Speech to Australian Institute of International Affairs: Australian International Aid and Development Policies as a Tool of Statecraft


Acknowledgement of country.

Anecdotes – regarding Meetings with Susan Rice old colleague of my time at the Brookings Institute and President Obamas National Security Adviser. Meetings with Madeleine Albright and the Australia’s role in the Pacific.

In the wider Pacific, Australia is by far and away the largest donor of international development assistance, providing $1.2 billion this year, indeed within the Pacific there are 10 nations whose principal relationship in the world is with Australia.

The Australian Government will provide an estimated$546.3 million in total ODA to PNG in 2017-18. This will include an estimated $478.7 million in bilateral funding to PNG managed by DFAT.

Recent news of Chinas interest in the base in Vanuatu is just the latest in a pattern of emerging powers using Aid in the Pacific to assert their geopolitical influence now extended to potential military bases.

The geo-strategic outlook for Australia in our region is uncertain and unpredictable.

We need to integrate better all the tools of statecraft – development, defence and diplomacy (the three Ds) – to safeguard our future in the region.

The Turnbull Government and certainly Julie Bishop in overseeing a dramatic decline in our development assistance budget have turned their back on the region, diminished our standing in the world and our influence, leaving critical tools of statecraft unused and sitting idle in the toolbox.

I worked on the MDGs – precursors to SDGs – under former PM Rudd. It was hard working for him. I mean seriously, Queenslander’s are tough at the best of times. Probably true to say working for Kevin as Foreign Policy adviser was the hardest job in Australia.

Anecdote – visceral experience visiting IDP camps in Myanmar (Jan 2017) seeing first-hand the plight of the Rohingya as well as seeing how our aid was delivered and the impact it has.

Following visit related the meeting with FM Julie Bishop as part of MP delegation.

Under the previous Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Labor Government (2007-2013) Australia’s aid contributions grew at an average of 7% per year[1].

In 2012/13, Australia’s Foreign Aid budget under the Labor Government reached its highest level ever, just above $5 billion.

This is a remarkably stark contrast to the current situation that we have come to under the Abbott/Turnbull Coalition government.

Under the Coalition government $11.3 billion has been ripped out of Australia’s foreign aid budget.

Under the Coalition government, since 2013 – in cumulative terms, that is a cut of just over 32.8% of the aid budget since 13/14.

Under the Coalition government Australia’s proportion of aid spending is now at its lowest level on record – 22 cents for every $100 of national income or 22% of our GNI – Gross National Income.

It is projected to fall even further falling to 0.20% of GNI in 2020-2021.

Under the Coalition government AusAid was dismantled and dispersed into DFAT which also led to the loss of experienced aid management staff.

Under the Coalition government the percentage of Australia’s aid budget funnelled to managing contractors has grown to 20% of all Development Assistance.

Under the coalition government, as recently a few weeks ago, there have been reports of further potential cuts up to $400 million on top of the $11 billion in cuts already.

It is little wonder, then, that former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt last year said that

“… When your development budget is at an all-time low, which it is right now, it feels like Australia is not taking its place in the world… We miss Australia. Australia should be big influential, taking your space, helping with humanitarian [disasters.]”

I met Helle last year, we miss her too.

It did not have to be this way.

The great disappointment is that during the 2010 Federal Election, both major parties committed to the goal of 0.5% of GNI by 2015/16.

In 2016 (latest year available), Australia ranked 17th among OECD countries in terms of aid generosity. Australia’s 0.27 per cent of ODA/GNI was below the OECD average of 0.32 per cent.

It was above the ODA/GNI of the United States (0.19 per cent), Canada (0.26 per cent) and New Zealand (0.25 per cent) but as I noted less than that of the United Kingdom (0.7 per cent), Ireland (0.32 per cent) and Italy (0.28 per cent).

All the countries that were severely impacted in 2008/09 by the GFC all maintained or increased their ODA to GNI in comparison to Australia.

What explains these cuts?

Either the coalition government fundamentally misunderstands or is wilfully blind to the fact that our aid and development assistance is actually critical to our national interest, wilfully blind to the fact that it lifts millions out of poverty and works to create stability and security in our region and across the globe.

