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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

GLOVER, Professor Rod, Deputy Director, Enterprise, Monash Sustainable Development Institute

KESTIN, Dr Tahl, Network Manager, Sustainable Development Solutions Network Australia, New Zealand and Pacific

THWAITES, Mr John, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute


CHAIR: Thank you for your time. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. Do you have additional comments about the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Thwaites : I am chair of Sustainable Development Solutions Network Australia, New Zealand and Pacific.

Prof. Glover : I was also involved in developing Monash University's submission.

Dr Kestin : The Sustainable Development Solutions Network is hosted by Monash University.

CHAIR: Would each or all of you like to make an opening statement before we go to questions?

Mr Thwaites : I will start at the end by making our four recommendations. The first is that there should be an annual report to parliament on progress in implementing the goals. The second is that the government should be informed by a cross-sectoral advisory group including business, civil society and universities on how best to implement the goals. The third is that there should be government coordination of SDG implementation. The fourth is that government should collaborate with business on the development of standards for SDG impact reporting by business and investors.

They're a relatively modest set of recommendations that can be easily implemented and in fact are largely underway. Senators would be aware that, with Australia's voluntary national review report to the UN this year, a lot of work was done across government in coordination between departments. There was also a lot of very good consultation with business, universities and civil society in the lead up to the voluntary national review. We don't want to lose that. We want that to be maintained and we want a process embedded to do that.

I think DFAT and all government departments would attest that the engagement with business, civil society and universities around the voluntary national review was of real benefit. That has been fed back to us. It helped the government not only in preparation but also in finding solutions to some of these difficult SDG challenges: health, education et cetera. One of the real benefits of that voluntary national review is that it highlighted that this is not something that can be achieved just by the federal government or bureaucracy; it is something that needs different levels of government—national, state and local—business and academia. These are common problems that we have and common solutions that we can find. That's our recommendation.

In very briefly talking more generally about my submission and the other submissions I would first highlight that the Sustainable Development Goals are a great opportunity for government, business and Australia to set some midterm goals and to have a common vision that we can work towards across the country and across the political divide, because both parties have committed to this. Australia has committed to it. Australia was part of the negotiations to achieve the goals, and a number of the goals are there because of Australia's advocacy. There's a lot of criticism from the community, a lot of lack of trust of government, and I see these goals as a way to overcome some of that. If the Australian parliament and the parties can say, 'Look, we have these mid-term goals and we're working towards them,' I think that can drive trust.

The second thing I'd say is that it's a real opportunity for Australia in our region. We're a country surrounded by developing countries where the Sustainable Development Goals are a very high priority. The classic example of that is Indonesia, where the whole Sustainable Development Goals process is led by the President. BAPPENAS, which is their economic and social planning agency, has the goals as its framework, and the minister responsible for BAPPENAS talks everywhere about the importance of the goals. For Australia, if we're going to build our relationship in the region, the goals are a fantastic platform to do that. We can provide a lot of real assistance in implementing the goals across Asia, and for that I think there'll be huge benefits to Australia in terms of trade, business, soft power and better security. So I think there's a real international aspect to it.

Of course, the Pacific is another example. In the Pacific they're struggling with many of the goals and, once again, there's a real opportunity for Australia to play a really important role in advancing development there.

But I think, by the same token, there are things that we can learn from many of these countries in the way we're struggling with some of these challenges as well.

The third point I'd make is about the role of universities. Dr Kestin will talk about that. We've produced—and she was the lead author—a guide for universities in getting started with the goals.

Senator MOORE: You've provided that to us. It's in here.

Mr Thwaites : Yes. But I think the things to highlight on that are how important universities are in terms of their research, their education and their own operations, which are huge, and in their ability to be community leaders and collaborators. The other interesting point is that, when that went up on the web, it went viral and suddenly it's now been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese. There's global interest, and I think that reflects the global interest in the goals.

The fourth point I want to make with another hat on. I'm Chair of Melbourne Water, which is Melbourne's major water utility. The water utilities in Victoria and, I think, increasingly around Australia are using the goals not just as a mapping exercise, as we heard in the previous submissions, but very much to help drive their strategy and, in particular, to get people like engineers thinking more broadly about issues when they come to make major decisions about capital works. For example, where we would traditionally, at Melbourne Water, just build a pipe, we're now using the goals to think: if we look at the overall benefit for community, it might be in not building that pipe but improving the health of the river, doing some other works around wetlands, creating more of a community amenity. The people doing the capital planning have used the goals as a checklist, basically, and a planning instrument for determining how they should operate.

The final point I'll make is about the role of reporting and monitoring progress. The goals, of course, will only be successfully implemented if we have a system of regular reporting and monitoring of progress. In that regard, we have established something called the National Sustainable Development Council, in collaboration with Monash and the SDSN, to report on Australia's performance on the goals. I'm happy to hand this up. I'm not sure that you would have this one. This is a summary of the report that we've done, and the whole report is on the web. Essentially, it shows that Australia is doing tremendously well in certain of the goals: health and education. You'll see, in a spider diagram there, that in health and education, goal 3 and goal 4, we are doing very well. Then there's an assessment of various indicators on all the other goals, and you'll see it's a mixed bag. Our objective is to continue to report on that, on a regular basis, but to do so in collaboration with government and departments. We would see the parliament as having a key role in oversighting the regular performance of the goals. They're the points that I'd like to make.

