Address to Aid Suppliers Conference 2018

Thank you to you Blair and can I start by adding my acknowledgement of country.

 It’s a pleasure to be here again and to welcome you all to the second Aid Suppliers Conference. Can I start by thanking DFAT, to you James, Blair and DFAT staff involved to put together the conference, thank you very very much.

 It’s a great initiative for you to develop a better understanding of the priorities of our Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) program for 2018.

 To deliver our almost $4 billion ODA program, we rely on trusted implementations partners, around 75 per cent of which are commercial contractors, multilateral organisations, and non-Government Organisations (NGOs). I am pleased that many of you here from these sectors have participated and come to join us at this conference. You are not just a critical part of the delivery of our ODA program, but also the face both domestically and internationally of everyday Australians’ generosity and values.

 Since we last met, the Government’s Foreign Policy White Paper has been released — a blueprint which sets out the importance of our ODA in helping to create a stable, secure and prosperous neighbourhood in uncertain times. I hope you have all the opportunity to have a look at the White Paper. It is the first comprehensive review on our international engagement in 14 years and stresses opportunity, security and strength as our goal in the Indo-Pacific area.

 It includes a $4 billion committed to better health, education, improved maternal health, women’s empowerment and a willingness to literally fly in with humanitarian support and supplies in times of crisis, such as this week in Tonga in the wake of Cyclone Gita. We do this great work in partnership and indeed, some of you here probably participated in the work or are participating in the work we are doing in Tonga at the moment and for that we thank you!

 As our White Paper says: “Our work with a wide range of partners, including NGO’s, the private sector and multilateral organisations, helps to magnify the impact of Australia’s development assistance program.”

 The private sector is crucial in creating the economic opportunity, jobs and economic growth that ultimately create a stable country and region and happier, healthier lives. Our multilateral partners, including the development banks, are also helping us to achieve outcomes on a scale which was previously impossible.

 We are all working towards the same end: to use our ODA to improve lives and the living standards of those in need and to create greater self-reliance, and in turn, greater stability. In all the work that we do together, our ODA is a central part of Australia’s interests and of our foreign policy.

 To continue to put Australian ODA on a strong footing for the future, we need to build strong support from the wider Australian public. For this reason, I’m asking for your help and your support in three key areas, all of which impact on the implementation of our ODA program.

 First, I ask your help to explain to Australian taxpayers what you are doing with their money, why you are conducting these activities, and most importantly, what is the direct benefit to Australia. Secondly, I ask you to engage and partner with diasporas in Australia to implement our ODA program. And finally, I ask you to consider ways to deepen and improve your partnerships, our partnerships, with civil society and the private sector.

 I recognise that these are not easy tasks.

 There is a clear difference in how the wider Australian public sees our ODA program compared to those working in the delivery of that program. The Lowy Institute’s 2017 poll found that, as with previous years, Australians as a whole were largely unconcerned by levels of our ODA program. Actually, most people overestimated the amount that we spend. Indeed, only 25 per cent of Australians people think the Government does not spend enough on ODA.

 Research conducted by the Australian National University Development Policy Centre produced similar results. It found only 10 per cent of Australians think we should spend more on ODA. However, in contrast 80 per cent of the ODA community, think the Government should spend more on ODA.

 There is such a wide difference between the way the Australian public see the ODA spend and the way, if I can put it this way, the ODA industry see it. That gap needs to be narrowed. However, this is as I said a substantial way and therefore it is important that we take the Australian people with us on this journey.

 Now, it is important to the Australian public that we do deliver a surplus, a budget surplus, by 2020-21 and this is why the Australian government is delivering overseas development assistance that is fiscally responsible, that is affordable, that is realistic and that is effective. As Prime Minister Turnbull says, it is the quality of our ODA program and not the quantity that really matters to Australians. It is therefore in all of our interests to demonstrate to Australians what the benefit of our ODA is.

 Since I started in this role in early 2016, I have used every opportunity to explain how Australian ODA benefits Australians, as well as those who receive our assistance. Aid is not charity — it is overseas development assistance. It is a helping hand!

