National Labor Women's Conference

coats-arms.jpg

THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY


SPEECH

 

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

 

NATIONAL LABOR WOMEN’S CONFERENCE – SATURDAY, 2 AUGUST 2014

 

I want to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respect to elders past and present. Thank you to Aunty Agnes Shea for the welcome to country.

I also want to acknowledge:

  • Katy Gallagher, Chief Minister of the ACT, for her address this morning.
  • ALP National President, Jenny McAllister
  • ACTU President Ged Kearney
  • National Co-Convenors of Emily’s List Tanja Kovac and Senator Anne McEwen
  • President of the ACT ALP Branch Louise Crossman
  • National Secretary CPSU Nadine Flood
  • My Federal and State Parliamentary Labor Colleagues

The next two days will be a chance for you to spend time with old and new friends, develop fresh ideas and shape Labor’s direction over the next three years. It’s an opportunity to better get to know women you know in passing, and some of my best Labor memories are conference memories.

For me, it is also a return to the people within the party that inspired me to be involved in politics and then supported me to stand for preselection – Labor women.

The last time this conference met was in May 2011. Four days earlier Julia Gillard had delivered her first Budget as Prime Minister. Not only were we celebrating our first female Prime Minister, but a budget which showed true Labor values: investment in schools, historic mental health reform and much-needed pension increases.

Paul Keating famously said ‘When the government changes, the country changes,’ and unfortunately this year we have seen just how true that is.

Months after it was first handed down by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, we are still seeing the slow burn of the most unpopular budget in Australia’s memory. More than the broken promises, Australians are most concerned about the budget’s values, where the heaviest burden is placed on those people least able to shoulder it.

So as this conference gathers again in a very different political moment we need to ask: what does Australian political life need from the women’s movement today?

The women’s movement

Our movement has always drawn its purpose from the basic principle of equality.

Jessie Street was a great Australian, and, as the song says “she’ll always be a heroine of mine”. Born in the 19th century, Jessie was a suffragette, an activist in many progressive causes, and a Labor Party member. She said in 1944:

‘I believe that in a democratic, free society women should be at liberty to choose whether they will take up home life or work outside the home; that men and women should receive equal pay and equal opportunity; that home life should be made less of a tie and the burden of raising a family be lightened.’

Jessie spoke these words seventy years ago, and yet the aspirations and challenges she laid out have a timeless ring.

They give meaning to some of the wins in the decades in between:

  • The landmark 1969 and 1972 decisions affirming ‘equal pay for equal work’;
  • The passage of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984.

For six years after Labor took government in 2007, I was proud to be part of a team carrying forward Jessie’s vision of a more equal society for women:

  • Taking equal pay that one step further – equal pay for work of equal value;
  • introducing our first national paid parental leave scheme;
  • increasing the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, and introducing the National Quality Framework;
  • listing abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol (RU486) on the PBS to give women more choices and more options;
  • passing the Workplace Gender Equality Act, with new reporting requirements around women’s participation for employers;
  • drafting and implementing the first National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.

And of course this vision is still very much unfinished business in a country where the gender pay gap is over 17%, and now only one woman sits at the federal Cabinet table.

The challenge of rising inequality

Gender inequality has been a driver of the women’s movement for many years; and economic inequality is inextricable linked with gender inequality. The equity principle at the heart of the women’s movement has a particular relevance today, in a world characterised by rising economic inequality.

Earlier this year, as the World Economic Forum met in Davos, Oxfam released a report showing that the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest.

In our own country, the richest 1% are as rich as the poorest 60 per cent of Australians.

In 2014, Thomas Piketty’s book of economic research hit the top of the bestseller lists, Joseph Stiglitz toured Australia to sell-out crowds, and ACT Labor’s own rockstar economist Andrew Leigh addressed the National Press Club on rising inequality in Australia.

Importantly for all of us here today, we know that economic inequality hits women even harder.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, has argued that addressing inequality matters not just for women themselves – who are often more excluded from employment and financial access – but that lifting women’s participation in the economy is crucial to building strong and sustainable economic growth.

I wonder whether Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott will be putting that on the agenda at the G20?

Women and economic inequality

Economic inequality is not abstract numbers, graphs and pie-charts.

Around ten years ago I met a single mum with two boys living in public housing in my electorate, in Woolloomooloo. She didn’t have much money, but that didn’t stop her from enrolling at university, going on to receive the university medal and working as a judge’s associate.

Imagine how this budget would affect her life.

More pressure on our public housing system from the lack of long-term commitment to National Partnership agreements would make it less likely she would ever get that safe roof over her head. University would be placed further out of reach with higher fees, climbing debt levels and punitive interest rates. Supporting her two boys would be that much harder thanks to cuts to Family Tax Benefit and the Schoolkids Bonus.

With a little help and a lot of determination, this woman changed both her own life story and those of her boys.

Why on earth would we want to turn that uphill battle into a brick wall?

When I was Housing Minister, I met a woman in the electorate of Bennelong who baked a cake for Maxine McKew to say ‘thank you’ for the new public housing unit she had just moved into. She hadn’t expected to need public housing. She had always lived comfortably on the north shore with her husband – a wealthy banker. When their relationship ended she found out that he had structured their finances to leave her with nothing, and so she went from a life of privilege to being homeless and penniless.

We helped house her through our Social Housing Stimulus package – just one of the 20 000 new units we built around the country. Imagine this budget from her perspective: her pension cuts are permanent, losing her $4000 each year from an already-stretched household budget; her husband’s ‘deficit levy’ is temporary. She loses her low income super contribution; he keeps his high-income super tax breaks.

I used to work across the road from the Oasis homelessness service, where I met a teenage mother to a little girl with a beautiful singing voice, trying to break out of the cycle of temporary accommodation and joblessness.

Imagine how this budget would have made every path out of unemployment more challenging for her: homelessness services stretched from $44 million in cuts, possibly catering to more young people who faced being cut off from Newstart for six months of the year. Cuts to the Youth Connections program, designed to help young people transition to education, training or employment.

The great privilege of our work as Labor representatives is the people like these we meet every day. And that great privilege brings great responsibility too – to build a society and an economy where these women have a place.

The Abbott Government’s values

This was a budget that not only ignored the global discussion on inequality – it seemed designed to make things worse.

I am reminded of Joe Biden’s well-used quote: ‘Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value’.

The biggest single spending cut in the Budget was foreign aid: $7.6 billion, in addition to the further $8.4 billion the Prime Minister will cut in comings years by breaking the promise made by John Howard to lift aid to 0.5 per cent of GNI. By Joe Biden’s standard, what the Abbott Government values least is helping those facing the most disadvantage.

Our foreign aid program doesn’t just save women’s lives, although it certainly does that. The funding cut by the Abbott Government could have trained 3 million midwives, for example.

Our aid program helps unlock the capacity of women just like us – who have ingenuity, pride and determination but who have been born into difficult circumstances.

I am not a religious person, but that old saying captures it best: ‘there but for the grace of god go I.’

There is nothing that separates us from these women but the fate of birth.

