Media event with HE Ms Emilia Pires, East Timorese Finance Minister

MINISTER RUDD: Ladies and gentlemen of the press, thank you for your attendance here today.

I welcome in particular my friend and colleague, the Finance Minister of Timor-Leste and the extraordinary work which Minister Pires has done, more broadly on the question of this new deal for engagement in fragile states.

This is an important outcome from this meeting in Busan, because if we look at fragile states and conflict affected states, the particular needs of development are most acute there.

The figures speak for themselves. One-and-a-half billion people live in conflict affected and fragile states. Seventy per cent of fragile states have seen conflict since 1989. Basic governance transformations may take twenty to forty years. Thirty per cent of official development assistance is spent in fragile and conflict affected context. These countries are farthest away from achieving the millennium development goals.

For Australia, this event today is about the relationship of course which we have with Timor-Leste. For the first time Australia and Timor-Leste are signing a formal development partnership.

The partnership represents a break from the past where donor countries often impose their priorities on developing countries whether they liked it or not. Under this agreement both countries are now committed to work together in line with the goals set out in Timor- Leste’s own strategic development plan. The country’s vision for how it will look in 2030. The agreement sets out targets for two areas that will be the particular focus of Australia’s assistance in 2012: agriculture, and water and sanitation.

For agriculture, Timor-Leste wants to achieve food security by 2020 and to give and expand economic growth in the agricultural sector by improving farm practices and taking action to boost the production of crops and crop productivity. Under this new plan Australian assistance will help an additional forty-nine-thousand farmers use high-yielding seed varieties.

This program will build on our successful agricultural cooperation in projects like “Seeds for Life”. Together we have helped so far twenty-five thousand farmers increase yields for rice, for maize, for sweet potato, for cassava, peanut crops – in the case of peanut crops by up to 159 per cent.

In 2012, Australia and Timor-Leste will work towards providing ninety thousand additional rural people gaining access to safe, reliable and sustainable water supply, thirty-five thousand additional people with access to basic sanitation. Since 2008 we have already provided access to new and improved water systems for more than 149 000 people and provided 31 000 people with basic sanitation since 2008.

Later in the day, Australia and Timor-Leste will unveil a new deal in a new policy document to guide development in fragile states more broadly. This agreement is a practical way of taking the new deal forward.

So Minister, having visited Timor-Leste many, many, many times over the years and having many, many friends in your country, the President, the Prime Minister and others and including of course your good self and the Foreign Minister, it is with great pleasure that I sign this agreement today.

When I last visited Timor-Leste and went out and saw with Jose Ramos-Horta, the effectiveness of the “Seeds for Life” program, I was taken by how practical it was, how long-term cooperation is needed in order to get to the stage where we can boost the farm productivity of a farmer so that they have genuine food self-sufficiency and something to sell the market; and when I visited there, the ability to take that program and now to apply those seeds and the other agricultural inputs right across the country is what this agreement is all about.

So for us as your neighbours and friends, we are pleased to do this, but I am particularly proud of your role globally and our work with you in bringing about this new deal for fragile states as part of the overall development emphasis of the international community. So Minister, again, thank you for your cooperation.

MINISTER PIRES: Thank you so much, Minister Rudd. I am very, very pleased that you were able to sign this partnership agreement and on behalf of my people, Timor-Leste, and in the name of my Prime Minister and my President, I would like to thank you, your Prime Minister and the people of Australia for all the assistance that you have given us throughout the years. I think the thing of fragile states here in Busan is to actually think globally but act locally and what we have just signed is the beginning of the acting locally.

We are actually not just saying it, and speaking and agreeing our policies, but implementing it on the ground, and I want to also thank you for being the first development partner to actually use countries’ systems. This year, just about a month ago I signed with your staff another agreement (indistinct) to use our country’s system so on behalf again of Timor-Leste, the fragile states who have all endorsed this new deal as you heard this morning, the Secretary General of the United Nations also mentioned, we will be announcing the new deal in this afternoon’s session. So thank you again.