CHAIR: Professor Glover or Dr Kestin?

Prof. Glover : I'd reiterate a lot of what Professor Thwaites has just opened with, because we work so closely together, obviously, but I'll just raise a couple of other points about where I think we're up to with the SDGs debate in Australia. I'd argue that awareness outside of government is greater than it is inside. In fact, there are a lot of different forces that are using the SDGs quite proactively to think about how they can do things differently. There are progressive businesses that are embracing shared value. The utilities are a particularly interesting sector because of their investment and financing model that allows them to do things that are in the public interest and that are outside of the narrower mandate that many other public agencies would have. A lot of social entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs more broadly, and challenger business models are more focused on sustainable development and the set of values around sustainable development than incumbent models. There are the social movements, obviously, and within them is a really big values differential between the next generation and current generation of leaders. There is the investment community and the finance sector, which we think will be a huge mobiliser of change in corporate behaviour. I sit on the Sustainable Development Council with Professor Thwaites, and that work was supported by industry super funds and philanthropy, both of which, specifically, adopted a longer term perspective and a broader perspective than many other organisations would. So, the sustainable finance sector could be a much more significant mobiliser of change than I think people understand. Finally, there is education, itself, at all levels. The skills needed to tackle sustainable development problems and the skills of collaborative problem solving are basically 21st century skills. They're the same skills—the creative skills, the interactive skills, the collaborative skills—that will be needed to solve problems and to do the jobs of the future. There's more happening, I would argue, in the way we're educating students, at all levels, than is probably reflected in the problem-solving approaches of our big institutions at the moment. Those distributed forces, I would argue, lead to a situation where we've got multiple centres of gravity for change. That leads to: so what is the role for government, or what is the role for the centre? What I would argue is that there's been a lack of a glue that connects many of those initiatives and that tells a story of the whole and brings visibility to the whole so that people can see the big picture of what's actually progressing in a way that not only helps the stakeholders that are very interested and directly involved in it but helps to inform the public about how we're progressing, and where we're progressing and not progressing as well.

Secondly, there are some of the ways in which organisations are using the Sustainable Development Goals that, many would argue, are not necessarily about the Sustainable Development Goals but about a different way of thinking. Firstly, they're taking a much more integrated approach to what their mission might be, whether they be businesses or public sector agencies or individual government departments. It's enabling them to look wider and spot opportunities for collaboration, risks to their business model or risks to their social license, and also, unintended consequences. The broader view is actually a view that is helping businesses and organisations in their strategy planning. Secondly, the longer term perspective of the Sustainable Development Goals enables businesses and organisations to see possibilities that might not be there from a shorter term lens. There are solutions to problems that you can see if your time frame is 2030 that you can't see if your time frame is to solve the problem in the next one or two years. It also opens up a conversation into a much safer space where you can explore possibilities when you don't know the answers to problems. I think the intractable issues with Indigenous Australia are a really good example of this.

Thirdly, from Monash University's perspective, we come at this is we would see ourselves as an exemplar in the university sector. We proactively want to be a demonstration of what the university sector can contribute. Monash Sustainable Development Institute itself is a dedicated institute to sustainable development directly aligned with the mission of the Sustainable Development Goals. The university has a net zero emissions target by 2030. That is unlocking conversations that wouldn't otherwise have happened about what does the micro grid look like on campus, what are the new energy technologies we are going to need and what are that data requirements or the behavioural changes we would need to elicit? It is prompting conversations with that 2030 timeframe that wouldn't have otherwise happened.

The university also has a number of very big global projects such as the World Mosquito Program or the Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments—developing water and public health in urban slums in Indonesia and Fiji—which are really starting to show how they interact, and looking at how environmental, human and public health together can deliver solutions that are community led and sustainable in a way that a more siloed approach can't. They are large-scale projects.

Finally, the Monash Sustainable Development Institute is the secretariat for the National Sustainable Development Council, and we host the hub of the SDSN for ANZ.

Dr Kestin : I would like to add to what both John and Rod said around the role of universities. Certainly Monash is a leader but I want to emphasise that universities and higher education institutions around the country are also really embracing the SDGs. While a lot of what they do is already aligned with the SDGs, they are actually looking at the SDGs as an opportunity to go beyond business as usual—incorporating them into strategies, into educational offerings, into research initiatives. The idea is to strengthen their contribution to global wellbeing. It is really important to emphasise that it is not just about aligning what they do with the SDGs but it is about using them to do more, to be better.