When I visited Vanuatu, for example, I met a woman at the Vanuatu Women’s Centre, a recipient of Australian aid which helps survivors of family violence with counselling, legal assistance and accommodation. This woman had been cleaning tourist huts for a living, but with the help of Australian aid was able to start her own business and by the time I met her she was employing her own staff and running a collection of accommodation huts. The Vanuatu Women’s Centre has helped more than 10 000 women just like her since 2007, using Australian aid dollars.

In Papua New Guinea, small-scale women farmers travelling to a local marketplace were being raped and beaten as they tried to support themselves. Australian aid money built toilets so they didn’t have to use unsafe bushes, enabled mobile banking so they didn’t have to carry their money home, and helped train police to take seriously the unsafe conditions the women were facing. Not only were the women safer and better to earn a living, but their income meant their daughters could go to school.

The funding cuts from Australia’s aid represents the loss of programs just like this – lost support for vulnerable nations in our region, and lost opportunities for women just like us to fully use their skills and intellect to contribute to the economic development of their communities.

Forming Labor’s response

In the face of rising global inequality and the Abbott Government’s extreme agenda, Australian Labor’s purpose is more relevant than ever.

We believe that you can have both a strong economy and a fair society.

We understand that government’s job is to spread the opportunities of a growing economy to every Australian, no matter their sex or their postcode.

These values guided our actions when we were in government, and now from Opposition they must be the starting point in renewing our agenda.

I know that party reform is a key focus of your conference this weekend, and I am glad you could hear from Jenny this morning to start that conversation.

Rules matter.

Jessie Street might have been a Labor MP, but in 1943 she failed to be pre-selected for the winnable seat of Eden-Monaro and was instead endorsed for the blue-ribbon Liberal seat of Wentworth.

That experience may have shaped her in campaigning for the specific recognition of women in the Charter of the United Nations, saying: ‘Where the rules are silent, women are not usually considered.’

But Jessie is a hero of mine because the unfair rules which characterised the political world she inhabited were fuel and not a constraint for her activism.

She spent her life campaigning for equality for women, for fair treatment for our First Peoples, for peace and nuclear disarmament.

That kind of values-driven activism is the natural complement to rules reform in renewing our party.

Our connection to the principle of equality, at the heart of the women’s movement, is what gives meaning to our party structures in the first place.

Finding new ways to translate those values into activism in a world of growing inequality is no small feat, but I’m confident the women in this room are up to the task.

ENDS

Add your reaction Share

Launch of Mary Delanunty’s book Gravity

coats-arms.jpg

Launch of Mary Delanunty’s book Gravity

Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition

2 July 2014

Sophie Deane’s photo of Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the cover of this book is my favourite photo of her – it shows her open-faced and smiling.

It is a photo taken by a 12-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who took a shine to the Prime Minister. It’s a great photo because it shows the Prime Minister happy doing what she loved: in the middle of the tough policy battle of convincing Australia of the need for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Sophie showed us something in Julia that was too often missed.

It’s the photo that reminds me of the many, many people who met Julia and asked, “Why isn’t she always like this?”

“Actually, she is,” I would say.

She is good‑natured, humorous and fun, as well as fiercely intelligent and disciplined.

Why didn’t some see this side of Julia? Why was the public perception often so hostile? Was it her personality, or was it something deeper?

Those are the questions that Mary Delahunty explores in this book.

I’m sure you will all remember the moving and restrained speech Julia gave on the night she lost the prime ministership, just over a year ago, on 26 June 2013.

Here’s what she said:

…the reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership … it explains some things.

And it is for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey.

Mary’s book is about those shades of grey, those things that gender does explain. Mary explores them with sophistication – and also with sympathy, clarity and passion. Her own experiences in politics give her insights into the privileges and stresses of public life.

The issues of women in leadership roles should have been pretty thoroughly examined by now.

There are now so many successful women who have become role models. Our own Prime Minister Gillard joins vastly impressive political leaders such as Hillary Clinton, who may well be the next American president, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and Helen Clark. Margaret Thatcher, Mary Robinson, Corazon Aquino, Benazir Bhutto – you don’t have to agree with them to recognise they were trail blazers.

Mary asks: Was Australia less ready to accept a woman in the top job than we imagined, or was it the individual failings of a particular woman that saw our public debate descend into something pornographic?

Reading Gravity reopened a room in my mind which I had firmly closed. I’d closed that room and buried the key.

Re-reading some of the language that was used against our Prime Minister made me nauseous all over again.

No-one is saying that women in public life can’t be criticised. And no-one is saying that men are fair game. The socialist newspaper front cover of Tony Abbott having his throat cut is completely inappropriate. But there was a gendered, pornographic, violent edge to much of the criticism of Julia that was beyond anything we’ve seen in public life in this country.

How did the Prime Minister get out of bed day after day and face that?

The grief I felt on the night that Julia Gillard was defeated was partly for our nation. She achieved great things in three years, in extraordinarily difficult times: almost 600 pieces of legislation were passed by a hung parliament; big reforms such as the Gonski education changes and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

There was more to the grief: partly, the grief was personal. After such hard work for so many years Julia didn’t deserve the treatment she got. On a human level I felt deep sympathy.

But a large part of the grief was for Australian women and girls, for whom the treatment meted out to Julia Gillard sent exactly the wrong message. All those girls who were so excited about the first female prime minister heard grown men in positions of responsibility say that talking about the prime minister’s body parts obscenely was all in good fun; talking about her looks, her relationship, her family.

It worried me deeply that those idealistic young women – and young men too – would look at the viciousness and ask, “why would I subject myself to that?” and choose not to engage with politics. I was very worried about the message it sent to women thinking about pursuing a calling to representative politics.

Surely they would be thinking: “sometimes, it feels like you can never get it right”.

If you are childless you lack normal female instincts.

If you have children the assumption is that you’re either neglecting the job or your kids.

If you show emotion you are irrational and can’t be trusted.

If you don’t show enough emotion when under the most depraved attack, obviously you are hard and unnatural: like Lindy Chamberlain, your lack of tears is proof of your guilt.

This is the paradox of women’s leadership – it seems that to be seen as legitimate you have to show you are tough enough to do the job; but if you’re too tough you’re unnatural, you’re not a real woman and consequently you’re untrustworthy.

And if you call any of this for what it is – you’re playing the gender card.

Bizarrely, hypocritically, it’s not the people who use the gendered insults – bitch, witch, fishwife, harridan and worse – who are accused of playing the gender card, it’s the woman or women who call them on it who are attacked.

But you take a deep breath. And you say none of this, because really, how can someone with so much power be hurt by mere words?

Another question that reading this book brought back was, how could conservatives be so prepared to smash up the place? To benefit from the nutters and the cranks inhabiting the dark corners of the twitterverse? How did their mannered supporters turn a blind eye at the obscenities that were hurled at Julia Gillard?

They’re not really conservatives.

Mary’s book sets out the systematic leeching of legitimacy from our Prime Minister. One disturbing thing that emerges more from its absence, is how rarely people defended Julia against the sexist attacks. Mary quotes Geoff Kitney, who wrote after a nasty exchange with a shock jock: ‘She is the victim of the nastiest, dirtiest, ugliest, most obscene and sustained personal attacks on an Australian prime minister any of us have witnessed'.

