SPEECH: Address to the Australian Institute of International Affairs National Conference, Monday 19 October 2015











I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal People, traditional owners of the land where we meet today, and to pay my respects to their elders past and present.  

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • Jakub Kulhánek, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Security and Multilateral Issues, Czech Republic
  • The current and former ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps
  • John McCarthy FAIIA, National President, Australian Institute of International Affairs

I thank the Australian Institute of International Affairs for organising this important conference, and giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.



Kofi Annan talked about “problems without passports” – problems which are transnational, even global.  They are the problems which threaten our peace, our prosperity, the health of our people and our plant.

And they are problems which require the co-operation of nations to solve.

Indeed, we can only solve them if we work domestically, regionally and globally.

In facing our problems without passports, we have a threefold task:

Each nation must take necessary action within its borders.

The intensifying effect on global extremism of Iraq and Syria’s inability to deal with Da’esh is an example of failure in one state having an effect on all.

Regional partners must act effectively together.

There was a time when Solomon Islands appeared to be in danger of becoming a failed state. The countries of the Pacific Island Forum responded with the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). With participation from every Pacific Island Forum country, and led by Australia, over 12 years RAMSI has seen law and order restored, national institutions rebuilt and Solomon Islands economy reformed.

The global community must work together.

Smallpox, which killed hundreds of millions of people in the 20th century alone, was completely eradicated by the World Health Organization’s Smallpox Eradication Programme, in a patient and determined 14 year international campaign.


Climate change as an example

There are many examples of problems without passports – health epidemics, the current displacement of a record 60 million people world-wide by war and conflict, natural disasters, and economic crises like the Global Financial Crisis.

Today, I’m going to talk about one in particular – climate change. Climate change presents undeniable risks to our own country, our neighbours and to the world.

In Australia, both extreme fire weather and extreme sea-level events have increased.

The $5 billion Great Barrier Reef tourism industry has already felt the impacts of coral bleaching and increased frequency and severity of storms and cyclones. 

From 2020 onwards, the predicted increase in drought frequency is estimated to cost $7.3 billion annually, reducing GDP by 1% per year.

In the Pacific, all of the land area of the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, and 97% of the land area of Kiribati, is less than five metres above sea level.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said last year that climate change was “like a weapon of mass destruction”. In the broader Asian region, countries are experiencing declining food security, water shortages, increased prevalence and geographical reach of disease, and more extreme weather events including floods and cyclones.

The UN estimates that without action, worldwide economic losses from natural disasters will double by 2030 – to $200 billion each year.

Estimates for the number of potential ‘climate refugees’ worldwide range upward from 75 million. That is potentially twice as many as the record high number of people displaced today.

If we are seeing the world struggle with mass movements of people now, imagine what the world will look like when that movement is doubled.


Good foreign policy starts at home

Just as the consequences of these complex challenges cross countries, regions, and the global community, so do the solutions.

We can’t ask others to do what we’re not prepared to do ourselves.

As Dr Michael Fullilove argued in one of his recent Boyer Lectures, talking specifically about climate change, good foreign policy begins at home.

We can’t expect our relationships with other countries to thrive if we are complacent about a threat that affects us all.

This is as true of climate change as it is of something like Ebola.

A foreign policy approach which looks beyond the next budget or the next election and plans for the next decade and the next century must see credible action on climate change in Australia as important to our global relationships and future security.

We need to do better domestically.

Our government has repealed the carbon price. It has tried to shut down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and this year tried to ban it from investing in solar and wind.

It has tried to axe the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and did abolish the Climate Commission. And it has tried to abandon the renewable energy target.

Australia's largest energy and emissions market analyst, Reputex, has confirmed under the Australian Government’s current policy carbon pollution levels from Australia's biggest polluters will increase by 20 per cent by 2030.

And for the hard-nosed realists in the room, the cost of shirking our national responsibility can be measured in Australian dollars and jobs.

Last year investment in large-scale renewables dropped by 88 per cent in Australia – while it grew by 16 per cent around the world.

Since the last election, the ABS has found that about 15 per cent of jobs in the renewables sector have vanished.

Labor’s recent announcement of that 50% of our electricity will be generated by renewable energy target by 2030 is proof of our determination to seize back that opportunity, and meet our national responsibility along the way.

Dr Fullilove also points to the missed opportunities for Australia by failing to act as a leader on climate change, both regionally and globally:

“A generation ago – perhaps even a decade ago – Australia might have led the world in finding a market solution to the problem of reducing emissions. It was the kind of thing we did well.” he said.

Just as Australia must act on climate change at home to credibly call for action abroad, we must act in our region to credibly call for action globally.


The cost of our current failure to act credibly domestically

In the Pacific, Australia’s responsibility could not be more pronounced.

We are the greatest per capita emitter in the world, and Pacific Island countries are, as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month, on the front line of climate change.

Just as our responsibilities at the regional scale are great, so are our opportunities: over $2.5 trillion is expected to be invested in renewables in the Asia Pacific region up to 2030.

Australia has a strong record of engaging with our region, including with institutions like ASEAN.

We have the patience and the capacity to drive complex policy solutions like the Cambodian peace process.

We have the clear avenue to be part of a constructive dialogue through the Pacific Islands Forum. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat is engaged in  multi-stakeholder efforts to harness available climate change financial aid in effective and informed ways. Aid effectiveness and capacity building is an area where Australia excels. We should make more of this opportunity for leadership, rather than cracking jokes about the desperate plight of our neighbours.

After Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton was caught on microphone laughing about homes in the Pacific Islands threatened with inundation, Kiribati President Anote Tong said "It shows a sense of moral irresponsibility quite unbecoming of leadership in any capacity…I find that extremely sad, extremely disappointing that we are making jokes about a very serious issue."

He said of Australia and New Zealand:  "We expect them as bigger brothers, not bad brothers, to support us on this one because our future depends on it."

The reputational damage Australia suffers from being viewed as a ‘moral[ly] irresponsible’ ‘bad brother’ hurts more than simply our ability to effectively advocate for and shape a response to climate change. 

It limits our influence in regional and multilateral institutions where we have previously been able to play a strong role advancing our national interest of regional peace and stability.

And the more recalcitrant we are and we’re seen to be, the more difficulty we’ll have in the future negotiating regional and global changes as economic, political and military centres of gravity shift.

Of course, a problem like climate change demands even more than regional cooperation. It’s a global problem that will only be met effectively by global action.


The global response

We know already that thoughtful, patient global responses to complex problems can succeed beyond our most optimistic imaginings.

World Health Organisation campaigns have eliminated smallpox and are on the brink of eliminating polio.

Just think about that for a minute. Smallpox, that killed hundreds of millions of people in the twentieth century alone, is gone.

Polio, which stalked Australia so recently that our current Ambassador to the United States, and your next President, Kim Beazley, still has a vivid memory of waking up one morning unable to move, has been eradicated from the western world and is on the brink of being eradicated world-wide.

The number of cases world-wide has dropped from 350,000 cases in 125 counties in 1988 to just 359 cases in 2014.

An AIDS free generation is in sight.

The Millennium Development goals have lifted more than 1 billion people out of extreme poverty since 1990.

We have already seen the global community come together on the question of climate change.

In 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established. 

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, the world’s first greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty.

The first official act of the Rudd Government in 2007 was to ratify Kyoto.

Today, partly driven by global negotiations, emissions trading policies are in place for around 1 billion people and more than 40% of the world’s economy.

When China’s recently announced national emissions trading scheme starts in 2017, around 2 billion people and 40% of the world’s carbon emissions will be covered.

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference is next month.

Australia has a proud history of shaping international agreements, from the founding of the UN onwards.

In Paris, Australia has the opportunity to push for strong and credible action on climate change.

And we should.

But sadly, our influence may be limited.

Right now, we’re seen as a global laggard on climate change.

In fact, a report by the Africa Progress Panel described Australia as a “free-rider” on global efforts on climate change.

The world is perplexed that as the international community moves forwards, Australia is going backwards.

The ETS, which the data shows was working, was dismantled by this government.

Emissions from our electricity sector have subsequently gone up.


The larger lessons learnt from the climate change case study

‘Problems without passports’ continue to challenge us and climate change is just one of them.

Yet it underscores two points which apply to Australian foreign policy more broadly.

Firstly, being part of regional and global communities involves both opportunities and responsibilities.

But if you don’t meet the responsibilities, you miss the opportunities.

Because every community is a network of long-term relationships, whose foundation is reciprocity and respect.

Although the questions change, we return to the same relationships, the same regional communities, and the same multilateral institutions time and again.

