Speech: Address to the Australian Council for International Development National Conference, Sydney, Friday 16 October 2015









Introduction – 50 years of ACFID

It is a great pleasure to be here for another ACFID National Conference.

2015 is an auspicious year, marking 50 years of advocacy by [the organisation now known as] ACFID.

And it’s terrific that this year Patrick Kilby has written a book charting the last 50 years – reminding us about the important role ACFID has played over time as a commentator, advocate, lobbyist, and networker.

In the early days of ACFID, in 1974, Gough Whitlam said:

In aid matters ….. my Government is keen to have the benefit of  [the] advice of interested members of the community ….so as to enable …… advice and objective criticism on aid operations.

And Labor continues to stands by this commitment.

You are a critical voice for aid.

Over the last 50 years you have lifted Australia’s ambition to play a meaningful role in reducing poverty and delivering the benefits of development to millions of people around the world.

Just consider for a moment how much effort, how many hours, and the number of volunteers, committee members and dedicated individuals that have worked within the sector over the last 50 years.

And think also of how many people in developing countries have had their lives transformed because of your efforts.

Not just through health, education and agricultural programs. 

The aid sector has also contributed to building civil movements that have achieved important outcomes for democracy, equality and justice.

For example, the campaign against apartheid.

You have raised funds and you have raised community consciousness.

Congratulations ACFID on 50 years – we look forward to the next 50.

Sustainable Development Goals

In July I was at the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development, and not too long ago I returned from the special session of the United Nations in New York, where the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the 193 member states of the United Nations.

In the lead up to the adoption of the goals, I have to confess I experienced some nervousness.

The beauty of the Millennium Development Goals, was that they were a shorter list, easier to explain and remember, with a tighter focus.

And that tight focus has seen substantial success:

-      The target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half of 1990 rates was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline.

-      More than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990.

-      The number of out-of-school children of primary school age worldwide fell by almost half, to an estimated 57 million in 2015, down from 100 million in 2000.

-      Between 1990 and 2015, the number of deaths in children under five worldwide declined from 12.7 million to almost 6 million.

I suppose it’s natural when a set of eight familiar, tightly focussed and successfully prosecuted goals is replaced by goals which are unfamiliar, broader and perhaps more diffuse, that people like me who like goals and targets become nervous.

But I’m a convert, and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, goals and targets work, especially when they are ambitious.

  • They focus your effort.
  • You know what you are aiming for and you can measure your progress.
  • You are accountable to yourself and others.
  • Most importantly, when you meet your targets you can set new, more ambitious targets.

And after 15 years, the time has come for those more ambitious targets.

Second, while many of the development challenges we face have stayed the same, much has changed since 2000.

The SDGs recognise that answering the great challenges of our time, such as climate change, is critical to a fairer and more prosperous future for us all.

The Global Goals recognise the interdependent nature of the global development task.

They recognise that countries start from different places and come with different needs and priorities.

But they do have one very simple aim, the one aim to unite them all, “ending poverty in all its forms everywhere”.

The Global Goals are broader than the MDGs because they reflect a wider consultation process involved in developing them.

But they are also broader because we now have a deeper understanding of the importance that both social justice and environmental protection play in economic growth and development.

It is now relatively uncontroversial to say that inequality hampers growth.

The IMF, OECD, Reserve Bank of England, and various Nobel economists are all saying that more equal growth is good for the rich as well as the poor, and that more equal growth equals longer, stronger, and higher growth.

It is now undeniable that climate change will have, and in places is already having, a particularly savage effect on developing nations.

This of course includes nations in the Pacific which have contributed little carbon pollution to the atmosphere, but are feeling climate change in their everyday lives already.

At the same time we face acute development challenges as millions of people are displaced by conflict across the world.

There is a real potential for the current refugee crisis to become more catastrophic if many more people are also displaced by the affects of climate change.

There have never been more displaced people in the world as there are today: 60 million people have fled their homes because of dispossession, violence and persecution.

It is simply not possible for us to achieve our development objectives without addressing the causes and consequences of displacement.

As we know, conflict and displacement in the Middle East has robbed a generation of children living in camps and temporary accommodation of a proper basic education.