But why were defences like that so rare? I discussed this at times with parliamentary colleagues. Would we, by responding, just be giving power to the trolls? Would we be publicising the ravings of fringe dwellers? Would we be distracting from our message as a government on the important work on education, health, disabilities, climate change and our other reforms?

We thought that we would be seen as self-indulgent, that we would be seen as defending our own personal positions. Indeed, a few of us earned the title “hand bag hit squad” from Kelly O’Dwyer – ironically for calling out sexism!

But as I think about it now, maybe that was a mistake; maybe if we’d been more methodical in calling out this crude behaviour more firmly from the start, perhaps we could have reined it in.

There’s a bigger issue at stake than the attacks on one individual. To respond to these attacks is not only to defend one individual’s position, it is to fight for an idea of the kinds of roles women can play in society, it is to rebut the massive gendered abuse and its message to young women that it’s not worth the risk of putting your head up and getting involved in politics.

I was asked after it was all over, “do you think the feminist cheer squad helped or hindered Julia?”

Sadly, for the most part, the feminist cheer squad arrived on the field after the game was over.

There have been notable exceptions, like Anne Summers’ necessary but phenomenally disturbing catalogue of vileness. But during the pitched battle I expect the Prime Minister sometimes felt very alone.

Having lived through all this and seen the toll it took, reading about it now and reliving it seems kind of masochistic.

But I’m glad someone has written this history because there were precious few people calling it at the time for what it was.  Including me.  Mostly I thought it was best to ignore the nasty trolls. Maybe I was wrong.

Mary Delahunty has not only called the outrageous behaviour. For all that she has reopened a sore I’d have rather have left alone, she has done it gently; and with warmth and affection.

Sometimes in public life, when you admire someone from afar and then get to know them, you realise your idol has feet of clay. Julia Gillard and I didn’t start out as close friends, but by the time she left the leadership there was no one I admired more: because of what she achieved for Australia, but also because of the way she kept her humour and treated people with decency, in an environment that was harsh in the extreme.

I hope that in telling this story Mary doesn’t turn idealistic, talented young women and men off a career in politics.

For all the conflict and harshness, the sense of achievement that comes from driving great reform is incomparable.

When I drive past Common Ground in Melbourne or the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, I think, “that wouldn’t have happened but for a Labor government”, and I can’t imagine greater professional satisfaction.

In case this book makes these idealistic young people wonder, the answer to “is it worth it?” is an emphatic “yes”.

But I do hope instead that this account reminds us never to tolerate again the descent into obscenity that coloured the term of our first woman prime minister.

ENDS

Add your reaction Share

Politics and security in an emerging Asia – Can China grow peacefully?

coats-arms.jpg

Politics and security in an emerging Asia – Can China grow peacefully?

Address by The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development, to the Alliance21 conference, Canberra, Wednesday 18 June 2014

 

I was given a lot of latitude with my topic: ‘Politics and security in an emerging Asia’.

It is a region that is vast and it is undergoing profound changes. I could talk about the recent election in India, a significant turning point for the world’s largest democracy. I could talk about the election that’s coming up in Indonesia, one of our most important and nearest neighbours.

But having just returned from China, I want to concentrate instead on what’s probably the single biggest issue affecting the region: the rise of China.

I made my first visit to China last week. Although China is now our biggest trading partner, and it is forty years since we gave diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China, there are still some large gaps in our understanding of each other.

One gap is the question of what China’s rise means for Australia and for our region.

There’s universal agreement that the rise of China is a key feature of the strategic environment of Asia, and of the world.

But there continues to be a lot of handwringing about what China’s rise means.

Some pundits and scholars predict conflict is inevitable.

Others say China’s integration into the global economy prevents that.

Others still say that the US needs to agree now to share power with China – deliberately conceding some power to China to avoid conflict.

Of course I’m not going to settle all these complex questions today.

But they are questions that need to think about, to consider and to work on, because they’re crucial to Australia’s security and prosperity.

Put in its simplest and starkest way, the question being asked is, can China grow peacefully?

China’s economic miracle

There are many signs of China’s increasing economic importance for Australia and the world.

China’s economy has grown rapidly since Den Xiaoping’s reforms began in 1978. Since that time, more people have been lifted out of poverty than at any other place or any other time in history. That is an extraordinary achievement.

The value of one day’s trade between China and Australia today is greater than the value of one year’s trade between China and Australia forty years ago.

China is Australia's largest trading partner, with total trade in goods and services of $151 billion in 2013. It is our largest export destination; it is our largest source of imports.

Viewed globally, China has already grown from under one 20th of the global economy at the start of this century to an eighth now – measuring its economy at market exchange rates. Over the same period, the US economy has fallen from just under a third of the global economy to a fifth. That still makes the American economy twice as large as China’s, but it gives you an indication of how quickly the economic lines are converging.

On another measure of economic size, Purchasing Power Parity, China has already overtaken the US.

So there’s no arguing that China is a rising economic power – although there is some argument about the extent to which the size of the economy is a useful guide to power in its broadest sense.

China’s economic growth brings the challenge of rising expectations: rising expectations from the people of China for a social safety net, for better health and education, for jobs, and for a better quality of life more generally, including a cleaner environment.

China has a new generation of young people who are well-travelled and who have studied overseas. They are more engaged with the world; they are less suspicious of it. Last year there were 235,000 international students from China in the United States, and 90,000 in Australia. I hope that most of them return home with a good impression of our nations. I’m sure that many of them return home with lifelong friendships and business partnerships. They certainly return home with broader expectations of their lives in China.

The question that goes along with these increased expectations is, does China’s economic growth create expectations among its leaders that they will have a greater say in regional and global affairs, what form does that greater influence take, and how far can it be accommodated?

Welcome China’s rise?

The benefits of a growing Chinese economy are unquestionable for Australia. Our economies are complementary rather than competitive. China’s demand for our resources has been a strong underpinning of our economic growth in recent decades.

And there are new opportunities for trade in services and agricultural products, particularly with a growing Chinese middle class.

Yet in spite of the undoubted economic benefits of China’s rise, some historians and scholars warn that we should be wary. They point out that when a rising power challenges a dominant power, conflict may result.

The crucial point of course is that this doesn’t have to happen, and it doesn’t always happen. Conflict is not inevitable. We all have a responsibility to avert conflict.

The precedents of the past that are used to support the argument of the risk of conflict occurred in different times, in different places. Western history may not be the best guide to what’s happening in Asia today. In so many ways, what we are facing is unprecedented.

One reason is our understanding of the sheer horror of full scale war in the nuclear age.

Another reason is the high degree of economic interdependence that I mentioned earlier. China’s and America’s prosperity, indeed the prosperity of the globe, rests on the relationship between China and the United States.

But even if the chance of full-scale conflict in our region is low, we can never assume it to be zero. The Australian government’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens and that means being ready for worst case scenarios, even as we work to avoid them.

And there’s always the possibility of something less than full-scale conflict. There have been far fewer wars in recent decades, but they have not stopped altogether. Of course we should also strive to avoid more limited conflict. Nobody ever knows where more limited conflicts will lead. We should invest in preventing a regional arms race – it’s an expense that no one needs.

Two scenarios

In a speech last month, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined two scenarios for the future strategic landscape in Asia.