Our early diplomatic approach with China in the 1970s opened the door to a relationship which has developed and strengthened.

The strategic partnership between Australia and China negotiated by the Gillard Government is one example. CHAFTA is another.

We’ve seen South Korea go from being a recipient of Australian aid to our 4th largest trading partner.

When Labor was last in government, we launched the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper which made sure our changing regional dynamics were considered in every aspect of government decision-making and allowed us to seize those regional opportunities.

Labor matched that strategic thinking with concrete investment in our relationships with the global community, by doubling our aid program and expanding our diplomatic footprint.

And we were grateful to be supported by many of our neighbours in our bid to join the UN Security Council.

The second lesson is that, increasingly, policy-making at the national, regional and global levels cannot be separated from one another.

To take just one example: Labor’s ambition for a growing Australian economy has been expressed in recent years both by our strong support for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the elevation of the G20 during the Global Financial Crisis.

We understand these engagements are complementary, not contradictory.



I began by quoting Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations on “problems without passports”.

Just last month I was in New York when the world came together to set a new agenda for addressing some of the most persistent of these problems. 193 nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals.

The current Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon said these Global Goals compel nations to “look beyond national boundaries and short-term interests and act in solidarity for the long-term.”

Meeting these Global Goals will take action at home.

First we should be prepared to measure our success against these global targets.

And Australia must meet our aid obligations.

In our region, Australia has a responsibility by capacity and proximity to take a leadership role. 

And, working with the international community in multilateral partnerships, our role is also global.

We can’t step up the scale of our ambition, if we start from shaky domestic or regional foundations.  

The Global Goals, like any other international challenge, can only be met through coordinated efforts on all these levels – domestic, regional and global.


SPEECH: In support of the following motion, Monday 19 October 2015






That this House calls on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to support a parliamentary debate during the current sitting on the Australian Government’s strategy in response to the crisis in Syria and Iraq.






For over a year, Labor has offered bipartisan support for Australia’s involvement in the defence of Iraq. From the beginning, along with that support we have called for greater involvement and scrutiny by the Parliament.

On the 9th of September, Labor again called for this Government to outline to Parliament its long term strategy in Iraq and Syria and allow for a proper parliamentary debate.

In 1991, Parliament was specifically recalled for two days to debate the first Iraq War. All 150 members of the House of Representatives spoke.

In 2003, Australia’s commitment to Iraq was again subject to a significant debate in Parliament. In that debate, the Member for Curtin said:

“it behoves this parliament to consider the likelihood that the military action will be over quickly and the Iraqi regime that has so traumatised its own citizenry will be abandoned and in flight. What next? What does the future hold for a liberated Iraq?”

We could very well ask a very similar question about Syria today. If Daesh is degraded and defeated, as we all hope, and if Assad is gone, again as we all hope, what next for the future of Syria?

In 2015, as we have military forces once again deployed in Iraq – and now also in Syrian airspace – the Foreign Minister should once again support that same parliamentary consideration she praised in 2003.

Of course today we see geopolitical complexity even more finely balanced, and a long term strategic outcome even less predictable.

  • Russia has dramatically escalated its involvement, yet its strikes to date appear more targeted at anti-Assad rebel forces than Daesh.
  • The Russian air force’s use of cluster munitions and its rules of engagements risk civilian casualties in great number.
  • Despite an increasing number of countries entering the conflict to attack Daesh, Daesh continues to control large areas of territory in both Iraq and Syria. 
  • The Syrian rebel forces themselves are proliferating and radicalising, leaving fewer “moderate” partners for a future inclusive Syrian national government.
  • The Iraqi Government is increasingly reliant on Iran’s active support, a concerning trend for Australia’s long standing objective to support a non-sectarian, inclusive government in Iraq.

Without a clear and realistic strategy we are talking about the potential for the consolidation of redrawn national borders, the intensification of sectarian violence, the escalation of geopolitical tension, and increasing numbers of displaced people in the region and beyond.

Against this backdrop of heightened uncertainty, the Australian public deserve a clear outline of the strategy for our personnel who are being placed in harm’s way.

Yet the messages that we receive are often mixed.

The Government has said that the objective – and indeed legal basis – for Australian air strikes in Syria is the collective self-defence of Iraq.

And yet the Foreign Minister has also said that Australia’s involvement in Syria would be complete: 

“When the terrorist organisation is prevented from carrying out attacks on the civilian populations in Syria and Iraq”.

The Government has talked about in the past the illegitimacy of the Assad regime – which has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens.

And yet on the 25th of September, the Australian newspaper reported that the Foreign Minister’s position had changed, and that Assad is now ‘part of the solution’.

Labor remains prepared to support a strategic plan which will address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria.

But we need to know, and more particularly the Australian public deserve to know, they are entitled to hear the debate it in the parliament that would answer these long term questions, to know how this increasingly complex scenario will be resolved in the Government’s view.




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.





SPEECH: Security and Military Engagement in Uncertain Times, Australia Strategic Policy Institute, Wednesday 9 September 2015



Security and Military Engagement in Uncertain Times







“The Fog of War” describes the inevitable uncertainty of decision making in conflict.

19th century military strategist Carl von Clausewitz said:

“War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.”

Robert MacNamara, former US Secretary of Defence and architect of the Vietnam War went so far as to say:

“war is so complex it's beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables. Our judgment, our understanding, is not adequate.”

Notwithstanding all these uncertainties, as leaders we are sadly called on again and again to make decisions on military engagement.

There is no more serious a decision, in Australia’s case at the prerogative of the Executive, than to deploy our armed forces and place them in harm’s way.

So, when should we use military force given all those inherent uncertainties?

Labor’s approach to decision making, is based on the assessment of facts and is guided by our values:

  • There is no more important duty of a government than to keep its people safe.
  • The peace, security and stability of our region, and the world, is in Australia’s national interest. It’s hard to be secure in an insecure world.
  • It is in Australia’s national interest to be good international citizens –because international co-operation, multilateralism, the rule of law and international institutions are the best way to ensure a secure and stable international order.
  • Human rights violations, inequality and poverty, are a threat to Australia’s long term interests wherever they occur because they create the conditions which all too often, lead to instability and conflict.

I am not suggesting that there is a simple formula that allows an easy conclusion on military action.

That would certainly be a dangerous oversimplification.

Labor also believes military engagement can’t be devised or judged in isolation from its strategic objectives – the end game that we are seeking.

Military engagement is tactical – it is a means to a strategic or political end.

And this places a necessarily weighty responsibility on decision makers - to have a plan for the day after, and for the decade after that.

…. To be able to articulate a strategic objective that would yield an outcome, so significant, that it justifies the serious and terrible decision to place Australian lives at risk.

I would suggest that never has it been more necessary to have a view about the end game, nor perhaps more difficult in the current circumstances facing the Middle East.

In one of the many conversations I have had on this issue, I was reminded that anyone with an understanding of the Middle East over the last 15 years should be familiar with the law of unintended consequences. That intervention in a complex system tends to create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes.

And the situation we face is immensely complex.

Australia has been asked to help Iraq defend itself which is a worthy endeavour, but we need to look beyond that.

The Middle East is currently undergoing its most significant reshaping since World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The extent of the fallout from conflict and extremism was recently described by David Petraeus as a geopolitical Chernobyl.

Australia needs to guard against being dragged into a fiendishly complex proxy war where a range of countries in the region will feel compelled to pursue their own interests.



I want to begin with Australia’s 2014 military engagement in Iraq, and the basis for Labor’s support – before considering the extension of Australia’s engagement that was announced today.

It was just over a year ago that most Australians became aware of a new force seeking to violently reshape the Middle East, and the world.

The organisation which calls itself Islamic State has its antecedents in Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq - organisations that we came to understand something about. But even a year ago we had very limited information about Daesh relative to the danger it presents today.

When Daesh took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul in early June 2014, it was a watershed moment for the organisation – not just because the world’s attention turned to the wider threat it posed -  but because its military success delivered it a breakthrough in recruitment of foreign fighters.

On 25 June 2014, Iraq wrote to the UN Security Council, requesting urgent assistance from the International community to assist it to respond to the onslaught of Daesh.

Iraq reported that Daesh had been terrorizing its citizens - carrying out mass executions, persecuting minorities and women and destroying mosques, shrines and churches.

Significantly, Iraq reported that Daesh had organised military operations from across the Syrian border, had taken control of border crossings, and that thousands of foreign terrorists were moving at will across the Syrian border.

