Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales—Minister for International Development and the Pacific) (13:22): I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the address-in-reply speech by His Excellency the Governor-General on the opening of the 45th Parliament. Senator Wong, as the shadow minister for foreign affairs, hopefully not only will find what I have to say as being of interest but also will agree wholeheartedly with a lot of what I am about to say. I want to specifically focus on His Excellency's comments regarding foreign affairs, trade and investment, and most especially my area of international development and the Pacific.
I was delighted to attend my first Pacific Islands Forum recently in Pohnpei—in fact, I just got back yesterday evening—in the Federated States of Micronesia. The Pacific Islands Forum, or PIF, as it is referred to, is the only gathering of Pacific leaders in a region where Australia has core strategic and security interests. The participation of the Prime Minister and I demonstrates Australia's commitment to the region as a major partner and our intention to step up engagement to address the challenges faced by the region.
At the forum the Prime Minister outlined his four priorities for PIF: to underline Australia's long-term commitment as a major and reliable partner on strategic security, economic and development issues in the Pacific region; to reinforce PIF's role in strengthening resilience and capability to meet the significant challenges facing the region; to outline new, substantial commitments by Australia to help meet those challenges, including on support for climate change and improving disaster management and risk reduction; and to listen to the views of other Pacific nations and exchange ideas on the ways we can intensify and sharpen regional approaches in support of our core and common interests in security, stability and sustainable growth.
The Prime Minister emphasised our interests in the region and that the complexity of the challenges we face demand more engagement at every level, more integrated policy and fresh ideas. Our government's commitment will be guided by our foreign policy white paper next year. These initiatives will support continued stability and resilience in our region, and the forum is an important partner in this shared goal. Australia supports the Framework for Pacific Regionalism and progress by the forum to take forward regional cooperation on key priorities, particularly in relation to climate change and disaster risk management. We further see opportunity to strengthen the forum's value-add in generating political support for regional action and providing practical support to help ensure that action is coordinated and effective.
As the Prime Minister noted at the forum, Australia supports the new, proposed Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific, which crucially links work on climate change with disaster risk management.
Australia will also support the early establishment of the Pacific Resilience Partnership as the mechanism for implementing and coordinating action on the framework. We are pleased also that the forum leaders have agreed on a statement of principles to accelerate action and enhance coordination of climate finance. It underlines the commitment of all in the region and makes clear that the Pacific has a real plan of action to address this challenge.
For Australia, there is no more pressing need for regional action than on climate change and resilient development. The climate conference in Paris set the global framework, and we must now work together to implement those commitments in line with our national priorities and help us as a region to deliver on our commitments. As announced by the Prime Minister, Australia will provide $300 million to Pacific Island countries over the next four years, including $775 million for addressing the impacts of climate change and disasters. This is an increase of $80 million on current levels of assistance, and these investments are based on Pacific national priorities. Australia will engage closely on what is most critical now to our Pacific neighbours and we will be supported by our overall overseas development assistance programs that are increasingly climate smart.
The Prime Minister also noted that we will continue to work to secure a substantial share of Green Climate Fund resources for the Pacific. Australia has committed $200 million to the fund over four years and co-chairs the Green Climate Fund board this year. We will be commencing the ratification process for the Paris agreement as soon as parliamentary processes allow. We are committed to working with the region to ensure the Pacific remains secure for all of us.
Australia's defence white paper identified the security and stability of Australia's immediate neighbourhood as our highest strategic priority after the defence of Australia. Our commitment to the Pacific is underlined in our Pacific Maritime Security Program. Importantly, we had discussions at the forum about illegal fishing and the need for nations of our region to be able to stop it. Of course, that is where the provision of patrol boats, particularly the new Pacific Patrol Boat program, are so important. We are also providing additional support in terms of aerial surveillance so that illegal fishers can be identified, and we will be providing new vessels to replace the current patrol boats.
We are also very focused on building resilience in the region through long-term economic prosperity. Australia is committed to facilitating greater economic integration in the region. To this end it is vital that we move forward with PACER Plus, the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations free trade agreement. Conclusion of this agreement will improve economic growth prospects and support structural reform in Pacific island countries.
