It’s a great pleasure to be here tonight to take part in this special dinner for the Pacific Executive (PACE) Program.
I’d like to begin by welcoming the PACE program’s class of 2012.
And congratulate the class of 2011 for the successful completion of the program.
I’d also like to thank the Australia and New Zealand School of Government for all its work on PACE.
The Pacific Executive (PACE) Program
The Australian Government supports the PACE program because we recognise the need to support leadership and professional skills within the Pacific’s public sector.
Now in its sixth year, PACE has given more than 150 emerging public sector leaders in the Pacific a taste of the Australian Public Service and a chance to reflect on and nurture vital leadership and management skills.
Importantly, the program has also included mentoring participants while they complete a project relevant to their workplace.
There is already an impressive list of achievements by PACE alumni.
For example, Mrs Foketi Evalu from Samoa finished the PACE program two years ago and has just commenced a two-year posting with the World Bank as an advisor on the Pacific region.
I’d like to congratulate Mrs Evalu on her new position and wish her all the best.
Another example is Mr Dominic Appi, manager of Radio Nauru and member of the 2010 cohort.
For some time he had wanted to include local content in the station’s broadcasting.
PACE enhanced his planning and project management skills to make this a reality and the station now broadcasts local news, sports and public health programs.
I’m confident that the participants here tonight will continue this good track record and that your experiences with the PACE program will serve you and your countries well.
Future challenges of the Pacific
As Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs, I have seen first-hand that the Pacific faces some critical development challenges.
It is a region most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, despite contributing little to its causes.
Most Pacific countries are struggling to meet their Millennium Development Goals.
In many Pacific Island Countries there are limited economic options and per capita incomes remain at low levels.
And the region has a population that is growing fast.
The World Bank estimates, for example, that Vanuatu’s population is expected to almost double by 2030 while the populations of Kiribati and Papua New Guinea are expected to increase by over 70 per cent over the same period.1
Children under the age of 14 account for 30 to 40 per cent of the population in most Pacific Island countries2 and this 'youth bulge’ presents a real challenge to planners and policy makers.
But while this rapidly growing, young population presents many challenges it also presents enormous opportunities.
I firmly believe that the Pacific region’s greatest asset is its people.
Since taking up the position of Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, I have had the pleasure of visiting every member country and associate member of the Pacific Island Forum.
I have met many people.
I understand their determination.
I know that they are committed to a better future.
And Australia is determined to assist our Pacific friends reach this goal.
Why the Pacific matters to Australia
The Pacific matters deeply to Australia.
We have a wide range of political, economic and security interests at stake. And globally the world will rightly judge Australia – for good or ill – based on the way we behave in the Pacific.
Our people-to-people contacts through sporting, church and NGO ties are strong and growing further.
We are the region’s major security partner.
We are the region’s key economic partner.
And we are also its leading aid donor.
In fact almost a quarter of our aid budget is expected to flow to the Pacific in this financial year.
This translates to half of the world’s development assistance to the Pacific coming from Australia.
Total aid to the Pacific will increase as the Australian Government fulfils its commitment to spending 0.5 per cent Gross National Income on aid by 2016-17.
The world looks to us to show leadership in the Pacific.
It is the region where our aid can make the most difference.
And this is exactly what is happening.
For example, by working with our Pacific partners in the health sector we are helping to save thousands of lives, prevent diseases like malaria and vastly improve the quality of maternity care.
In the education sector, we are now assisting thousands of children to attend school and receive a quality education.
Our aid is a Partnership - we have Partnership for Development Agreements with each Pacific country and because it is a partnership the areas in which our aid dollar is spent is as much a priority for the countries of the pacific as it is for us. Because it is a partnership we now have an unprecedented level of buy in by the Pacific countries with which we work.
Striving for good governance in the Pacific
A crucial component of our aid program in the Pacific is to support good governance in the region.
We should not underestimate what strong and accountable government can achieve.
An analysis by the World Bank in 2007 broke it down into monetary terms, suggesting that a 10 per cent overall improvement in government effectiveness would, on average, lead to a 14 per cent increase in gross national income.3
Such a study makes clear that the prospects for development are worse in a country where there is corruption, poor control of public funds and lack of accountability.
Strengthening the Pacific countries’ public sector will have enormous benefits for your home countries and for the region.
The PACE program, at its core, speaks to the need to improve government efficiency, effectiveness and accountability.
It is one of a number of programs where the Australian Government is working with our Pacific neighbours to improve governance in the region.
Other examples include the Papua New Guinea Public Sector Workforce Development Program. In 2011, 1,800 public servants at junior, middle and senior executive levels received training in essential public service skills including record keeping, time management and staff supervision.
Similarly, the Tonga Economic and Public Sector Management Program provided induction training, time management and customer service training to over 220 public servants in 2011.
In Solomon Islands, the assistance we have provided through both RAMSI and our bilateral program has greatly improved key areas of public administration. Government debt rating has reduced from high to moderate risk through debt management support. In 2011, debt sustainability was at 18% of GDP (below the accepted benchmark of 30%, and the 53% level it was in 2008). Australian and NZ support has helped stabilise the economy and cash position and reduce debt. It has helped domestic revenue collection grow an average of 20% a year from 2006 to 2011.
And within the Core Economic Working Group there is a commitment by the Solomon Islands Government and by donors alike to promote key economic reforms.
These are just a few examples where Australia’s aid assistance is making a difference in the Pacific.
And as a part of working with our Pacific neighbours in striving for better governance, it is important that we support the leadership that is required from within Pacific countries’ public services to ensure progress continues for the long term.
So strengthening the Pacific countries’ public sector will have enormous benefits for your home countries.
It will also have enormous benefits for the Pacific region.
And let’s not forget it will have benefits for Australia.
Because a thriving and stable Pacific is to everyone’s advantage.
So tonight, I congratulate the participants of the PACE program for grasping the opportunity to further your professional development.
To the 2011 cohort, I commend you efforts on this program and I’m sure that the skills you’ve gained during this experience will help you tackle a broad range of policy and management challenges.
To the 2012 cohort, I advise you to seize the range of opportunities that this course will undoubtedly give you.
As the success of PACE’s alumni already suggests, the skills you learn here will serve you and your countries well in the future.
- Parliamentary Secretary's Office: (02) 6277 4330
- Departmental Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555