In early July at Mosul’s Great Mosque, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared that he stood at the head of a Caliphate, a Muslim state already spanning Syria and Iraq and with ambitions to expand globally.

In September last year the Iraq government reported that Daesh had established a safe haven outside of Iraq that made borders impossible to defend, and made a further request for international assistance to strike Daesh in both Iraq and Syria.

Soon after, the Australian Government joined the international coalition against Daesh, relying on the doctrine of collective self-defence as legal authority.

The result is Operation OKRA - the Australian Defence Force's contribution to the international effort in Iraq. It involves around 800 ADF personnel, up to 8 strike fighters and supporting aircraft -  at a cost of around $650 million over two years.

As you all know Labor supports this Operation, and our reason is principally and overwhelmingly humanitarian.

We accepted that as a member of the international community, Australia has a responsibility to protect; to respond to a legitimate request from the Iraq government and join with other nations to protect vulnerable civilians from mass atrocity crimes.

We also formed the view that a legal authority existed through a legitimate request made by the Iraq government.

Not insignificant to our consideration was the Iraq Government’s assessment that its aspirations for a more inclusive and democratic Iraq, and modest gains it had made, would be thoroughly undermined by Daesh.

I am not going to pretend that Iraq was exhibiting consistent or significant progress on political and democratic reform - but for the first time in many years we could see inching gains in in the right direction including Nouri al-Maliki’s replacement by Haider al-Abadi. 



I can’t understate the importance to Labor of establishing a clear legal basis under international law for Australia’s military engagement.

I am compelled to mention the dangerous statement by the Prime Minister that the terrorists don’t respect the border, why should we.

I will tell you why.  It is in Australia’s long term national interest to respect and uphold international laws and norms, and it’s in the interest of all nations that we continue to set an example by doing so.

If we ask others to respect borders and comply with international laws intended to preserve peace – we must subject ourselves to those same laws.

While the UN Charter prohibits the use of force by any member state against any other state, there is an express exception for self-defence and collective self-defence.

A great deal has been written about the interpretation and application of Section 51 of the Charter, and there is a well-developed principle of collective self-defence.

A requesting state must issue a legitimate request – in this instance being Iraq’s request for international assistance via the UNSC; and the requesting state must have been the subject of an armed attack – and we’ve witnessed the unrestrained violence of Daesh in Iraq.

An intervening state must also act out of a general interest in preserving international peace and security – in this case defending against the regional and global threat posed by Daesh.

But a legal basis for action determines only whether the Executive can involve Australia in conflicts, not whether Australia should be engaged.  It is a necessary but not sufficient pre-condition for involvement.

Section 51 creates no obligation to offer our military assistance, nor does it permit a conclusion on whether it is right or wise or good to become involved in the conflicts of other nations.



Today the Australian Government announced an extended contribution to the defence of Iraq.  Australian aircraft will have further flexibility to conduct airstrikes against Daesh in Syrian territory.

First a couple of facts:

Over the last year, seven nations – the US, Bahrain, Canada, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have already been conducted airstrikes in Syria.

Of the total 6,550 airstrikes – already 40 per cent of these have been in Syria.

As you can see the Coalition already has a significant presence in Syria.

This does not mean that today’s decision on Australian engagement is not significant for us.

It is very significant to intervene militarily into another country, particularly in the absence of a UN resolution.

The Labor party has agreed to support the government’s decision, and I want to outline some of our considerations in doing so.

Iraq has specifically requested international support to defend itself against cross-border attacks by Daesh that the Syrian government is either unable or unwilling to prevent.

By doing so Iraq has established legal authority under the principle of collective self-defence. 

Labor sought its own advice on the application of the principle, and we agree that it applies.

Labor’s support is also subject to several requirements:

  • First, we have asked for a commitment that Australian operations in Syria are limited to support of Iraq’s collective self-defence.

Labor will not support mission creep that risks dragging Australia into a military quagmire. We have sought assurances that any Australian use of force will be limited to the defence of Iraq, be proportionate to the threat to Iraq, and be subject to international law.

  • We have also asked for Government assurance, in advance of extended operations, that an effective combat search and rescue capability will be in place to meet the additional risks, if the worst happens and RAAF personnel are downed in hostile territory.

As Peter Jennings has pointed out today, this new territory presents significant additional dangers for our personnel. We owe it to our defence personnel to have specific arrangements in place to protect them.

  • Third, we have urged the Government to engage with the UN, and to formally notify the UN Security Council about Australia’s decision.

An important point I have made consistently on this issue – which Peter also made in interviews today - is that Australia is a consequential middle power, and our role militarily must be matched by renewed efforts toward a long-term, multilateral strategy to resolve the Syrian conflict.

We should recall that Australia has played a role in brokering peace out of seemingly intractable conflict before.

The Australian peace proposal for Cambodia produced a durable and lasting peace in that country.

  • Fourth we have called on the Prime Minister to address Parliament and outline Australia’s long term strategy in Iraq and allow for appropriate parliamentary discussion.

In 1991, the first Iraq War was the subject of a parliamentary debate in which all 150 members of the House of Representatives spoke.

In 2003, Australia’s commitment to Iraq was again considered in a substantial parliamentary debate, in which Tony Abbott said:

“All of us as human beings as well as members of this parliament—members of political parties, governments and oppositions—owe it to our constituents and to the wider Australian public to explain where we stand on this issue.”

I am not attempting in this forum to open a debate on the prerogative powers of the Executive. No matter whether you are a supporter of prerogative powers or supporter of parliamentary decision making, no one can disagree that members of parliament should have an opportunity to debate these important issues.

There has been no significant parliamentary debate initiated by the Government on the issue of either Iraq or Syria.



I want to make a few observations about bipartisanship.

Bipartisanship on issues of national security and international relations is usually in Australia’s best interests. It is right and appropriate that we seek to understand, and if possible support, the Government when matters of national interest are at stake.

We have maintained a clear bipartisan position on the current Operation OKRA – as I have said Labor is convinced that the defence of Iraq and protection of its people requires the assistance of the international community.

If the Government is genuinely looking for bipartisanship on important and complex matters it might in future consider putting more effort into working cooperatively with our Shadow Ministers.

It's extraordinary that the first time the proposal on extended operations was floated publicly the Government sent out a backbencher without any clear proposal, without any explanation to the Australian people of what the legal basis would be, what the mission would be, what success would look like, what our personnel would be expected to do and how this would fit in with what the rest of the international community is doing.

Labor has been asked to support a decision which we would be responsible for implementing should the government change in a years’ time.

It’s not appropriate that we first hear about it is by reading the front page of the newspaper.

It is also extraordinary that multiple requests by me and by my colleagues for briefings have been refused and that briefings have been cancelled without notice and not rescheduled.

Labor has a very effective Shadow Cabinet Committee structure, including a Shadow National Security Committee 

Shadow Ministers on the Committee quite reasonably expect to have detailed information available to them before agreeing to support to military action. And each Shadow Minister of course has questions relevant to their portfolio.



I said earlier that military engagement is a tactic – which will not comprehensively resolve the situation in the Middle East -  in particular the catastrophe that has engulfed Syria.

The Prime Minister said today... our objective [is] to work towards governments in the Middle East which do not commit genocide against their own people nor permit terrorism against ours.

The Foreign Minister has said that Australian’s mission in Syria would be complete “When the terrorist organisation is prevented from carrying out attacks on the civilian populations in Syria and Iraq”.

Our objectives for the Middle East need to be much more significant than defeating Daesh.

In Iraq, our involvement it is to allow Iraq to stand on its own two feet by supporting internal efforts toward peace and security.

The recent history of Iraq reminds us of the dangers of tactics without a comprehensive and realistic strategy.

We “won” the last war, and Saddam Hussein was overthrown, but there was no strategy to govern, no vision of what the day after and the decade after would look like.  The people of Iraq has suffered the consequences ever since.

The vacuum that was left created rallying points around the sectarian and ethnic fractures of the region – and was the breeding ground for AQ, AQI and Daesh.

The de Ba’athification of the public sector and demobilisation of the army were disasters and that fed sectarian division and recruits for AQ and Daesh which boasts senior Baathists among its leadership.

A solution for the Middle East demands diplomatic efforts and the revival of a political solution.  In particular, no one should believe that Syria can be bombed to peace.

The immense scale of displacement and suffering and the impacts of the Syrian conflict on neighbouring countries and Europe along with the increasing threat of Daesh and its territorial ambitions may now be so compelling that there is new hope for a political outcome.

Alan Behm has recently observed that we are coming very close to a situation so fractured that, no one is being served by the status quo. Renewed efforts may break the impasse.