If they are wilfully blind it can only be in order to direct their narrow vision to short term raids on the aid budget to plug the gaping holes in their policy and budgetary agenda.

And it is no excuse that Julie Bishop might argue Aid to the Indo-Pacific has been maintained in nominal terms, with only a small cut in real terms because the cuts that have been made that have impacted Sub Saharan Africa, Caribbean, Latin America, could have of course been invested into the PNG and Pacific regions, if the Government was so inclined to focus more on our region.

Here is the basic proposition for you tonight: Labor remains committed to improving Australia’s aid program.

The really interesting question is “how”?

We are not blind to the importance of aid to our national interest nor its interrelated importance to humanitarian objectives.

In fact, we see the possibility that they are not mutually exclusive – that both can be achieved.

The commitment is there and it’s clear to see in Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Shadow Minister for Pacific and Development Claire Moore.

Penny said in February this year Labor agreed to rebuild Australia’s aid program under a Shorten Labor Government pledging – and I quote – “to rebuild and grow the Australian Aid program in a timely manner”[2].

That’s important – the commitment to rebuild and grow – the timeliness element of what she said is important too.

She has gone ahead in making sure it’s timely by – and I think, cleverly – engaging a number of MPs in a consultation process with the sector.

MPs who have passion, interest and experience in dealing with the sector because we are cognisant of the work needed to develop our policy and make Australian aid and development what it ought to be.

Penny and Claire have been fantastic in this.

Penny has gotten a large working group of Labor MPs – of which I was one – working together to consult with the entire NGO and aid sector so that if we win government – we’re not caught on the hop and, more importantly, we’re not just going to do reviews in the first year.

No, we’re going to hit the ground running.

The working group set out with a clear purpose: to engage with the international development sector and; to generate policy propositions on international development as a result of that process.

To do this, the working group have considered questions on the SDGs, their interaction with gender and sexual and reproductive health in the aid program; Bipartisanship and prioritising aid; transparency; the role of the private sector and NGOs; the role of the Australian community and community engagement on aid; geographic and thematic funding priorities and; Innovation, technology and research.

To anticipate and analyse these headline themes we were paired off.

I was paired with Madeleine King the Member for Brand in Western Australia and we focused on the questions about thematic and geographic funding approaches and any inherent tensions in the two approaches.

This was an area – themes vs geography – that has tremendous significance for our policies in the Indo-Pacific region.

So we started with history, what has gone before?

Historically, in terms of the geographic approach Australia’s geographic aid priority across the last 40 years, and across governments of major parties, has been consistently focussed on the Asia-Pacific region, we are all aware of that.

There has been an acknowledged – and I think there is a demonstrable – link between the aid program and Australia’s national interests.[3]

I’m sure Susan Rice and Madeleine Albright would agree, with respect to Australia’s responsibility in the Pacific.

While initially Australian aid was composed predominantly of bilateral assistance this changed to include multilateral organisations at an increasing rate.

Spurred by cooperation between donor countries establishing a range of development agencies, including the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

This increase in multilateral organisations saw a jump from the early 1970s where 7% of Australian aid was provided through multilateral organisations, to 2001 where it was over 25%.

Thematic priorities led Australia’s aid program to traditionally focus on saving lives, reducing poverty – I note the focus on sub-national poverty is critical, and building regional peace and economic self-sufficiency through programs in education, health, water & sanitation, agriculture, essential service infrastructure, and governance.

Is there a tension between the two approaches in a strategic context. Yes – but it is not an insurmountable challenge to reconcile the approaches.

Geographically focussed development assistance program according to advocates, is a sensible and pragmatic approach, makes use of Australia’s sustained relationships and experience in the region.

That geographic focus has remained relatively stable since the end of WW2, therefore there is an argument to retain the current and traditional regional focus.

In a sense, urgency only arises in restoring some quantum of aid funding to key nations and programs such as Papua New Guinea (see below) and Myanmar.