One scenario was a peaceful and integrated Asia, with a more powerful China acting as a status quo power that adheres to international law and norms. While China and the US would compete for influence, they would accommodate each other on many issues.

Prime Minister Lee’s other scenario was not as optimistic. His other scenario was a riven and fractious Asia: US‑China relations fraught with tensions, pushed by a zero-sum view of the world and a lack of mutual trust.

Which scenario comes to pass would depend on US-China relations, and the path of nationalism in both countries, he contended.

Prime Minister Lee said: ‘On both sides, there are those who doubt and distrust the other’s intentions. It will require great restraint and wisdom to overcome this distrust and reach a workable and peaceful accommodation.’

How to avoid conflict

So what can we do to avoid Prime Minister Lee’s pessimistic scenario?

Paul Keating argued in a speech in Beijing last November that great powers need to work together to create a new Asian order – an order that reflects and accommodates the new distribution of power, while at the same time preserving the features that have underwritten stability in recent decades.

Mr Keating said: ‘China’s most important responsibility now is to explain more clearly and in more detail how it sees the new Asian order working, what role it sees itself taking, what roles it envisages for others, and how core norms and principles will be upheld’.

American sentiment and behaviour will be just as important as China’s, and there are times when the US could make more of its opportunities to promote engagement with China.

In the Financial Times last month, commentator Edward Luce argued that, ‘America’s ability to address these vast challenges is stymied by domestic paralysis’. He said the US holds more cards than any other country in shaping the new world order, but the new order needs to accommodate a relatively stronger China, and it’s not clear that America recognises this challenge.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being negotiated between the US and many other countries in the region may be an opportunity that is missed. The TPP is the key economic element of President Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’. It could be a catalyst for binding countries together more tightly – reducing trade barriers among most of Asia’s major economies and reinforcing rules on free and open trade.

But support for the TPP among both Democrats and Republicans is weak, and China is seeking its own trade agreement with its neighbours in the region. It is excluded from the TPP and it thinks it can make its own deal as a better deal.

Congress has also failed to agree on changing the rules of the International Monetary Fund to give more say to Asian countries. Scholar Fareed Zakaria says China, Indonesia and Singapore see this as a sign that the West will never let them share real power in global institutions.

The US Senate has refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans. Opponents of ratification argue that it cedes sovereign power. The administration says that it’s abiding by the rules anyway, so ratification is not important.

But when we’re asking other nations to abide by a rules-based international framework, it is important that we show that we value and support that framework ourselves.

A multilateral rules-based system in which all countries observe international law gives us the best hope of reducing conflict. But countries have to feel they have buy-in to those systems. They have to feel that they’ve had some say in how the rules have been developed and how they are applied. And existing powers need to reach an accommodation with rising powers about those rules-based frameworks.

China and the US acting together

Professor Hugh White has argued the US and China need to rethink their relationship.

He says the US needs to share power with China to avoid conflict between them.

I’m not sure whether there needs to be an explicit agreement. But I do agree that both countries need to be very clear about their own interests and they have to be clear in looking for ways of accommodating each other’s interests. The best outcome would be for them to work together, over time, to find common ground on how to meet each other’s interests in the region.

Former American diplomat Nicholas Burns suggested to this forum two years ago that political and military leaders from both countries spend too little time with each other. He argued that they need to keep making efforts at achieving greater contact, which will lead to better understanding.

He said America and China need to work harder to find ways to cooperate in regional initiatives.

He suggested that dialogue be expanded to include other countries in the region, including Australia.

He said the US, Australia and others should identify concrete projects that would build cooperation and trust. And they should create pan-Asian institutions and make better use of existing ones to bind governments together in common purpose.

You can see from those comments two years ago that there are many positive steps that can be taken.

Conflict is certainly not inevitable. The actions of key players will determine the outcomes – especially leaders in China and the United States, but also the people of China and the United States.

Will they act and behave in ways that contribute to win-win solutions to the challenges, or to a zero-sum approach? That is, will they take a view that a gain for one country must be at the cost of the other country, or will they see that the strength of one country can be to the benefit of both?

There are voices in the US and China who focus on state power, especially its military dimension, and who consider that one nation’s gain must be another’s loss.

But there are also many more optimistic voices, who argue that states can make choices that create a better world, that through cooperation, we can overcome the constraints of the zero-sum approach and achieve better outcomes all round.

That has always been the guiding principle of Labor’s foreign policy, and it should be the guiding principle in our relations with China.

There are encouraging signs that China is beginning to see merit in cooperation and engagement. There has been progress.

It was terrific during my trip to China that the issue of climate change was raised by our Chinese counterparts, including by the Chinese climate change negotiator Xie Zhenhua of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Our Chinese interlocutors told us that the trial emissions trading schemes running in several large cities will be extended in coming years to a national emissions trading scheme.

They talked about reducing the carbon intensity of their economy; they said they would reach ‘peak carbon’ soon, and they talked about about increasing the share of renewable energy in China’s energy mix.

They acknowledged their responsibilities as a global citizen, contributing almost a third of the world’s carbon emissions.

One reason China is taking air pollution so seriously is the effect it is having on the quality of life of ordinary Chinese people. The air in their cities is unbreathable on some days.

That is an example of where the domestic demands of a population with growing expectations are affecting the country’s leadership.

It was interesting to speak to Xie Zhenhua because he’s been the climate change negotiator for nine years, and this is a very, very different position to the Chinese position at the time of the Copenhagen agreement. There are people who say that if this was the Chinese position at that time there would have been a very different outcome from that conference.

But it’s not just in this area where we are seeing increased cooperation.

China’s cooperation on disaster relief is another opportunity to improve communication and understanding, particularly between our armed forces.

China’s participation in the search for Malaysian Airlines MH 370 was impressive and welcome.

And it’s noteworthy that China has been invited to participate in this year’s RIMPAC, a large naval exercise. It’s quite a step forward to see our navies cooperating in this way.

Australia’s response

Although we are not one of the principal actors in this tussle between a great power and an emerging power, our close relations with both the US and China means we can and should contribute. We can and should help shape a positive outcome in North Asia.

We have a unique relationship with China. We are a western country, a democracy and an ally of the United States, but we don’t have colonial baggage, and we have independent interests.

China takes Australia seriously, in part because of our importance as a supplier of vital resources such as coal and iron ore, and also for our potential as a supplier of agricultural products and services.

We’re also well regarded by other nations in North Asia and South East Asia.

From opposition, the Australian Labor Party controversially adopted the policy of recognising the PRC in 1955. And Gough Whitlam moved to establish diplomatic relations with the PRC within three weeks of a Labor government being elected in December 1972.

In my visit to China last week this was remembered with great affection.

Australian prime ministers have worked hard since then to build on that good relationship.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke presided over the start of the resources export boom to China, established mechanisms to facilitate trade, and his government drove the creation of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Prime Minister Paul Keating expanded APEC to a leaders’ forum.

Prime Minister John Howard hosted the first official visit to Australia by a Chinese head of state, President Hu Jintao.

Close engagement continued under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who made three visits to China and hosted two senior visits to Australia – including one from the current president, Xi Jinping.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard struck a strategic partnership with China that established annual talks between the two countries’ prime ministers, treasurers, foreign ministers and trade ministers that are shared with few other countries.

