MELISSA CLARKE: Thanks very much for joining me.

ALEX HAWKE: Thanks Melissa.

MELISSA CLARKE: So, the Pacific Islands Development Forum leaders have signed a declaration in Fiji, and they've said that climate change is a crisis for the Pacific. Do you agree?

ALEX HAWKE: The Government is aware of these reports. The Pacific Island Development Forum is not something that Australia is a member of, or New Zealand, or Samoa, so it's particular countries in the Pacific. But obviously, we regard climate change as very important. We listen to those countries; we listen to all countries in the Pacific about this. But the best way to handle this is a truly regional dialogue with everyone involved.

MELISSA CLARKE: And you'll have that coming up soon. But this declaration that was signed, it was signed by more than half a dozen prime ministers and presidents in the region, and they explicitly call on countries to halt the use of carryover credits when it comes to climate change abatement. And Australia is using carryover credits to achieve its Paris Agreement. So, is the Australian government willing to heed this call to not use carryover credits?

ALEX HAWKE: Well again, Australia's not part of this particular dialogue. Obviously we're going to meet our Paris commitments. We're very focused on that. Australia always meets its international global targets; we met Kyoto, we're going to meet Paris. Yes, we are going to use carryover credits. We've done more than other countries have in reducing emissions, and I think that should be recognised. And using those is a way to continue meeting our targets, but also to keep doing more. We'll not only meet Paris, we'll beat that target as well. But we'd say to all the countries in the Pacific, listening to them and the work that we do, we're spending a record $1.4 billion in the Pacific, and $300 million on climate. And our new infrastructure financing facility has climate resilience, climate adaptation built into it. So we're going to be working with them on a lot of projects to help with the impacts of climate change.

MELISSA CLARKE: So on one hand, you've got these spending initiatives that are really helpful for Pacific nations in trying to deal with climate change. But on the other hand, they're saying all countries around the world need to be doing more in their own domestic policies. And they've specifically pointed to Australia and its use of carryover credits as a clear example of what they want to see change. Are they just going to be disappointed when it comes to this regional leaders meeting in two weeks' time?

ALEX HAWKE: Well no, we have other regional forums and Australia is a signatory to the Boe Declaration, which is about regional security and also about climate change, and having the security adapt to climate change as well. And they're the ways that we're going to [indistinct] implementation, deliver on our regional commitments on climate change. We know, and Australia has always maintained this position, that the only way to do this is with true global action, and we're a good international partner on climate change. We meet our targets, other countries don't.

MELISSA CLARKE: [Talks over] So when Fiji says: countries need to do more, their targets need to be more ambitious, and carryover credits shouldn't be used, it's — the response is going to be: tough luck, we're not changing?

ALEX HAWKE: Well, for Australia we are going to use them, because we made our targets, and we exceed our emissions reductions targets. And there's something in that that everyone should think about; we exceed our emissions reductions targets, we're a good international player, we support the truly multilateral forums at Tuvalu. There'll be discussions at PIF about this, and we'll of course be participant to those, and we're not a party to these. But do I hold it against Pacific Island countries that they want to raise climate change as an issue? Absolutely not. We respect that, we listen to it. It does impact them in a real way, and we will continue to engage with them on it.

MELISSA CLARKE: Does the fact that there is disagreement about climate change approaches between Australia and some of the Pacific countries — does that make it harder for Australia to project its position in the Pacific, particularly the time when other countries — particularly China — are also making an effort to increase their efforts and diplomatic relations with Pacific countries?

ALEX HAWKE: We don't find it does. I mean, the conversation about climate change we take very seriously, and we listen very carefully about what practical things we can do. We do have the infrastructure financing facility, it's a $2 billion uplift in what we're doing. Now, what we've asked partner countries to do is identify projects, and these can be about climate adaptation and climate resilience, and this is what's really important to Pacific countries. What they tell us is really important about how can they deal with existing impacts of climate change. And we have to remember that for climate change in the Pacific, it's a phenomenon that will hit them first that is real, that they don't focus so much as we do on whether it's about manmade or non-manmade, or what the impacts are; it's more about how it's going to impact them, and how it is impacting them directly on the ground. So the best thing Australia can be doing, of course, is providing direct support to them to deal with climate change resilience and adaptation. So they don't really get caught up in our domestic debates.