I think that if we are to maintain the current levels of assistance in bilateral partnerships we may be able to still utilise themes or a thematic approach to build a more effective framework around which our future aid and international development policy is built and against which additional investment is allocated.

Education, health, disability, women’s inclusion, governance, agriculture and climate change can be better aligned to key objectives – including the SDGs – and stages of development evolution, under a more coherent thematic framework.

These thematic priorities could be determined by existing Australian expertise and experience.

Within our development efforts in the Pacific when you dig deeper there is more work to do. According to Save the Children report, it demonstrates that:

While the Pacific region is showing positive improvements in basic education enrolments with primary school net enrolments at 89%. Outcomes regarding quality of education are not so good, the report goes on to note that in the Pacific, only 29% of children will complete primary education without achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.

Access to education for children with disabilities in the Pacific is also extremely limited with, 90% of children with disabilities out of school.

The report outlines again, that progress has been made towards reducing gender disparity in education access and participation, with many Pacific countries converging towards gender parity for primary school enrolment.

However, the data masks the fact that fewer girls are attending and completing primary and secondary education. So investing in SDG 4, quality of education can and needs to be done better with a better sub-national focus.

There is more work to do on health too.

Penny Wong outlined in her speech in February:

60 per cent of children in Timor Leste, 44 per cent of children in PNG, 33 per cent of children in Kiribati and 26 per cent of children in Vanuatu are stunted.

A strong view among the stakeholders in the NGO sector is that Australia must enhance or prioritise a thematic focus gender issues, climate change and reduction in inequality (which the Foreign Policy White Paper is largely silent on).

The Save the Children report highlighted through statistics that inequality harms economic growth because it is a barrier to sustainable and inclusive growth, and entrenches discrimination, undermining social and political cohesion and thereby creates the conditions for political and social tension, instability and conflict.

As you all would know, in its 2016 study An Economy for the 1%, Oxfam showed that the richest one per cent now own more than the rest of the world combined.

In 2015, sixty-two individuals had the same wealth as 3.6 billion people. In the previous decade and a half, the bottom half of humanity gained just one percent of the total increase in global wealth, while fifty percent went to the top one percent.

We need to address inequality nationally and globally.

On the point of gender issues Labor has consistently articulated a clear vision in relation to the importance of Foreign Aid in addressing Gender Equality.

Throughout the developing world, women are confronted with a plethora of basic challenges that Australia ought to play a role in addressing through our provision of foreign aid.

This includes efforts to promote women’s human rights in accordance with the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

For instance, Australia’s foreign aid contribution can have a meaningful impact on promoting women’s empowerment by funding educational programs and initiatives aimed at ensuring women have fair and equal access to education, training and employment programs.

Labor supports eliminating the cultural and economic barriers faced by children and, in particular, girls attending school – such as child labour child trafficking, child marriage, safety to and from school, community attitudes and teaching practices.

A strong link exists between Labor’s national platform and the SDGs, especially SDG goal 5 on gender equality.

I saw the impact of focusing on gender first hand in Myanmar… tell story of finance committees for women in action.

With respect to climate change and our response it is incumbent on us all to play our part in addressing climate change.

This is particularly so win the context of its impact on our Pacific Island neighbours.

In the Pacific the impact of climate change has the potential to actually reverse the reduction in poverty that has been made in the past 30 years.

Save the Children report also highlighted that in 1990:

Half of the world’s poor were living in East Asia and the Pacific.42 Now, half of the world’s poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa. 43 The regional shift in poverty is largely attributed to the rapid pace of economic growth and decline in poverty in East Asia and the Pacific.

While a sea rise of a few cm will have an impact for us in Australia, these same changes would be catastrophic and absolutely devastating, for example, to the people of Tuvalu.

Indeed, according to some predictions, several Island Nations may cease to exist as we know them today in the span of a few decades.

Yet the recent OECD report, noted that Australia:

Spends less on development supporting climate change than many other OECD countries. 13% of Australian Aid in 2015 compared to 26.2% average for the OECD countries.

Conservative estimates indicate that the impacts of climate change will result in more than 100 million additional people being pushed into poverty by 2030.

