Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells: Address to Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi)

Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells
Minister for International Development and the Pacific

Speech, check against delivery
Conservatory, Peninsula Hotel, Manila, Philippines
3 May 2018

Good Morning everyone and thank you so much for joining us this morning, I am delighted to be here in Manila.

Can I thank the Stratbase Albert del Rosario and the Institute of Strategic and International Studies for hosting us here today and thank you for this opportunity to share with you some of our thoughts in relation to the work that we do with our friend and partner the Philippine Government.

Can I acknowledge: Secretary Di Reza, Officer in Charge Leyco, Ambassador Albert del Rosario, Anne Jalando-on Louis; our former Consul General to the Philippines in Sydney; this is one dynamic lady that you have sent overseas and I know that many people in Sydney miss you Anne, Ambassadors, Heads of multi-lateral organisations, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentleman.

Australia and the Philippines have a strong relationship and it is built on over 70 years of formal diplomatic relations. However, it is those very strong people-to-people links that are the foundation of our relationship. The Filipino community in Australia is growing and as at 2016, over 300,000 Australians identified as having Filipino ancestry – and that is increase of 35 per cent since 2012.

Over my many years involvement in the multicultural area, I have met many members of the community at various events in Australia, and most especially, when I was Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs.

I have always enjoyed the warmth and welcome and festive atmosphere that always comes with attending Filipino functions and I know from meeting many Filipino-Australians personally that while they are residents, Australian citizens, they are at heart Filipino as well, and many share daily contact with the Philippines. Of course because they also vote here in the Philippines there is a strong connection between our two countries and I remember Anne, well, when you were making sure that everybody was on the electoral roll and set up all these booths to make sure that your Filipinos in Australia were able to participate in the processes here in the Philippines.

Of course, in my role as Minister for International Development and the Pacific I have had the opportunity to broaden my engagement with the Philippines. And this includes my work domestically implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, in Australia but also internationally which will be the focus of my discussion today.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, Australia joined all other United Nations member states, including the Philippines, in committing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs. Domestically we see the SDGs as a reflection of our values and ambitions – a contemporary manifestation of what we in Australian term a “fair go”, a term that means a great deal to Australians.

We are delivering our first Voluntary National Review in, this July in New York. And it will identify what our priorities have been to date and provide lessons as to what we need to do to focus, to what we need to focus on to make sure that the 2030 Agenda remains on track.

Now of course the Philippines have already delivered their first Voluntary National Review which highlighted the initiatives of the government and other stakeholders to provide the policy and enabling environment for the implementation of the SDGs in the Philippines.

In particular: securing the buy-in from policymakers and stakeholders, incorporating the SDGs into your national framework, improving indicators and data, and developing institutional mechanisms.

The SDGs are strongly anchored in the Philippine government’s ‘AmBisyon Natin 2040’ statement which is an expression of the collective long-term vision and aspiration of the Filipino people for themselves and for their country until 2040 as well as your Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022.

Australia is here to partner with all sectors across the Philippines to support this ambition.

Late last year we released our first Foreign Policy White Paper in 14 years to guide our international efforts. It reinforces the importance of our official development of our Overseas Development Assistance, or ODA, as a powerful tool to encourage sustainable development and reduce poverty in our region, leading to stability, security and prosperity, which for Australia is second only to the defence of Australia.

We have integrated the SDGs into our almost $4 billion ODA program and focused 90 per cent of country allocations to the Indo-Pacific. Australia’s total ODA to the Philippines for the current financial year is approximately $85 million, which includes $67 million in bilateral overseas development assistance and $18 million from regional development programs.

Our partnership, and it is a partnership, with the Philippine Government focuses on 10 of the SDG’s to achieve three key objectives: Improving the conditions for peace and stability, enhancing the foundations for your economic growth, and building stronger institutions for transparent and accountable governance.

Students learning welding

We work hard to ensure all of our development work supports improved outcomes for women – SDG 5. In August 2017, we announced a package of assistance, covering both immediate response and long-term recovery efforts, in response to the Marawi crisis. This helped to support women and girls who had experienced or were at risk of gender based violence. We provided women-friendly spaces that benefited more than 26,000 women and girls.

Australia prioritises the economic empowerment of women right across the Philippines through our Investing in Women Initiative. We support women’s participation in the workforce as business leaders in both private and public sectors.

Students thanking Australia

Australia is the largest development partner in education – SDG 4 – in the Philippines, with a program that goes back 15 years. Through our $90 million Basic Education Sector Transformation program, called ‘BEST’, we have supported the Philippine Government’s implementation of a major education reform over the past several years called the “K-12” reform. This has benefited more than 8 million students in around 19,000 schools. Together we have improved learning quality, increased access to basic education, and linked schools with industry. Our education has also helped to make schools more inclusive. For example, access to school was provided for 150 children with disabilities from Region 8 last year.