There have been roadblocks to effective UN action before now but this may be the moment they can be worked past. The US-Iran nuclear deal has been negotiated. There are reports that Russia is demonstrating an interest in a resolution to this conflict because of the risks it poses to its regional interests.

There are also reports of Russia’s desire to work with an international coalition – which would require more than careful navigation with the interests of so many parties in outcomes for Syria – Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey, Kurds, the list is extensive.

The humanitarian crisis in the region also demands a more significant response.

We cannot let a generation of children grow up in refugee camps and temporary accommodation with no access to a proper education.

And we cannot allow neighbouring countries, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to shoulder the burden any more.

Alan Behm points out that poverty, economic exploitation, inequality, youth alienation and dispossession create the hot house for extremist recruitment and anti-western sentiment.

Iraqis and Syrians displaced in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are vulnerable to these influences.

In Syria we must use all available diplomatic and political means to secure support from the international community to developing a durable solution to the current crisis.

This engagement should focus, in the short term, on providing safe havens and humanitarian access in Syria, meeting the urgent humanitarian assistance needs of the region.

In the longer term support an inclusive political process which can resolve the conflict in Syria.

Labor welcomes the Government’s announcement of an additional 12 000 humanitarian refugee places to assist people affected by the crisis in Syria. 

Labor also welcomes the announcement of $44 million in additional humanitarian relief funding for the crisis in Syria, but we call on the Government to match Labor’s proposal of $100 million in additional funding given the enormous need.



I want to end with a reflection on the Labor tradition and what we hope to bring to decision making in these uncertain and complex times.

In 1965, when the Australian Government had made the decision to send Australian troops to Vietnam, Arthur Calwell said:

"When the drums beat and the trumpets sound, the voice of reason and right can only be heard in the land with difficulty. 

His message was that decisions on matters like military involvement require courage and conviction, must reject populism and guard against recklessness.

And in that tradition the Australian Labor Party will continue to contribute to decisions on the side of reason, in the cause of humanity, and always in the interests of Australia's national security.




SPEECH: Africa Down Under Conference, Tuesday 2 September 2015








In foreign affairs, a course must be charted not for one year, or five, or even ten. 

The fall of the Berlin Wall did not just shake Germany in 1989, it shaped a generation of Europeans.  The aftermath of September 11 is still changing the world and has changed the course of history. 

Similarly, the rise of the Asian tiger economies and the transitions of African states to democracy and prosperity are changes which will play out over generations.

Foreign ministers must think in decades.

And if we think in decades, it is immediately apparent how important Africa is to Australia’s future.

Africa is growing fast.

The population of Africa is expected to reach 4.2 billion, more than 35 per cent of total global population, by 2100. Nigeria’s population – already at 180 million will likely be greater than the United States by 2050.

African nations are developing fast, and they are developing at a time when new technologies and the lessons of the past make it possible to leapfrog many economic pitfalls and development challenges. 

African nations can draw lessons from traditional growth trajectories which have sometimes led to the ‘middle income trap’ – where economic growth and export markets have stagnated for lack of local demand, sufficient investment, and economic diversification. 

African nations can draw on these lessons to create more environmentally sustainable growth and more equal growth - the ‘traditional’ growth trajectories of Western and Asian nations do not need to apply to Africa in the 21st century.

Africa has the youngest population in the world.  Two of every three Africans are under the age of 25. And Africa’s population will stay young as developed countries age.

Primary school enrolment has risen by 26 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa – which represents more than double the number of children enrolled in primary education between 1990 and 2012, from 62 million to 149 million. In Northern Africa primary school enrolment has reached 99%.

The half of the population under twenty will be the best educated generation their nations have ever seen, but their children will surpass them by as much again. In our global economy, and with the right investment, Africa can expect to have a highly educated, high income and mobile workforce.

There are now 25 African democracies, though many are still negotiating the transition, and many more have held elections, imperfect but worthwhile.

Conflict is diminishing.The peace dividend to economic growth is being realised by many African nations. For example in the creation of multi-country integrated energy, transport and customs regions - like the East African Community’s Northern Transport corridor.

Global commentators, from the Economist to the World Bank, see Africa on the brink of an economic take-off.

High population growth and strong economic growth mean growing demand, growing purchasing power, and growing opportunity.  But it is not just the rate of growth that matters, it is the quality of that growth. 

Half of the world’s fastest growing economies may be in Africa, but so are 19 of the world’s 23 poorest countries.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth rate, excluding South Africa, is consistently above 5 per cent and has touched 6 per cent in recent years — and yet sub-Saharan Africa still has the highest child mortality rate in the world, with 98 deaths for every 1,000 live births

Economic growth alone will not overcome these challenges – just as economic growth does not guarantee a more equal, or a more free, society. Private sector and free market progress and growth are welcome, but as Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and one of the world's leading experts on economic development and the fight against poverty, argues, there are elements to the poverty trap that require intervention to overcome.

The great news is that tackling poverty is good for economic growth.

It is now widely understood and accepted that inequality is a drag on growth. Both the OECD and the IMF have found this to be the case. The OECD found that increasing income inequality by 1 Gini point lowers GDP per capita growth by around one tenth of one percentage point per year, in the long run.

If economic growth in Africa disproportionally benefits elites and widens the wealth gap, the continent’s rise will slow and even stall.

Human rights and environmental stewardship are critically important to Africa’s development trajectory. If unregulated resource extraction pollutes and ruins agricultural industries, GNP may briefly rise but poverty will worsen. If citizens can’t rely on the rule of law and their rights before the law, they have no incentive to build their own businesses and invest in others'.  

Across the continent, infrastructure investment and strong institutions are patchy. Forty billion potential work hours are lost each year owing to people being unable to open a tap in their homes for water and instead needing to fetch water from another source. Hours of business productivity lost due to power black outs; hours or days are lost in transport time due to poor roads and infrastructure. 

I saw this first hand in Ethiopia and South Africa a few months ago.

I also saw the extraordinary plans for transformation.

These plans obviously provide business opportunities for Australian companies.

We are accustomed to talk about digital disruption and new technologies in the context of our own economy, but in African economies these tools are even more transformative. Only 2 per cent of households in sub-Saharan Africa have landlines, but 83% of Ghanains, 82 per cent of Kenyans, 73 per cent of Tanzanians own mobiles. They use them to check the market price of crops or fish so they can get a better price.  They bank, transfer money, pool information about weather and crop conditions.

Mobile phone technology can also be used in health and education.  For example, expectant mothers can receive SMS reminders during pregnancy from medical clinics.

They are a gateway to information, communication and empowerment, 21st century technology vaulting the last hundred years.

Africa’s biggest windfarm and biggest hydroelectric dam are both under construction. The decreasing cost of renewable energy generation as technology develops is making clean energy not only the environmentally best but also the cheapest way to bring power to remote areas.

As well as our expertise in mining, Australia has some of the biggest solar and wind resources in the world. Again, this represents another mutually beneficial business opportunity for Australia in Africa.

Our region, the Indo-Pacific is pressing into Africa at a remarkable pace.

Africa's exports to China increased at an annual rate of 48 per cent between 2000 and 2005.China has accelerated its drive to draw Africa into the Maritime Silk Road. Apart from building railroads, highways and airports, China is developing 12 deep water ports, seven of which are along the African coastline.

Returns on investment in Africa are among the highest in the world. Private capitalnow exceeds official development assistance.

This is the time to be increasing our presence in Africa, not pulling away. Unfortunately, the Australian government has reduced our footprint in Africa.

The Abbott Government cancelled plans to open an Australian embassy in Senegal, which would have strengthened our engagement with francophone Africa and West Africa.  The previous Labor government decided to expand our diplomatic footprint in Africa in order to build long-term and credible Australian partnerships with the countries of Africa.

We have cut our aid – aid which has gone to meeting the preconditions for economic growth, like reducing child mortality, and increasing primary school education.  Sub-Saharan African countries, which have struggled most to meet the Millennium Development Goals, have been very badly affected, with 70 per cent cut to their aid from Australia. The Middle East and North Africa region has been slashed by 82 per cent.

Australia’s development assistance programmes have been known for their high quality and concrete outcomes. Programs like one I visited in Feche, in Ethopia, run by aid organisation Plan, and funded by the Australian Government. That program provides books, through the “donkey library”, for children who otherwise would never see them; provides preschool education for children who would otherwise have none; provides information on child and maternal health in an area that has a shockingly high rate of child and maternal mortality.

This is just one of the programs that has been defunded.

