly in their annual meetings in September and I know that that had a huge impact, having Patrick Dodson with his wisdom and insight, really not just representing Australia but I'm really imparting that to other countries representatives.

Jessica Mackenzie: I think that was a really proud moment for a lot of us. Minister, you're talking about a few things that are spurring ideas for me. So there's the time horizon shift that you're talking about and doing things differently through our approach to a First Nation's foreign policy in my mind, I'm linking that also to what you are talking about, local content in the places we work, and the double dividend. And we've been trying to do capacity building, which is a term I also don't really love but we've been trying to do that for decades. So if we're going to be doing more locally led work, if we're going to be empowering the people who are, you know, the entrepreneurs coming up with these apps for how to fill the shipping container. We've been trying to do that well for a long time. What's going to be different about this? Because, as you were speaking, I started thinking: a lot of this stuff comes back to risk appetite in-house. I'm a sucker for bureaucratic reform, as boring as it is, I think that's really where a lot of this stuff lies. It's a way of doing things differently. And it it's sort of thinking through the systems and processes we have for managing these things, and I think it's great that the new development policy is going to go through Cabinet, I think that's going to be a really important step for placing development at the heart. But what other sorts of initiatives in-house will we be doing to make these things possible? Or can you not speak to that yet?

Pat Conroy: Oh, no well, I can give you a flavour of it, one of them is what's my main job? My main job beyond policy development is implementation. That's why you have junior Ministers there, we've got our policy responsibilities working in conjunction with our Cabinet Ministers. But we've got the space to do the implementation. My job is to drive implementation. So, for example, it's my job in the Pacific space to really drive implementation of the whole of the Government's agenda on the Pacific, which isn't just about international development. It isn't just about combating climate change, that doesn't give me authority in those other departments that that would be inappropriate. But it's my job to bring the threads together, and really oversee implementation of that. And it's the same with development, to bring people together. So the example I used earlier about how do we support the economic development of some of our Pacific partners is boosting their exports. What's one of the best ways we can boost their exports is to help them establish, appropriate biosecurity regimes, so that we can buy their products without importing pests and so forth. So that's one of where I then work closely with Senator Murray Watt, our Minister for Agriculture, in how do we best invest in biosecurity regimes in countries. Or another program that I’m evangelical about is the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme that's lifting tens of thousands of people out of poverty, we're expanding that into the aged care sector. So, I'm working really closely with Mark Butler and Annika Wells on that program. So for me, particularly in development, it's not just having a silo for development, saying “we spend $4.54 a year on development assistance, that’s what we're gonna do. That’s our only policy to lift people out of poverty to help get rid of preventable diseases, to help combat climate change in in countries we partner with”. No, it's linked to our broader efforts on climate change. Yes, it's linked to our broader efforts on training. So one thing that I'm particularly proud of, and I'm sorry to rabbit on but we're going down lots of burrows here one of our first actions as a Government was to intervene and support really aggressively, efforts by Pacific countries to deliver the WTO Treaty on fishery subsidies. That hit a stalemate in the Geneva negotiations and Australia actually intervened through one of my close mates Tim Ayres the Assistant Trade Minister, to support it, and actually provide a circuit breaker in partnership with representatives from the Pacific. That's about development. That's about saying that we're going to stop illegal fishing in the Pacific. We're going to try to prevent overfishing in the Pacific, because these are resources owned by the people of the Pacific. So, it's a change in attitude of the Australian Government to take a whole of government approach to international development that I think will really be the most effective thing we can do.

Jessica Mackenzie: That requires a lot of coordination to do that. So basically, what we're talking about there is a whole lot of different functions that will feed into one another across different areas of supply chains as well, and so I'm hoping that one of the things the new development policy will look at is really long time horizons for how we approach this stuff. That doesn't mean we're not efficient, and we're not being held to good KPIs, but I think moving beyond this three year contracting model would be really great and having multi-year flexible funding. But one thing you said at the ACFID Conference that really stuck with me you mentioned Minister, the hard question you're asking of the department is, is our choice of delivery mechanism driven by what is the right approach to maximise effectiveness, or because we lack the in-house capacity? And so I'm thinking through what you're saying just then, are we even able to know what the right approach is to maximise effectiveness? I feel like we've been so hollowed out lately that we haven't always been able to spend the time learning, we've just been so busy delivering. Do you think we're ready for that?

Pat Conroy: Well, we've got a capacity review going on right now within DFAT that hopefully will provide some answers to that question. And I think this is, I think this is the more legitimate debate about using facilities and using international contractors is, are we using these mechanisms because we want to access either the flexibility of a facilities approach, or the expertise of international contractors, or are we doing it that way because we don't have the expertise in-house? And so, for me that's a critical question. And it is, I think it will be critical to success of our development policy, is does DFAT have the skills and capacity we need it to have? And does it have effective partners in NGOs, in contractors, in multilateral organisations that can really help deliver the aid? And I say cheekily, because sometimes I get some noses out of joint, we've gone past the age of unscrambling the egg and pulling AusAID out of DFAT. I want the opposite, I want AusAID to take over DFAT, I want - there’s your headline for your podcast - I want not just new grads in DFAT having rotations through development. I want it to be a critical requirement for promotion into the SES, and at a Deputy Secretary level. I’m not a DFAT historian, but we've got an enormously large number of DFAT deputy secretaries that have strong development expertise, and that's a great thing, and I think the more of that the better.

Jessica Mackenzie: That's wonderful to hear. I love it, taking over. I'd also just say you've got plenty of friends in the NGO sector who can help you deliver, and I think it's also really about activating the people within the department. I think there's lots of wonderful people, and it's making sure they’re activated to be able to deliver to the way they'd like to.