We have worked hard under both Labor and Liberal governments to build a close relationship with China to complement our historic and continuing relationship with our closest ally, the United States. Although the United States and China don’t need Australia as an intermediary, we might sometimes be of assistance in filling the awkward silences.

Last week, Chinese officials urged us to promote people-to-people exchanges at senior levels, to increase exchanges by young political leaders, and to make more use of side meetings when we meet at multilateral fora.

We need to find ways of using our creative middle power diplomacy. We’ve always excelled at that.

Gareth Evans is in the audience today, and his role in resolving the Cambodia conflict in the 1980s is a marvellous example.

At the establishment of the United Nations, Doc Evatt argued for small and middle sized countries to be given one vote: for a democratic approach to the United Nations that gave fair representation to small and middle sized countries.

Recall John Howard’s role leading international peacekeepers in East Timor in 1999, and Kevin Rudd’s role in making the G20 the pre-eminent body for tackling the global financial crisis.

These are examples of a small country, with a relatively small population, having a big impact in our world.

And as we have in the past, we can play a large role in future. In different ways, we have close relationships with the greatest existing and emerging powers of the 21st century, and we should use our closeness with each of them to encourage better understanding between them.

Conclusion – constructive win-win approaches

Whatever we do, we need to apply maximum effort to thinking about and finding ways of achieving win-win solutions to the opportunities and the challenges that are posed by the rise of China.

It’s unlikely that there’ll be a point – for many decades at least – where we can say for sure that we asked the right questions and we made the right answers.

But the future is not-predetermined. We help create the future through our actions and decisions – and through our assumptions.

To have people behave as friends, it is important that we treat them as friends.

If we keep working to find constructive, win-win answers, we maximise the prospects for Australia’s and for the region’s prosperity and security.

China can of course grow peacefully and Australia and our region will benefit if it does.

I’d like to end with a quote from Confucius, who was asked by one of his disciples, Zizhang, for advice about proper conduct. Confucius replied:

‘Speak with loyalty and good faith, act with dedication and deference, and even among the barbarians your conduct will be irreproachable. If you speak without loyalty and good faith, if you act without dedication or deference, your conduct will be unacceptable, even in your own village.

‘Wherever you stand, you should have this precept always in front of your eyes; have it carved upon the yoke of your chariot, and only then will you be able to move ahead.’

Zizhang did write down the precept – although not on the yoke of his chariot, but on a sash. And I’d like to think that each of us could consider and remember that precept as well – to speak with loyalty and good faith – and that our leaders in Asia, in Australia and the United States will bear in mind this advice and will act, as Prime Minister Lee suggested, with ‘restraint and wisdom to [build] … a workable and peaceful accommodation’.

ENDS

Add your reaction Share

Speech at The Welcome Reception for Australian American Leadership Dialogue – Young Leadership Dialogue

coats-arms.jpg

THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

SPEECH AT THE WELCOME RECEPTION FOR AUSTRALIAN AMERICAN LEADERSHIP DIALOGUE – YOUNG LEADERSHIP DIALOGUE

 14 MAY 2014

CANBERRA

  • I am very pleased to be here tonight to welcome delegates to Parliament House.
  • While there are a lot of similarities between Australians and Americans – there are also differences.
  • Just one of the differences is that it is completely beyond me how anyone would find Two and a Half Men funny.  I just don’t get it.
  • But in deeper and much more meaningful ways, there is much on which we do share an understanding.
  • I have been thinking every day about the plight of 200 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped recently. I was pleased to hear the United States pledge to help find them and return them, and I’ve said so to your marvelous Ambassador.
  • The girls were kidnapped from their school dormitory by a terrorist organization hell bent on preventing girls from getting an education. Boko Haram literally means western education is sinful.

Michelle Obama’s used her address on Mothers’ Day to speak about the girls and their families, and the 65 million girls missing out on an education around the world. Her words reflect a shared set of values between our two nations:

  • We believe in the  right to have a decent education;
  • We believe in extending and protecting human rights;
  • We support the rights of women to participate equally in society, the workforce and economy;
  • We believe people should have religious freedom and be able to practice religion or refuse to, without discrimination;  and
  • We believe that everyone should have the right to work hard to better their circumstances if they can.
  • So while I will never get the appeal of Charlie Sheen…
  • With other Australians I will always see the US as one of the countries most similar to Australia in outlook and values.
  • And we also see the US as one of our closest and most constant friends.
  • Our friendship, our shared values and common outlook – are made all the stronger through initiatives like the Young Leadership Dialogue.
  • I would like to congratulate Australian American leadership Dialogue and the Youth Leadership Dialogue, and formally welcome delegates to Parliament House.
Add your reaction Share

H. V. Evatt Memorial Lecture

coats-arms.jpg

THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

H. V. EVATT MEMORIAL LECTURE

 

SATURDAY, 14 APRIL 2014

H. V. Evatt was Prime Minister Curtin’s minister for External Affairs when Curtin made his famous appeal to the United States for help protecting Australia in December 1941, marking the beginning of the move away from sole reliance on Britain as the ‘great power’ which would protect us. After the war, Evatt recognised that, alongside our important new alliance with America, Australia should also be working with other small and medium powers to influence global issues.Evatt took us from a time where we would look first to one great power then another for our security, to being part of a global community which, critically, Australia helped to shape.

Evatt knew that to address truly global challenges, Australia and indeed all countries need to be able to act within a global community. Evatt’s role in the negotiations at San Francisco to draft the charter for the United Nations established him as a world figure and won him many friends among smaller nations. This led to his selection in 1948 as president of the United Nations General Assembly. Evatt’s prodigious energy was noted by one of his staff at the time, Paul Hasluck – a critic who later became a Liberal Minister for External Affairs. Hasluck wrote this about Evatt’s efforts in the San Francisco negotiations:

Day after day for ten weeks from early morning until late at night his concentration on the task and the intensity of his efforts had a ferocity that made me wonder what strange demon had possessed him.

I think the demon was Evatt’s determination that Australia’s voice should be heard as the postwar order was being built. Evatt explained why smaller powers needed a bigger voice:

No power is so great that it can ignore the will of the peoples of the world expressed through the [United Nations] Assembly and no power is so small that it cannot contribute to the making of world opinion through the Assembly.

The overwhelming challenge for Evatt was to put in place the right measures to secure and support global peace. He knew that no country working alone could avert a repeat of the rivalry between major powers and the disastrous global conflict we saw in the first half of the 20th century. Evatt understood that, for Australia, it would be through our major alliances and through multilateral agreements and relationships that we would contribute to a more stable and peaceful world.

Evatt helped build a world where the United Nations could provide an institutional framework for co-operation between countries to ensure peace. And the challenge of peace remains – we see the dangerous potential for conflict through unilateral actions today – despite the maturity of multilateral institutions. For the most part however, these institutions serve us well.

Post-Evatt Labor

Labor leaders and foreign ministers since Evatt have built on the tradition he helped create. Key parts of Whitlam’s foreign policy were in the Evatt mould –
• support for the US alliance; alongside
• a belief in the importance of multilateral institutions to maximise Australia’s interests and influence; and
• engagement with countries in the region, starting with the diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China.