I also want to quickly mention that the sector has significant potential to assist the government and other sectors with addressing the SDGs and a lot of the issues have come up through the submissions through their unique expertise in education and research; for example, around raising awareness, providing evidence base for policy initiatives—what works and what doesn't work—developing the solutions and innovations that are needed to address some of the challenges, managing data and measuring progress. These are all areas where universities have a lot of expertise and would really like to put forward that the sector has to be in pretty intimately involved in whatever national discussions are happening around SDGs.

I would also like to read a short statement on behalf of SDSN Youth. The representative was invited but is overseas at the moment so couldn't make it. I am not sure if you will have other opportunities to hear from a youth representative—I'm no youth!

CHAIR: You don't know where she is, do you?

Dr Kestin : She is heading off to Rome to the Vatican Youth Symposium, which is an event around engaging youth in the Sustainable Development Goals. It is a pretty amazing opportunity.

Senator MOORE: It is just extraordinary.

CHAIR: There are plenty of things to work on in Rome, according to the news.

Dr Kestin : Her statement says:

SDSN Youth is the youth-led division of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and engages with young people between the ages of 18 and 30 around the world to empower them to help them achieve the SDGs. With people under 30 representing nearly 40 per cent of Australia's population, this generation has an enormous stake in the SDGs. Intergenerational equity is at the heart of the SDGs and this generation will be greatly impacted by the decisions and actions made today. The SDGs also address many of the concerns young people face now such as unemployment, energy affordability and gender equity. Young people are also active and important contributors to the achievement of the SDGs. SDGs appeal to young people's sense of justice, equality and responsibility towards the planet, and they display high levels of volunteerism, activism and entrepreneurship—

More than previous generations, I think—

Young people should be seen as valuable partners, leaders and stakeholders in the national discussions on SDGs rather than simply being tokens in the sustainability movement. SDSN Youth recommends that to help make that happen there is a reappointment of a minister for youth affairs to help meet the political needs of young people. They also emphasise that, to fulfil their potential, all children and youth need to understand SDGs and therefore strongly advocate for the government to support the integration of the SDGs into the national curriculum.

CHAIR: Thank you all. Senator Moore has a plan for getting a submission from some very young people towards the end of the year. If I could just ask a couple of questions—Professor Thwaites, you mentioned reporting to the federal parliament and the federal government, and, Professor Glover, you said that there's a higher awareness outside of government than inside of government. Is the foreign ministry the appropriate place for the SDGs? I'm being educated as we go here. Senator Moore has pushed this inquiry very carefully and deliberately, and I'm learning every day. You learn a lot in this space. Are they in the right area? Should that be a broader ministerial responsibility?

Mr Thwaites : I'd certainly argue there should be. The goals are commitments for Australia within Australia and internationally; they're not just a matter for DFAT. I should say: I believe DFAT have played a really good leadership role, though. There's a lot of commitment from within DFAT to see the goals implemented in Australia, but they have limited ability to achieve that. For the voluntary national review, there was a coordination process set up where the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and DFAT jointly convened an interdepartmental working group. I think that's worked quite well, but I think it should be embedded permanently. I also think it's vital that the Treasury be involved, because they're the department that count very often in terms of delivery. Having the two central agencies plus DFAT as coordinators would probably be a reasonable solution.

Prof. Glover : If I could just add to that—I think DFAT and PM&C play quite different coordination roles. DFAT obviously have a lot to do with our relationships in the region and our international obligations. PM&C is the primary domestic policy coordination agency. I think that the environment department is also important. The previous National Sustainability Council was led out of the environment department. So, I think that's an important thing to factor in. Also, in relation to the Treasury, I think there's a much greater role that the Australian Bureau of Statistics can play. For instance, in the UK reporting, the Office for National Statistics takes responsibility for the coordination of the data collection. I think you can do that and a lot more when you start to think in terms of not only data but what the interpretation of that data is for some sort of strategic insight about where we're going well, where we're not going well and what the forces that are shaping them are.

CHAIR: Is there any role for the Productivity Commission to look at some of these things?

Prof. Glover : I think there are lessons to learn from some of the Productivity Commission's other exercises. For instance, if you take some of the regular reporting processes such as the five-yearly Intergenerational report, which tends to pretty much be a data-driven exercise about long-term demographic changes, I think there's value in that in terms of getting the data on the table. A more useful parallel, though, would be the Shifting the dial: 5 year productivity review report—the five-yearly productivity reviews—which goes beyond the data of how we're performing to using some policy insight and expertise to draw out something more than just the quantitative on how we're going and where we may have scope to improve. I think there are processes that the Productivity Commission uses that are valuable.

I do think that there's a case for almost a centre of gravity here outside of government that's possibly in the academic or research sector, so that you're getting independent, credible, trusted, respected expertise that's going to look beyond the political cycles or the cycles of any one government. I think in the current context of trust and mobilising a wide range of stakeholders, I think there's real scope for the research sector to play a stronger coordinating role as well.