 I have stressed that Australia will benefit if our neighbours are peaceful, if they are democratic, if they are well governed and most importantly if they follow the rule of law. I have sought to highlight that Australia helps to build long-term stability and prosperity in our region. We do that for a number of reasons to reduce the potential cost of future dependence on ODA; to help others; to open up economic and trade opportunities; and to shore up our own security.

 I am the first to admit that my efforts alone are not going to do this. We need many minds and many voices on the job to achieve these difficult tasks. We need to build that very necessary broad consensus in favour of an Australian ODA program that grows stronger from year to year, as Australians increasingly recognise the benefits it brings to them, as well as the world around us, and as well as the prosperity, stability and security that it brings in our neighbourhood.

 2018 is a great year to lift our engagement with the Australian community on this issue. We have a great story to tell.

 We spend 90 per cent of our ODA budget in the Indo-Pacific, to help build stability and security in our region and our collective prosperity, and a third of that is actually in the Pacific.

 We increased our ODA spend in the last Budget by $84 million. This included increasing our humanitarian and emergency budget to $400 million to help preserve the gains communities make in the good times and recover more quickly from hard times.

 We also increased funding to NGO and volunteer programs to $183 million and we opened additional funding opportunities to NGOs. As you know, there will always be a cry for more but we have a limited purse and so much to achieve and so therefore, we also encourage NGO’s to look for other sources of funding to complement what they receive from the Australian taxpayer.

 In September, Prime Minister Turnbull announced Australia’s Pacific Step-Up engagement at the Pacific Island Forum Meeting in Samoa. We want to strengthen economic growth and resilience across the Pacific. We want to enhance security co-operation and we are now moving towards that. We want deeper relations between our peoples across the region and we are doing that across a number of different fronts — through our engagement with PACER Plus, through security with Biketawa Plus and most importantly through our extended labour mobility scheme which we know, not just more people to work in Australia but more importantly to harness that work and experience they gain in Australia to then take that back to their country after they spent time working in Australia and to take that back to their country and that capacity building is going to be so vitally important.

 In 2018, we will continue to deliver our ODA as part of our broader 2030 Agenda. The 2030 Agenda is about development but it is a concern and it is a business for all of us, including those who deliver our ODA. It will be a big year for our 2030 Agenda with the second SDG Summit in Melbourne next month, which I will have the pleasure to speak at.

 Australia will also be presenting our first Voluntary National Review to the United Nations in New York in July. As you know, the 2030 Agenda is holistic one. It is everyone’s responsibility to implement the agenda, both domestically and internationally.

 Looking at the roles we all play in this, I would like to highlight the role for commercial contractors. Actually, around 18 per cent of the Australia’s development assistance is delivered through commercial contracts.

 Commercial contracts are awarded to ODA suppliers after a merit-based, competitive tender process that delivers the best value for money outcome for the Australian taxpayer. The Performance of Australian Aid Report shows that the most effective delivery of ODA is by our commercial partners. They play, you play, an important part in delivering meaningful assistance in support of our goals under our Foreign Policy White Paper.

 In 2018, I would really like to see commercial contractors play a more visible role in explaining to Australians what they do, why they do it and why it benefits the Australian public. You can be highly effective in communicating the program’s successes. You have the examples and the anecdotes that illustrate clearly the benefits, not just to the people receiving our Australian assistance, but to Australia: your purpose, but more importantly your independence from the Australian Government, means that your voice can more powerfully explain why ODA is so important.

 Like any investment, Australians want to see good value for money and good returns on the money that they spend and that is why performance management is absolutely vital. That is why we have established a very robust performance framework. This enables the Australian public to be confident that our ODA program is delivering those results in the best interest of the Australian taxpayer.

 In 2014-15, we successfully achieved most of our performance targets. In particular the target of working with effective partners, many of whom are here today. And this target was achieved through the introduction of Partner Performance Assessments: a strengthened Multilateral Performance Assessment process for multilateral organisations receiving our funding; reforms to systems for assessing performance under the Australian-NGO Cooperation program; and linking performance payments in ODA agreements. This is a positive outcome that Australia can be proud of.