Bob Hawke and Paul Keating also drew on Evatt’s legacy. The Hawke and Keating governments promoted Australia’s role as a middle power through multilateral forums such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, and in arms control negotiations. The Hawke government’s role in creating the Cairns Group was critical to boosting Australian exports through the successful Uruguay Round of trade talks. Another of Hawke’s big achievements was driving the creation, in 1989, of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum as a vehicle to boost trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific. Paul Keating went on to strengthen APEC with his successful campaign to elevate the annual APEC meetings to include a leaders’ forum from 1993.

Critics sometimes complain when meetings such as these don’t produce big headlines and momentous decisions. But this misses the point. One benefit of such meetings is to improve personal understanding between leaders and other participants. The APEC leaders’ meeting of 1999 was of great benefit to Prime Minister John Howard as the East Timor crisis was escalating. Howard used the opportunity of the leaders’ meeting in Auckland to lobby for a peacekeeping mission to East Timor. This would have been much more difficult – perhaps impossible – if the countries had not all been gathered together for the leaders’ meeting. And Gareth Evans’ monumental success in Cambodia shows that backed up by the international community Australia can play a leading role in restoring peace.

Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard continued to strengthen regional engagement and gave energetic support for multilateral approaches to international issues, while maintaining strong support for the US alliance. Kevin Rudd was instrumental in seizing the opportunity of the G20 meeting to manage the global response to the GFC of 2008. The US Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell, said Kevin Rudd ‘was relentless in his making of the case; he persuaded key players, [and] made the case with a number of players who were a bit reluctant’. This gave Australia an influential role in the response to the crisis. Until then, global economic decisions had been dominated by the G8 – a group that excluded not only Australia but critical players such as China and other emerging economies.

Evatt and his Labor successors pursued international partnership to support peace, nuclear disarmament, an end to colonialism in Indonesia, even, more recently, an end to so-called scientific whaling. Whatever frustrations come with the slowness inherent in using international bodies to achieve significant change, it is difficult to see how a country like Australia – number 51 in the world by population size – would have been able to have the influence we’ve had otherwise.

And just as peace in the 20th century was a challenge impossible to address without engagement in international fora, we face modern challenges that cannot be addressed by countries working on their own. One of these challenges is climate change. It is clear that we cannot tackle a problem as complex as climate change unless countries across the globe co-operate. Yet under the Howard Government Australia stood aloof.

When Labor was elected in 2007 we joined the global fight. Kevin Rudd ratified the Kyoto Protocol – the international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is a great example of using a multilateral institution to tackle global problems. But now the Coalition is back, and to the consternation of many Australians, and indeed governments around the world, retreating from action on climate change. This isn’t just an abstract issue; here in the Blue Mountains you know too well the impact of extraordinary weather events on the lives and livelihoods of your community.

And for some of our neighbours climate change has imminent and potentially devastating consequences. Kiribati’s President has predicted his country is likely to become uninhabitable within decades because of inundation, and contamination of its fresh water supplies. And the recent floods in the Solomon Islands following an extraordinary weather event have tragically claimed 23 lives and left 9000 people homeless. Of course, fires and floods happened before climate change was an issue, but the frequency and severity of these extreme events will continue to increase unless we take substantial action now, and as the world’s largest per capita emitters of carbon pollution we must be involved in the global effort to slow global warming.

Poverty & inequality

Another global challenge which requires concerted action is poverty. Australia is one of 189 countries that signed up to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a shared world vision for reducing poverty. The MDGs aim to reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than US$1.25 a day by 2015 relative to 1990. The MDGs create a collective responsibility of all UN member countries to meet the goals and targets set out in the declaration by 2015.

Australia has played a role in this international multilateral effort by being generous in funding international aid. As opposition leader in 2007, Kevin Rudd committed a Labor government to doubling the Australian aid budget to 0.5 per cent of GNI (Gross National Income), or around $8 billion a year. At that time, the Coalition was spending $2.9 billion a year on aid. Between 2007 and 2013 Labor almost doubled the aid program to $5.7 billion – despite the tough budgetary environment. Why? Because it reflected our values – to support sustainable development, share the benefits of prosperity, and reduce poverty and inequality.

We recognise and embrace the benefits of contributing to global social and economic development and as a global community we’ve made significant progress on the MDGs, although of course significant challenges remain. Unfortunately, just a couple of days out from the election the Coalition announced cuts of $4.5 billion from Australia’s aid program over the next four years. The Prime Minister has recently confirmed a further $12 billion will be cut from Labor’s forward commitments on aid funding, over the three years from 2017–18.

The Abbott Government has also dismantled Australia’s specialist aid agency, AusAID, which has been delivering a globally recognised and effective aid program for almost four decades. And the government has narrowed the outcomes for the aid program. It has removed references to poverty reduction and sustainable development in favour of ‘advancing Australia's international strategic, security and economic interests’.

The government is making decisions about funding and priorities for the aid program by asking ‘What’s in it for us?’ This is happening at a crucial time in global efforts on poverty reduction. Right now the UN is developing a new framework to replace the MDGs when they expire in 2015. The OECD is clear that the challenge of addressing global poverty remains – and the post-2015 framework will rely on both an effective global partnership and an adequate volume of aid funding.

There is a very pragmatic answer to ‘What’s in it for us?’ with Australian aid. Countries we used to give aid to have become middle income countries and important trade partners for us; our health aid has reduced the spread of illnesses which potentially threaten Australia. But our aid program is also a reflection of our ability, as the 12th largest economy in the world, to do our share to lift others out of poverty. It is a reflection of our values. It means real progress for real people. The government’s decisions have consequences for our neighbours. What did we achieve with our increased aid funding and our expertise?

In PNG we:

• provided essential medical supplies to more than 2000 hospitals, health centres and aid posts;
• improved support for around 20,000 victims of sexual and family violence;
• reduced, in just one year, the mortality rate for drug-resistant TB in Western Province from 25 per cent to just 5 per cent;
• supported the abolition of school fees for the first three grades of school;
• delivered 1.6 million textbooks to 3500 schools across the country; and
• fixed over 12,800 kilometres of rural roads.

In Afghanistan we have supported:

• increases in school enrolments from around 1 million in 2001 to more than 8 million in 2013, including over 3 million girls;
• training for 3400 teachers;
• immunisation of 428,000 children against polio;
• family planning, antenatal care, postnatal care and vaccination for over 300,000 women;
• improved maternal health care, with at least 74 per cent of pregnant women now receiving at least one antenatal health care visit; and
• an increase in the number of births attended by skilled attendants from 24 per cent in 2007 to 39 per cent in 2012.

In Cambodia:

• In 2011, 5000 square metres of community and leasehold land was cleared of landmines and unexploded ordinance, benefiting more than 40,000 people;
• Since 2007, 2100 classrooms have been built or repaired, allowing more children to go to school and learn in better and safer conditions; and
• We provided training in HIV and human trafficking for at-risk communities.

In Timor-Leste we:

• helped over 30,000 farmers grow improved varieties of crops with yield increases of between 20 per cent and 80 per cent; and
• assisted more than 77,000 people to access safe water and 67,000 people to access basic sanitation facilities.

