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Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today ahead of what I see as an incredibly important election not just for Australians, but our international neighbours.
I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet and to pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.
I have been Labor’s Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific for almost three years now and have been fortunate enough to engage with ACFID and its member organisations to help inform our international development policies.
These policies which the Australian people will have their say on in less than two weeks’ time are not only policies that I believe will benefit both Australians and our neighbours, but they will help re-establish Australia as a partner of choice for countries in our region in meeting economic, development, climate and security challenges.
But in addition to strengthening partnerships with our nearest neighbours, we also need to rebuild our international development program and ensure that Australia pulls its weight in tackling the challenges faced by developing nations around the world.
This isn’t just the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective, but as evidenced by the security pact recently signed between China and the Solomon Islands, it is clear that nearly a decade of successive cuts to Australia’s aid program are leaving a vacuum for others to fill, which has strategic implications for our region and for our own security.
While we should be wary of the securitisation of the aid debate, it is apt to remember the statement from former US Secretary of Defense James Mattis when discussing development and diplomatic funding that:
“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately,"
My good friend and Labor’s Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, has stated that Labor’s foreign policy is founded on the belief that we deal with the world as it is and we seek to change it for the better.
This means a foreign policy that is not just transactional, but is purposive.
There will be no greater example of this than our approach to international development. Our approach will be driven by goals defined by our values, interests and identity.
Those values are of fairness, equality and compassion.
Our primary interest must always be the security and prosperity of the nation and our people, in conjunction with our deep and abiding commitment to a stable, prosperous and peaceful region anchored in the rule of law where public goods that give form to our values are preserved and defended.
Australia is confronting changes in the balance of economic and strategic power, economic and social inequality, rising nationalism and challenges to the liberal rules-based order that are reshaping our world.
Even before the pandemic, the pace of poverty alleviation had been slowing, geopolitical tensions had been rising and international cooperation was coming under strain.
And we now face a global pandemic which has hit the world’s most vulnerable people hardest – and which risks creating economic scarring that will hinder development for years to come.
According to the World Bank’s, COVID has seen the number of people living in extreme poverty rise to 732 million in 2020 – the number of people struggling to survive on less than $US1.90 a day is now 30 times the population of Australia.
That’s an increase of 77 million compared to 2019.
And it’s 97 million higher than projections for 2020 without the COVID downturn.
2020 was the first year in the last two decades to see an increase in the level of extreme poverty.
The impact of COVID on hunger has been stark.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, the number of people facing hunger during rose to 768 million in 2020 – an increase of 118 million compared to 2019 and the highest level of global hunger since 2005.
The economic impacts of the COVID crisis have fallen hardest on low-income countries and, within low and middle income countries, on the poorest members of these communities.
Economic depressions in a number of nations have led to political and civil instability and rising crime levels.
The world made unprecedented development gains in the 1990s and 2000s largely on the back of transformative economic growth in East Asia and South Asia.
Yet even before COVID the pace of poverty reduction had slowed.
Between 1990 and 2015, the global extreme poverty rate fell by around 1 percentage point a year.
However, between 2015 and 2019, the poverty rate fell by less than half a percentage point a year.
Getting poverty reduction back on track will require development partnerships that boost sustainable and equitable economic growth.
It will require increased support from the international donor community.
International development is a critical element of Australia’s foreign policy.
It’s one of the key ways Australia engages with our region and the world.
It’s an important expression of our values as a nation.
And it advances Australia’s national interests in a secure, stable, and prosperous region.
But fighting global poverty is not just the right thing to do – it is also in squarely in Australia’s national interest.
Australia has a responsibility to assist and secure our region in the face of growing strategic challenges, including through the aid program.
It is in our country’s interests to reduce poverty, hunger and despair because these are amongst the root causes of instability, conflict and violence around the world.
Through overseas aid, Australia contributes to economic growth and stronger institutions in developing nations, and we build our 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.
It is one of many reasons why Labor has been so concerned about the Liberal Government’s cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget.
The cuts to Australia’s official development assistance (ODA) have totalled more than $11.8 billion since 2013.
Under Scott Morrison’s watch, Australian ODA has fallen to a record low as a share of national income.
While we have welcomed the very temporary supplementation to ODA in the last two budgets, it has not repaired the damage done over the last ten years of Coalition Government.
The damage of cutting in half aid to Indonesia since 2014/15.
Or cutting aid to Sub-Saharan Africa by 77 per cent over the same time.
Or cutting health assistance to Samoa during their Measles epidemic.
Or cutting governance assistance to the Solomon Islands by 41.5%.
The aid program not only delivers life-saving assistance, but contributes directly to the stability and the resilience of our region. It works alongside our strategic, diplomatic, economic and people—to-people ties to deepen Australia’s partnerships in the region, restore Australian leadership and credibility, shape our region in our interests and counter behaviour that is against our interests.
Labor’s plan to rebuild Australia’s international development program is a key part of our commitment to a strong and principled approach to national security and a self-reliant and ambitious foreign policy.
