QUESTION:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is now on the ground here, but quite a few things have happened in the lead up including Vanuatu signing onto PACER Plus. What's the Australian Governments reaction to that?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

We're very pleased with Vanuatu coming on board on PACER Plus. We respect the fact that for some countries that needed to have the time and the opportunity to go through their own internal processes. There's been a lot of work done on PACER Plus over eight years. The Office of the Trade Advisor has done a lot of work in terms of assessing the impact of PACER Plus on different countries. That material has been freely available and assistance has been available so we are very, very pleased with the fact that Vanuatu has come on board. We're also now in the process of starting the ball rolling with the readiness package. New Zealand and Australia have committed millions of dollars to assist our Pacific neighbours to get themselves ready for the implementation of PACER Plus and because we're talking about a regulatory framework to do with customs and biosecurity and various other things, we know that there's going to have to be some work done there, so we're running a series of workshops to assist, especially the officials, in those areas to get up to speed. We think that PACER Plus will be very, very good and what's been very valuable in the days that I've been here, is in the discussions that have been had, whilst some people have raised issues about PACER Plus, the leaders- a number of the leaders have actually conducted work in their own countries and issues have not been raised about PACER Plus. So, we're very confident that it's going to be good, it's going to be good for the Pacific and raising the biosecurity levels of Pacific island countries I think is going to be a fantastic thing to open them up for export in whole range of different things which they do very well here.

QUESTION:

What would you say to countries like Fiji and PNG that aren't too keen on the idea of PACER Plus? What would you say to get them on board?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Look, we're continuing our discussions in relation to both Fiji and Papua New Guinea. I don't believe that the door is closed there, but I think increasingly as we are seeing more countries in the Pacific signing up to PACER Plus, my sense is that the ball will continue to roll. We're hopeful and we will continue those discussions with both Fiji and with Papua New Guinea.

QUESTION:

You mentioned in the lead up to the Forum that Australia's perception amongst some of the smaller Island States had improved in recent years, but we're hearing again at this year's Forum that the simmering tensions over climate change are still there. What sense have you got from some of those smaller nations as to the role Australia's playing in tackling climate change and big issue items like the Adani Mine?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Look, Australia is very committed to climate change issues, especially in the Pacific. At the last Pacific Island Forum Meeting, Prime Minister Turnbull indicated that we would be increasing our commitment, $300 million over four years. That's really to help with resilience in the Pacific. It's helping those at that very grass roots of Pacific society to help people adapt to mitigate against climate events. We are also the co-chair of the Green Climate Fund and apart from having contributed our $200 million to the Green Climate Fund, we are also the co-chair and what we have tried to do during the time that we have been co-chair, is to ensure that the Pacific achieved and obtained sufficient climate funding. Indeed 11 percent, or there abouts, of the Green Climate Fund's monies have actually gone to countries in the Pacific. Indeed I was here in December last year when three projects in the Pacific were allocated funding, so we know that there are some issues pertinent to the disbursement  of the Green Climate Fund. That is out of our hands. We are certainly putting pressure and pushing forward disbursement of those funds to happen. Australia of course has also been very strongly committed to supporting Fiji as part of Fiji's COP23. Indeed we contributed $6 million and thanks to Australia's contribution, we insisted that there had to be regional consultation in the lead up to the COP23 meeting later this year. Again, Australia came to the party. We are very supportive of the framework for resilience building FRDP, building those partnerships. The reality is that there will be another climate event irrespective of what people's views are on climate issues. The reality in the Pacific is there will be another climate event. Seven of the ten most disaster prone countries are actually in the Pacific. This is one of the most disaster prone areas in the world. As the largest house in the street, Australia will continue to support our neighbours. Can I just say on the issue of climate change, the Abbott Government committed Australia to the 26-28 percent target, the Turnbull Government is continuing that commitment. The Paris Agreement enables countries to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement in accordance with their own domestic agenda. Australia is working and will continue to meet its targets, and we are doing so in accordance with our own energy mix. And what is clear is that, certainly as I have discussed with Pacific Island Countries, there is less demand for coal in Australia, but again Australia will meet its Paris commitments in accordance with its own domestic agenda. We are also, if I can conclude, assisting Pacific Island Countries with their own plans as to how they will meet their Paris commitments as well.    

QUESTION:

What do you think, Minister, given all that we're doing in the region, the long list of things that you've outlined there, that Pacific nations still think that Australia is not pulling its weight?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, I don't believe that that is the case. I have daily contact. This is my 19th visit to the Pacific since I've been - since August last year. So I spend a lot of time talking to Ministers, talking to different leaders, visiting, seeing for myself not just in the main islands, but often my travels take me to the smaller islands. So I actually see some of the work that we are doing. In the aftermath to Cyclone Winston and Cyclone Pam, these are partnerships and leaders understand that it's about partnerships, it's about working with donor partners to build that resilience, to build that understanding on the ground so that people do understand that issues pertinent to climate are about infrastructure, it's about sea walls, it's about those often mundane things- water tanks, protecting water supplies, the effects of water surges. These are the sort of things that are the day-to-day things that I see, and that's where Australia through our climate spending is doing that. We appreciate that climate issues are very important for our Pacific countries. There is no doubt about that. They are at the forefront of seeing changes to the habitat and we are seeing that. Australia is working very, very hard. Climate issues and climate related issues are one of our priority issues in our Overseas Development Assistance, and don't forget 90 percent of our ODA is actually spent in the Indo-Pacific area.

