Thank you very much, Alex [Thier, Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute]. Let me begin by thanking the Overseas Development Institute for hosting us here today.
This afternoon, I would like to focus on three important areas, namely: the substantial work that Australia and the UK already do together, the opportunity to work more together post-Brexit and the role of the Commonwealth in international development and the scope for greater involvement, which will be part of the panel discussion.
I am pleased to be here at this momentous time in the lead-up to such an important CHOGM — a new world order and change of focus in the UK from its closest neighbours to a more expansive view, which we hope will result in a renewed partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.
A Post-Brexit Britain and Australia must look at greater opportunities and partnerships. Some of the fastest growing countries are in the Commonwealth, creating so many new opportunities for all of us in the family of 53 nations.
And with so many different aspects of our political, economic and cultural life, Australia and the UK have a shared perspective when it comes to Overseas Development Assistance (ODA). We have $3 billion worth in joint projects.
For decades, we have worked together with the common aim of using ODA to contribute to stability, security and prosperity for all. More than ever, we need to work more closely together.
Australia’s recent Foreign Policy White Paper guides our international efforts, reinforcing the importance of Australia’s ODA as a powerful tool to support a stable, secure and prosperous neighbourhood.
Indeed, 90 per cent of our ODA of about $4 billion dollars is spent in the Indo-Pacific region, with a third of that directly in the Pacific.
Today, we face increasing challenges of a global nature, such as unprecedented displacement, natural disasters and pandemics, just to name a few.
Perhaps more than at any other time in our modern history, one of the biggest challenges our two countries face is not only how we deliver ODA, but more importantly, how we win public legitimacy for this work.
Polling in 2017 in Australia found that almost three out of four people felt that the Government spent either too much, or about the right amount on ODA.
We also have a discrepancy in perceptions domestically with 80 per cent of the development sector believing we should spend more on ODA, but only 10 per cent of regular Australians think the same.
There is a similar story, I understand, in the UK according to Bond for International Development and some of your newspaper outlets.
We both agree that ODA is not charity – it represents an investment in our collective future by our taxpayers, which is a story – that’s the story that we need to tell.
As Minister, I have made it a personal priority to improve the way we communicate to the Australian public not only why and how we deliver ODA, but most importantly, what is the direct benefit to Australia and Australians of spending overseas development assistance.
And I know that here, the leaders in the UK are also doing the same, however when we do look at the sort of statistics that we are seeing in countries like Australia, I think that we do have a way to go.
Diasporas can help advocate our ODA programs that both benefits their country of origin and builds stronger links within Australia or the UK.
It makes sense for this engagement, particularly given that remittances significantly outstrip donor contributions.
For example, in 2016, Australian diaspora sent approximately $2.5 billion to the Pacific alone. The African-Australians remit about $1 billion to Africa.
The UK and Australia share a commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
However, it is important that the SDGs not be perceived as some form of world government but are a contemporary manifestation of what we in Australian term a “fair go” — this is a term that really does mean quite a lot to Australians, and that really what it is.
Advocacy of the SDGs is critical to the success of our work because achieving the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda will give us a safer, more stable world — an objective clearly in the national interest of both our countries.
We are looking forward to presenting our first Voluntary National Review at the United Nations High Level Political Forum in Julythis year.
Speaking of the United Nations, we both invest significant tax payer money in the multilateral systems that are supposed to protect and promote international rules that support stability, prosperity and enable cooperation to tackle challenges that affect us all.
Supporting international rules and institutions and being a “good international citizen” is becoming more important in an increasingly contested world.
Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper notes that “the United Nations system is frequently cumbersome and sometimes responds too slowly to urgent challenges”.
These limitations do not inspire confidence in taxpayers when we invest their money, which is why we are such strong partners and drivers for UN reform.
I was pleased to participate in the UK-led multilateral reformdiscussions. Lunchtime teleconferences in the United Kingdomhave meant midnight teleconferences from my side of the worldbut it underscores the commitment that Australia has to these reforms.
Our joint approach is to use our taxpayer contributions and influence as a firm incentive to drive UN accountability, efficiency and effectiveness that is so desperately needed if we are to address the significant challenges we face.
A critical issue that the United Nations must urgently address is sexual exploitation and abuse by its staff in humanitarian situations. This behavior is not only appalling, but completely undermines public confidence in UN institutions.
We welcome Secretary Mordaunt’s leadership on this critical issue and I was pleased to co-sign a letter with Australia’s Foreign Minister and other donors to the United Nations Secretary General calling for action to address this shocking abuse of power.
Australia has had sound safeguards and child protection policies in place for some years, but is nevertheless seeking assurances that UN agencies, our NGO partners, and our contractors all meet their contractual obligations and actively work to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse in any program using our ODA.
The UK and Australia have similar approaches to humanitarian emergencies and disaster relief on the ground. In November last year, we signed a memorandum of understanding to work more collaboratively on humanitarian responses.
We both believe strongly that the best outcomes in disaster relief come from drawing heavily on the skills, experience and perspectives of the local communities actually involved.
That is something that we are seeing more and more in the Indo-Pacific, as governments increasingly control the responses to their own natural disasters.
From an Australian perspective, we have invested in building capacity in the National Disaster Management Offices of a number of our Pacific partners — most especially Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga, which have taken responsibilities for coordinating their own disasters in recent times.