Boys and Girls at  school, Mindanao

Education is also a core part of the work together that we are doing to achieve SDG 16: peace, justice and strong institutions. Australia has been contributing to stability and development in the Southern Philippines for more than 20 years, supporting the Mindanao peace process and education in the conflict areas.

We recognise the ongoing challenges in that peace process.

Australia believes the international community can play a constructive and supportive role. Last year we announced a $90 million Education Pathway to Peace program, known as “PATHWAYS”, which will run over 9 years. We are working to improve educational performance and equity in the attainment of quality basic education by children in Muslim Mindanao. And PATHWAYS focuses on the least serviced populations. It will improve basic literacy from kindergarten to grade 3 level and will encourage attitudes conducive to peace and stability. With a view to continuous improvement, we will work on curriculum development, teacher training, data management and outreach.

Old men pointing at a map during the Mindanao peace process

We have a specific program for conflict-affected areas of Muslim Mindanao, called Partnerships for Peace. We encourage inclusive participation, especially women, in the peace process and political dialogue. We are investing in mechanisms for averting the escalation of violence. We are strengthening the contribution of religious leaders, women and youth to community cohesion and the prevention of violent extremism. Women play a crucial role in peacebuilding and we have supported women’s civil society organizations to raise awareness about the peace process and local mediation activities. We partnered with women’s groups to include indigenous people, and the Moro National Liberation Front, to support an inclusive peace process. And this work helps women play primary roles in solving decades-long clan conflict.

Children with Australian Aid in Marawi

Australia is deeply concerned about growing violent extremism in the southern Philippines and of course implications for regional security more broadly. Yesterday I travelled to Cotabato and met Governor Hataman and officials of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. It was an invaluable opportunity to hear views on the peace process, the impact of violent extremism and the future of the Bangsamoro region.

Australia is committed to supporting peace and development in Mindanao.

I also met with participants in a youth leadership building program delivered by International Alert, one of our NGO partners in an Australian-funded project called Partnerships for Peace and can I say to you I met some truly inspiring young people aged between 15 and 19 whose attitudes I have to say, I think all the well for a, a valuable, very valuable contribution to the peace process down there. I also met with representatives of organisations supporting peace, stability and countering violent extremism projects that are working and operating there in Muslim Mindanao, funded under our ODA program.

Australia shares with the people of the Philippines the basic desire for an end to conflict, and for peaceful development. Peace and prosperity is not only good for the Bangsamoro, but for the whole Philippines and the region, including Australia.

To date, Australia has committed $24 million to the response, recovery and long-term peace building efforts for Marawi including our immediate humanitarian assistance, and longer term recovery efforts as well as supporting children through school feeding, continuity of learning and child protection

We helped to meet the urgent needs of local communities who are displaced and our humanitarian support is ongoing. We increased community peacebuilding efforts to respond to the threat posed by the conflict.

Post-conflict reconstruction period will be immensely challenging.

As plans for reconstruction and recovery are further developed and finalised by the Philippine Government, Australia is ready to assist however and whenever we can.

Group photo of different sectors

Last, the last SDG, but of course, by no means the least, that I would like to discuss is goal 17 – partnerships for the SDGs. Whether it be in business, in academia, or in the not-for-profit sector, the SDGs are bringing more coherence to our work together. They highlight a common purpose shared by employees, volunteers, stakeholders, the community and the wider world. In many ways, the SDGs encourage us to create new partnerships, have new conversations, and try out new technologies to achieve better outcomes for Australia and for the world, and I am sure this is a process that the Philippines has also gone through, particularly given it has already given its VNR.

The strong and vibrant Filipino-Australian diaspora I mentioned at the start of my speech are also partners to achieving SDGs in both our countries. Since the 1950’s, starting with the Colombo Plan, we have provided scholarships, fellowships and short-term training to close to 4,000 Filipinos. We have now come full circle as well with Australia sending its best and brightest to the Philippines under the New Colombo Plan.

However, the biggest impact has been the 10 million strong Filippino diaspora of which as I said over 300,000 are in Australia. Cumulative personal remittances from overseas Filipino Workers for 2017 reached US $31.3 billion – ten per cent of GDP.

There is a long way to go and we need to make sure that we stay true to the vision that we see for our world in 2030. If we are to be successful, we need everyone to play a role.

Ladies and gentlemen, for decades, the partnership between the Philippines and Australia has been close and constructive. It is becoming more important in our region particularly as our region rises in international significance.

Our peace and prosperity are intertwined as we strive towards 2030 and beyond.

May I once again thank you for joining us here this morning, I am very… I am delighted to be here, to reaffirm and carry forward our friendship and our work together. And I look forward to meeting you over breakfast.

And thank you very much for your very kind attention.



Published in the Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

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