The damage to Australia’s reputation as a good global citizen is immense, but so too is the damage to our long-term economic interests. We have seen in our own region how emerging economies, given a small amount of assistance at the right moment in history, can move from aid recipients to major trade partners. South Korea is one shining example.

Now is the time for Australia, and the international community, to look at the ways in which our private sector engagement, our aid, and our expertise, can marry with new technology to both meet long-standing needs and develop innovative new ways to hurdle the middle-income trap ahead.

Of course aid alone cannot pull nations or individuals out of poverty, aid underpins many of those things that are the rungs on the ladder out of the poverty trap. Education. Health care. Clean drinking water. Aid can also provide expertise that fragile states may not have yet built themselves – not just in health care, in engineering, but in administration, public service, in building the bureaucratic institutions which ensure accountability and promote efficiency.

And while many African nations have benefitted from reduced conflict in recent years, conflict continues in some countries – and new threats emerge, such as Boko Haram.  All countries around the world are grappling with the problem of extremist violence. None of us can meet it without international co-operation and co-ordination.

Many of the strongly growing African economies are heavily based around resource extraction. It will be critical for Africa’s future that those nations manage the long-term sustainability questions around commodities exports, the environmental consequences of resource extraction, and the need for economic diversification. These are questions Australia has grappled with, and expertise Australia can bring to the table.

This is a natural area for private sector partnership.

Australian companies have invested heavily in Africa. There are over 200 Australian mining companies with more than 700 projects operating in Africa and our bilateral merchandise trade with Africa more than doubled between 2009 and 2013. Africa is now the largest international market for Australian resource, mining and mining equipment companies.

We hope that conferences like this one provide even greater opportunities for co-operation between Australia and Africa.

Many of you work in the extractive industries, and so you know that these can be huge generators of national wealth in Australia and in Africa. You would have also been closely following international moves towards greater transparency.

Civil society, government and business all have a stake in greater transparency in the extractive industries: civil society wants new avenues to pursue an anti-corruption agenda; government must increase its capacity to mobilise domestic resources; and business needs a level playing field and greater trust in the institutions which underpin investment.

Lack of transparency in corporate affairs shelters corruption, and tax avoidance and profit shifting deprive developing nations of desperately needed tax revenue – by one estimate, as much as 4 per cent of their GDP.  Countries receiving the full value of their commodities can build infrastructure and institutions to support further sustainable economic growth.

My shadow parliamentary secretary, Matt Thistlethwaite, has been working with “Publish What You Pay”, an international network of civil society organisations, governments and corporations. They are campaigning for a global standard requiring large corporations – both listed and unlisted – to disclose payments to governments for mining, oil and gas projects.

If more African nations can find the right policy settings, to vault over some of the worst hazards of the traditional development trajectory, not just Africa but the world will benefit immeasurably. If more African nations can find ways to translate their current exceptional economic growth to long-term sustainability, then the 35 per cent of the world’s population living in Africa in 2100 will lead extraordinary lives.

But this will require us to do far more than simply hope for the best. Africa’s recent history is cause for hope, but far better, it is cause for enthusiasm. It is cause for deeper, stronger engagement.  It is cause for us to look not five, not ten, but thirty and fifty years ahead and ask what our two ancient continents will achieve together.


SPEECH: ALP National Conference, Seconding Chapter One of the National Platform – Labor’s Enduring Values, Friday 24 July 2015









Delegates, I am delighted to second this chapter.

This chapter is about our proud Labor history.

One that guides us, and shows us what’s possible.

It both inspires and steels us.

And it captures what is enduring about our great Labor project.

Over time, the issues may change, the challenges may change.

But our project is the same.

To work with rank and file members, with civil society, with our friends in the union movement, and in our parliaments -

To lift up all our people.  To spread opportunity.

That’s what runs from our roots, through every part of us.

It means a safe, prosperous, and fair Australia.

An Australia with a strong economy, where you can get a job, and afford to live a good life.

With accessible healthcare, and great schools for all our kids.

Where you can catch decent public transport and drive on good roads.

An Australia where we look after our environment, and each other.

It’s in the small things, the way we treat each other, the way we behave when no one’s looking.  It’s in what we do when the eyes of the world are upon us, being a good global citizen and doing our fair share.

Delegates, this weekend, with our proud history, we come together to write the next chapter.



SPEECH: Marriage Equality Bill, Monday 15 June 2015


coats arms





MONDAY, 15 JUNE 2015


Maya Angelou wrote: “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

We are full of hope when we say I want to walk through life by your side.

When we say I want to share the good times, and the bad, with you.

When we say I want to grow old with you.

Neither hope nor love are so common nor so cheap that we should deny their legitimacy because of gender.

As a legislator, I am proud of the fact that the previous parliament changed 85 laws to remove discrimination against LGBTI Australians and same sex couples. That’s Labor’s legacy. That’s behind us.

What’s before us is a final challenge: to remove this last great inequality from same sex couples.

How can it be fair to deny one group in our community, citizens of Australia, the legal protections and responsibilities that marriage confers?

In a few years time, the notion that two men who love each other, or two women who love each other, could be barred from the social and legal status that marriage confers, will seem as anachronistic as laws which prevented Aboriginal Australians marrying whom they chose.

No-one can imagine today, that Jack Akbar and Lallie Matbar had to fight for years in the 1920s to be allowed to marry because Lallie was Aboriginal and Jack was not.

Indeed, Lallie was gaoled after she and Jack eloped. Their four children never knew the barriers their parents had to overcome to marry until after their deaths.

The state being able to deny marriage on racial grounds is obscene to us today.

And so it will be in the future for same sex marriage.

This is not a question of tolerance. It is a question of legal equality.

This bill makes it clear that no church will be forced to marry any couple. But our government, and our legal institutions, should not discriminate.

In the lead up to the Irish vote, author Sebastian Barry wrote, “I don’t see it as a matter of tolerance, so much as apology. Apology for all the hatred, violence, suspicion, patronisation, ignorance, murder, maiming, hunting, intimidation, terrorising, shaming, diminishment, discrimination, destruction, and yes, intolerance, visited upon a section of humanity for God knows how many hundreds of years, if not millennia.”

Sebastian Barry’s gay son was just short of 18, and too young to vote. Barry wrote,”By voting YesI will be engaging in the simple task of honouring the majesty, radiance and promise of his human soul.”

I hope that by making this change, we will make it clear to every young man or woman, shamed or shy about their sexuality, struggling alone to come to terms with being different from their brothers and sisters; their best friends: it’s just fine. It will be fine. We accept you how you are.

And we’ll be saying to the same sex couples who have loved each other tenderly for years or even decades, who have supported each other financially and emotionally, nursed one another in sickness, and woven their families together: we see you.

And we’ll be saying to the many many kids who have two mums or two dads, or both: we know you’re proud of your family. You have every right to be.

It is time, it is well past time, that this Parliament says to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians – we recognise that you love. That’s more important than who you love.

So, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.

I commend the Bill to the House.



SPEECH: Arthur Calwell Memorial Lecture, Thursday 30 April 2015








Arthur Calwell once said, ‘I am Labor because I am Australian and Australian because I am Labor’.

He was talking about a sense of Australian identity that is based on values, not on birth.

A sense of Australian identity based on choices, not on chance.

To be Australian, Calwell was saying, is to believe as Labor believes, in fairness, in egalitarianism, in standing together in good times and in bad — what in other countries is called solidarity and in Australia we call mateship.

He was talking about the confidence and hope that come from living in country with both the oldest and some of the newest cultures on earth. A successful multicultural nation.

To be Australian is to love this country and to want to make it better in equal measure.

That is a fitting idea from the man who was Australia’s first Immigration Minister.

There were two founding principles beneath Calwell’s support for immigration. One was the understanding that immigration is good for Australia. The understanding that immigrants bring their skills and talents with them; the understanding that migrants create jobs and strengthen the economy. They grow and build and strengthen our nation; they contribute new ideas and innovations. Migrants contribute $200 billion to the Australian economy annually.1

Calwell understood, as Labor understands, unity is strength, and diversity is wealth.

Calwell’s second founding principle was that Australia has a responsibility as a good global citizen. While the idea of ‘British migrants first’ was very popular in the media and in parts of the community, Calwell signed an agreement with the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) in 1947 to bring 12,000 Displaced Persons from refugee camps in Europe to Australia every year.

It is absolutely true to say that the post-war immigration program run, and championed by Arthur Calwell changed Australia.

What is not always realised is the strength of the opposition which he overcame.