Pat Conroy: Yeah, absolutely and feel like they don't have to be in hiding. Aid is not a dirty word over in this Government. It's a word we're proud of, we're out and proud about it and we're going to sing it from the rooftops. And we’re going to have disagreements, like I know there are people who want us to find more money in the budget for aid and I respect their view and I’m very open to having an honest and open conversation about that rather than shouting down stakeholders.

Jessica Mackenzie: And minister as a former AusAIDer I have to ask, you want AusAID not just back, but in charge?

Pat Conroy: Absolutely.

Jessica Mackenzie: I love it! Rachel before I get too excited, over to you.

Rachel Mason Nunn: No, I'm just as excited Jess. Minister I think the last question I wanted to ask you is, you've been on a listening tour in the Pacific since coming to office, and I know you've had lots of interesting conversations with our Pacific family. I'm keen to get a sense of what those have been like, what are you hearing, and how are your Pacific counterparts feeling about the new policy, and what's on the horizon?

Pat Conroy: I think, without putting words in the mouth of my Pacific counterparts, I think they are relieved to have a new Australian Government that is listening and respecting, and the biggest example of that is climate change. We couldn't engage properly in the Pacific while we had a government that rejected the science of climate change, that not only didn't take action on climate change within Australia, but actively blocked action at the Pacific on climate change. So I think that's opened the door to having more substantive conversations, and then, being very honest with people about what are their priorities. What are those the priorities for our development partnership and then acting on that. And then I've had a really enjoyable six months visiting countries and understanding more about the impact of our development. So, visiting a health clinic in the central district in Papua New Guinea, watching kids being vaccinated. Like I went back and made a sort of all staff meeting at the High Commission in PNG, which is our I think it's the second biggest post around the world, second or third biggest. And I said, “Your actions are saving people's lives. You're helping vaccinate kids and prevent diseases that are all but eliminated in Australia”. So, getting to see that, visiting a refurbished rebuilt high school, Honiara High School, where we, with New Zealand built new computer or rebuilt their computer laboratories after they got burned down during the riots. I talked to a, I think I they call it sixth form, it’s year 12 in Australia, a young woman called Joanna, who was working on a computer, and she was telling me she wants to go to uni and become a lawyer. And so, seeing these examples of where we're supporting the development of the potential of people is just so powerful. And so, for me, one, the first thing I say, whenever I engage with the Pacific counterpart is, how can we do better? What are your priorities, and how can we respond to your priorities, because it's about empowering people rather than dictating to people.

Jessica Mackenzie: I often think about what Australia's comparative advantage is, and I know that we had the Partnerships for Recovery that expired in June. Before that we had the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper. Before that we had Labor's last effort, which was the 2011 aid policy, which was really robust. And a lot of the comparative advantage that that spoke to was Australia's expertise in PFM and bureaucratic reform, being a lender - sorry a leader on gender equality, agriculture and water. We're making really interesting forays into impact investing and our Covid response has been stellar. I just wanted to ask, what do you think our comparative advantage is compared to others in this space?

Pat Conroy: Well, I think I think all of those are really valid and I think our history matters. We like, our history of people-to-people connections, like we're talking about First Nations policy before, but just our broader people-to-people connections are great, but also, I just think a more fundamental values-based approach to aid. So I get- I get asked regularly, I got asked at the ACFID Conference, would we partner with certain countries? Sorry, it was the ANU Dev Policy Conference, what's our position of partnering with other countries? And I was able to articulate what are our core values that drive our aid program and there's five or six key points. One is, it's the priorities of the countries we partner with. Two, the aid comes with no strings attached. Three, the projects are high quality. Four, we maximise local content, and fifth we're transparent. And they’re our critical advantages, because as long as we're consistent on those things we can build relationships and partnerships. I still go around the region, and I see the red kangaroo of AusAID projects and that fills my heart with joy. And we just need to have a continuation of that history to develop more, be more effective, but be innovative at the same time. But I think there's a lot of real sort of - Australians are still liked generally out there in the in the world, and we're seen as people who come from a place of good values and we’ve just got to keep continuing getting better.

Jessica Mackenzie: That sounds great to me, and it sounds like we have an exciting couple of years ahead if that's the case. Was there anything else you wanted to mention before I ask you, when we can expect to see this policy coming out? We imagine it's going to be some time before the budget, we know the DFAT team’s hard at work. What do you think?

Pat Conroy: Well, I'm not going to be drawn on timelines. It'll be within 2023. Partly it's obviously making sure it goes through the Cabinet, but linked to that quite frankly and linked to your previous question, Jess, is what can we do differently? What's one of our comparative advantages is - well - one of the agendas of this Government, is staying in power and cementing our reforms and that's the lesson from previous Labor Governments, whether it's, the most critical one was the Hawke-Keating Government. We only have Medicare now was because Medicare survived four elections. So I want this development policy to survive multiple elections so it's part of the DNA of how we do development and international policy in this country. And so for me, that's the key lesson in all this, is words on paper are good, implementation is critical, and then surviving election after election, so that it becomes just the way people operate. So that's the challenge for me as a politician and a Minister. But I think if we get it right, we can be really proud of our development policy in this country. Absolutely, and we'll be here to help you every step of the way.

Jessica Mackenzie: Absolutely, and we'll be here to help you every step of the way. Thank you so much for your time today, Minister. We've been Jessica Mackenzie and Rachel Mason Nunn on the Re-imagining Development Policy podcast. Tune in again for more hearty conversations, about how we can rework and rewire international development for future needs. Thanks again. Bye for now.


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