CHAIR: Can I ask a last question about your respective roles in water. I had the honour of opening up a water project in Surabaya to 100,000 households. The short explanation was reticulation meterage and Australia paid 50 per cent of the cost of that after it was done. Basically, they had wells and septics and—across [inaudible] working. That was probably one of the really good examples of overseas foreign aid working really well. There was absolutely no corruption because we paid at the end of it when they got it reticulated and metred, and then 50 per cent of that cost was paid. Would your respective organisations have collaborated with DFAT to do that? Is that how it’s working? Are DFAT drawing on your experience, say, in Melbourne Water and your research and extrapolating that to a place like Surabaya?

Mr Thwaites : The project that Rod was talking about at the Monash Sustainable Development Institute that Professor Rebekah Brown is leading is to deliver a new form of sanitation for people in slums—which has not in the past been achieved—using green technologies. That project actually does involve Melbourne Water; Melbourne water are supporting the project and putting expertise into it—also South East Water plus all the researchers from Monash and other universities around the world. DFAT is supporting the project; although, not substantially in a funding sense. As the project goes along and expands, certainly there are opportunities for DFAT to make investments, because this could be a way to deliver safe and affordable sanitation to millions of people in slums who do not get it. So certainly that sort of collaboration is fantastic.

Prof. Glover : Yes. And, just to build on that, I think that there are a number of projects where DFAT are involved in to greater and lesser degrees—certainly, they're aware of them—that are fundamentally about innovation, and not so much about grabbing a proven technology and applying it in a new context but actually thinking about where you've got, for example, underdeveloped or non-existent infrastructure as a starting point. If you bring the best engineering technology, community engagement and social sciences to the problem, you can be experimenting across a number of sites as to what the best solution might be. So you are very actively involved in a learning process, and increasingly that's how aid programs are reconciling what has traditionally been, 'How do we bring our technology to someone else?' and the reality that a lot of these solutions are only sustainable if they're owned by the local community. So I think that the DFAT's involvement almost can't be at a distance in the same way it might have in the past. It actually needs to engage quite directly with communities, with a view that you want community ownership to be on the ground, but it's a process by which you get from here to there.

CHAIR: I didn't get a sense from either of your answers that there was a particularly close relationship with DFAT.

Mr Thwaites : Sorry, what was your question?

CHAIR: We've done a number of inquiries into overseas aid and we look for stuff that works. They point us occasionally to something that has worked. But I don't see or hear any connectivity between DFAT, you and you, as small as I thought it would be.

Mr Thwaites : No, I think it is strong. I think there is a good relationship. On this project, we're keeping DFAT closely engaged. It's funded by the Wellcome Trust, which is one of the biggest global medical philanthropic trusts, and the Asian Development Bank, but there are discussions underway with DFAT about potential support. As an example of how these projects can expand using the goals, a key aspect of this is gender equality. A lot of women and girls are assaulted when they're going to the toilet or because there isn't a proper toilet and they don't have one in their house, and part of this whole process is to try to reduce violence against women. There is potential to research how we can best do that. What is the most effective way to do that? Through sanitation there are real opportunities. That is something we have talked to DFAT about. We would look at building even closer relations around these projects.

Senator McGRATH: I've got a couple of questions. What was your fourth recommendation? Could you read that out again. Sorry.

Mr Thwaites : I'm happy to explain that. It is: 'to collaborate with business on development of standards for Sustainable Development Goals impact reporting by business and investors'. If you'd like, I'm happy to explain that.

Senator McGRATH: If you could. I'm one of those people who is obsessed by red tape and regulation, especially when it is being imposed upon business. So I would probably like you to address that. Are we talking about multinationals? Are we talking about small and medium businesses? How would you see that, and how would see it impact in terms of telling a business, 'You've got to do the following,' from that regulatory side?

Mr Thwaites : This isn't about small and medium businesses. This is about making sure we don't get greenwashing of SDG impact.

Senator McGRATH: What do you mean by greenwashing?

Mr Thwaites : Where companies claim to be doing the right thing by Sustainable Development Goals investments when they're not really doing anything. It's also to bolster the market for SDG investing. Just to go back a step, major banks, investors and pension funds around the world are now wanting to invest in Sustainable Development Goals activities, so the ANZ bank has issued a $500 million SDG bond. This follows the issuing of climate bonds, which is an expanding investment market. One of the issues around that is there aren't any clear standards now for what an SDG bond is and how you should report on success. If it turns out that that money is called an SDG bond but it's really going into things that aren't consistent with the SDGs it will have two impacts. One is it will undermine trust in the market and the other is it will mean that, instead of the money going to the right places, it will go to the wrong places.

Around the world now there's this movement to have clear standards about what are genuine impacts that need to be achieved—for example, additionality; it has to be more than business as usual. It's not about red tape. This would probably be a business-led process, but it needs to have some level of standards attached to it.