JOURNALIST: It’s not related …(indistinct)…I wanted to ask about what Secretary Hillary Clinton said this morning. She said, well, countries just pursuing their own strategies without coordination with other government agencies – she said it doesn’t lead to any productive results. So, whether it is specifically targeted at China or some other emerging economies, I want to know your opinions about those strategies pursued by…

MINISTER RUDD: I completely agree with the Secretary of State. What she said is right. If you can work in total partnership with your development partner as we are with Timor-Leste and deliver your aid through national systems, fully integrated with national development plans and systems and priorities, it works.

If you work completely separate from the national plans, national priorities and systems of a country, it usually doesn’t work. That’s the difference. What we have tried to do together is develop a new deal for the most fragile states around the world, which does that.

So what President Kagame was saying, from Rwanda, what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was saying from the United States, is all frankly on the same theme, and I believe it is the right way to go.

JOURNALIST: Have you had a chance to meet with the Chinese delegates here to discuss the issue.

MINISTER RUDD: No, I have only just arrived, and we have a great relationship with our Chinese friends and they are good interlocutors on these questions. It is good that they are here at this conference.  It is good that they are considering the document which is before us, because we are all ultimately committed to the principles of aid transparency. I am sure that’s where China would like to go as well as all other participants in this conference as well.

MINISTER PIRES: So the new deal talks about mutual accountability and what does that mean? It means that we, the recipient countries, must own the process. And by development partners like Australia using our systems, it makes us also responsible for the results and therefore accountable to the people who originally gave us that aid. So this is what the new deal is about. There is a commitment from fragile states and then a commitment from the developed countries, and therefore I think we found the right formula. It is a win-win situation that will lead to successful results we believe.

MINISTER RUDD: Okay folks.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just one more question. Can you tell us a little bit about the significance of this development deal with East Timor, for those who are not familiar with the historical background between the two countries?

MINISTER RUDD: Okay, well for our good friends in Korea and elsewhere, let me say this. Timor-Leste has had a hard history, and I am going right back to the Portuguese period, through the period of Indonesian occupation, which ran effectively from 1975 through until virtually 1999. This was a very difficult and a very bloody period. We in Australia, together with others in the international community supported our friends in Timor-Leste obtain their independence, and we have been strong supporters of them the last decade as well.

It has been a difficult decade in Timor-Leste, there have been some problems of political stability, but they have come through it. They have come through it as a strong and robust, emerging democracy, a country of less than one million people. 900 000 on my last count.

MINISTER PIRES: But now it has hit one million and one hundred…

MINISTER RUDD: Okay, well you’ve been busy! And therefore, what we are doing as longstanding partners and neighbours is this. We want to make sure that this country, Timor-Leste, succeeds as a stable democracy and as an emerging economy and therefore what we are doing through this agreement is working with the Timorese government, through their own national systems, their own national priorities and their own national delivery mechanisms to get the task of development done.

The alternative is that you have aid institutions arrive, multilateral, bilateral who say, “here you go, here is our aid, we’re going to do it anyway. Goodbye,” to the government. That’s not effective, we believe in strong partnerships because the sovereignty of Timor-Leste is fundamental. So that’s the background, what it is on about.

For the world community, it is, we hope, a model for how development partners like Australia, the Europeans, the Americans or whoever can themselves reframe their development relationships with fragile, conflict-affected states.

MINISTER PIRES: And it’s also a vote of confidence. If you look at the new deal, there are two principles. We talk about focus and we talk about trust and this is also about trusting.

The development partners are trusting our mechanisms because we have also committed to the principles of transparency. We have systems in place that shows exactly where the money is going, our money and the partner’s money and linked up to results. So in reality what we are doing is just putting in practice all these principles that have originated since Paris, that everybody has been talking about, to today.

JOURNALIST: What is the size of this deal in monetary terms?

MINISTER RUDD: Well our development assistance relationship with Timor-Leste is over 100 million dollars and what we are talking about today is the next phase in that relationship and in particular, not exclusively, how we are now going to implement the “Seeds for Life” program. Of the one million, one hundred people of Timor-Leste, the bulk are in rural areas, and in those rural areas we still have malnutrition, we still have non-food self-sufficiency.

So the focus of our program with our partners in the East Timorese agricultural agency is to make sure that these seeds are used right across Timor-Leste to build food self-sufficiency by increasing the yield per hectare by anything between twenty-five to one-hundred and fifty per cent. I’ve seen it work. It works. And we’ve got to go!