E&OE…

Well, thank you. Can I start by thanking you, Richard, for your very warm introduction; to the members and I believe some interns here this evening; but can I particularly acknowledge Professor Robin Burnett who taught me at ANU, so she's very pleased to see – [applause]

Absolutely, that deserves – [applause]

[Richard Broinowski, President of AIIA NSW: 'She takes responsibility for whatever the Minister is going to say tonight!']

She takes that responsibility!

Can I just start by saying that, of course, for more than 90 years now, the Australian Institute for International Affairs has been a leader in the conversation of ideas around how Australia engages with the world.

So it is with great pleasure that I am very pleased to have been invited here to speak about our engagement with our closest neighbors – the countries of the Pacific.

Since I became Minister for International Development and the Pacific 18 months ago, I have made it my mission to go out and see as much of the Pacific region as I can.

Of course, the Pacific is vitally important to Australia. 

Our efforts mean nothing unless we are a respected neighbour in our region.

In fact, my trip to Samoa this month for the 48th Pacific Island Forum meeting was my 19th trip to the Pacific as Minister.

I started travelling in August last year.

Throughout my travels, I have been struck by both the scale of the challenges faced by our neighbours in the Pacific – but also by the resilience and the great sense of opportunity that abounds in the region.

It is no accident that Australia is held in particularly high regard in the Pacific.  

We are a trusted partner, and we respond quickly if any of our neighbours are in trouble.

Australian engagement and support goes back many years and not just on the rugby field and we know that rugby is very important in the Pacific! Important as it is, but we share so, so much with the Pacific.

One of the things that's really struck me very much is our shared military history. 

Whilst Kokoda and Milne Bay and Coral Sea and other famous battles capture the limelight, it is the less known events that well and truly cement our deep and longstanding relations.

Can I just take the time just to share a few of these that I have learnt of in my travels.

In World War I, the Royal Australian Navy supported the liberation of German Samoa in August 1914.  

And 75 years ago the during the Battle of Guadalcanal we lost Australia's largest-ever warship, HMAS Canberra, as she and her crew bravely provided cover for allied landings before falling victim to Japanese fire and dropping to her watery grave in the Solomon Islands waters off Savo Island.

I joined survivors of this battle and families of veterans on HMAS Success last month to lay wreaths and 84 tiny crosses made by Australian schoolchildren in the ocean for those sailors who now rest with their ship at the bottom of what has now become Iron Bottom Sound – Iron Bottom Sound because there are so many ships and aircraft at the bottom of that very, very deep water.

Guadalcanal, of course, was the first major offensive and decisive victory for the Allies in the Pacific.

Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands were of great strategic importance for both sides in the Pacific War. 

If the Japanese had captured the island, they could have cut off the sea route between Australia and the United States.

If the Americans controlled the island, they would have maintained that vital supply route from Australia to the US and also protected the Allied build-up in Australia.

We also ran a complex spy network, the 'Coastwatchers'. The Coastwatchers and the scouts sent early warning of Japanese advances in the Pacific, which enabled Allied forces to then defend hard won territory.

From their jungle hideouts, the Coastwatchers radioed coded messages to the Commander of the Supreme Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific to the headquarters in Brisbane.

Australian Coastwatchers on Bougainville and New Georgia Islands were often able to provide Allied forces on Guadalcanal with advance notice of inbound Japanese air strikes.

This allowed the US fighters to take off and position themselves to attack Japanese bombers and fighters as they approached the island.

And of course, they also rescued airmen and sailors who had been shot down.

Of course, let's not forget – very famously – who then went on to be John F Kennedy, US president, was rescued by the Coastwatchers when they sank his PT109 patrol boat.

As the US Admiral of the Fleet, said, 'The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the South Pacific'.

There are memorials, of course, to the Coastwatchers and I was really pleased when we were there for the commemorations to hand in recognition of Australia's recognition of the Coastwatchers – we handed out medallions.

One was a 110-year old scout who had come down from the hills to come and receive his medallion. It really was a wonderful moment.

Of course, this was one of the many turning points in the war.

Other islands, less well known, it's little wonder that of course Kiribati and Nauru still use Australian currency.  

It is also a reflection of how our shared military history that binds us together.  

Within four days of the start of World War I, HMAS Melbourne arrived off Nauru, sending a landing party to the shore to haul down the German flag.

We also know we are still searching for five Australian prisoners of war who were executed by the Japanese soldiers during the occupation of Nauru in World War II. 

We hope that they can be found and given a proper burial. 

I have seen this first-hand in my visit to Nauru just how strategically important this Pacific Island was in both conflicts.