Unless you are one of the Dinosaurs in Dad’s Army (the monash forum) led by General Abbott, Colonel Andrews and Sergeant Major Kelly in the Coalition government, there is little doubt that climate change and climate change-related disasters clearly pose risks to economic growth, poverty reduction, education and health in the Pacific.

Addressing Climate Change is therefore imperative if Australia is to mitigate the long term cost of having to make adequate provision for tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the impacts of climate change.

The February 2017 OECD/World Bank report Climate and Disaster Resilience Financing found Vanuatu, which receives $69.8 million in ODA from Australia compared to the $317 million from China, loses over $50 million, or 6.6 per cent of annual GDP, due to natural disasters.

Tonga suffers a 4.4 per cent loss of annual GDP, amounting to over $17 million. Both Fiji and the Solomon Islands incur losses above 2.6 percent and 2.99 percent of GDP respectively as a result of natural disasters, amounting to over $150 million each year.

Penny has noted:

If our development assistance program is seeking to grow the social and human capital that lifts people out of poverty while the consequences of climate change continue to undermine that outcome, then disaster risk reduction must become a more prominent feature of our development assistance planning.

Climate change impacts every aspect of the Australian Aid Program such that we cannot be serious about tackling poverty in our region if we are not serious about tackling climate change.

If the Coalition are not convinced by arguments around the impact of climate change from these sources, maybe Defence will convince them.

The issue of climate change is now being factored into defence planning. The 2016 Defence White Paper mentioned climate change eight times and warned:

Climate change will be a major challenge for countries in Australia’s immediate region.

From a Defence perspective, this could exacerbate conflict and fragility issues in the Pacific Island states.  To address the strategic consequences of this issue, particularly with the ‘increasing influence’ of outside actors ‘with interests inimical to ours’, it is important for Australia to:

…help support the development of national resilience in the region to reduce the likelihood of instability. This assistance includes defence cooperation, aid, policing and building regional organisation…

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) expects to be called upon more often to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).

And this accords with some of the reactions from the Defence establishment to the reports of the potential further cuts of $400 million cuts to Aid program, could be best summarised as absurd.

There was also a focus on the managing contractor issue that I touched on earlier.

I just want to say a few things about that in particular

Managing contractors and private firms came out of the need for technical expertise for engineering firms.

There is a history of Private firms, in Australia and in recipient countries, have long been involved in the delivery of development assistance, especially where private sector expertise may be required – e.g. infrastructure projects or where technical knowledge is needed.

Development funding to private managing contractors (MCs) and consultants includes for the management of ‘facilities’, which bundle and administer a range of smaller programs.

A number of NGOs in our working group indicated unnecessary complexity in establishing partnerships with Managing Contractors: additional administrative burden caused by risk management and compliance needs, and a lack of clarity around intellectual property associated with programs.

We know that since the coalition came into power the managing contractors now have 20% of the aid budget each year with DFAT’s top four choices – Cardno Emerging Markets, Palladium International, Coffey International Development and ABT Associates – received $461.8 million last financial year.

Some of you might be familiar with the UK Parliamentary committee – the International Development Committee – which in 2016/17 did a very thorough inquiry into their managing contractors under their Department for International Development (DfID) aid program.

They came up with three basic critiques:

  • The fees of managing contractors were not transparent – a similar critique can be levelled to the way they do it here in Australia
  • The question around value for money. In a sense they are saying that the rewards should be in the delivery of the program, not in how many contracts you can win as a company.
  • And an issue around conduct and compliance. The big criticism around this – from my mind – is you lose the ability, particularly if you are an NGO, to advocate the ability to promote the aid program. To win the argument domestically why aid is important and why it benefits us.

The OECD Peer Review of Australian Aid noted that:

“Australia lost a significant number of experienced aid management staff in the course of [AusAID] integration. DFAT has a limited number of specialists working on the aid programme, preferring to invest in the skills of generalists and to outsource implementation to contractors. This approach exposes DFAT to risks related to development effectiveness, programme efficiency and reputation.”