The Labor Government came under sustained and damaging criticism in Parliament and from the press for offering refuge to those who surely, in the late 1940s, needed it most: Europe’s Jews. Refugees from Displaced Persons camps were regarded with just as much suspicion. Frankly racist arguments were advanced. Newspapers caricatured migrants as slackers, a drain on Australian welfare, lazy, dirty and unskilled — sadly familiar and as false then as it is today.

In fact a 2000 study found that first-generation migrants depend less on social security than Australians who were born here.2

The success of the post-war immigration scheme can be largely attributed not only to Calwell’s advocacy but to his organisation.  He coined the term ‘New Australian’ to emphasise that migrants were part of the Australian community. The Immigration Department put great effort into orienting New Australians in their new lives, with the aim of minimising conflict between old traditions and new homes. To encourage cultural exchange in the other direction, Calwell encouraged “New Australian festivals” where migrants could introduce their new neighbours to their traditions.

Australia’s multiculturalism was not left to haphazard chance, but carefully nurtured by Government policy.

As a child of that multiculturalism, I was particularly disappointed to see the Abbot Government’s cuts of $11.5 million from the Building Multicultural Communities Program[1] and $53.7 million from the SBS. [2] – cutting away at programs that contribute so strongly to our social cohesion.

Jobs and housing were not left up to chance in the 1940s and 1950s, but carefully planned, allaying fears in the community and from many in the Trade Union movement of migrants crowding suburbs and taking employment.

Calwell understood that a migration program which undermined working conditions for Australian workers, or stretched the services and resources of Australian cities beyond capacity, would undermine all his efforts to gain community support. The need for planned migration which meets Australia’s needs and fits within Australia’s capacity remains an underpinning principle of Labor’s policy.

I still remember my own parents calling themselves New Australians.

For the 50th anniversary of the Snowy Mountains Scheme I went to Cooma with my family. I’d always thought my father was a bit quirky, but as I walked around the park there in Cooma, with the flags of so many nations flying, I saw hundreds of men like him: Strong straight bodies worn by work; with the women they loved faithfully and the children they were proud of; the men and women who built the Snowy showing their children and grandchildren the concrete representation of the deep and abiding contribution they have made to our nation.

When we talk about the benefits of multiculturalism in Australia, the conversation often starts with cuisine. Sometimes it goes no deeper, or only as far as the wonderful diversity of cultural experiences now available to Australians in every city and suburb around the country.

In a country where, still, too many people express fears of the effects of migration, of changes to our country’s laws, values, sense of self, it’s tempting to reduce multiculturalism to cooking and costumes. Nothing’s changed, the argument goes, we’ve only gained the opportunity to get a kebab on our way home from the pub.

Of course that’s wrong. Of course Australia has been changed by migration. A nation is a collective project to which we all contribute.

We are changed by the hope and confidence new migrants invest in their country of choice; the preparedness to work hard; the sacrifice they have made – leaving behind everything familiar and comfortable for the uncertainty of starting again in a new place.

Many migrants bring with them a financial investment – the professional skills or capital they bring with them; but also something less tangible but more powerful: the confidence that drives them to do well in a new place; the hope that life will be better for their children because they’ve taken this chance.

An Australia which had not been changed and challenged by welcoming so many new citizens, new languages, new ideas, in the 1940s and 1950s, would not have been able to so successfully welcome later groups of migrants from countries outside Europe.

This cooking and costumes attitude misses what I believe to be the most important thing — the deepening of our links to other countries.

And it misses the point that the changes don’t threaten what’s best and strongest about us.

Because of our multicultural heritage we have not just government-to-government and business-to-business links with other countries, we have people-to-people links too.  This builds deeper understanding and connections. We have become a nation whose ties to the world are not theoretical, not only economic, not simply formal agreements or alliances. They are ties of kinship and friendship to pretty much every nation on earth, ties much easier to maintain in these days of email and Skype than they were in my parents’ time.

There are, of course, those who do not understand that these bonds across the globe strengthen our country — who demand migrants abandon and denounce their heritage to prove their loyalty.

A halal butcher from Lakemba once told me that becoming an Australian citizen was like having a second child: you can’t imagine you’ll ever love another child as much as you love this first precious baby, but then your second child comes and you find that you don’t have to divide your love, but the love has grown to be more than enough for both. So too, he explained, he didn’t love the land of his birth any less, but that did not diminish the love and loyalty he had for Australia.

That’s why I love saying our citizenship pledge, and that’s why I think children should learn it at school. “Australians by choice: say:

From this time forward
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.

Isn’t this a creed we can all sign up to?

We are diverse, we are open, we are forward looking, but we are united by our democratic values, the rights and liberties we hold dear, and a legal framework which holds every Australian equal.

Calwell’s immigration decisions looked forward, to Australia’s future, and outward, to Australia’s place in the world. He strove to communicate his vision — Labor’s vision — of a strong, confident, more diverse Australia. He was largely successful.

It is the Labor way to look outward and forward — and it is a guiding value in my own Shadow portfolio, Foreign Affairs — unlike the Liberal way to play to a domestic audience and look nostalgically toward the past.

Australia played a key role in the founding of the United Nations, and in shaping it into more than a club for the powerful nations of the world, but into a forum for all and a focus for the development of international law and of humanitarian efforts.  Our belief in the importance to our national interest of having a role in shaping multilateral organisations, is why Labor campaigned for Australia to have a spot on the UN Security Council.

Labor has always believed that the path to a secure and stable world requires the recognition and protection of human rights for all people. This was the position Doc Evatt so successfully prosecuted at the formation of the United Nations, and it is our position now.

Given that, we must also bear in mind that we cannot expect others to behave in ways we do not. If we believe in the importance of multilateral commitments to human rights, we cannot, as this government has done, respond to criticism of our own conduct with complaints about being ‘lectured’ by the UN. This is why I signed Australia up to the optional protocol to CEDAW when I was Minister for Women – because we cannot ask other countries to be accountable to internationally agreed human rights instruments while refusing to be accountable ourselves.

Above all, Labor believes that to chart Australia’s course in the world we must have a long-term vision. We must have a plan for our engagement with the changing world that extends beyond the news cycle – that extends decades into the future.

When Labor was in government, we commissioned the Asian Century White Paper – recognising that in the decades ahead, the changes in our region will have a major impact on Australia.  One of the first things this Government did was to erase the Asian Century White Paper in what has been described as an electronic book-burning – with nothing put in its place.

That’s why we announced many months before the Abbott Government that we would sign up to the Asian Infrastructure Bank, and why we welcomed the Government’s eventual agreement.

Labor has always looked further than our borders and the electoral cycle. We have always believed that acting according to our values, being guided by our sense of what is right and what is Australian, is not just ethical, but also in our national interest.

In the coming century, we must think strategically and long term about our engagement with our region. We must continue to look forward, to Australia’s future, and outward, to our place and role in the world.

The challenges we face are different from those faced by the post-war Labor Government of which Arthur Calwell was such an important part, but our guiding values remain the same.

The Australian values, the Labor values, of fairness, of egalitarianism, of lending a hand to those in need both here at home and, as Ben Chifley said, anywhere we may.

Of striving to make our country stronger, fairer, more secure – to build a better Australia.


Add your reaction Share

SPEECH - Address to the Melbourne Forum, Wednesday 31 March 2015

coats arms




Foreign policy occupies an unusual space in our political life.

It’s rarely a front-of-mind issue for voters – compared to waiting times at hospital emergency departments, traffic congestion, or the quality of schools.

But the way our nation navigates the shifting tides of a changing world has a profound effect on the lives, and the quality of life, of all of us.

At an extreme, of course, it can mean the difference between peace and war.  But foreign policy is also about the every-day effort to keep Australia secure and prosperous, to protect our values and our way of life, and to influence the world we live in.

In a world more interconnected and interdependent than ever before, our international relations touch every aspect of Australians’ lives, in obvious and not-so-obvious ways.  The big economic, environmental and security challenges are not national challenges, they are international. They are problems with no passports, as Kofi Annan called them; hoping to stop them at the border is futile.

Customs officers and coast guards will be no more effective than King Canute at holding back the rising tides of our warming oceans; Australia cannot continue to have a strong economy if the global economy is weak; multi drug resistant TB is just a short boat ride from our northern frontier.

Our business and industry connections around the world have brought immense benefits, especially by reducing the cost of many goods – but they’ve also raised new questions.

No government can regulate the conditions of food preparation in other countries, but as we have seen recently, those conditions can have a direct and even disastrous effect on Australians’ health here at home.