In Nauru, I'm told I'm the first Minister to tackle what's called the 'bomber walk' – this climb through the phosphate pinnacles to see the Japanese bunkers and the remains of a B-25 US Coral Princess which was shot down on one of the bombing missions. This is the highest point in Nauru.

And whilst in Kiribati, I had the opportunity to visit the Sisters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

Australian missionary nuns have long devoted their lives on the island of Tarawa, and I was moved to hear during then the 'Gilbert Islands' and the battle for the Gilbert Islands and the occupation by Japan during the Second World War.

Indeed, the Sisters have kept – and they were squirreled away to safety by the forces who ultimately came on – but they still kept the 'Declaration of Occupation' which was written by the Japanese Commander in 1941, as well as the Instrument of Surrender.

But, of course, Tarawa – which I believe was made into a very famous film as well – was one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific.

The remains of Allied soldiers are still being located and repatriated home from the beaches of Betio even as recently as July this year.

All of this serves as a reminder of how pivotal the Pacific islands were in the battle for the Pacific and how we share such a deep and entrenched connection with the Pacific.

I fear we have forgotten the war in the Pacific and our mutual interdependence with our neighbours at such a brutal time of our history.

But, of course, let's move forward to 1971 and Australia was a founding member of what was then the South Pacific Forum, supporting the cooperation and coordination that now drives the regional response to our shared challenges.

We were there in 2003 leading the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, RAMSI, a $3 billion dollar regional initiative to restore stability to one of our nearest neighbours.

And we were there – and we have been there consistently – when disaster has stuck, most recently in the aftermath of Cyclones Pam in Vanuatu and Cyclone Winston in Fiji.

In both cases, Australian humanitarian assistance came to the aid of our neighbors, supported by Australian Defence Force personnel. 

Australia has been there because the Pacific is our neighborhood, it is our backyard.

What was interesting was during the meetings in the Solomon Islands of the Pacific Island Forum to mark the end of RAMSI, Prime Minister Sogavare, Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, said that the one thing that RAMSI showed was that Australia wasn't just the 'big house on the block', but rather an integral part of the family – happy to come in and support a family member in trouble. 

The success of RAMSI was because the Pacific family came together. 

Yes, Australia was by far the largest donor – $2.8 billion over 14 years, but RAMSI brought together the big countries and the small countries. And we all joined together, we all contributed to help our neighbour who was in need. 

It was collaboration, it was a collective effort and has now become an international model for restoring stability and security to a troubled region.

Time and time again we have proven we are all stronger when we work together in partnership in the Pacific.

Today the region faces new challenges and they include slow economic growth, population pressures, climate events, health, education and above all security risks – security risks in the form of transnational crime challenges in the form of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and a range of other risks.

These challenges – I strongly believe and I know that this is very much the sentiment in the Pacific – these challenges are better faced together because if they are left unaddressed, they will impact on Australia.

In fact it is fair to say that it is a strategic imperative for our engagement in the Pacific to be stronger than ever.

The Defence White Paper makes it very clear.

Whilst the defence of Australia is our highest priority, the stability and security and prosperity of our neighbourhood in the Pacific is second only to the defence of Australia.

So, therefore, security and stability in the Pacific is paramount and everything that we do in the Pacific comes back to stability, security and prosperity in the Pacific.

At last year's Pacific Island Forum in Pohnpei, Prime Minister Turnbull undertook a commitment to refocus our engagement in the Pacific and basically to 'step-up' our engagement.

Earlier this month, at the Pacific Island Forum meeting in Apia in Samoa, the theme was the 'Blue Pacific: Our Sea of Islands'.

Prime Minister Turnbull delivered on the undertaking that he gave last year by announcing a series of initiatives.

Prime Minister Turnbull said he wanted to deepen engagement at every level with a focus on long-term actions and investments that will ensure the continued resilience and stability of the region.

Our 'step up' in the Pacific involves a broad range of measures including stronger partnerships for economic growth, cooperation for security and stability, and closer links between our peoples.

Many of you would be aware that the Australian Government's Foreign Policy White Paper will be released later this year. 

We expect this paper will reflect both the importance of our partnerships in the Pacific for Australia's prosperity and security, and our new level of engagement and ambition, as articulated through this 'step up'.

For us, it all starts with stronger relationships for economic growth. This is the first phase of what the Prime Minister was talking about in our 'step-up'.

We understand the importance of supporting the economic prosperity and of course economic prosperity underlies and underpins stability in any society.

One of the important ways that we can do this is by helping to build the economic opportunity that enables sustainable economic growth.

Most immediately, we are doing this by way of our economic diplomatic agenda: building the links in trade and private sector development that, of course, leads to jobs and opportunities.