Labor’s commitments on aid funding reflected Australia as a mature and compassionate country. Equally, the Coalition’s cuts to aid are a reflection of its values. The Coalition Government has narrowed the focus of its aid budget, an approach it calls an ‘aid for trade’. Promoting trade in developing countries through aid is an important goal – but not at the expense of poverty reduction.

When we improved the security in PNG markets for PNG women, that meant a degree of economic independence, as they could safely sell their wares; it meant family income which could be spent on educating children. Of course economic development is important in poverty reduction. But aid should not be a back door way of buying market access. Increased trade with developing economies has to be part of a long game. It starts with reducing disadvantage and poverty and increasing the wellbeing and capacity of the community, promoting good governance and corruption resistance.

Reducing poverty and inequality is morally good, but it’s also economically sensible. There is growing evidence, including from the OECD and the IMF, that shows that inequality reduces economic growth. Reducing disadvantage and poverty is a good in and of itself, and must be a focus – particularly for those countries, like ours, that can easily afford to lend a hand. And it must continue to be the focus of the international efforts that will be marshalled in the post-2015 MDGs.

Conclusion

There are plenty of opportunities for bi-partisanship in foreign affairs. But there are important differences. Labor is not starry-eyed, but we do take a forward-looking, optimistic view of the benefits of multilateral co-operation. We take a broader view of the ways we can protect and advance Australia’s interests. And we take a more generous view of the role we should play to help those who need a hand up. Successful foreign policy mixes pragmatism and idealism, realism and liberalism. Of course states will act to maximise their own interests, and material power matters. But that’s not the end of our responsibilities, nor the end of our possibilities. States can and do co-operate. Institutions to promote co-operation and international law help that process.

The world has changed a great deal in the six decades since Bert Evatt was Minister for External Affairs. But the principles behind the foreign policy tradition he helped create remain a powerful example today. Labor values our strong relationship with the United States – and it is not surprising that we agree on most issues. But we also believe that a key test of friendship is being frank when you disagree, as Labor disagreed about the US-led war in Iraq in 2003.

Labor believes that our alliances and our strong relationships with our nearest neighbours and economic partners are critical to our security and prosperity. We are in the Asian century and Australia is ideally placed to reap the advantages of that.

Labor believes many of the big challenges of the world are best handled multilaterally, and that Australia can have a role and at times can lead those efforts. That’s why we pursued Security Council membership. That’s why we helped make the G20, rather than the G8, the pre-eminent body for tackling the global financial crisis. Bert Evatt exemplified these beliefs, and showed how Australia can maximise its influence by being a constructive neighbour and a generous and collaborative global citizen.

Add your reaction Share

Speech: Nelson Mandela Condolence Motion

coats-arms.jpg

THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT 

NELSON MANDELA CONDOLENCE MOTION 

SPEECH TO THE PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

There's a story from Robben Island which speaks to the power of words, and art, to inspire and to sustain the human spirit.

The story goes the political prisoners used to secretly pass around a copy of Shakespeare's collected works. On one occasion, the men marked their favourite passages.

Mandela chose one from Julius Caesar.

Cowards die many times before their deaths,

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I have yet heard,

It seems to me most strange that men should fear,

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.

Well, it has now come for Nelson Mandela.

We should be thankful that he lived, fought and led his country.

But we mourn the fact he's now passed from this world.

There was a news report a few nights ago, where the presenter remarked dawn was breaking in South Africa for the first time in 95 years without Nelson Mandela.

There is something in that. Such an iconic figure can sometimes take on the stature of being permanent.

But the nature of human history is that everything is fleeting – a “mere brief passing moment in time and space,” as Mandela put it.

No longer do freedom fighters have the living and breathing Mandela to look to.

He belongs to history now, the man who spent more than a quarter of his life, his “long, lonely, wasted years” imprisoned by a regime which he was prepared to give his life to bring down, only to preach reconciliation on his release.

The man who brought down apartheid without, in the end, a shot being fired, now belongs to an echelon reserved for leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King – who first said those words Mandela repeated on his release – “free at last”.

Indomitable fighters for the expression and realisation of human dignity.

Names which will always inspire millions to think and to act and to fight.

We are all bound by the times we live in. There's been some commentary over the past few days pointing out Mandela was no saint, as if it's a criticism.

Well of course he wasn't.

He was a political leader engaged in a bitter struggle; a political leader reacting to the unpredictability of human events, and the grotesque nature of apartheid.

Or, in his own words, he was a “product of the mire that (his) society was.”

It's one of those ironies of history which reveals the complexity of the human condition: men and women created something as repressive as apartheid

But men and women in Africa and around the world, led by Mandela, were part of the movement of millions which brought it down.

The contradiction of all this is that while Mandela's struggle reveals complexity, it also provides a moral clarity.

Dividing a country based on race and class is wrong.

Denying a person his or her inherent rights based on the colour of their skin is wrong.

Fighting racism is right.

Uniting a troubled country through reconciliation and forgiveness is right.

We should not forget those millions who fought alongside Mandela. While they were lucky to have a leader of his stature, their struggle should never be forgotten.

Mandela, and his people’s struggle, was a touchstone for generations of progressive people around the globe. There would be people in this Parliament today who could trace their political awakening to the anti-apartheid movement. It was formative for many of us.

I'm proud to be a member of a party which supported Mandela's struggle for the decades in which he was in prison.

I’m proud to be part of a labour movement, of party activists and trade unionists, which long supported sanctions as one of the fundamental ways the international community united to help to bring down apartheid.

There can hardly be a person who was of age in February 1990 who can't recall the jolt of excitement as Mandela walked free.

Likewise, the triumph of his 1994 election.

We were lucky to share Mandela's times.

He said that to “overthrow oppression has been sanctioned by humanity and is the highest aspiration of every man.”

The world is better because he lived, and fought.

But, like the valiant in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, he has now come to the necessary end we all shall taste.

Mandela once remarked that the “names of only very few people are remembered beyond their lives.”

He will be one of these people.

Australia mourns his end, but gives thanks for his life.

MONDAY, 9 DECEMBER 2013 

Add your reaction Share

Speech to the Australian Council for International Development

The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development

Speech to the Australian Council for International Development

______________________________________________________________________________________

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Acknowledgments and introduction

I would like to acknowledge:

-         The traditional owners of the land, the Ngunnawal people

-         The Honourable Dr Meredith Burgmann, the President of ACFID

-         Marc Purcell, the Executive Director of ACFID

The fight against global poverty is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century.

It’s a fight in which Australia has a strategic, economic, and moral stake.

My party has always believed in the fair go, and not just for our citizens, but for our neighbours too.

We believe that a society as wealthy as ours has an obligation to advance the development of the poorest people, communities, and nations, and assist them to a better life.

I’d like to start by acknowledging the work of everyone in this room.

I’d also like to acknowledge the key role ACFID plays, including through your code of conduct, in ensuring Australia’s aid sector is world leading in its accountability, transparency and effectiveness.

Everyone here would like to be able to flick a switch to eradicate extreme poverty, illiteracy, health inequalities, child mortality, gender inequality, food insecurity and environmental problems.

