Friday, 2 March 2012

Farewell Address to AusAID

To Peter, the Director General, who has been at the helm of this organisation at a time of extraordinary change, I would simply express publicly my deep support, my deep gratitude for your guidance and your leadership, in what has been an extraordinary period of change. Not just in a quantum of what we do in the world. And the quality of what we do in the world. But also its impact here on you the staff, who run this great agency.

Thank you also through you Peter to the executive team who have a fantastic array of skills and experience. It's been a pleasure to work with them. A pleasure to work with them on a regular basis, working through the strategic challenges, point by point, as we have done. And I also regard that as a rewarding professional experience as the Minister. So I thank you team. You've been fantastic.

I'd also like to thank all of you who are abroad at the moment. Those who are posted at our extraordinary array of missions abroad, and to their international staff. You're on the front line and you have seen first-hand what Australian assistance can achieve. It has been for me, an honour to spend time with you in the field. You do Australia proud by what you do every day.

In some of the speeches I've made in recent days, I've reflected on this, and said that all Australians should be proud of the fact that this day our people, and our aid dollars, are literally saving hundreds and thousands of lives. That is something of which you should be proud as members of this great agency.

To you, the staff here in Canberra, as I said before, you've lived through and worked through a period of remarkable change. I'm proud to have been the Minister. But you have done me proud by the extraordinary resilience you have shown through this process of change.

You know the Australian public will always want to be confident that what we spend is spent wisely. And you are at the heart of that. If we do it well, we do it wisely, and we do it with maximum transparency and maximum effectiveness, it gives us enormous purchase in the politics of this nation to continue to grow that which we do in the world to 0.5 [of GNI] and, dare I say it, beyond 0.5.

Yours is a great career. As some of you may know, I'm a career foreign service officer by training. What I want to see is this agency become as equally recognised as a career agency of the Australian Government. It is where you come and where you fashion a career as a development officer of the Government of Australia.

This I believe will be one of the great vocations in the Australian public service. You are now living through its most formative stages.

Back in the Mesolithic period when I first joined the Department of Foreign Affairs…

[Laughter]

…the agency was then called AIDAB. I'm sure there are veterans from AIDAB here. AIDAB was often regarded as something hanging off the back of an empty shoe box round the corner just underneath the fig tree at the back. That's not the way in which you are viewed now.

It's a tribute to the fact that this Government - and I believe successor Governments – will treat what we do in the world sufficiently seriously that we can now construct with confidence a career service in this great agency.

So I'd encourage each and every one of you as you embark upon your work here to see this as a career, to see it not just as a job, but also as a profession, and as a vocation.

This is good stuff that you are doing in Australia's name. And I'm proud of each and every one of you. And for me, and for those of you I've met personally over recent times either as Foreign Minister or as Prime Minister, it's been a pleasure to work with you.

Prior to '07, as Leader of the Opposition, I made a commitment to increase Australia's ODA to 0.5 of GNI by 2015-16.

Why did I do that? Because, very simply, I've always believed that aid saves lives - that people can be lifted out of poverty.

It has a transformative effect on people through a good education. These are fundamental missions of what I describe as social justice.

Social justice and Australian values do not stop at the continental shelf. These are values for the world, and they are values for the poor in the world as well.

And so, when we reframed our aid strategy through the independent review of aid effectiveness, and when we said our number one objective is saving lives, we meant it.

When we said our number two objective was opportunity for all, we meant it.

When we said our number three objective was sustainable economic development to provide jobs for all, we meant it.

When we said our number four objective was good governance for all, we meant it.

And when we said our number five objective was to ensure that we had a capacity to respond rapidly and effectively to humanitarian disasters wherever they emerge in the world, we meant it.

And we meant it and we mean it because these reflect the values of who we are as Australians, reflecting them in policies and practices and procedures which work on the ground.

I also believe that an effective and strong Australian aid program is fundamental to Australia's national interest.

It's extraordinary to me that some would still question the need for Australia's aid program. Some claim that 0.5 of GNI is overly ambitious; that it’s unusually high by world standards. I think you will know in this room that is absolute bunkum - absolute bunkum. And as you know, I don't swear on video.

[Laughter]

You never know who might be watching.

[Laughter]

When we do reach 0.5 in 2015-16, we will be at the OECD average for the size of our total aid program.