QUESTION:

There's been some spending as well this week on domestic violence or helping curb domestic violence rates in countries like Samoa, can you tell us a little bit more about what Australia has been doing to help curb those rates and how serious of an issue it is here?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Domestic violence regrettably is a very serious issue in the Pacific. That is not to say that in Australia it is not an issue, but particularly here a combination of culture, a combination of development issues, a complexity of issues have resulted in some of the highest domestic violence levels in the world. Australia has a flagship program called 'Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development', 320 million dollars over ten years. That fund has been very valuable because it's enabled us to develop plans for women in different countries around the Pacific and some of that has included spending on domestic violence related issues. Let me give you a very good example of an island I visited in another country and it was a very small shelter that we had assisted, those women now as a consequence of some changes to family protection legislation, have meant that the small funding that we gave- a relatively small amount of funding- had enabled them to establish this little shelter to provide a valuable place where women could get information about the changes in the law and has helped change the lives of those women in that village to the point where some of them were embarking on little business ventures and those sort of things. Our work in this space, our work with women is empowering women. A lot of the work in the agricultural sector is done by women. We try and assist women in particular to help empower them, to help them start businesses, to help them do this sort of thing that helps them help their families, help their communities.

QUESTION:

Just on Foreign Aid, obviously Australia historically has been a huge contributor to the region, but of late a challenge somewhat like China. Just wanting to know what your view is on China's increasing aid to the Pacific and specifically Samoa and whether it's challenging to Australia's supremacy in the region?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Australia has been a donor in the Pacific. Australia has long ties in the Pacific going back many, many, many years. We have a shared military history, we have shared education history, our Australian Awards, our New Colombo Plan, whether it's in climate, whether it's in health- health and education are two areas where Australia has consistently been here. We have some of the highest levels of non-communicable diseases in the world, are actually here in the Pacific. We've been here for the long haul. We've been here for many, many years and there is a very strong view amongst the populations and I've spent a lot of time talking to ordinary people in the Pacific who understand what that kangaroo - that red kangaroo means, and what Australian Aid does bring. There is a recognition that Australia's contribution to aid in these different countries is focused on human development. It's focussed on infrastructure that helps people to help them improve their lives. It's not about building the grandiose buildings. It's not about doing that part of it, it's actually focussed on changing the lives of ordinary people in the Pacific. That, I think, is the distinguishing factor between what we have sought to deliver. We are always here. The cyclone happens, the disaster happens, as I've said we've got the biggest house in the street so we come to the aid. We don't worry about what may or may not be the issue, we just go in and we've demonstrated through Cyclone Winston, through Cyclone Pam that we're there for good times and for the bad times.

QUESTION:

Is that what you think China is increasingly doing? Building those grandiose buildings and dumping huge fleets of luxury cars on the islands, where perhaps they're misplaced?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well I certainly understand from ordinary people in the Pacific that the aid that Australia gives is very targeted. It's about achieving objectives. It's about empowerment. It's about creating the atmospherics for economic growth that help ordinary people improve their lives. It's about health. It's about educating young people, because of course if you educate a young person in the Pacific, what does that mean? That means that that young man or that young women has the ability to then get a better job to contribute to the economic wellbeing of his or her country. That in turn contributes to the economic stability of the Pacific, which dovetails into Australia's highest priority, which is the stability, security and prosperity of the Pacific. After the defence of Australia, that is our highest priority. So everything that we do, everything that we do in the Pacific is targeted towards that end objectives- a stable, secure and prosperous Pacific. That's what we like to see and that's what our aid, whether it's in health, in education, in climate, in domestic violence, in gender, that's what it's geared towards.

QUESTION:

Minister, have you heard in any conversations about the imminent security threat posed by North Korea here and what is this security threat?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well I think, certainly security is an issue that more and more Pacific island partners are just talking about. The very successful regional contribution to RAMSI and in the Solomon Islands is something that the Pacific can be justly proud of. Indeed the Solomon Islands Government has been at the forefront of pushing for what's been referred to as Biketawa Plus, which is the next version of our security framework in the Pacific. Certainly for the countries of Micronesia there is a much more acute sense of what's happening in their neck of the woods, but regionally, security is not what I term the big 'S' security for the Pacific, it's small 's' security. It's about transnational crime. Recently we had the largest haul of cocaine that was destined for Australia and that was picked up in New Caledonia as a consequence of the work that's being done through the transnational crime networks that we have in the Pacific. So, it's about transnational crime, it's about drug trafficking, it's about illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Fishing is vitally important. The theme of this Pacific Island Forum Meeting is, 'The Blue Pacific'. Yesterday, we were immersed in the whole concept about issues, about fishing, about illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. So, these are the day-to-day things that are the security issues and I'm very hopeful that we will be able to, at this meeting- that the leaders will agree to Biketawa Plus, a declaration which brings together a security framework for the Pacific.   

QUESTION:

Just lastly, obviously you mentioned the very long list of actions that Australia is taking in the Pacific to mitigate the impacts of climate change and Australia's quietly proud of that, but what do you think the Pacific Leaders would say if we asked that how Australia's going in that regard?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Look, I think that there are certainly some organisations, some civil society organisations in the Pacific that have traditionally held and have a particular view. I think that irrespective of what actions Australia may take in this space, there will always be the detractors, but my general sense is that the concrete work that we are doing day-to-day, day-in-day-out in the Pacific and assisting Pacific Island Countries to adapt and to mitigate, I think overcomes that negativity that's really only perpetrated by a very small number of people. Thank you very much.

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