It has put ranks of children into dangerous and unpaid or underpaid employment, and created incentives for child marriage.

Basic services are beyond the reach of millions of displaced people.

As conflict drives those millions from their homes, it is inexplicable that we would not act to prevent a further wave of migrants, displaced by conflict and climate change.

It’s clear that with new global challenges like this, our aid program needs to change too.

In 1974 Gough Whitlam said:

improvements in aid must be affected …. in … formulating policy, in ensuring greater attention to the … effects of our aid, in evaluating the effectiveness of our various schemes, in bringing greater expertise into our staffing ..and in more directly associating the community with the program.”

And Gough’s observations remain true today, as we transition from the MDGs, to the more ambitious and more comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals.

There is no lack of will to work hard and do well in this sector.

But challenges change; the available solutions change; the countries and regions of focus change; and there is always more for us to learn and do.

And our lessons have to be shared locally, regionally and globally to achieve the very best development outcomes.

So, today I am pleased to announce that a future Labor Government will provide greater certainty and more support to Australian NGOs to make sure you are well placed to meet global development challenges.

A Shorten Labor Government will provide an additional $30 million a year to the Australian NGO Cooperation Program from 2017-18.

Our commitment is for new and additional funding to the aid program. And we commit to enhancing – not eroding – the ANCP.

Many of you will recall that in 2011 Labor’s Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced a doubling of ANCP funding - from $69 million in 2010‑11 to at least $150 million by 2014-15.

Since the 2013 election, the current government has cut funding from Labor’s forward estimates and created a great deal of uncertainty for NGOs.

My announcement today will restore the cuts and bring funding in line with Labor’s 2011 commitment.

Australian NGOs are among the best in the world. You do outstanding work; what you do works on the ground. 

We will support you to operate with certainty in delivering an effective Australian aid program.

The SDGs call on partners to work together on policy development and implementation, to share knowledge and expertise and to measure and to report on progress on sustainable development.

Today I am announcing that a Shorten Labor Government will provide $10 million each year from our first Budget in 2017-18 to build our partnerships, increase the effectiveness of our programs, and ensure we are getting the most from every single dollar spent on aid.

As part of this new program we will support planning, research, evaluation and greater collaboration across the sector – with funding available to NGOs, academia, government, and the philanthropic and private sector. This will mean that we will continue developing our aid evidence base, our measurement and reporting on aid effectiveness, and we will know just how well we are shaping up against our targets.

This funding will help us to share with the world the remarkable Australian expertise in areas like anti-corruption and good governance; disability inclusive aid; treating preventable blindness; WASH; and of course, efforts toward improving gender equality.

Today I am also pleased to announce that Labor will restore accountability to the Australian aid program by reintroducing the annual Ministerial Budget statement or “Blue Book” on overseas aid.

As you know this was axed in 2014. 

Under Labor, the “Blue Book” will again be released each year with the Federal Budget and will show how overseas aid is being allocated by sector, country, region, and against our SDG targets. 

Finally, today I am announcing that a Shorten Labor Government will legislate for transparency and accountability to improve aid effectiveness.

In consultation with our partners we’ll develop legislation that will set out our objectives for the aid program, and our requirements for the measurement and reporting of outcomes - including the production of the “Blue Book”.

And among other things, we will set out our commitment to poverty eradication and reduction, gender equality, responsible environmental outcomes, institutional strengthening and anti-corruption.

Legislation will also set out our arrangements for the independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the aid program.

The announcements I have made today begin a process that will repair the aid program.

The overseas aid program is the weakest it has ever been in Australian history.

By 2016 Australia will spend just 22 cents in every $100 of our national income on overseas aid – our lowest spend ever. Over the next decade, that is set to fall further to 17 cents in every $100.

At the Australian Labor Party National Conference this year, Labor made clear our support for the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as our commitment to Australia once again leading in international development.

We have committed to supporting the aid program, not gutting it.

The task that we face in moving ahead from the Government’s damaging cuts will be very hard and it will not happen quickly.

But Labor will always do better.

Because we believe in the aid program and respect the work that you do.

Once again, thank you for inviting me here today.