You know the facts as well I - of our 24 nearest neighbours, 22 are developing countries. No one else in the developed world has that environment. We do.

No one has a stronger incentive for a strong, effective aid program across our region and beyond our region of the world than this Government - the Australian Government, and this nation, the Australian nation.

We are not Belgium. We are not the Netherlands. We are not France. We are not Italy. We are not Canada. We are not the United States.

We're a developed and wealthy country in the midst of an emerging and developing world. It is therefore not just the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do.

And therefore, based on those two sets of arguments, I believe we put to bed any residual criticism as to why this is important for Australia's long-term interests and as a reflection of Australia's enduring values.

Of course, 1.4 billion people live in absolute poverty today. And two thirds of these are in our region.

By lifting people out of poverty, we grow the global economy. Australia exports $90 billion of goods and services annually to countries where our aid is currently delivered.

Effective aid also acts against political and religious radicalisation. It's also capable of reducing dangerous irregular people movements around the world.

Aid therefore is not an optional extra for Australia. Aid is fundamental to Australia's national interest and a continuing expression of our national values. It is therefore core business for any Government of Australia and any Minister who has the privilege of being responsible for it.

Fortunately, the importance of aid is becoming increasingly recognised across the Australian public policy debate.

In my time both as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, I'm extremely grateful for the support of my Cabinet and Caucus colleagues for the aid program. Support for the 0.5 target has been consistent Government policy since the 2007 election. It's important Labor policy. And I thank very much the Prime Minister for her continued and unwavering support for the realisation of this objective.

I'm proud of the bipartisan support for the aid program as well.

Some of you may recall, some not, but I have said now for a long time that one of my core objectives in my tenure in this position has been to cause the Australian aid program to be a bipartisan endeavour, not the subject of partisan rancour and dispute, so that if the Australian Government changes in the future, it is a seamless change. I believe we have made significant progress on that score.

I have publicly acknowledged before, and I do again today, the role of Julie Bishop, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Foreign Minister, for her continued strong support for the 0.5 target. I similarly acknowledge the public commitment by the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott.

Development should never become a political football. One of the achievements I believe of the review of independent aid effectiveness and the buy-in from the Opposition is I believe, to have made substantial progress in putting that particular demon to bed.

There is legitimate political debate about how we spend the dollars, and that's where you good folks come in. There is however, I believe, a fundamental importance in continuing bipartisan consensus on the direction in which we head, which is 0.5 and beyond. That is for me, fundamental.

Much of the credit for the maintenance of official overseas aid has of course been also delivered by various members of the development community themselves. I would publicly acknowledge also the role of ACFID (Australian Council for International Development) because I believe them to have been an important partner for us in what we have done, and of course all the other international agencies as well who have worked for us as NGOs or with us as NGOs.

The record of achievements since 2007 has been phenomenal. This is something that each and every one of you in this room should be proud of, and each and every one of you watching from abroad should be proud of as well.

When I was Prime Minister, the Government established the Millennium Development Goals, the guiding principle to the aid program. These set the overall direction for our aid and will continue to lie at the heart of the program as it grows.

In 2008, consistent with the MDGs, we introduced the Pacific Partnerships for Development. We also introduced the Cairns Compact. These are fundamental reforms in the aid landscape across those countries which are most dependent on us getting it right. At last, we can now measure our performance on the ground against the key MDG indicators across all the states of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia, those for whom we have the foremost international responsibilities and interests.

Refashioning our agreements with them has been important to reflect the measurability of our success, in turn underpinning the political support in this country for delivering dollars to those programs.

The Pacific Partnerships for Development and the Cairns Compact embedded mutual respect, mutual partnership and mutual responsibility, focusing on sustainable development into our aid program as well.

When I became Foreign Minister in September 2010, one of my first acts, as Peter has just indicated, was to visit the medical facility that we established in the Punjab in response to the devastating floods in Pakistan. I was able to see first-hand the amazing work of AusAID, along with the ADF to establish an emergency medical centre which went on to treat 11,000 people in just a few months.

In November of 2010, we embarked on the first Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness in 15 years. I consider this to be a first class exercise in Australian public policy. Each of you in this room who have been participants in that review and reform process should be proud of what you have achieved. The review was begun in November 2010. It delivered its report to the Government in April 2011.