Australians are generous. I 2021, Australia ranked fifth in the World Giving Index, reflecting the willingness of Australians to help a stranger, donate to charity and volunteer.
Our international development program should once again reflect the generous spirit of the Australian people.
It is something we should be proud of.
At Labor’s National Conference, we committed to increasing the ODA budget. We also made it clear that our ODA activities will be focused in the following areas:
We have already announced that a Labor Government will increase Australia’s Overseas Development Assistance to the Pacific by $525 million over the next four years.
This is funding additional to the existing ODA budget, including the supplemental ODA funding announced in the Federal Budget earlier this year. It will not include a diversion of funding from other ODA priorities.
This is a critical point. The Government’s failed ‘Pacific Step Up’ was funded by a step down everywhere else in the world.
Labor will shortly have more to say about our ODA resourcing and priorities for South East Asia, and for the rest of the world and multilateral institutions.
If I can use our Pacific Policy as an example of the multidimensional approach we will take to securing our region. The Pacific ODA announcement was one part of a much broader announcement detailing how a Labor Government would repair the damage done to our relationship with the Pacific under Mr. Morrison.
The broader package was designed to support the development and security goals of our Pacific friends. It included
I want to highlight the importance of the last two elements. Labor is committed to reforming the Pacific labour schemes to make them the primary source of temporary migrant labour for the agricultural sector as well as other regional industries such as tourism and hospitality.
We will do this by making the scheme more attractive to Australian employers and Pacific Island workers. At the same time we will increase the protections to stamp out the appalling cases of exploitation we have seen.
This is the right thing to do to fill a labour shortage we are seeing in rural and regional Australia as well as supporting the economic development of our Pacific friends.
One third of Pacific Islanders live on less than US$1.90 per day, the UN definition of absolute poverty. A 2017 World Bank study found that the Seasonal Workers Program was making a significant contribution to the economic development of Pacific countries. Over six months in Australia the average Pacific seasonal worker remits around $2,200 and transfers $6,650 in savings home at their end of their stay.
Departmental evidence is that there are 55,000 pre-screened workers in the Pacific. If all 55,000 were able to fill labour shortages in the long term Pacific Labour Scheme or the new PALM Agriculture Stream and using the World Bank averages the remittances sent back to their Pacific homes could amount to $850 million in additional income for these Pacific Nations.
I use this figure to highlight the potential of partnering with the Pacific to help with our labour shortages as a great way to complement our aid expenditure.
I am as excited by our announcement of a Pacific Engagement Visa. This is a revolutionary step in advancing our people to people links in the Pacific. Up to 3,000 permanent migration visas would be allocated annually. This will more than quadruple the number of Pacific Island migrants settling in Australia. In 2019-20 for example, only 721 Pacific Islanders obtained permanent migration visas or just 0.5 per cent of Australia’s total permanent migrant intake. The 3,000 annual figure means that over time our Pacific diaspora will build up significantly.
These policies use the power of Australia’s proximity, as well as our strong cultural and family ties with the countries of the Pacific, to our shared benefit.
Two elements that we will work with our Pacific friends closely on is advancing their economic security and their human security.
I will be keen to work on how we grow local employment within Pacific Islands using our ODA investment.
On human security, there is no greater challenge for the Pacific and in fact all developing nations than climate change. The 2018 Boe Declaration categorically stated that climate change is “the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of Pacific people”.
Yet this Government’s refusal to take climate change seriously has been a slap in the face to our Pacific neighbours that they like to call family.
Who needs family if they blatantly disregard an issue you see as your greatest threat?
An Albanese Labor Government would take serious, meaningful action on climate change.
Our Powering Australia plan will reduce Australia’s emissions by 43% by 2030 – which will become Australia’s target under the Paris Agreement, keeping us on track to actually achieve net zero by 2050.
Scott Morrison says his Government is committed to net zero by 2050, but his Coalition is hopelessly divided on it. With Barnaby Joyce implying that it is non-binding.
Labor would further demonstrate our commitment to taking real climate action by bidding to host a future COP with Pacific countries.
I had the honour of representing Labor at COP26 last year, and I am not exaggerating when I say that Australia felt like the naughty kid in the class.
The main focus of that conference was getting countries to commit to increasing their 2030 emission reductions target, and it was something that the Prime Minister ruled out doing before he even got to Glasgow.
Other countries looked at Australia as a climate laggard.
Something that stopped me in my tracks at COP26 was a sculpture on display in Tuvalu’s pavilion.
This sculpture was a powerful, symbolic representation of the existential crisis that Pacific nations face if countries like Australia don’t start to take strong climate action.
If Labor was elected and able to implement our strong climate policy, that would give us the opportunity to host a Conference of the Parties with our Pacific to demonstrate how seriously we take climate change.
Only an Albanese Labor government will take climate change seriously – and only Labor therefore will ensure Australia is a trusted partner and a true member of the Pacific family.