Senator McGRATH: I have a view about the goals that they sort of miss one of the most important parts of developments in developing countries: democracy, and promoting democracy and civic society and things like that. They do touch upon that, but in terms of what we're looking into here point e of the reference given to this committee is:

e. what SDG are currently being addressed by Australia’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) program;

I would like you to expand upon that. Do you think we should also be looking at how we promote democracy in the Indo-Pacific region? It's sort of touched upon in one of the goals—I think I have it here—maybe goal 16.

Prof. Glover : Can I have a go at that?

Senator McGRATH: Yes, if you could address that—I think that's important for society.

Prof. Glover : I'll come at it from a slightly different angle. One of the questions in the terms of reference was about where the opportunities are where Australia might have unique expertise that might be of assistance to other countries. Actually public administration, institutional design and governance are areas where Australia rates as well as almost anywhere in the world—not necessarily, in your indicators of public administration and governance, on international benchmarks but on performance over the last century. We have been an institutional innovator as far as governments around the world go.

We also already play a really significant role in helping new governments being established—for instance, in the case of East Timor originally. In the past many of our senior officials, particularly out of Treasury, have played significant roles in helping developing countries establish good public administration and governance. I think that area is a bit of a no-brainer for us to be thinking about how we can contribute something that a lot of emerging economies and emerging countries are definitely in need of.

Senator McGRATH: Do you think we should be doing more in that space? If so, how should we be doing it?

Prof. Glover : I think we do quite a bit in this space that doesn't get a lot of credit, particularly out of Treasury and Finance. In this region we are surrounded by developing countries that face governance challenges alongside a range of other challenges, whether that's around resources or poverty. We have a responsibility to play a much stronger role in supporting that, always being conscious that the sustainable solution is going to be one where countries own it themselves—they feel a sense of ownership of it and design it. In short, yes, I think we can do more in that space.

Mr Thwaites : There is a specific goal around governance and justice, which is goal 16, and there is a specific target—target 16.7—to ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. You have to understand that these are SDGs that were signed by every country—

Senator McGRATH: Yes, 193, but a lot of them aren't parliamentary democracies.

Mr Thwaites : To get a goal and a target like that was a significant achievement. Once again, it's another example of how the goals can be so helpful and useful. Without saying that you have to have our form of government, you can say that this is a target you signed up to and that is to have representation and participation.

Senator McGRATH: I suppose in our region, especially the Pacific, we do want to push parliamentary democracy in terms of empowering those nation-states. I know all these goals are as important as the others, but I think democracy would come first in terms of many of the issues that have been raised. You talked about participation. Once people turn 18 they are able to participate in terms of having a vote as such. In the statement you read out—and I can't remember the person's name, sorry—they made a comment about the young generation being more politically active. Are you able to, on notice, get evidence of that as such? I'm sure that there are reports and things like that that can reference that. That would be quite interesting to see in terms of another inquiry I'm involved with.

Dr Kestin : I'll do that.

Senator McGRATH: Cool, thank you.

Dr Kestin : I don't think I mentioned her name. Her name is Michelle Huang and she is the SDSN Youth representative for our region. I'll take that on notice.

Senator McGRATH: Thank you.

CHAIR: The obvious place to look is New Guinea. How do you think we are going in terms of governance, probity and all those things at the bureaucratic level? Do you think those institutions are strong?

Prof. Glover : I wouldn't feel qualified to answer it.

Senator MOORE: It's a critical issue. One thing the discussion has brought out is that there are lots of goals and lots of indicators. People sometimes get focused on one area and don't realise the width of this agenda. That is one of the most exciting things but also one of the most challenging things. Some conferences have been held over the years, supported by DFAT. Different people are interested in different areas. Mark Dreyfus actually talked about goal 16 in a presentation he gave to the last one. That was completely different to what other people were talking about. The democracy stuff is critical. That's where the young people are really focussed, which is another fascinating element.

This is a general question, and there's no right answer. There are a range of submissions. The people who have bothered to submit of course are really interested, and that's what happens all the time with inquiries. A lot of them have talked about the lack of awareness in the wider community. A lot of them have talked about the need for a national coordinating plan. But a few of them recently have said that there seems to be some hope as a result of the voluntary report, that that was a point of time—2016, 2017, 2018—and that there is real hope that that voluntary report will be the stimulus for more action. I'd like to get your view. The recent submitters that were giving evidence were talking about recent activity, and I'm wondering whether, from your perception, you have a hope. You've been working in it and all the development activities that led up to the goals since before they were signed, so you've been in there invested for a while. Is there hope? Certainly, I've gone from frustration, and I'm not quite sure whether hope's winning but I'm interested to see whether you are hopeful that we can actually make this work.

Mr Thwaites : I'm certainly hopeful, and I think there is an increasing interest. For example, last week we hosted Professor Jeff Sachs. He is the global director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which I chair for Australia. He spoke here in Melbourne and we had more than 1,000 people there. We had to close the invitation list and I would say a very good proportion were young people. There were a lot of 20- to 30-year-olds. So that certainly gave me a lot of hope. His basic message is that we're in an age where sustainable development is the key challenge. There's massive population growth and urbanisation, and there are environmental pressures and social pressures. If we're going to keep growing and being prosperous, we have to work out how to balance all of those things. That was his basic message. I think that's really positive.