There is already significant momentum towards greater integration in the region. Links between our people are increasing, including through our Seasonal Worker Program. In 2015-16, some 4½ thousand workers from participating Pacific countries undertook short placements in Australia, mostly in agriculture. Up to 40 workers from Kiribati will begin work in aged care and tourism in the coming months under Australia's Pacific Microstates —Northern Australia Worker Pilot. This program will allow 250 citizens from Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu to work for up to three years in low-skilled occupations in northern Australia. Labour mobility measures such as these have the potential to boost regional economic development more than any other measure. It is important that we continue to build on this momentum.
Forum leaders also discussed the importance of continuing support to Solomon Islands following the conclusion of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands in June 2017. Australia has been proud to play a leading role in RAMSI since its inception in 2003, and our commitment will continue long after RAMSI concludes.
Discussions with Solomon Islands on Australia's post-RAMSI support are ongoing. Our support will include ongoing police-to-police advisory support, to consolidate the gains made under RAMSI. We are also discussing arrangements with Solomon Islands that would allow deployment of additional military, police and civilian personnel, at their request, in the event of a significant security or humanitarian crisis.
I would now like to focus on Australia's commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. Our globalised world has delivered great prosperity. It is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before, living standards are rising and the promise of technology seems boundless. But yet millions around the world have been left behind.
The Millennium Summit, held at the UN headquarters in New York, produced the Millennium Development Goals—and recognition by countries of the world that there remains much to do to assist the millions not sharing in the prosperity. Former Prime Minister John Howard recognised that bridging the global economic divide would remain a key objective for the United Nations into the new century.
In the years since the millennium goals were agreed, we have taken greater strides to realise this goal. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, and mortality rates for children under five have halved.
But there is still more to be done. In 2013, an estimated 375 million people—almost 12 per cent of the global workforce—got less than the World Bank's measure of absolute poverty: $1.25 per day. The Sustainable Development Goals were developed as a roadmap to push ahead with this task. In 17 goals, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development articulates the ambitions of nations to keep working towards a better world.
Australia took an active role in the development of these goals, so it is no accident that many of the 2030 Agenda's sustainable development goals line up directly with our own development priorities. Three of these goals—on growth, on gender and on governance—build on the strengths of our aid program, especially in the Pacific.
For example, the role of private-sector-led economic growth in driving poverty reduction aligns with our own objectives.
Our government's economic diplomacy agenda has been delivering results, especially in our region. Where traditional diplomacy builds stability, economic diplomacy delivers growth—recognising the crucial role of investment, trade and economically productive infrastructure.
I saw this firsthand during my recent visit to Malekula Island in Vanuatu, an island to which I was the first Australian minister to travel. In Malekula, we are helping rural cocoa growers improve the quality of their crop, establishing better links to markets, and, ultimately, getting more money into the pockets of rural families and communities.
Creating economic opportunity, particularly in agriculture, is one of the few paths to prosperity in remote island communities. It is pleasing to see that Australian businesses, like Haigh's Chocolates—
Senator Birmingham: An outstanding business, too!
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes, Senator Birmingham, in South Australia. Businesses like that are seeing the value—particularly to you, Senator Cameron, who share my love of chocolates—in buying and marketing a boutique product produced in the Pacific region. This is sustainable development in action.
Gender equality also matches neatly with Australia's development program. Our focus on gender is driven by a recognition that empowering women is a strong contributor to economic growth and stability. If we empower a woman, we empower her family and we empower her society. That is why our aid program requires that 80 per cent of our total investments effectively address gender issues in their implementation.
I recently visited parts of Fiji recovering from the devastation of Cyclone Winston. The cyclone had a particularly devastating impact on economic infrastructure, including town markets and the mostly women vendors. Rather than just rebuilding the market, Australia is working with local women's groups to identify issues which are of importance to them. For example, in the township of Rakiraki, which I visited, the women vendors at the market often have to stay overnight with their young children, often at considerable cost and personal risk. So, as part of our assistance, Australia is not only funding the reconstruction of the market in Rakiraki but also funding a new accommodation centre which will mean that the women can stay overnight in a safe place and bring their goods to market, in turn making it easier for them to earn an income, retain that income and add to the economic prosperity of Fiji.
The Sustainable Development Goal relating to peace and governance dovetails perfectly with our efforts on anticorruption in various forums, including in the G20. It reflects our commitment to human rights—witnessed by our bid to join the UN Human Rights Council in 2018. And it is clearly evidenced by our ongoing commitment to RAMSI in the Solomon Islands.
