Australia’s Address to the Caribbean Community council for foreign and community relations (COFCOR)

Paramaribo, Suriname

Speech, E&OE, check against delivery

4 May 2012

It’s great to be here today as the third Australian representative at COFCOR in as many years.

I hope that an Australian presence at COFCOR will now be a regular occurrence. Because Australia and the Caribbean are close – maybe not geographically, but we are close in spirit.

For most of the members of CARICOM, we share the bonds of the Commonwealth. We share the joy of cricket (and if there is any greater joy on the Australian side at present this only heals the wounds inflicted in my childhood by the likes of Holding and Garner, by Viv and Clive Lloyd. This last series has shown that the West Indies' time will come again and soon.)

But what we share is in fact far deeper than this. When I was at school my chemistry teacher was a Trinidadian called Dr Romeo Charles. While Romeo certainly taught me the fundamentals of chemical reactions, he was much more concerned to oversee the development of my sense of humour, teaching me to laugh at myself and life. And I can assure you it is these lessons which have been far more important to me in politics than the periodic table.

This story is instructive because Australia and the Caribbean share a national demeanour which is characterised by humour. In this we are kindred spirits. Australians just love coming to the Caribbean and this is a feeling that I know is mutual.

Three years ago, Australia and the countries of the Caribbean committed to deepening our relationship through a Memorandum of Understanding. And the partnership is growing strongly.

Our $60 million program in development cooperation is a key part of the new partnership.

In education, by the end of this year, almost 80 people from the region will have had the opportunity to study at an Australian university through the Australia Awards.

In the past two years, more than 60 diplomats and trade officials from the Caribbean have also participated in training programs in Australia and the Caribbean.

And I am pleased to announce today that in this year’s intake for diplomatic training, we will include a place for the CARICOM Secretariat and one for the OECS Secretariat.

Australia understands the vulnerabilities of small states and has been working with Caribbean partners to deal with the effects of climate change and to prepare for and respond to natural disasters.

This included an immediate and sustained response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010, where Australian assistance helped feed 3.5 million people, assist with reconstruction and strengthen health services.

In February I visited a renewable energy powered desalination plant that we are supporting in St Vincent and the Grenadines which will improve water security.

Of course, Australia and the Caribbean boast the world’s two largest stretches of coral reef.

On an international scale, we look forward to co-hosting with Belize the International Coral Reef Initiative for 2012 and 2013.

And on a regional scale, Australia held a workshop in the Bahamas last year on coral reef management with 12 Caribbean countries and another on climate change and disaster risk reduction in Samoa, where our Caribbean partners were strongly represented.

Today I'm pleased to announce that Australia will be directing up to $1 million to develop a coral reef management framework and resource kit for the region.

The resource kit will help reef managers and policy makers to work together to better understand and respond to climate risks over the long term.

Part of my responsibilities includes the Pacific, and I'm particularly passionate about helping small island developing states contend with the effects of climate change. I was pleased to speak on the security implications of climate change to the UN Security Council in July last year.

Having now visited Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and, of course, the Pacific, it is my firm belief that despite the different histories and geographies, these states around the world are bound now by the common challenge of climate change.

And as Small Island Developing States work more closely on climate change, they are recognising other common challenges, like the need for greater regionalism and the challenge of affordable energy.

And so a key focus of Australia’s global development assistance is now helping Small Island Developing States with these challenges.

In 2011, the Australian Government provided $1.5 million to help the Alliance of Small Island States advocate on behalf of its members.

Australia will continue to support the Caribbean, through advice and advocacy, to amplify its voice in international forums such as the Commonwealth, G20 and the UN.

We are committed to working closely with CARICOM at the Rio+20 meeting, particularly on oceans management. We are providing up to $1million to help small island developing states attend Rio+20 in June, in recognition that those with so much at stake should have their voices heard.

And we are supporting the lead-up meeting in Barbados next week for Small Island Developing States.

And we are responding in practical ways to implement the Caribbean Sea Initiative.

Australia is strongly supporting a legally-binding Arms Trade Treaty to regulate trade in conventional arms.

We were one of seven co-authors of the 2006 UN General Assembly Resolution calling for a treaty.

And we've worked closely with UN partners since then, including Caribbean countries, in making such a treaty a reality.

Australia’s firm commitment to the UN and our belief in what we bring to the table, underpins our candidacy for the UN Security Council in 2013-14.

Australia’s Security Council candidacy is a key aspiration of our foreign policy.

If successful, we will be an advocate for small island developing states and we will actively pursue transparency and accessibility in the Council’s work.

I'd like to take this opportunity today to thank CARICOM for its public endorsement of our candidacy.

An important part of the burgeoning relationship between Australia and the Caribbean is our increased high-level contact.

This visit is my second to the region this year and indeed my third in 12 months.

As a part of my trip in January, I had the honour of opening Australia’s new honorary-consulate in Jamaica – the sixth to be opened in the region since 2009.

Increasing Australia’s diplomatic footprint in the Caribbean and more frequent high level visits give us the opportunity to have more conversations, more often.

And it’s these conversations, Mr Chairman, that will ensure our relationship continues to deepen, to grow and to deliver results.

Thank you for having us here today.

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