Nor can any country stipulate the conditions of work outside its borders – but with the cost of consumer goods falling, Australians want to know that the goods we’re buying are made by adults paid a decent wage, and that the planet isn’t being destroyed in their making.

We welcome freer trade, but we don’t want to give up plain packaging for tobacco, our purchasing arrangements for medicines, or our quarantine protections.

The way we relate to the world is critically important for our safety, our security, our way of life, and the values we hold dear. How, then, should we proceed?

There are a number of different schools of thought about international relations. There are the so-called ‘realists’, who argue that if you back pure self-interest you’ll never lose.  There are the ‘idealists’, who believe human beings are capable of kindness, co-operation, generosity and compassion even when it is not to their advantage – and that the world can be made a better place for us all.

There are the small “l” liberals, and you even find the occasional old Marxist, arguing that human history follows an inexorable upwards trajectory, generally grounded in economic development. In contrast, the post-structuralists’ view is that there is no inevitability to progress nor automatic success for any system or structure.

And then there’s real life, which teaches us that foreign policy can never be carried out in rigid obedience to any theory, and you can’t underestimate the importance of personalities and personal relationships.

We are best served, I believe, by an approach that understands that our Australian values and our national interests align more often than not, and that our values and interests are best expressed and pursued over the long term, not in a transactional or short term way.

Let me set out Labor’s approach:

Labor believes there is no inherent conflict between our national interests and the interests of the global community – especially when it comes to these problems without passports.  We believe, for example, that it is in our national interest to have a strong aid program.  When vaccination programs eliminate communicable diseases, we are all healthier; when nations become markets for our goods and suppliers of their own we’re all wealthier, and when education levels rise and skills expand, we all reap the benefits of innovation, invention and creativity.

We also believe, and Australia’s foreign policy experience under Labor proves, that Australia has a role to play in finding multilateral solutions to global challenges.

Australia played a key role in the founding of the United Nations,  We helped shape it into more than a club for the powerful nations of the world – rather, a forum for all countries and a focus for the development of international law and of humanitarian efforts.

Australia is a beneficiary of a rules based international order because we’re a relatively small country in population, with a large land mass to protect.

But we have also always seen ourselves as a contributor to this same system. We’re right to think we have something important to bring to the table.

That’s why Labor campaigned for Australia to have a spot on the UN Security Council. It is why Labor now supports the Government’s stated intention to seek another term for Australia on the Council – in contrast to the criticism we copped from the then opposition during our successful bid.

It is also why we saw the importance of the G20, rather than the G8, becoming the world’s most significant economic forum during the Global Financial Crisis. The greater the number of nations working together to tackle the big issues the better for all of us, including Australia.

And we believe that our national interest is best served when our foreign policy reflects our values – when we walk the talk, and we’re seen by other countries to do so.

Labor has always believed that the path to a secure and stable world requires the recognition and protection of human rights for all people. It was Doc Evatt’s position at the formation of the United Nations, and it is our position now.

Given that, we must also bear in mind that we cannot expect others to behave in ways we do not. If we believe in the importance of multilateral commitments to human rights, we cannot, as this government has done, respond to criticism of our own conduct with complaints about being ‘lectured’ by the UN. This is why, when I was Minister for Women at the beginning of our term in government, I signed Australia up to the optional protocol to The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – because we cannot ask other countries to be accountable to internationally agreed human rights instruments while refusing to be accountable ourselves.

Above all, Labor believes that to chart Australia’s course in the world we must have a long-term vision. We must have a plan for our engagement with the changing world that extends beyond the news cycle – that extends decades into the future. And I have to say, this is in stark contrast to the transactional, short term approach of the current Government.

When Labor was in government, we commissioned the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper – recognising that in the decades ahead, the changes in our region will have a major impact on Australia.  One of the first things this Government did was to erase that White Paper – others have called it an electronic book-burning. This wouldn’t be so bad, but what long term strategy has the government replaced it with?

The reflexive, transactional approach of the Abbott Government to the question of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has been embarrassing.  Short-term, reflexive agreement with what we’re told was the USA’s position – compliance, rather than as it should be, alliance – has made Australia’s eventual participation seem grudging and half-hearted to our regional neighbours. It has undermined our ability to influence the direction of the Bank from the ground up.  It’s clearly a missed opportunity.

Short-term, domestic focus has also been on display with the Government’s unilateral announcements of immigration policy without consultation with our near neighbours. This has put particular strain on our relationship with Indonesia – a crucial relationship given that by 2050 Indonesia will have an economy twice the size of Australia’s.

With no long-term vision for the world as it might be and could become, this Government is limited to managing the foreign policy inbox rather than charting Australia’s course into the future.  This is, I strongly believe, antithetical to Australia’s national interest. The fact the Government cites the ‘New Colombo Plan’ as its signature foreign policy initiative speaks volumes.  While of course we support the Plan, and I’ve met many of the wonderful young people who have participated, Australia should be doing better than the resuscitation of Menzies-era student study program when it comes to the centrepiece of our engagement with the world. This is one program in what should be a multi-track policy of engagement with Asia.

Labor’s approach is, and always has been, different. We have always looked further than our borders and beyond the electoral cycle.

Our experience has proved that foreign policy which is long term, and is guided by our values, is not in conflict with – but is an investment in – Australia’s national interest.


Add your reaction Share

SPEECH - 2015 Australasian Aid Conference

coats arms
















Every now and then, an image, a story, a funny cat video goes viral on the internet.

A couple of weeks ago, a news story originally from the BBC achieved that status. It was – you’ve probably seen it – about a 90 year old great-grandmother attending primary school in Kenya. Born when Kenya was still British occupied, never having had the opportunity for formal education, this remarkable woman [Priscilla Sitienei] has worked as a midwife for more than 65 years, and in fact delivered many of her classmates.

She enrolled in school to be an example to other women, particularly young mothers who had dropped out of school, by proving that you are never too old for an education – saying: "I want to say to the children of the world, especially girls, that education will be your wealth, don't look back and run to your father."

It’s a great story with lots of feel-good factors, and you can see why it was shared so widely, especially when you get to the bit about how she still practices as a midwife out of school hours – in the dormitory she shares with one of her great-grandchildren.

And it reminded everyone who read it of the power of education, to create opportunities, ignite aspirations, to transform lives – and of the hunger for education among those who have been denied it.

That transformative power of education, to create the preconditions for individuals and nations to rise from poverty, is why the second Millennium Development Goal is to achieve universal primary education.

And the not-so-feel good part of that BBC story is that while in many places, that goal is almost achieved, sub-Saharan Africa is falling behind.

And what hasn’t gone viral, but has instead sunk without a trace, is that the Abbott Government has cut the aid to sub-Saharan Africa by more than half – cut $118m out of what had been a $224m budget under Labor.

Plan International estimates that the aid cuts mean that in the next year alone, 220,000 girls will be denied the chance to enrol in school. We have been told just in the last few days that a program to allow young women to attend school in Uganda has ended, and that programs to support youth livelihood, so critical to economic growth, in Timor and Bangladesh can’t continue. The Fred Hollows Foundation was forced to axe programs in Indonesia, China, Vietnam and within Africa .

Australians are a generous people, as the overwhelming public response to disasters and crises shows. By May 2005, Australian individuals and businesses had donated $313 million in response to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. That was a high point – but even in 2013, funding raised in Australia by humanitarian appeals in response to disasters around the world was more than $98 million.

Even in countries where foreign aid has become a hotly contested political football between parties, a large majority of people support the idea of bringing food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, education to those denied it and hope to those who otherwise have none.

Our fellow Australians are not the only ones to have an inherent understanding of a truth the current government seems unable to grasp: in a globalised world we are all connected: not merely in an abstract, ‘no man is an island’ sense but by a complex web of economic links, by trade, travel and cultural exchange.

When vaccination programs eliminate communicable diseases, we are all more healthy; when nations become markets for our goods and suppliers of their own, we are all more wealthy; and when education levels  rise and skills expand, we may not all be more wise but we all reap the benefits of innovation, invention and creativity.

However, while support for aiding others is and remains strong, support for “foreign aid” as an abstract concept, divorced from specific crises, needs and goals, is far more tenuous.

For a period, the “Make Poverty History” campaign successfully drew a direct connection between government investment in foreign aid and addressing the ills that people care about, and built a powerful consensus between citizens, NGOs, and governments.

But, as with everything, consensus must be renewed and rebuilt on a constant basis. If there is one thing politics has taught me, it is that no victory is final, no cause is ever over, and public support for any policy can never be assumed.

When it comes to foreign aid, we have seen old caricatures about waste and bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption, once again exploited for base political gain both here and overseas – as that clear connection between our aid and the good it does slid out of the public eye and faded from people’s minds.