A dependency on managing contractors has slowly crept in.

You can’t pull the thread until and unless we rebuild the capability within DFAT.

That is why we have been doing the prep work now – the consultation work now – to make a start at addressing all these issues so that our leadership team can develop policy and prepare for the reforms that we decide on.

It’s our responsibility as a good Opposition to look at these things if we are to form government.

It is important to hit the ground running and not be tied up for the first year in government conducting reviews.

I have to say, these consultation sessions with the NGO and aid sector were extremely useful as a policy maker and a law maker because it highlighted to us where the challenges, obstacles and the unresolved questions lie.

While we don’t have all the answers, we are partly on our way to providing some.

Balancing humanitarian and moral objectives and our more pragmatic political objectives, which are often tied to the national interest, is difficult.

There is a need to get the balance right and the philosophical underpinnings behind this.

I think we can.

People familiar with the Venn diagram know there’s a crossover point.

If we can get our objectives: geo-political, humanitarian and business, aligned in that crossover then the Venn diagram shows where you get peak effectiveness and efficiency of the aid program.

And on business I mean efforts to partner development with companies already on the ground to leverage private capital flows, ensuring enhanced dividends on commercial enterprise and development.

We have to understand what is in our national interest and why is it so.

This is always open to analysis and debate. Penny Wong has articulated our position as:

–          The security of the nation and its people

–          The economic prosperity of the nation and its people

–          A stable, cooperative strategic system in our region anchored in the rule of law

–          Constructive internationalism

And our values – compassion, equity, inclusion, mutual respect – find expression in the ‘rule of law’ that is the basis of our democratic practice, the contract between the government and the people.

Consequently, the answer to the question “why do we invest in development assistance” is “because it is unquestionably in Australia’s interest to create a more stable and secure world, by helping reduce poverty, improve health and education and fight inequality.”

I really like Penny’s articulation of some of the mutual responsibilities between donor and recipient countries.

She acknowledges that both developed and developing countries have something to offer and something to learn from each other when it comes to ensuring equality and prosperity.

She argues that this is the essence of social and human capital development.

It is mutual, and it is dynamic.

While all of this internal work inside the beltway is great – the bigger challenge we face is with the public’s view, with public acceptance.

It is hard enough as it is when Australians are largely unconcerned by reductions in foreign aid.

This is demonstrated by polling from the Lowy Institute.

When Australians were asked in May 2015 about the first major budget cut of $1 billion, a majority (53%) were in favour, with 35% against.

When Save the Children – an NGO – asked Australians what they thought of Australia’s $5 billion aid budget 77% said it was either ‘too much’ or ‘about the right amount’.

Only 21% said it was ‘not enough’.

The aid budget is now around 25% smaller than it was in 2015 – when these polls were conducted – Australians have given almost identical responses to the same question this year: 73% say the current aid budget of approximately $3.8 billion is either ‘too much’ or ‘about the right amount’.

Just 22% say the budget is ‘not enough’.

So, the promotion of development assistance to the public becomes more difficult when you have stories of corruption by some through the misuse of taxpayer funds intended for international aid as was seen by some in the UK foreign aid industry.

It also becomes more difficult when there is an absence of bipartisanship or, better put, a politicisation of aid and development.

In the past, governments have shaped the quantum and focus of aid and development – there has been largely non-interference and non-politicisation.

Non-politicisation would be great, bipartisanship would be even better.

I’m afraid we are not there.

Bipartisanship is crucial because defence, diplomacy and development (and trade) contribute to stability, security and prosperity in mutually reinforcing ways.

I have struggled with this challenge of how we better articulate and effectively communicate to the public the idea that lifting millions of people out of poverty actually is in our national interest, that it is about fairness and about doing our bit.

Betts and Collier, academics who have helped build settlement programs in Jordan, refer to the philosophies behind humanitarian assistance as the “head” and the “heart”[4].

The “heart” is the compassion – the moral underpinning of aid programs, you could argue is intrinsically linked to our “Australian spirit” and “boundless plains to share”, our Australian values that promote egalitarianism and fairness.