 Often integrity, performance and accountability are seen as rather dry subjects, but they are fundamental to government expenditure, to fiscal responsibility and to our responsibility to the Australian taxpayer. It is good to see that the conference has sessions on the integrity of our ODA program because we must all make sure that our investments are as effective as possible.

 This underpins trust with our partners and also that of the Australian public in the effectiveness of the ODA program. The Australian Government and suppliers must have high expectations of one another and very frank communications. Someone who has been quite frank and robust in my recent comments, I do call for and it is important for partners to have frank communication, not only to ensure that our ODA is effective, but that we can demonstrate that it is effective.

 I believe that partnerships are very important, particularly with the private sector and diasporas. A fortnight ago I traveled to Denmark and met with people from their private sector to explain how they have developed exceptional partnerships between business, civil society and the private sector.

 Denmark of course has already gone through its SDG processes and its voluntary national review, so it’s interesting to see how they have gone about it and how business has worked very very effectively in that process. They have achieved great things in the development space because of their openness and willingness to try new initiatives and partnering with sectors they wouldn’t normally have partnered with in the past. I was told that this, of course, did not happen overnight and it was explained to me that in fact it took around a decade to achieve that strong and very cohesive partnership. I think there some potentially, Blair and James, if I can say some good lessons to be learnt from that, and perhaps I could leave you with some thoughts in relation to talking to our Danish counterparts.

 In 2015, the Australian Government delved into this space by launching the Ministerial Statement on Engaging the Private Sector in Aid and Development. Since then we have run two Business Partnership Platforms resulting in 19 winners to help advance Australia’s ODA investment priorities through generating social and commercial returns in developing countries. Activities service a range of sectors including agribusiness, information technology, financial services, off-grid energy, employment services, disability and women’s economic empowerment.

 Over the two partnership rounds, the Business Partnership Platform has brought together 40 private sector and civil society organisations across Asia, Africa and the Pacific in partnership with DFAT. The Government has contributed $7.3million in funding and in turn has brought in $14.3million from the private sector.

 I would like to widen our engagement with the private sector in 2018. More importantly, I would like to see you widen your engagement with the private sector.

 The Australian private sector is becoming more and more engaged in the development sector, particularly as the Sustainable Development Agenda progresses. Partnership opportunities are arising in different shapes and sizes, some are a coming together of likeminded groups, but others are financial partnerships with a development agenda.

 We are now no longer the only major financial contributor to our regional development objectives.

 Australia is a migrant nation and a model for the rest of the world in terms of integration, cultural awareness and links with countries of origin or heritage. It is because of these strong links that I encourage you to work with diaspora communities here and communicate with them about your work to improve understanding of Australia’s development and humanitarian efforts. It is essential that our great work is gratefully accepted and acknowledged around the world.

 Our diaspora communities often contribute significant funds to developing countries through remittances and engage in trade and investment activities with their countries of origin or heritage. Indeed in some communities where I know this, I know this from my own personal experience, I have been engaged in diaspora communities since the 1980s. Often there are people in those communities that have been the backbone of the relationship between Australia and their country of origin or their country of heritage and they are a valuable source for you to tap into as effective linkages with the countries that you operate in and the countries in which you deliver assistance in partnership with the Australian government or in partnership with other entities.

 Now we are committed to working with diaspora communities to develop closer people-to-people links, as I’ve said, trade and investment and, where appropriate, to support our development assistance program. This is a great opportunity for this conference to increasingly engage with a wider range of businesses to get to know each other, to get to know each other’s strengths are and how you can work better with us and with each other.

 Over the longer term, I would also like to see a stronger representation of our diaspora organisations and disaspora communities here. It makes clear sense for Government and the sector to align ourselves with diasporas, particularly given that in 2016 Australian diasporas sent approximately $2.5 billion to the Pacific alone. Annually, our Australian-African diaspora will remit about $1 billion to Africa as well. So, Australians with family and business connections in the countries in which we give development assistance have expertise and contacts on which we can draw on.

 So can I conclude, by saying our region’s development is not just a matter for our Australian ODA program, it is important for all Australians and I encourage you to consider how you can include more Australians in the work you do and share your knowledge of its benefits more widely.

 I wish you a very productive and enjoyable conference and can I thank you for your kind attention this morning.