MELISSA CLARKE: One of the other really key areas for your job going forward is obviously working with Papua New Guinea; our biggest recipient of development funds. And they're entering a new era with a new Prime Minister, James Marape, who you've met with last week when he was in Australia. He made it clear that his ambitions for PNG in 10 years' time was to no longer be a recipient of aid from Australia, that PNG could stand on its own two feet. What can Australia do to help PNG achieve that?

ALEX HAWKE: Yes, well firstly of course we're elevating the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Economic Strategic Partnership, and in August a senior delegation of the Foreign Minister, myself, and others will be going to PNG to talk about what that means. What that means primarily is a focus on economic partnership and it is something that we can progress rapidly between our two countries. And the new government there…

MELISSA CLARKE: [Interrupts] Is that more business to business investment, or private sector, or…

ALEX HAWKE: [Interrupts] Absolutely. You know it's obviously looking at our entire ODA budget and our spending in PNG, and how it works, and what the outcomes we're getting. But it also means 4,400 businesses doing business in PNG – how many more businesses are out there that want to do business in PNG? How can, between us, in partnership with PNG Government, we encourage more cooperation and more business investment into PNG.

MELISSA CLARKE: One of the frustrations is that there are a lot of Australian businesses operating in PNG, but it means a lot of the profits that they earn come back to Australia and move offshore. Is that something that can be addressed?

ALEX HAWKE: Well it's got to be a genuine partnership. And we're working with the Government on that, and the new government in particular about the economic settings that will help, things that will help deliver prosperity to PNG, but also mean it's easy for Australian businesses to do business in PNG on a fair basis so that both countries get mutual benefit.

MELISSA CLARKE: Now as well as being the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, you're also the Assistant Defence Minister. There's been a bit of talk about holding the dual roles and if there's potential for them to come into conflict at some point. So how are you going to manage those two roles, particularly if you come across policy areas where you might be pulled in different directions.

ALEX HAWKE: Well, the Prime Minister made these arrangements between Defence and Foreign Affairs for particular reasons, and some of those are that Defence already has some of our longest standing relationships in the Pacific. And relationships matter to Pacific countries, and length of relationships matter, depth of the relationship matters. In PNG, Defence has been in a relationship with the PNG military for 40 years. We have capability, enormous capability in the region to deal with disaster and humanitarian crises that comes out of the Defence Department. So it's quite a logical combination. A lot has been made of it, but those security relationships are longstanding and very important. And so by bringing together Defence and Foreign Affairs elements, it means Australia can step up its whole of government effort. And our portfolio mission is very much to step up and drive the whole of government effort to make sure we're doing what our partner countries are asking us to do. And that is in partnership, to deliver better infrastructure, better policing outcomes, better security outcomes, better humanitarian outcomes, and better, primarily, economic partnerships.

MELISSA CLARKE: Now you've already been on several trips into the region recently; you're going to Vanuatu next, I think, and then Tuvalu for the Pacific Island Forum leaders meeting, Scott Morrison will be there too. Certainly a big flurry of visits from the most senior levels of the Australian Government. Is this level of contact going to be maintained through the Step-Up? Is this a sustainable pace of high level contact?

ALEX HAWKE: The Prime Minister has made clear to the whole Government that this is a top priority of the Australian Government and will remain so. So you'll see more ministerial visits into the Pacific and more interacting with partner countries, more seriously by all levels of the Government; whether it's our officials, whether it's our agencies, but also the whole Parliament. And the Prime Minister made this point to the Parliament, also to our party room: we want to see more parliamentarian-to-parliamentarian contact, more engagement on issues but also our business sectors as well.

MELISSA CLARKE: Was it remiss not to have this level of contact earlier, given the big geostrategic changes that are happening in the region?

ALEX HAWKE: Australia's always had a good involvement in the Pacific. We had a wartime involvement. It's ebbed and flowed sometimes, so sometimes priorities in other parts of the world have distracted us from our main focus. But since 2018, the Step-Up has meant that Australia is firmly back focused on the Pacific. And Prime Minister Morrison has made it very clear that this is our Pacific family, it's our neighbourhood, it’s our backyard. Their prosperity is our prosperity and their success is our success. So ignoring them for anyone else's benefit isn't the right thing to do.

MELISSA CLARKE: Alex Hawke, thanks very much.

ALEX HAWKE: Thanks so much.

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