RICHARD EWART:

Listening to what Senator Moore had to say, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific is Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.  Senator, good morning thank you too for joining us on Pacific Beat. So can you clarify the situation, is funding being cut or simply reallocated.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well the Australian Government has not cut support for HIV services in Papua New Guinea.  We remain, and can I just stress, we remain committed to helping PNG manage the health challenges that it does have including its response to HIV. What we are doing is increasing our focus on helping the government of PNG to sustainably deliver health and HIV services, using its own resources and systems. It is critically important Richard,  that PNG’s own health system can respond to its health security challenges, such as not just obviously HIV but the threat of drug resistant TB. So we are constantly reviewing how we provide aid, we work with the Papua New Guinean Government, we look at emerging health challenges to ensure that the funding that we give is effective and what we are doing in this instance is developing new arrangements, including funding for non-government organisations to commence in 2017/18 and NGOs of course have been and continue to be key partners for health, for HIV and for other programs, and we will continue to work with them and consult them.

RICHARD EWART:

So I presume therefore you would take issue with Stephen Howes at the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University, he says ‘up to ten thousand people living with HIV face an uncertain future, thousands of women and children will be exposed to health risks’, you would say otherwise?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, we know that there have been PNG media that published some factually inaccurate reports that we were withdrawing funding for HIV and for other NGO delivered health programs, and indeed the initial report was retracted by the relevant newspaper. As I have said we are working with the Government of PNG to ensure that our programs are effective and as efficient as possible, and of course reflecting Papua New Guinea’s changing health needs. Can I just say, Richard, recently at our parliamentary tabling of PNGs own special enquiry into HIV aids on 3 November, the Papua New Guinean Minister for Health and HIV acknowledged Australia’s strong support to HIV and the ongoing discussion that we are having with the Government of PNG regarding future directions. 

RICHARD EWART:

Would it be fair to say then, that Australia’s attitude perhaps is to provide support for now, provide support if you think it is necessary, but I think you have already indicated that ultimately the preference would be for the PNG Government to look after its own.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well we recognise the importance of HIV services continuing, we are continuing to fund HIV NGOs which directly provide a treatment, as I said we are working with the Government of PNG, we are working with other funding partners such as the global fund, to ensure that these services are sustainably funded into the long term. Let us not forget that Australia has invested more than 500 million dollars in PNGs health sector over the last 5 years, and that includes more than 130 million for the HIV sector. Now this support has contributed to successfully controlling the spread of HIV. PNG’s HIV prevalence is now .8% of the adult population, which is well below what we had been anticipating when early indications of a much larger epidemic prompted our comprehensive response. So yes we have been doing good work, so therefore we will continue to support and put the support where it is necessary, and can I also add the Australian High Commission in Papua New Guinea continues to consult with all our partners including the NGOs. We’ve initiated a formal approach to consultation with our partners on the future shape of health support in Papua New Guinea and this included a round table meeting hosted by our High Commission in Port Moresby, with all NGOs on the 18th October, and these consultations will continue both in Australia and in Papua New Guinea.

RICHARD EWART:

Minister thank you for clarifying the position and one of the questions, if I may on the story which is dominating the headlines of course, Donald Trump is President elect now in the United States. What do you make it all the morning after the night before, have you taken it all in yet?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well of course we look forward to working positively and constructively with the Trump administration once it enters office. Let us not forget that Australia has a profound and strong relationship with the United States.  This is based on not just strategic, but on economic interests, on people, people ties and of course our strong relationship in the Indo-Pacific, which is of course of particular importance in the work that I do. Of course the Obama administration will retain its full powers until the 20th of January and we will continue to work with the Obama administration, and then of course we will work with the Trump administration. Let us not forget that we have been working hard as a government to establish relationships with the Trump campaign and the transition team, Foreign Minister Bishop had given strong indication that we were working and we were prepared for both, either a Clinton win or a Trump win, so Australia remains strong ally of the United States. We have strong interests, we have strategic, we have economic interests and I have no doubt that the strong relationship between our two countries will continue particularly in those areas where we have common interests.

(ENDS)

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