The “head” is the logical and evidence based benefits of an effective aid program.

Trade, Security, Stability, Prosperity.

Labor has agreed to improve the Australia Aid program because we understand both the “head” and the “heart” of development assistance policy.

We understand the necessity of aid and we understand its benefits.

Another challenge, and this is pronounced in the Pacific, is that emerging powers are also emerging donors.

China and India have seen a sharp incline in aid spending primarily targeted in enhancing their geo-political influence across the globe, especially in the pacific, again from the Save the Children report, the stats tell the story:

Chinese foreign aid expenditure has increased in the past decade, from US$631 million in 2003 to close to US$3 billion in 2015, an average annual growth rate of 14%. Similarly India has scaled up with an increase been scaling up its aid program to a point where it now, on Purchasing Power Parity, rivals Australia’s in size at US$8.9 billion in 2016-17, reflecting an annual increase of 15% over the past five years.

The aid war in the Pacific between China and Taiwan has been won well and truly by China with Taiwanese trade offices closing down across the pacific.

All these challenges:

–          The internal policy development

–          Bipartisanship

–          Articulating effectively to the public

–          Emerging powers, emerging donors

Are challenges for politicians, policy experts and, academics.

But it is also our challenge to engage on these issues publicly.

For many of us aid policy is inherently interesting.

It speaks to our notions of social justice and our desire to act in a humanitarian way; it has flow on economic benefits and; it helps build Australia’s international reputation.

Political bipartisanship, particularly on the core basics, is critical.

That’s the head.

However, perhaps with a few exceptions, the average punter does not really care about aid and development.

Their concerns are putting food on the table, keeping a head above their roofs and making sure they have steady pay cheque.

The bread and butter stuff.

Even if we get the balance right the internals are not going to be one of their top concerns.

That’s why we have to reach the public’s heart.

That’s tough when there are also growing negative views on trade and globalisation.

Populist and nativist politics take advantage of this, and aid is the easy target.

But I believe we can reach the public’s heart through Australian values.

Australians like to help their neighbours, their mates (and PNG was one of our mates in WW2) and we like to pull our weight, do our bit.

These values speak to our sense of fairness.

We need your help, the help of organisations across the Foreign Policy sector to make sure that Australia’s aid programs remain relevant and in the public consciousness.

I believe we can also better use our diaspora communities in Australia.

The US State Department has a policy of engaging local diasporas with USAID.

I met with Peter Varghese when he was DFAT Secretary re utilising diaspora both in trade and aid, to engage our local communities to promote Australia’s trade and development work in their home countries.

This is because they are an untapped resource.

If we win government we will try and restore some of this funding that has been cut.

Penny has said that, Labor, in government will rebuild Australia’s international development assistance program and increase investment beyond current levels and there will be a process for this, no doubt there will be an effort – and we might get most back into the aid budget, but we have to be realistic.

We’re not going to get it all back.

It’s also going to turn on how we spend that differently, which is why we’re consulting you and the entire NGO sector.

There will be internal ALP ERC processes, priorities and pressures on budget.

Write to Jim Chalmers and Chris Bowen with respect to the long term economic benefit of aid if you want to help…

Development is a critical tool of statecraft and it works with the other tools at our disposal.

Diplomacy and development, if successful, also establish peace and security. You then don’t need the sharp end of the spear, which is defence – the third “D”.

The military is, and should always be, the last resort.

But you increase the chances of reaching for the defence tool if you don’t use the other tools at our disposal well enough.

It gets harder and harder and we have to dig deeper into the tool box right through to the defence response when things go pear-shaped.

General Mattis, Currently President Trump’s Secretary of Defense, described in a recent New York Times article as a person who was dismissed as a war-monger during the Obama Presidency – so not someone you would associate supporting aid – has said in a summary of his views on statecraft and diplomacy in 2013 saying, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

There is an elemental truth to this, if you don’t fund diplomacy and, by extension, development and if you don’t utilise those tools of statecraft effectively you spend more on defence.

As a middle power, Australia finds itself aptly positioned to make effective use of soft power mechanisms, diplomacy and development, in pursuit of our national interests.

