LINDA MOTTRAM: Pacific Foreign Ministers have toughened the language on security in the region and on climate change in a revamped framework that aims to protect their collective interests. At a meeting in Apia today, the ministers signed off on an update to what’s known as the Biketawa Declaration, now to be Biketawa Plus. The document is still to be agreed by leaders at a meeting next month, but it stresses principles of non-interference and sovereignty, as well as the rules based order and it elevates climate change to a security issue for the Pacific States - an issue on which island leaders have often been critical of Australia. The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop is there, as is the International Development Minister, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. I spoke to Senator Fierravanti-Wells a short time ago.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: There’s very much a sense that it’s important to look at the expanded concept of security and the Biketawa Plus document affirms some key… recognises the importance of expanding our concept of security. I’ve referred to it as small ‘s’ security, but it’s things like transnational crime, cyber security, environmental and resource security, human security, humanitarian assistance, protection of rights, health, prosperity and basically this expanded framework, which also includes most importantly climate change and also building resilience to disaster and climate change. So, that’s the expanded concept of security. Now, as part of that framework, it’s really important that we as a region work more closely together. That’s really then the jist, the nuts and bolts of the declaration, which is affirming the importance of the rules based international order founded on the UN Charter, adherence to relevant international law, resolution of international disputes, and of course affirming this expanded concept of security which now addresses a much wider range of security challenges in the region, both traditional and non-traditional. Also if I may, Linda, it was very clear, two clear comments that were made in this statement; one was respecting and asserting the sovereign right of every member to conduct its national affairs free of external interference and coercion and also reaffirming the right of members to individually and collectively address security issues and concerns.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Observers have said that on the more traditional security front, the growing influence of China and Russia in the region are among the big concerns. What is the signal to those powers from this document, on that set of issues?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, I think what was very clear, is that the Pacific in its broad agenda is very much recognising the increasing complex regional security environment that’s very much driven by different and multi-faceted security challenges. It is a dynamic geo-political environment and as has been referred to on a number of occasions, very much more an increasingly crowded and complex region. What the Pacific Forum today - or the Foreign Ministers Forum underlined, was this need to respect and assert. If I can underline that, respect and assert the sovereign right of every member to conduct its national affairs free of external interference and coercion and very much reaffirming the individuality of members to make decisions for themselves, of course, but at the same time collectively address security issues and concerns within the international rules based order.

LINDA MOTTRAM: And you mentioned climate as part of this declaration, as part of the security framework. Pacific leaders have previously criticised Australia for a lack of ambition on climate change, because,  you know, they’re on the front line as we know. What offers have you made to assure the foreign ministers that Australia is taking their concerns seriously?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Pacific Island countries are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and disaster. I mean Australia has been very supportive of a stronger coordinated action on climate change and disaster resilience. Disaster resilience is very important and the Pacific is doing a lot of work in this space. Now, as part of our commitment to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, not only did we undertake to do things domestically, but as part of our commitments we committed $1 billion. Now the Pacific has been the recipient of a good portion of that; $300 million over four years, which included building climate and disaster resilience. Also, we committed $200 million to the Green Climate Fund and as the Co-Chair of the Green Climate Fund, we worked very, very hard to ensure that Pacific Islands countries benefitted from the projects and were allocated funding by the Green Climate Fund in a number of projects; so about eight projects and we’ve got some in the pipeline. Also, we supported very strongly, Fiji’s Presidency of COP23. We have profiled the Pacific’s issue continuously in global fora and also we have been importantly, the leading provider of international humanitarian response and recovery in the region. Can I also add that Australia will now be hosting the 2020 Asia, which we hope to be Asia-Pacific, Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and of course, we will work very, very closely with our Pacific family to ensure that the particular needs and the need for a more resilient Pacific - bearing in mind, Linda, that this is one of the most disaster prone areas of the world - very much is brought to greater attention internationally.

LINDA MOTTRAM: International Development Minister, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7110
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555