That shift is particularly critical for many Pacific islands, as they look to deal more and more with the consequences of climate change, which of course is a multiplier for existing vulnerabilities.
Given its importance to our region, our White Paper identified a ‘step-up’ in our engagement with the Pacific as one of our top five foreign policy goals, endorsed by our Prime Minister at the 2016 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting.
The UK and Australia have a real interest in working together on disasters, particularly given the vast distances between our two countries.
In the time it would take Australia to send specialists to a crisis in Africa, for example, DFID is likely already there, with a response well underway.
Likewise, when the UK wants to help Pacific island nations struck by cyclones, it makes sense to partner with Australia.
When the Philippines were devastated by Cyclone Haiyan in 2013, for example, doctors from the UK worked within an Australian-run field hospital for the first time.
In the same spirit, Australian health professionals supported UK leadership in Sierra Leone during the 2014 Ebola crisis.
Further collaboration of this kind can only streamline the mechanics of responding to humanitarian crises.
Both countries are putting a greater emphasis on managing risks posed by natural hazards in our ODA programs, as we work to become more climate and disaster resilient under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Whilst we stand in strong partnership, there are some initiatives which we could learn from — for example, the UK’s Disaster Emergency Committee, which has provided a single platform for British NGOs to launch collective appeals for humanitarian crises.
Recently, in response to the recent Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh and Myanmar, the Australian Government supported a joint appeal in partnership with eight leading NGOs which was supported by our public broadcasters as well as leading media organisations.
It was for us an impressive success raising over $10.3 million over a four-week period, including $5 million in matched funding from the Australian Government.
We are looking towards the success of what the British have done in this space and we hope to replicate that.
Another critical area where we share a strong common philosophyis disability inclusion, particularly since we ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities a decade ago.
Australia has for the past two years co-chaired the Global Action on Disability Network, known as “GLAD”, which the UK was instrumental in founding.
Later this year, the UK will join Australia as co-chair of GLAD.
This renewed and welcome commitment to GLAD demonstrates the increased prioritisation of disability through UK’s ODA program, which is being driven by Secretary Mordaunt.
So too is the UK’s initiative to host, alongside the Government of Kenya and the International Disability Alliance, a Global Disability Summit here in London, in July.
The Summit is an important opportunity to bring global attention to an often neglected issue.
Australia is actively supporting the event, including by facilitating participation from disabled peoples’ organisations from our region.
I would like to now turn to some opportunities where I think we could work more closely with the UK post-Brexit.
In 2017, the European Union and its Member States provided over 75 billion euros in Official Development Assistance. Of this, the UK provided USD17.9 billion — and that’s in 2017 in ODA.
On 9 April, some statistics [published by the OECD’s preliminary 2017 ODA data] were released which show that the UK is the third largest Development Assistance donor after the US and Germany.
With half of the population of the Commonwealth being in India and 94 per cent in Asia and Africa combined, there will be many cogs, I believe, in this wheel of a revitalised Commonwealth.
Such are the opportunities for our two countries that leaders on both sides are currently looking at our trading relationship and seizing on new opportunities for free trade agreements. An Australia-UK Trade working group is meeting this month.
We also have the opportunity for new partnerships in the Indo-Pacific as Britain exits the EU — it will naturally be looking for new partners and markets.
With rising levels of influence in the Indo-Pacific, the UK’s ODA priorities may be better utilised in a different direction.
The Foreign Commonwealth Office estimates that the UK currently accounts for around 15 per cent of EU development funding to the Pacific or approximately 13 million pounds out of a total of 86 million pounds in EU funding to the Pacific in 2015.
The UK’s commitment to the Private Infrastructure Development Group has largely been directed towards projects in Africa, South and South-East Asia.
We think the time is now right to direct more of these funds to a potential Private Infrastructure Development Group Pacific window.
I’m sure that we will talk a little bit more about the Pacific in our Panel discussion.
In conclusion, Australia and the UK — our two countries — share so much when it comes to our perspective on so many different things but very much on the importance of overseas developmentassistance and its objective in making our world a better place.
No one country and no one agency working alone can meet the challenges we face today and so we count ourselves lucky to have such a close and longstanding friend like the United Kingdom to navigate this increasingly complex and fast-changing world and the many challenges that it is bringing.
Particularly when it comes to our approach on development, our shared beliefs in freedom, in democracy and in the international rules-based order binds us together towards a common central goal of a stable, secure and prosperous world.
These virtues are the bedrock upon which our two nations were built.
It is in this week, as the UK hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, during uncertain times that I find relevance in a speech made by Queen Elizabeth many years ago.
Speaking on her 21st birthday in Cape Town, a year and a half after the end of the Second World War, about the anxiety and hardships that the war had left behind, she said this:
‘If we all go forward together with an unwavering faith, a high courage, and a quiet heart, we shall be able to make of this ancient commonwealth … an even grander thing — more free, more prosperous, more happy and a more powerful influence for good in the world — than it has been in the greatest days of our forefathers.’
I think this quote is as relevant today as it was all those years ago.
Together as like-minded partners, and as a commonwealth, we must continue standing up for peace, prosperity and opportunity — within our ODA programs and beyond.
Can I thank you very much for the opportunity, Alex [Thier], for being here this afternoon to highlight some of these points of collaboration between Australia and the UK and where potentially this friendship, this partnership, this longstanding connection can be taken to even greater levels into the future.
Thank you for your kind attention.