At the level of big business and investors, there's increasing interest, and what will drive that more than anything is the investors—the pension funds and others. They say they're interested because they say their future's not decided just by the returns on the stock market this quarter; it's what the total economic and social position is in the next 10 or 15 years for all their members. So I think that's having an impact. I don't think it's a top-of-mind issue for small and medium-sized business, who are just getting on with trying to survive, and I understand that—I think it's probably a big ask to think it's going to be. So I think it's basically this continual, progressive improvement in understanding, rather than thinking that there's going to be a magic bullet. And that will be aided—once again, going back to my first recommendation—by an annual report to the parliament, because every year we'll put our mind to it and how we're going.

I'll conclude with this. One of the real benefits of this is that it gives you a helicopter view of what's happening. Sometimes you just see the negatives or the worst things. That's all that's in the press. But actually, when you see this, you can see Australia has done incredibly well in health, and, if we can do so well in health, we can probably do as well in other areas. So I think my answer would be that I certainly feel hopeful, but it needs continual work to build and build.

Senator MOORE: Professor Glover?

Prof. Glover : Similarly, I'm in the hopeful camp. I think that if you look at governments around the world—if you look at countries like Canada and New Zealand, where their prime ministers have made much more explicit statements about where they stand on—

Senator MOORE: I think it's really despite those.

Prof. Glover : Similarly, even at the state government level, the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability here in Victoria is using the SDGs framework to just do things differently and to do her reviews quite differently on a range of issues that are not just environmental issues but cut across economic and social.

Senator MOORE: It's in the language. The Victorian government are using the language, which I'm not convinced other states are doing.

Prof. Glover : Which probably is one of the big challenges that not many people have spoken about in the SDG space in Australia. We're a federation. I think how this works in a federal system, how it relates to COAG processes or intergovernmental processes, is something that has been underdone, as it is in probably most areas of policy. On the investment side, I agree with John: it's the pension funds that are driving this. But it is also big business. The super funds did an analysis of the ASX 200 and, as part of the sustainable development council work, asked the question: how are they genuinely engaging with the SDGs? What emerged from that is this definite increase in references to the SDGs and also an increase in deep, genuine engagement, as opposed to greenwashing or rainbow-washing.

Senator MOORE: So that's the washing aspect.

Prof. Glover : It's deeper than that, and what's interesting there is that its multinationals that are actually getting there first because they're more sensitised to a lot of those reputational risks but also because of innovation opportunities that attached to their global operations. Finally, I think young people and some of the more entrepreneurial parts of our economy and society are going to demand it. So, across all of those sectors, I think it's rising in terms of awareness and influence.

Dr Kestin : I will just say that certainly the Voluntary National Review has done a huge amount to raise awareness more generally and engagement, and the real challenge now is to harness that enthusiasm from not just within government but across the board in universities—

Senator MOORE: So there's a lot of enthusiasm—the fact that that happened.

Dr Kestin : There was enthusiasm about being consulted and getting an opportunity to tell their story. But the VNR is something that happens twice in the next—

Senator MOORE: And we've said that.

Dr Kestin : We've done it once. So what is actually going to be happening now to keep this going? I think part of the crux will be: what are the ongoing mechanisms that keep the SDGs top of mind? Certainly, we've suggested some that we think will be very strong mechanisms. I'm not sure where the government is thinking around that at the moment, in terms of how they'll continue the process.

CHAIR: To prove the points that you've made this morning, can I just ask: what's the current reporting framework? Who does it now?

Mr Thwaites : Which reporting?


Mr Thwaites : It's the Voluntary National Review. Under the agreement Australia signed, countries agreed to report to the UN. But that's only every five years or so. We did ours this year.

CHAIR: It was five years ago.

Dr Kestin : It was 7.5 years on average.

Mr Thwaites : Yes, every seven years, so—

CHAIR: The point you make is that people in parliament know nothing about it, and we all have different areas of interest, and until senators all very diligently put this reference together and got it ticked off—I did; I had bugger all idea what we were talking about. And I've been in parliament seven years, so I'm sure there are people who have been in there longer than me who have no idea about it.

Prof. Glover : One of the interesting things about where this is going is that there are a lot of different frameworks that governments use to set their priorities or assess their performance. What is unique about the Sustainable Development Goals is that this is going to be a global reference point from here till 2030, and I think that makes a special case for it to be elevated in terms of profile. It is going to be the subject of international conversations that Australia's having, and how Australia is performing is going to be the subject in those international conversations. So it does make a case for why it is this and not the dozens of other reporting frameworks that governments could use.

Senator MOORE: I'm interested to know what government thinks of this particular report, because it was independently done, and there are arguments to say it's a good thing to have an independent assessment, as opposed to one that government does, and that leads to all the aspects about the process. But the VNR was done, there was no report to parliament. It was a very dynamic time in parliament when the VNR was done. We weren't even sure who was going to give it at one stage. But it was done, and for those who were already in the system—

CHAIR: Who did give it?