At the heart of this is our update to the Pacific Agreement for Closer Economic Relations, which is known as 'PACER Plus'.

I was very pleased that at the Pacific Island Forum Meeting in Samoa, Vanuatu has also joined up and become the 11th country to sign on and we are hopeful that others will join soon.

PACER Plus provides a regional framework for economic cooperation, opening up opportunities in a range of new industries and for a range of new Pacific exports.

In the coming months, we will be supporting Pacific Island countries to develop their administrative capacity to implement the agreement.

We will also be running a series of workshops so that everybody understands and makes the most of this agreement.

Now, of course, as we know, if we build up the capacity of Pacific Island countries through their biosecurity and their customs framework and their export framework, then that's going to help them export more.

That's really what the basis of PACER is – a mix of a trade agreement, but also a development framework.

We're also providing opportunities to access our labour market and we've announced a new Pacific Labour Scheme to enable up to 2,000 low and semi-skilled workers in the Pacific to access jobs in Australia.

Workers from Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu will have access to the programme in the first instance, with more countries to be added progressively.

This programme, of course, complements our existing Seasonal Worker Programme, which will be streamlined to improve industry engagement and the efficiency of our processing arrangements.

These present enormous opportunities for the people of the Pacific to earn in Australia and, of course, make those vitally important remittances, which in turn invest in their own communities.

Remittances play a very important role in transforming the lives of the Pacific Islands, with workers who spend basically about six months working in Australia – their remittances are worth about $5,000 net. 

And that of course, will enable them to do a lot of things for themselves and for their families and their homes and build businesses or build homes in their countries of origin.

Now, of course, this is of great benefit to Australia in the agriculture, the health and hospitality sectors, where we do have labour shortages.

But, more importantly what it actually does is it builds capacity because that's really what it's about.

It's about building that vital capacity for people to take those skills back to their country.

Our Overseas Development Assistance, of course, is very important.

90 per cent of our ODA is spent in our Indo-Pacific region. 

For example, we are doing and we're building, or reinforcing governance structures that support investment and growth.

We are reforming education systems to create vitally important opportunities for the next generation of young people and we're also ensuring that health systems are in place to help people reach their potential.

We are working to make sure opportunities extend to all members of those societies, especially the women and the girls.

We have plenty of work to do here and we are committed to working on the role of women in government, in business and politics in the Pacific.

I have seen firsthand some of the life-changing ways that, by assisting women and girls, they in turn not just empower themselves, they empower their families, they empower their communities and I strongly believe they then empower their country.

Particularly on our focus with technical and vocational employment education, I had one instance of a couple – a husband who was very supportive of his wife. His wife, with some technical training in an island off Vanuatu, managed to develop their little business.

Their little bungalow has now become a thriving little tourism business and it's really wonderful to see those sort of things happening – not necessarily just in the main areas, but in some of the secondary islands in the Pacific.

We also, of course, work very closely with other donors. We collaborate most especially with the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, who will scale up their concessional finance to the Pacific in coming years and, of course, expand.

The Banks will double their concessional finance to the Pacific from 2017 to 2022 by adding $US 1.2 billion and $US2 billion respectively.

So that's the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank making them, along with Australia, the major financiers in the region.

We, of course, work very, very closely with the banks and have actually signed a tripartite Commitment with them to see the fruits of this collaboration, expand and see scale-ups of investments and ensure that the impact of those funds have as broad an impact as possible.

The second element of our 'step up' is our commitment to stronger partnerships for security and stability in the region.

Unchecked, security risks pose threats not just to our Pacific Island countries, but to Australia, both in terms of the humanitarian response, but also in terms of potential instability and lawlessness.

RAMSI was, for many younger Australians, the first sense of potential of the impacts of civil unrest in our region where we can see lawlessness descend into open conflict.

Watching what Solomon Islands is today and having had the opportunity to attend the RAMSI farewell in June, it really was palpable to see the impact that our support has in terms of the Pacific.

But what RAMSI has actually done is now created the basis for our Pacific neighbours' desire to have a post-RAMSI security framework.

Now, after RAMSI, we have signed a security treaty with the Solomon Islands and it is the first of a series of bilateral security treaties that we will sign.

And we also signed with Tuvalu and Nauru in Apia.

These, of course, are umbrella frameworks – umbrella arrangements which do cover existing cooperation, but also set the direction for new cooperation in areas such as health security and cybercrime.

We're in a process now of looking and signing security arrangements with other countries.

For many of the countries in the Pacific, we are the major security partner.

However, having said all of this, there is now a strong focus that we should move to what's been described as 'Biketawa Plus'.

'Biketawa', of course, was the declaration that was the founding declaration upon which the intervention in the Solomon Islands was based.