But there isn’t a switch to flick; there’s only complex, painstaking, patient work – and I know many of you have been at it for years.

However frustrating the pace of change is, your successes are there. The last fifteen years has seen significant progress made in reaching a

number of the Millennium Development Goals.

Six million fewer children died in 2012 than in 1990, and the developing world is on track to halve the number of people living in poverty by 2015.

Australia’s contribution has been good.

We’ve helped 6 million Afghan children (including 2 million girls) go to school. We’ve helped cut malaria cases by 80% in Vanuatu and more than 50% in the Solomon Islands; we’ve helped construct 2000 schools across Indonesia.

Of course meeting other Millennium Development Goals remains challenging and some regions are struggling more than others.

I know the sector is now discussing where international development policy should go after 2015, and this is a discussion I look forward to having with you.

Today I wanted to set out a few markers for both myself and the new Labor Opposition when it comes to international development policy.

Two tests in international development policy

For Labor, the fundamental goal of Australia’s aid policy should be to overcome poverty and to save and improve lives.

Of course, I’m new to this portfolio, but it seems to me there are two baseline questions – how much do we give? and how successful is that giving?

Are we as a nation paying our fair share?

And just as important, is our aid effort effective?

They are the questions I’ll judge our own efforts by, and they are standards of accountability to which I will hold the Government.

We need to ensure a well-funded sector

The ALP has two goals for the quantum of our international development effort.

The first is to increase our official development assistance spend to 0.5% of gross national income.

Beyond, we believe in working towards a target of 0.7% GNI.

I understand that there are people here today who were concerned when our 0.5% target slipped from 2015 to 2017 because of the GFC.

But, under our government, Australia’s contribution to official development assistance grew with every Budget. In 2006-07 the Australian Government invested $2.9 billion and by 2013-14 that had grown to $5.7 billion.

Labor remains committed to meeting the 0.5% target and will hold firm on working towards the longer term target of 0.7%.

I know many in this room will feel 0.5% of GNI, or even 0.7% are modest targets, but it looks as though under the Abbott government we won’t even get there.

The Coalition’s decision to slash $4.5 billion from Australia’s aid budget, announced at one minute to midnight in the dying days of the election campaign, is a severe disappointment to millions of Australians who agree that we have an ethical responsibility to help, and it’s a betrayal of the poorest of the poor in our region and around the globe.

Speaking in May 2011, Joe Hockey claimed Australian families would be “riled” to know that Labor had been planning to increase the aid budget.

Why, he was asked.

Well, Joe Hockey claimed, at a time when Australia had such a significant debt and deficit problem, we simply couldn’t afford this.

I think the first few weeks of the Abbott Government has revealed the fraud at the heart of this rhetoric.

Just last week, the Treasurer borrowed nearly $9 billion to give to the Reserve Bank, which it seems may not have been needed.

In just over a month in office, the Government has doubled the debt ceiling so it can borrow more money.

But they’ve announced they will take $4.5 billion from the world’s poor on the false pretence that Australia cannot afford it.

To put this into perspective, $4.5 billion is greater than what was budgeted by our Labor Government in 2013-14 for the entire AusAID country and global program.

But that’s only half of what the new Treasurer gifted to the Reserve Bank.

Our international development policy should be high quality

As I said earlier, it’s not just the amount of our international development assistance that’s important, it’s the quality.

That’s why Labor undertook a significant review into aid effectiveness to ensure Australia’s international development policy was actually working to help people overcome poverty.

We were determined to ensure our aid program was not just better resourced, but of a higher quality too; that more was spent on front line services like health and education.

It’s why we made enhancing transparency and accountability key planks to ensure effectiveness.

And it’s why we were determined to strengthen Australian Government partnerships with accountable and proven NGOs like those represented in this room.

Poor quality aid is not just a waste of public money and ineffective in reducing poverty, but can and will undermine public support for our aid program and public willingness to make personal donations to NGOs.

That’s why today is such a critical day for international development policy in Australia.

This is AusAID’s last day as a standalone agency.

From tomorrow, Australia’s aid program will be delivered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Firstly, I would like to publicly thank all of AusAID’s staff – past and present.

AusAID has been staffed by dedicated Australians who, like everyone here, have sought to make the world a better place through the eradication of extreme poverty.

This merger has been sudden, traumatic, and leaves unanswered questions.

Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop talk of the need to align Australia’s aid policy with our diplomacy.

The Prime Minister has even said he “doesn't want our diplomacy going in one direction and our aid program going in another direction.”

I’d like them to point to one instance when aid and diplomacy have been in conflict.

Of course we consider issues such as our responsibility to our near neighbours being more acute and demanding than our responsibility to more distant friends, but our aid policy already reflects this.

Aid versus diplomacy is a false dichotomy.

Helping our neighbours develop strong economies means better markets for our goods; helping our neighbours improve their health systems means fewer health threats (like the development of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis) on our doorstep; increasing the number of children in our region going to school reduces the opportunity for indoctrination in place of education.

The success of our neighbours is good for us. “Countries like Thailand and South Korea which were once aid recipients are now among Australia’s 10 largest trading partners.”1

The danger of losing AusAID is, of course, the danger of losing dedicated staff with specialist expertise and contacts in developing countries, but it’s also the danger of a loss of focus and quality in our aid program.

The Review of Aid Effectiveness set out important future directions and I fear a number of recommendations will not be delivered.

These recommendations include a higher share of total Government aid spend to be directed through NGOs.

Our internationally commended approach in disability-inclusive development, (which has led, for example, to schools built in Indonesia with ramps and accessible bathrooms) is under threat.

The centrality of gender equality to our approach to aid is also under threat.

Kofi Annan said:

“There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition, promote health -- including the prevention of HIV/AIDS -- and increase the chances of education for the next generation.”

In recent years our aid program has recognised and responded to gender equity as a precondition for both human rights and economic development.

We’ve helped increase the number of girls going to school, we’ve helped women leave behind extreme poverty with microfinance, we’ve increased the number of women who give birth safely, we’ve supported efforts to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault, we’ve supported increased political representation of women, and included women in decision making and peace building exercises.

On coming to government we first abolished the Harradine amendment which prohibited Australian aid money going to organisations which delivered family planning services. Most recently we doubled aid funding for family planning services.

Let me say this very clearly – I will fight any effort by Tony Abbott to strip aid from family planning services in developing countries.

It is good for mothers and their babies for women to have the ability to have their first child later, and for mothers to have the ability to space their family. It is vital for mothers and babies to increase attended births and offer proper post natal care.

I also acknowledge the critical role your organisations play in advocating for those living in poverty in our region and across the globe.  I see this as part of your core business.

Labor will do everything we can to protect and strengthen your voices on international development matters, and more broadly.

Australia is at a crossroads when it comes to international development policy.

I believe Australians are generous people who see they have a responsibility to the world.

They want assurances, though, that their tax dollars and any personal donations they make are well and wisely spent, and making a real difference.

I believe Australian aid has been meeting that test, and we must make sure it continues to do so.

I know you share that commitment and I’ll look forward to working with you to ensure that happens.

ENDS

31 OCTOBER 2013

CANBERRA

Add your reaction Share