As RAMSI heads towards its expected conclusion next year, we can be proud of Australia's efforts to promote peace and governance in our region. Our Pacific Island neighbours face particularly complex development challenges, which we are committed to helping address.
We will also continue to work with our partners in the private sector and to look for new partners. This will include initiatives like our Business Partnerships Platform, which designs and builds commercially sustainable solutions to development challenges.
The Addis program on development finance is a practical means for us to address this ambition. This program acknowledges that success for the Sustainable Development Goals will require us to mobilise all sources of development finance—public, private and international. It highlights the importance of ensuring developing countries can sustainably raise the means to support their own prosperity, including by having effective taxation, strengthening financial markets, building market access to improve trade and encouraging and facilitating private investment. So success for the 2030 agenda will require a concerted effort by all of us through genuine partnership with our Pacific and global neighbours.
I now turn to what the government is doing in aid and development more generally. In 2016-17 the official aid spend will be $3.8 billion from a total government budget of an estimated $445 billion. This is an estimated 0.23 per cent of gross national income. The Australian government's development policy document Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty, enhancing stability was released in 2014. Our investment priorities are: infrastructure; trade facilitation and international competitiveness; agriculture, fisheries and water; effective governance; education and health; building resilience; and gender equality and empowering women and girls.
Investment priorities for each country and regional program are reflected in aid investment plans that are available on DFAT's website. At least 90 per cent of our aid is directed to the Indo-Pacific region, particularly our immediate neighbourhood in South East Asia and the Pacific. Examples include preventing health threats, such as drug resistant tuberculosis spreading to Australia through a major program in PNG, and countering radicalisation, including through a justice and security partnership with the government of Indonesia. These are only two of a far greater number.
We are on track to spend 20 per cent of the aid budget on aid-for-trade investments by 2020. Aid for trade helps developing countries improve their capacity to trade, contributing to economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction. For example, we are partnering with the World Bank Group to help developing countries improve policies and regulations to attract, retain and extend foreign direct investments. Our plan is for a strong, prosperous and secure Australia. Fundamental to this is a strong, prosperous and secure region, especially the Pacific.
Australia's aid program contributes to prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, including through humanitarian assistance in response to disasters. Aid contributes to sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction and stability. There are 456 million people who live in extreme poverty—that is, less than US$1.90 a day—in Asia and the Pacific region. With poverty comes poor health and education and a lack of economic productivity, and it contributes to instability. Australia benefits if citizens in its region are healthy, well-educated and making an economic contribution and thereby lessening their dependency.
We also benefit if our neighbouring countries are stable, well-governed and open to trading opportunities. Aid complements other steps the government is taking to make our region safer and more prosperous. When disasters strike, we help to save lives and rebuild critical infrastructure. As a responsible neighbour in the region, it is the right thing to do. We take a rigorous approach to the effectiveness of Australian aid. Our Australian aid program is not charity. We have strategic targets focused on aid effectiveness, value for money and performance benchmarks with partner governments. We have a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and corruption. Potential losses from fraud and corruption in the aid program in 2014-15 were 0.026 per cent of expenditure, about $1.3 million.
By supporting aid for trade and economic integration in the region we create an environment that benefits Australian business. By reducing poverty we empower millions of people to lead healthy and productive lives.
This promotes self-reliance and stability in countries across our region. By working to build stable and secure societies we help counter violence, radicalisation and transboundary threats that could affect Australians and our national security. Through investments in health we are preventing threats, such as drug resistant tuberculosis, malaria and the zika virus, from spreading to Australia.
In conclusion, Australia's development investments in the Asia-Pacific are making a positive difference. The Prime Minister and I attended the Pacific Island Forum to demonstrate Australia's continued commitment to help meet the many challenges facing our region, including climate change, transnational threats and security issues, as well as poverty in our region. Last week we demonstrated that right across the board Australia is providing considerable support and real partnership. It is one that respects the independence and sovereignty of the nations of the Pacific and one that recognises that we are all strong and committed partners for this region.
As I travel in the Pacific I reinforce Australia's commitment to building strong personal relationships that underpin this long commitment of partnership, which is so important for our prosperity and the prosperity of our region.
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