And so there is now a sense that this framework should be expanded to meet the new challenges in what is now being described as 'Biketawa Plus' and we're very pleased to see that this is progressing.

Of course, when we talk about security now in the Pacific, I describe it as small 's' security challenges: disease; cyber-attacks; climate events; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; drug trafficking; transnational crime and irregular immigration.

Now, of course, effective maritime surveillance is essential to protecting not just the borders of Pacific Island countries, but also enabling them to surveil their enormous economic zones and protect them from the illegal fishing, the unreported and unregulated fishing, but also from the drug trafficking and the irregular immigration.

Now, recently there was a record-breaking haul of cocaine of $320 million off New Caledonia which was headed for Australia, and it just goes to show just how these crime syndicates are now using that trade route – that route between the United States and Australia is now becoming a route of choice for getting drugs into Australia.

Australia, of course, has a very strong and longstanding Pacific Maritime Security Programme and we have been providing patrol boats under this programme to countries of the Pacific.

We are investing $2 billion to provide replacement vessels to 12 countries, along with enhanced coordination and aerial surveillance. These vessels are vitally important not just in terms of gathering information, but very much about law enforcement.

It will also complement the efforts that we make in working in partnership with organisations like the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Pacific Transnational Crime Network which operates out of Samoa.

We are facing, as I said, diverse security challenges and one of these is also health security.

Diseases like Ebola, T.B. and mosquito-borne diseases like Zika and Dengue are stark reminders of the shared responsibility epidemics and soon we will be announcing the details of our Health Security Initiative and the importance that it will play.

We are also very committed to being more innovative in what we do, particularly in the humanitarian space and therefore our efforts through the innovationXchange is very important – not just what we're doing in the humanitarian space, what we're doing in the health space and looking at ways that we can respond more effectively.

Effective pharmaceuticals is another area and we've also signed MOUs starting with Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu and Tonga, where our Pacific Pharmaceutical Laboratory Testing Programme will enable Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration to provide quality testing of medicines for countries in the Pacific.

This, of course, is very important.

Developing climate resilience and preparedness complements also the work that we do in the humanitarian space, but it also vitally important to regional security.

Fiji's presidency of COP23 is a key opportunity to highlight to the world the challenges that climate events pose in the Pacific and the work that we are doing together.

We are helping our neighbors to build that resilience and deal with the day-to-day impact of climate events.

Seven of the ten most disaster prone countries are in our region and so, therefore, the work that we are doing on the climate front is very important and was very much a focus of the 'Blue Pacific' theme at the last Pacific Island Forum Meeting.

We have a long history of supporting ocean and climate initiatives in our region, and of course conservation and sustainable use of our oceans, our sea and marine resources are vitally important.

We have worked very closely with the Pacific Island Forum on preparation of a new UN mechanism on conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

We support 14 Pacific Island meteorological services to improve forecasts and to measure sea level rises.

And of course, as co-chair of the Green Climate Fund, Australia has helped to secure US$250 million for Pacific climate resilience efforts. That's 11 per cent of the total Green Climate Fund has gone to projects in the Pacific.

We are also campaigning and working with the Commonwealth, particularly in terms of tackling the world-wide problem of plastics and micro-plastics which are polluting our oceans and killing our fish stocks.

We also have very close people-to-people links.

Around 660,000 Australians were born in the Pacific and every year there are three million people movements between the Pacific region and Australia.

Of course, this opens up enormous opportunities to build links in business, education and beyond.

Over the past ten years, more than 8,000 students from the Pacific have received Australia Awards Scholarships and in just three years since its launch, our Colombo Plan has brought more than 1,300 students from Australia out into the region.

This, of course, builds vitally important networks that enable those very important people-to-people links.

We also launched The Pacific Connect programme, which the Prime Minister announced at the Pacific Island Forum, again to build on these important networks and to establish leaders programmes focused on solving specific challenges in the Pacific. 

Our first one will be ICT capability in the region.

The Pacific diaspora in Australia, again – vitally important base for us here.

And so, can I conclude by a reflection as we move into now the 48th Pacific Island Forum and we plan for our 50th, the next one in Nauru.

I am sure that we are better prepared to face the challenges of our region – whether it's in climate, in security, in sustainable development, in oceans, in economic opportunities, in labour mobility; and we are doing so collectively.

We are doing so as a family and that's really the message that I really wanted to emphasise this evening that Australia is very much a part of the Pacific family; this is our neighbourhood and so it is vitally important to us.

Thank you.

Can I thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here this evening, but also for the Institute demonstrating an interest in the Pacific, which is very important.

As you can appreciate, I am very passionate about this! So, thank you very much for your kind attention.

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