As one of the Abbott Government’s key policy reform areas attracting significant political and community attention since coming into office, Australia’s overseas aid program is a difficult space to have a voice. Against this backdrop, it was refreshing for Vision 2020 Australia to be invited to give evidence in a standalone session at a Parliamentary hearing recently, providing the opportunity to help shape the new aid framework.
The Inquiry, undertaken by the Foreign Affairs and Aid joint sub-committee, is specifically looking into the role of the private sector in promoting economic growth and reducing poverty in the Indo-Pacific region. Vision 2020 Australia was invited to elaborate on a joint submission provided earlier this year by members of the Vision 2020 Australia Global committee. Stephanie Looi from the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Lachlan McDonald from the Fred Hollows Foundation, Laurie Sullivan from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmology, Braedan Hogan from CBM Australia and Brandon Ah Tong from Vision 2020 Australia represented the Global Committee providing evidence.
The hearing was chaired by The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP, and attended by Senator Alex Gallacher, The Hon Alan Griffin MP and Mr Craig Kelly MP.
Brandon provided an opening statement emphasising that while aid was still important, engaging the private sector in providing eye health and vision care is critical for maximising inclusive growth, alleviating poverty and the cycle of exclusion that poverty engenders. Lachlan followed, underscoring the point that a focus on innovating relationships with the private sector can contribute to further gains in reducing avoidable blindness.
The committee seemed genuinely interested in the submissions and canvassed further information from the eye health organisations. In particular, Lachlan fielded a question about Development Impact Bonds which he suggested were a viable finance model to be strongly considered by the government in the future.
The Committee was also particularly interested in examples of where public-private partnerships had been successful in achieving development goals. Laurie provided an example of work being done by RANZCO in building and strengthening workforce capacity and expertise, Stephanie around product innovations, manufacturing and distribution, and Braedan made sure that disability inclusive development was not lost in the pivot to the private sector. All witnesses fielded the Inquiry’s questions with finesse, offering key insights into issues faced, lessons learned and questions of sustainability.
In closing, Brandon summarised the key message of the delegation, which is that effective engagement with the public sector is a suitable vehicle for development if done appropriately; and that eye care offers the perfect test bed for exploring greater engagement with the private sector as an actor for international development in the new aid paradigm. This message was effectively delivered and as a whole the team presented a unified, coherent and in-tune sector to the committee.