By 6 July 2011, I was able to launch a new aid policy - making effectiveness the undisputed cornerstone of Australia's aid program.

Therefore, in eight months we were able to not only conduct a major independent review, we've delivered a substantive response to that review as agreed to by the Cabinet.

We've agreed, or agreed in principle to 38 of the 39 recommendations of the independent review. The only one not agreed to is a matter for the Prime Minister – that is the title of the Minister responsible for the aid program.

These achievements are making a real, practical difference, and of the 38 recommendations agreed to in principle or in full, 27 have been implemented in full already, and implementation of the remainder is now underway.

Our response to unexpected events has been stronger.

We've reacted quickly and effectively to the world changing events that we have seen both through the Arab Spring and the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa. We are the third largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Libya, and the fifth largest to the drought in the Horn.

In my visit to the Horn of Africa in July, it was one of the most powerful moments that I had as a Minister. Seeing babies in their mothers’ arms, limp, listless, silently suffering from hunger - some dying.

Yet because of our rapid response, Australia was able to help provide food to eight million people affected by this drought - eight million people. That is a third of the population of the Commonwealth of Australia.

They may not know where the food came from, but we know that the helping hand of Australia kept people alive who would otherwise simply have perished.

I was proud we were able to involve the spirit and generosity of the Australian people through the innovative Dollar-For-Dollar initiative, where we raised with every-day Australians over $27 million.

This is a terrific initiative, harnessing the goodwill of the Australian public into the core programs of what we seek to do through the Australian Government.

Our support for immunising children through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, (GAVI), will mean that over the next four years we will help immunise 7.7 million kids, 7.7 million kids, virtually a third of our population, who will live because of the work you do. Think about it. Be proud of it.

Education has become the flagship of our aid program. We've become world leaders on education policy and program delivery and realising the goal of a single global education institution.

If we do not get education right globally, we'll be a dog chasing its tail. If we get it right within our own region, and across the developing world, of course, we then establish sustainable development for emerging countries which have had problems, fundamental problems, with the quality of their human capital.

We're also backing our words with action through our commitment to the Global Partnership for Education which will result in over two million more kids enrolled and completing primary school.

Saving 7.7 million kids through GAVI - sending 2.2 million kids to school who would never get to go to one - this isn't bad stuff, guys. Be proud of it.

You've changed people's lives, and through that, you change the world.

We’ve also built new institutions for the future.

In late 2009 we formally established the Australian Civilian Corps (ACC) – an idea first raised at the 2020 Summit. The Australian Civilian Corps provides us with a strong ready reserve of professionals for rapid deployment to national disaster areas throughout the world, be it in Haiti, Libya, South Sudan or Afghanistan.

In May 2011 we launched Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) – another 2020 Summit initiative – which enables younger, mid-career or retired Australians to spend a year or more in the field around the world, lifting people out of poverty, in Australia’s name.

2020 was not a talkfest. It became a program for action.

I know that the pace of internal reform within AusAID has been rapid, and that has placed extra burdens on the organisation, as you have adapted to new ways of operating.

We have delivered a Transparency Charter that makes AusAID a world leader in donor transparency. We've built the overall accountability of Australia's aid program with the implementation of a rolling four-year Cabinet review of the program's overall performance against stated objectives.

These reforms are as important as anything else that we have done since 2007. We can achieve wonderful things through the aid program and we will do so.

However, support for the aid program will depend on the continuing rigour of AusAID in the areas of accountability, and success and transparency.

Here I'd like to acknowledge the Director General's leadership in this area in particular. He knows better than anyone that AusAID has had to change and reform as it grows to meet an increasing mandate.

And again, I'd like to thank all staff for their dedication in meeting this challenge through a period of change. Change is hard. I know that. I've been through a bit of it myself [Laughter] but these reforms are paying off. AusAID is now acknowledged as one of the efficient aid agencies in the world.

We're now the seventh largest aid donor in the world. Pinch yourself Australians. We are the seventh largest aid donors in the world.

What we say counts. For the future, whoever is the Minister, and through Peter's leadership as Director-General, understand this and understand it well: we are now in a new period in our engagement with the global humanitarian aid institutions.