Senator MOORE: Connie. Connie went. Connie was going, and then the person from the UN did it. And it was a wonderful thing because we had a young Aboriginal person there. The PR around it was brilliant at the UN, but there was no report to parliament. For people who were interested, they were, and then the organisations who are at the bottom of this did the independent review, which I thought was fabulous. I don't know whether there has been a government response to this evaluation, linking it all together. You did the independent element, and it was very balanced. There were some things that were absolutely superb, and we should be celebrating those. And there were key areas where we weren't doing as well, and they're sensitive, and they're mainly around climate, which is no surprise. But how we get all this linked together is still uncertain for me. I don't know how it comes together. These are questions that we will be discussing with government, of course. But that doesn't seem to have been worked out, and now the point is: where do we go? So has there been a government response to this evaluation?

Mr Thwaites : Not a formal response but we've kept really close relations.

Senator MOORE: I know you talk all the time.

Mr Thwaites : On the point you made about having an independent assessment, I think there are some real advantages in that, because a group of independent experts, which is essentially what has done this, can step back in a way that a public servant can't always do. I should say that, in establishing this, we've established subgroups of experts for different goals, which is proving really helpful and I think will help the Australian government. For example, the water indicators, which have been reported internationally and are reported by the World Health Organization and others, are actually not accurate, and Australia does better than those figures. So our group of experts are putting together data which will then go to the World Health Organization, which will make Australia look better than they have in the past. I think that's of benefit. We are planning to have a briefing with DFAT in November. We were going to have it in a week or so, but I think it's been deferred.

Senator MOORE: It's fairly dynamic there at the moment.

Mr Thwaites : We are planning to have that. Rod, I don't know whether there are any other comments you want to make in relation to personnel or anything.

Prof. Glover : We've worked really closely with DFAT and a number of the departments in coming to assessments. We've had frank conversations where government officials have said, 'That data's not right,' and we've changed it. The relationship is closer than I think it might appear at face value, but we've always valued what we could get from an independent, expert and one-step-removed perspective that, as John indicated, public officials might find it difficult to say.

Senator MOORE: I think there's a real strength in that, but it's how we then combine all the efforts. Certainly my head aches when I try and work out how many different organisations there are, and they all sound the same. All the titles of all the different groups that are working in this space sound similar. It's like the Monty Python sketch in terms of where it goes. It's how people can get a sense of ownership and accountability and commitment to the whole process. That, to me, hasn't been mapped out. If you want to get to who is doing what in this space, I think it's hard to find. I don't know whether it's just that I'm pressing the wrong buttons or whether we're still evolving that relationship.

Prof. Glover : It's worth pointing out that the National Sustainable Development Council was formed out of the guts of what was previously the National Sustainability Council, which was actually a federal government-appointed body that was supported by the secretary of the department of the environment.

Senator MOORE: And then it was killed. It ended.

CHAIR: The ANZ bond that you mentioned, with a three or four per cent return or whatever the market is saying about those bonds—does that attract superannuation funds and the like?

Mr Thwaites : Exactly.

CHAIR: When I was sitting on it, we would look at private equity and we'd be terrified about private equity as an individual project, but, if you're invested in a fund of funds—a fund which then takes 100 positions across private equity—it's much less threatening. Is that a similar model that ANZ are using with sustainable development in bank bonds?

Mr Thwaites : I'm not 100 per cent sure I understood that last point you were making.

CHAIR: If you're a trustee and you look at private equity, you realise three out of 10 shoot the lights out and the other seven lose lots of money. That's a reputational risk and, as an individual trustee, you don't want to look at that.

Mr Thwaites : No.

CHAIR: So you invest in a fund which invests in 100 funds investing in private equity. If there is $500 million with ANZ, and that's spread across all the SDG impacted areas, some of those are going to fail but there is no reputational—in the whole asset allocation it's going to return a positive, accepting that some are not going to do that. Is that what ANZ have set up?

Prof. Glover : I think it's actually more direct than indirect. What you're describing is how the indirectness of it, in a sense, disguises to some extent what you're doing. In fact, I think it's quite the opposite of that. I think that this is around investors and classes of investors that proactively want to be involved in a particular space.

CHAIR: Then the funds would really get individual investors to tick off that they're into ethical and/or—

Prof. Glover : Individual investors or individual investors that have invested in super funds with particular strategies or pension funds with particular strategies—

CHAIR: You can choose an ethical line of investments in your superannuation account, which excludes the sin stocks of alcohol, tobacco and gambling.

Senator MOORE: And more people are doing that.

CHAIR: That is quite common with sharia funds, which do exactly the same thing. So it's not an unusual thing in investment circles to talk about this sort of stuff. It's just that, if you're looking at retiring with $100,000 or $150,000, you're not likely to be all that ethical about your decisions. That's the situation that a lot of people in industry super funds face. They're never going to get enough to live on at this stage, in the next 10 years. People on the 50-year horizon might think entirely differently. For institutions like industry super funds, it's really an education thing about membership at inception as to which way they want to invest over the horizon.