As a relatively low-cost alternative to force projection, foreign aid and development can help achieve our national interests of regional stability in the Indo-Pacific.

From a national security and defence perspective, funding programs intended to reduce poverty, improve access to education, enhance standards of living, and can reduce the conditions for radicalism.

Although, I would argue these interventions must be early because if you are doing counter-radicalisation you are already too late.

We must not simply view foreign development as a sacrifice.

It is an investment.

Alan Gyngell, former head of the ONA in responding to the potential cuts to aid noted “why is that instruments of deterrence, the instruments of war-fighting, the instruments of national security – all of them – are considered a legitimate expenditure of taxpayers money but instruments of persuasion are not?”

As a democracy seeking to promote the welfare of our neighbours we can utilise diplomacy and development to avoid unnecessary violence and bloodshed that arises as states begin to fail, or are consumed by civilian strife and conflict.

We do also need to think outside of the box, or more aptly, make creative useful additions to the toolbox of statecraft.

One of the ways to do that is to look at labour mobility – such as in the Seasonal Worker Program.

The seasonal worker program is currently a Federal Government-run program to help meet labour requirements particularly in peak seasons, while also improving workforce skills through education and training for workers from Pacific countries and East Timor, which in turn helps them to compete globally.

I worked on the pilot program when I was working for Rudd…

Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program

The Rudd Government established the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS) in 2008, running until 2012. The Pilot allowed workers from eligible Pacific island countries and Timor-Leste to be employed by Australian horticultural companies. The Pilot had a dual mandate:

Contribute to Australia’s economic development objectives in the Pacific region, in particular by enabling workers to contribute to economic development in their home countries through remittances, employment experience and training gained from participating in the Pilot.

Assist Australian employers in the horticulture industry who have demonstrated unmet demand for labour.

Following the Pilot period, the Gillard Government approved the commencement of the Seasonal Worker Program from 1 July 2012. By 2012-13, approximately 1,500 placements occurred in the Seasonal Worker Program, demonstrating growth from the earlier pilot period.

A World Bank report, Pacific Seasonal Worker Programme set for Bigger Impact, found workers are remitting AUD$2,200 on average while in Australia and bringing home an additional AUD$6,650 on average after concluding their employment each season.  Since the introduction of the Seasonal Worker Program, 17,320 people have been employed, resulting in $144 million net income gained.

This kind of program is, traditionally, a non-aid tool, that helps in addressing issues of development through remittances and security in the region.

To summarise, we can and must utilise all the tools of statecraft – development, defence and diplomacy – to ensure Australia’s Aid future is secure and effective.

The Rudd/Gillard years saw steady increases in our aid contributions.

It is possible and it is necessary to do the same again if we are going to meet our commitment to the SDGs.

We face challenges in doing this; especially in restoring funding that has been stripped by Turnbull and Bishop who have turned their back on the region, diminishing our standing in the world and damaging our influence internationally.

Balancing humanitarian and moral objectives and our more pragmatic political objectives, which are often tied to the national interest, is difficult.

But there can be a crossover, both can be achieved.

We must do so effectively and efficiently to restore our position in the OECD and other multilateral organisations, which we know has been damaged.

And we can take our cues and inspiration in the spirit and the need for bipartisanship from the UK conservatives.

The Conservative UK Government has successfully committed to 0.7% GNI for its development spending.

In 2010, the then Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, famously declared that the coalition government led by the UK Conservative Party ‘will not balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world’.

I wish that the Turnbull Conservative Government would heed this advice.

The UK Government have even legislated this and despite the Oxfam controversy putting pressure on her Government, PM Theresa May has stood firm behind the 0.7% of GNI commitment.

Likewise, the ALP has shown its commitment to this in our national platform to 0.5% of GNI  we have also engaged with the international development sector to work on policy development.

We are prepared to put our goals and objectives into practice and to ensure Australia is once again a real leader in development assistance on the international stage.

Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra


MEDIA CONTACT: Kat Theodosis (KHALIL) – 0432 243 569