It's not just the dollars we deliver - it's what we say in terms of the direction of the policies of these institutions as well. What we say to the future policy direction of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) matters. What we now say for the future direction of UNICEF matters. What we say to the future direction of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and WFP (World Food Programme) now matters, because we are significant players around the table.

So, therefore, it is not just the quality of how we deliver our aid programs ourselves, it is not just our transparency to the Australian people that's important, it is now the policy contribution we make to these institutions globally, driven by our unique experience as a developed country in the middle of a developing world.

That is something new for us. We are now equal to the traditional aid donors in the world, across Europe, Asia and North America.

We're not observers to the big debates held elsewhere, we're now up there with USAID, with DFID (UK Department for International Development), with the Canadian agency, with the Scandinavian agencies, with the Dutch agency and others driving the global policy agenda. It is a great challenge for an emerging career service, such as yours.

When Australia speaks, others now listen.

We're assuming a leadership role in the international community and dealing with the great challenges posed by global poverty. We have continued to achieve results in some of the most fragile states in the world. We've been steadfast in our support for countries transitioning to democracy.

None of this is possible without people. You are the people. And you have made it happen.

To those who've worked in my staff, can I also add a particular word of thanks for enduring me as their Minister.

To Andrew Cumpston - where are you, Andrew? I've lost you.

Keeping a low profile. [Laughter] A guy who's Six foot three, that's difficult. [Laughter]

Sarah Stuart.

Ed Vrkic.

And those who have worked with me in my office can I say to each and every one of you how much I value your collegiality and the way you have worked to the departmental executive and individual officers within the agency to make it work.

You know, this has been a great journey for me. I've learned a lot. I think I've contributed a bit.

At a personal level, you cannot but be moved in seeing what you do around the world.

I was talking about this recently to Dan Street, who has had a responsibility for the development portfolio also with my office, about the sheer impact on ourselves personally when you rock around the world and see transformed lives.

It's true, you can't get out of your head the images in Somalia; you just can't.

You've seen the little photograph of the little boy who we plucked out of the line, Josette Sheeran and myself from the World Food Programme. I have no medical training whatsoever. She has even less. The kid looked as though he was about to die. He was. And I don't know how we did it, but to get a little kid like that, and several others with them, off to UNICEF to get that little boy there, and then to see his photograph four months later as a bright, bouncing baby boy, like we all love to see here back home. You've seen the photograph. That is a story of what we do worldwide. It moves us as human beings because it says something about the common values of the common humanity we all share.

But certainly, elsewhere in the world, recently in El Salvador seeing Australian aid transporting Brazilian grain into flood-affected areas of the El Salvadorian countryside with AusAID.

And AusAID with its logo - designed by yours truly, by the way…[Laughter] … and how much did it cost, Peter? Nothing. [Laughter] Can I tell you the story about the kangaroo? I was not about to spend a million bucks working out what this logo should be. Having rocked around the world a bit, I came up with a piece of rocket science. Most people identify Australia with a kangaroo. Very few people identify the kangaroo with anywhere else in the world. And given a lot of folk we give stuff out to can't read, that struck me as a smart thing to do.

Seeing also, first-hand the impact of what we've done in Tripoli and wider Libya when I visited there only a couple of months ago.

The Transitional National Council in Libya have thanked me, and thanked me and thanked me again for the generosity of the Australian people through you, the Agency, literally keeping people alive. Through what we did with UNHCR and others in those extraordinarily parlous times.

The International Red Crescent through the Red Cross (ICRC) on the phone to me ringing up saying, we need money to keep people alive in Syria today when no-one else was prepared to give. We gave. And of their $14 million current appeal, we've contributed virtually $6 million of that ourselves.

You know, we're doing good stuff right now during some of the ugliest things that you see on your television set today through AusAID, through the ICRC, through the International Red Crescent, through the Syrian Red Crescent, bandaging up some person blown to bits yesterday by the horrific military force by Bashar al-Assad's regime.

And that's just the beginning of it. It's not the end of it.

For each and every one of you, there are so many challenges which lie ahead.

As I said to you at the beginning, this isn't a job, this is not even a career, it is a vocation.

And if you're called to it and you're impassioned by it, I can think of no better place to make your contribution to Australia's enduring national interests and Australia's enduring national values.

I thank you.

Goodbye, good luck.

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