Prof. Glover : What's interesting about industry super funds is their member interest, so the long-term interest of their members and the community those members operate are probably more closely aligned to the long-term interests of the community as a whole.

Senator MOORE: I've just got two more questions, Chair. Firstly, can we find out who funds all the different organisations that are working in this space? I know that a lot is actually done at Monash and that Monash invests a lot in keeping it going. Some of those things have federal government support. I'm just trying to find out the various organisations that are involved in the process and the funding base for them. Secondly, on the universities, the university document is extraordinarily interesting, and I know it has been picked up. The number of universities involved is really confronting when you first read it, because you see how many people are doing things that you just didn't know about. I'm interested in the model, and I've had this discussion with a couple of the universities about that. The nature of universities is intrinsically competitive, and the way funding operates in the current system and will operate in the foreseeable future is also competitive. How is that combined effort around SDGs, and particularly now with the increasing work that many unis are doing in the international development space—much more than in the past—being achieved? How are you able to balance coming together to cooperate and share in the SDG space at the same time that the funding model for a lot of activity is clearly based on competition? It happens in lots of sectors. With the immense work that is being done in this area and the leadership work with the university sector, is there anything you can tell us about how that works and the balancing needed in that?

Prof. Glover : It's probably worth talking about SDSN and the way sustainable development solutions work. So, even though it's hosted at Monash, it's a network of universities across Australia and the world that plays in this space.

Dr Kestin : What we're looking for is how to help the sector as a whole. The reason for doing a guide like that was that all the universities are benefiting from the additional both external exposure of the sector, because I think a lot of it is hidden and happens within the organisations and the word doesn't get out so much, and to help them engage with their own university leaderships and staff and students. I don't know if we will get around the competitiveness, but there are certainly ways—

Senator MOORE: You just have to live with it, I know. But people acknowledge that that is a factor.

Dr Kestin : It is a factor, but you can still be competitive and support the SDGs in a greater way. I think one of the things that other countries are doing, for example, is providing funding that is actually tied to what they call global challenges. I think they provide in the UK something like $15 billion on—

Senator MOORE: The UK seem to be doing good work in this space, don't they?

Dr Kestin : Yes. It is basically a research fund that universities can compete for, but it is actually focused on addressing those really intractable, difficult problems that society faces. There are other ways that the sector can be helped to do more, and I think now is the time.

Mr Thwaites : I'd just say a few things. One is talking about Europe. The EU is looking at their next round of research funding for post-2020, and it's likely that the sustainable development goals will be one of the criteria in that which will drive more—

Senator MOORE: It makes such sense.

Mr Thwaites : And that's certainly something within Australia, if achievement of the sustainable development goals is one of the criteria that the research organisations look towards, that will drive more university research and activity. The second point I'd make is, that while of course universities are quite competitive, there's also a strong incentive to collaborate too in research. Through the SDGs and the SDSN, Monash is collaborating with other universities on major research projects and activities. For example, we're commencing a really major project on food, agriculture, biodiversity, land use and emissions. How do you pull all those things together to provide enough food in a zero carbon environment that is also healthy?

We are doing that jointly with ClimateWorks—which is part of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute—the CSIRO, Deakin University and at the University of Queensland.

Senator MOORE: Yes, it's fantastic.

Mr Thwaites : That is part of a global project of which the SDSN is one of the co-leaders. It will bring together most of the countries of the world around this food issue.

Senator MOORE: Food and nutrition are underdone in terms of evaluation.

Mr Thwaites : Exactly. It's an area that, in the carbon debate in Australia, we have really not had much discussion about. It's all been about energy and electricity, whereas obviously food is a key part. So I think this is a fantastic example of how the SDGs are driving collaboration. The SDSN is driving collaboration across Australia and across the world, and government can really get behind this. With this particular project, the federal agricultural department is involved. The Queensland agriculture department has now said it wants to be part of it. The Victorian agriculture department has also said that. So it's a fantastic example.

Senator MOORE: That's some of the glue you were talking about earlier—the glue that brings communities together.

Prof. Glover : It's a genuinely collaborative space. With SDSN, John, in particular, will often deliver the keynotes at other university networks around the SDGs. There is a really collaborative relationship between those networks. So there will be a group of different players that emerge in this space. The other one thing that's really going to change this space is the Times Higher Education rankings. They are just about to do, for the first time, innovation impact rankings. Rankings really affect the behaviour of universities.

Senator MOORE: They sure do.

Prof. Glover : The entire innovation impact rankings are based on the SDGs. So if you want a signal for universities to shift behaviour, it's coming. That will report in Korea in about April next year for the first time.

Senator MOORE: That will be really interesting to see. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your submissions, for your appearance and for answering our questions.

Pr oceedings suspended from 10:47 to 10:59