As I highlighted above aid is a key enabler of development. But we must work to bring together other elements of Australian engagement diplomacy, trade, labour mobility, and private sector investment.
Recognising this requires a change in mindset in both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the development sector.
An Albanese Labor Government will rebuild Australia’s international development program by boosting funding, improving capabilities in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, working with Australian aid NGOs and contractors, and improving transparency and accountability in the aid program.
All those with a stake in international development must come together and align our engagement so that Australia’s contribution has maximum impact in disrupted times.
Better alignment and coordination will be a key imperative for an incoming Labor Government.
The level of outsourcing of our international development program gives rise to the legitimate concern that these arrangements are driven more by lack of capacity or risk aversion, rather than a focus on improved development outcomes.
An Albanese Labor Government will focus on working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to build development capability and ensure it is prioritised and valued.
Greater recognition of, and demand for, this capability will not only be good for the Department, it will be good for the countries we partner with, and good for Australians; increasing confidence that taxpayers dollars are achieving the intended outcomes and supporting our national interests.
We want to rebuild and reward aid and development skills within the Department.
We would expect graduates to be trained in the basics of aid design and management just as they are trained in the basics of the Department’s other areas of work.
We will be keen to see experience in development roles within the Department being highly prized for career progression. Development postings should be seen as good, if not critical, for career progression.
Linked to this is making sure Australia’s ODA spend is effective. The dismantling of the Office of Development Effectiveness was a retrograde step by the Government. The ODE had played a critical role in ensuring Australian taxpayers' aid funds was spent wisely and in assessing whether Australia's aid investments are achieving real outcomes in improving the lives of the poorest people in the world
Australians can no longer be confident their aid dollars are being spent effectively. In Government, Labor will examine how we can improve confidence in our ODA expenditure.
Partner with NGOs and the private sector
Labor also understands and appreciates the invaluable work Australia’s aid NGOs do.
I want to thank Australia’s aid NGOs and contractors for their ongoing work particularly during the COVID pandemic.
And I am pleased to announce today that an Albanese Labor Government will increase the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) funding by $32 million over four years.
The ANCP provides funding to accredited Australian charities and NGOs for projects to help people in developing countries with healthcare, education, preventing violence against women and children and tackling hunger and deprivation.
Aid NGOs are important partners with the Australian Government in delivering development projects and in supporting civil society in developing countries.
Supporting civil society promotes better governance and institutions in developing countries.
Under the ANCP, charities and NGOs also contribute their own funds, raised from the Australian public, to ANCP-supported projects.
In addition to this $32 million commitment, Labor will provide $2.3 million in grants to Australian Rotary Clubs to support their contribution to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and help tackle one of the most important health challenges in developing countries in South Asia. The grants would support polio eradication and would also allow Rotary Clubs to redirect their own fund-raising activities towards the Indigenous health issue of trachoma.
We also recognise the vital role development contractors play. Labor will not get bogged down in sectarian arguments regarding aid delivery. We will partner with everyone who is committed to lifting the world out of poverty.
I am very excited about a future Labor Government working to develop new forms of development finance to complement Australia’s ODA.
There is considerable interest globally in innovative approaches to development finance including guarantees for investments in development projects, provision of insurance and/or first loss cover and equity stakes in development projects.
These are seen as having the potential to boost the effectiveness of grant funding by leveraging investment in development from the private sector, financial institutions and multilateral institutions.
Official development assistance around the world is measured in billions of dollars.
Yet the World Bank has noted that eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting income growth amongst the world’s poorest 40 per cent will cost trillions of dollars every year.
Private sector funding sources will have a critical role to play.
One example is the rise of billionaire philanthropists. There are around 2,000 billionaires around the world with combined assets worth some US$9 trillion. Just over 200 of these individuals have signed The Giving Pledge, committing to donating more than half their wealth to philanthropic causes
Devex co-founder Raj Kumar has argued that a “tidal wave” of philanthropic funds is looming – based on existing commitments, over $US500 billion, or more than 150 years of Australia’s current levels of ODA.
Australia must help shape these opportunities. Accordingly, I am also announcing that a Labor will establish a DFAT-led review to examine new forms of development finance and develop policy options for consideration in government.
We are living in a time of disruption in which the magnitude and nature of change shapes Australia’s strategic, economic and foreign policy interests.
Accompanied by a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale, it is essential that Australia’s international development program meets the challenges of these times.
Australia’s aid program is a key pillar of our international engagement and enables our ability to build a region that is stable, prosperous, respectful of sovereignty and resilient to threats.
The aid program not only delivers life-saving assistance, but directly supports our foreign and defence policies to deepen Australia’s partnerships in the region, restore Australian leadership and credibility, shape our region in our interests and counter behaviour that is against our interests.
Labor’s plan to rebuild Australia’s international development program is a key part of our commitment to a strong and principled approach to national security and a self-reliant and ambitious foreign policy.
Labor’s international development program will speak to who we are, the confidence we have in ourselves, the values we believe in and to the region and world we want to live in.