And in Australia, with the destruction of the bipartisan approach to aid since the Abbott Government’s election, we have seen that consensus dwindle.

When Labor was in government we nearly doubled the aid budget and worked toward the reaching the 0.5 per cent target by 2017-18. The Liberals have slashed $11.2 billion dollars from the Australian aid program, a cut at every budget and financial update since they were elected, and they have walked away from the previously bipartisan agreement on the aid program. They have now cut more money from aid than was budgeted for by Labor in our forward estimates.  In the last budget, 20% of all cuts, one dollar in every five cut, came from this one area – the biggest cut to any program was to aid. 

These cuts aren’t just a headline statistic. They mean:


  • 1,424,796 children could be born without a birth attendant
  • 2,237,280 children may not get to enrol in school
  • 3,775,052 children may not be vaccinated
  • 4,710,642 people may not get access to safe water
  • 21,944,521 people in emergency situations may go unassisted.


In the next year alone, as Plan International has calculated, the latest cuts to foreign aid could mean:


  • 220,000 fewer girls will be enrolled in school, and;
  • 400,000 fewer girls will be immunised, and;
  • 3,153 fewer classrooms where girls can learn will be renovated or built, and;
  • 157,000 fewer girls will get better access to safe drinking water, and;
  • 750,000 fewer textbooks will be made available for girls.


To retain public support, aid must be effective, it must be efficient, and it must be argued for.

Now, in the 18 months since the Abbott Government was elected, we have heard a lot about aid effectiveness, as if it were some kind of new discovery.

In fact Australia has over many years built a highly effective aid program through our NGOs and our specialist aid agency AusAID:


  • Look at Timor-Leste where we helped more than 30,000 farmers improve their yield, in some cases by as much as 80 per cent, or helped 67,000 people get access to basic sanitation.
  • Look at the mobile courtrooms in Indonesia helping disadvantaged women get marriage and birth certificates, so they could enrol their children in school.
  • Look at the women in Papua New Guinea who were able to trade their goods in the local markets because the ablution blocks our aid program had built meant they did not have to use the nearby bushes and risk being robbed or raped.

    Positive findings in our own independent reviews were backed up by the most recent Peer Review from the OECD last year, which highlighted some of the strengths of our aid program:

  • We were increasing funding in line with our target to reach 0.5 per cent of GNI, our areas of good practice were increasing and the overall degree of fragmentation was decreasing.
  • AusAID was singled out for praise for its strategic planning and the coherence it brought to key policy areas.

Our focus on gender and support of UN Women was among the best in the world, as was our expertise in disability-inclusive aid.


Aid effectiveness is not a new concept. Australia had a highly effective aid program.

It was the Abbott Government which has made Australian aid less efficient and less effective.

Abolishing Ausaid saw the loss of a tremendous reserve of expertise in aid delivery. As you all know, delivering aid programs takes a different set of skills to consular and diplomatic work – and as Australia’s record shows, the expertise, knowledge and experience of Ausaid staff enabled Australian aid to be more effective and more efficient. It was a force multiplier.

Australia needs specialists to design, run, measure and assess aid programs and to build effective partnerships on the ground.

Expertise allows us to go further than the simple platitudes so beloved by this Government, such as ‘give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime’.

Expertise leads us to ask questions like –

  • who is going to build and staff the school that provides the vocational training to teach that man to fish?
  • Who owns the cannery where he sells his excess catch?
  • Does the cannery owner pay their fair share of tax so that the government can fund education for the next generation to learn to fish? Or will different training, for different jobs, be necessary?
  • What about the downstream industries?
  • How sustainable is fishing in that area – will emphasis on fishing as a preferred trade lead to overfishing, fish stock exhaustion, and the collapse of the industry?
  • Does the fisherman get a fair price? And what role does technology have in that – for example, can he, as fishermen in Nigeria do, use his mobile phone to check prices before deciding which market to put in to?

Proverbs and platitudes fail as aid programs negotiate the challenges of tax justice, of strong governance, of inclusive and sustainable development.

Of course every dollar counts.

Labor wants to be sure our aid programs, our NGOs and private sector partners have the expertise, the skills and the professionalism needed to achieve maximum value from our investment.

We have seen – just in our own lifetimes – that goals once believed unachievable, like a polio-free India, can be attained, with methodical and targeted efforts. I believe that with focus, with application, with the appropriate expertise, other seemingly impossible tasks are within the international aid community’s capacity.

But I also know that when Australia once again has a government committed to taking aid seriously, a Labor Government, we will be trying to plant in fields sown with salt.

Australia’s government agencies have lost skilled personnel - lost expertise and experience. Successful projects have closed. We have lost skilled activists in the community and we have lost the critical community consensus.

It will not be a simple matter of pressing the restart button. Australia will have to concentrate on what we can do well, where our investment will do most good, as we rebuild an Australian aid program.

It is important to be clear about what the purpose of our aid program is: it is to attack poverty.

Aid cannot by itself lift a nation out of poverty; but it can create the preconditions for individuals and nations to lift themselves. The idea of a basic level of food, shelter and support necessary to live rather than merely exist, contains within it the understanding that no-one can innovate, can thrive, can work to reform their government and institutions, if all their energy must be ceaselessly bent to surviving each day. It is hard to learn if you don’t have enough to eat; it is hard to work if you have malaria.

Without addressing the crippling effects of poverty, other aid goals cannot be as effective as they ought to be.

I cannot understand a government which removes poverty alleviation as an objective of our aid program, as the Abbott Government did.

While trade is important for developing countries, the Abbott Government seems untroubled by the prospect that the gains flowing from increased “aid for trade” may only trickle down unevenly with no guarantee of helping those most in need.

As we know, economic growth does not necessarily reduce inequality. Countries like Cambodia and Indonesia have seen growth and income inequality rise together – and the IMF has even found that inequality ultimately threatens long-term growth.

So it’s vital that we maintain clarity about the purpose of our aid program – growth is good, not for its own sake, but to help people and countries overcome poverty.

The Abbott Government has neither clarity about aid’s purpose nor clarity about the role of government.

The partnership between government, NGOs and the private sector only works when it is built on predictability, respect and transparency. But since the change of government, our ranking on the Aid Transparency Index – an independent measure of how much and how frequently aid information is made available, crucial to avoiding overlap and enabling long term planning – has dropped.

The adoption of the Open Government Partnership - an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens - has stalled. And while the Abbott Government says that they will redirect resources to NGOs which are effective on the ground, so far there is little to no information about how that effectiveness will be evaluated.

As you know, it is estimated that the value of aid is reduced by up to 20 per cent when funding is unpredictable and volatile. So the Government’s approach not only means ongoing uncertainty for NGOs who don’t know whether their funding will be cut, but decreased effectiveness for our aid program more broadly. Organisations can’t commit to the long term initiatives that may be necessary for real change, and they spend too much of their time chasing funding rather than doing their core work.

In fact, NGOs have described signing contracts with the Australian Government, contracting with local partners for delivery and then being told funding is no longer available. Successive waves of cuts mean just as new budgets, cutting staff and programs are settled, new cuts from the government require more retrenchment.

Ladies and gentlemen, I began by talking about the benefits that we receive from the foreign aid we invest in health, education and economic development. Australia cannot be secure in an insecure world, and poverty and inequality have been a cause of insecurity throughout recorded history. 

But there is another reason why we aid those in need – the reason giving remains popular even when ‘foreign aid’ is not.

Our fellow Australians know well the voices of what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. We all know the names of those angels: empathy, understanding, compassion, generosity.

We hear those angels most clearly when it is people close to us in need: when our own child is sick, when our own friend is ill; when our own family is in hardship. But we also hear those angels when they speak on behalf of the stranger, the foreigner, the dweller in a distant land.

We aid those who need it not only because of what it gives to us, but because of what it does for us: show us that despite our differences we are all share similar needs and aspirations, we all feel similar fears and loves. To turn our back on that is to accept a narrower, cramped soul.

Those of us who understand the importance of foreign aid – the importance of the role that government alone can play, the effect that foreign aid has on alleviating and preventing suffering, uplifting horizons, and opening opportunities – have an obligation to build and to ceaselessly rebuild that bridge between public understanding of the good of giving and our own understanding of the good of aid. No consensus is ever permanent, and the consensus for foreign aid is no different. It is, I know, a tiring task to make and make again the argument for something which we know to be good policy. But to turn away from that responsibility is to accept a narrower, cramped Australia.


Add your reaction Share