Last week I attended the Australasian Aid Conference at the Australian National University. Bringing together 40 presenters and 400 participants, the conference has become a calendar event for Australian development specialists. The links below provide some of the highlights from the event.
- The Conference began with a bang with a keynote speech from DFAT Secretary Peter Varghese. Clocking in at over 3500 words, this was the first major speech on Australian aid by the Secretary. While not a resounding endorsement of the aid program from a man who, as he admits, 'had some sympathy for the view that aid was, for the most part, an area of policy failure paved with the best of intentions', the aid community finally has something of substance on record from the boss of Australia's aid program. Keep an eye on The Interpreter in the coming days for more analysis on the content of the speech.
- Next up we had Kitty van der Heijden from the World Resources Institute to inspire (and terrify) the audience about the state of our world and the role the SDG's will play in shaping our future. While not a household name in this part of the world, a combination of killer facts, fascinating graphs, humour and TEDx style made Kitty's presentation one of the most memorable of the Conference. Both of the above presentations can be seen in this video.
- Day 1 also included a plenary session providing some Asian perspectives on the SDGs as well as 10 breakout sessions with topics ranging from macro aid effectiveness to beyond aid approaches for addressing development challenges in the Pacific.
- All powerpoint presentations will be available from the Conference website in the coming days.
- The first day concluded with an after dinner speech from former Parliamentary Secretary for International Development and current Executive Director of the EBRD, Bob McMullen, in which he reflected on a lifetime working in and around Australian aid. When asked to provide his insights on what went wrong with the scale-up of Australian aid, McMullen admitted the Labor Government at the time failed to effectively sell the merit of it to the Australian public. A podcast of Bob's presentation will be available later in the week.
- The highlight of day 2 was the launch of the second Australian Aid Stakeholder Survey, two years after the first survey in 2013. Now equipped with baseline data, the survey results (which are hopefully a negative outlier) highlight the massive perceived decline in Australian aid effectiveness. This should come as no surprise given the disruption in the aid program from massive budget cuts, a rushed merger and a new strategic agenda. The graph below shows how perceived effectiveness of Australian aid across the board has declined in those two years (all of the points underneath the fitted blue line have declined). A summary blog and op-ed are also available.
- You can see all of the twitter action from the conference here.
- The second day also saw another 15 breakout sessions with speakers ranging from seasoned aid veterans to emerging PhD scholars. A second plenary session, this time discussing the results of the Paris Climate Change negotiations, provided a more nuanced perspective on what was largely seen as a global triumph. Video from the main sessions on the second day is available here.
- And finally in other news, Australia has a new Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is set to take over from Steve Ciobo who has been tapped for the trade portfolio after barely warming the seat up in his previous role. I wrote last year that the appointment of a Minister for International Development and the Pacific was great news, and stand by that position. The Pacific region is starved of political interest in Australia and having two ministers focused on the region is very welcome. Still, it is disappointing to see Ciobo move on in under six months. International development is a complex field without any easy solutions (just take look at Varghese's speech) and our relationships with the Pacific are filled with nuance and built off of personal ties. Let's hope Senator Fierravanti-Wells sticks around for a little bit longer.