ALEX HAWKE:    Firstly, thank you everyone for the warm welcome we've received here in Vanuatu. I want to say from the outset, there is a great relationship between Australia and Vanuatu, and following on from Prime Minister Scott Morrison's visit here in January, I'm here for the Pacific Water & Wastewater Conference, which is going on right now. And this is the first time we've had an Australian minister attend the Pacific Water & Wastewater Conference, so I'm proud to be here for that.

The relationship between Australia and Vanuatu is now 40 years strong. We are stepping up here in Vanuatu, we're showing up to things. We're making sure that the security and the economic partnership continues to go very well between our two countries. And as Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and the Assistant Defence Minister, I'm here on this visit to make sure that your voice is heard in Australia, to make sure your issues are heard, to make sure that we get good cooperation continuing for another 40 years.

So it's a privilege to be here, I want to thank Prime Minister Salwai for his warm reception that we've had so far, for me and my delegation, and commend of course a great relationship that we have.

QUESTION:         This is your first visit to Vanuatu, is it, Minister?

ALEX HAWKE:    Yes, this is my first visit. It's a fantastic place. Obviously we've been received so warmly, and yes, for the first time we've sent a minister to the Pacific Water & Wastewater Conference from Australia's point of view, so a sign that we are really showing up to all of the important forums. And I should say water is a very important issue for the Pacific. It's a very important issue for Australia as well in a long term drought that we have all through our country. There's almost no more important issue for all of our countries than availability of water, clean water, reusing water; and it's great to see the Australian businesses doing such great work here in Vanuatu with water and recycling and filtration. We want to see that we share all that water technology and water partnerships.

QUESTION:         Are we going to see any programs or projects coming out of visit?

ALEX HAWKE:    Well, obviously we're here to continue talking about our step-up. The Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility is new; and that will mean more projects. We have $2 billion of finance available for Pacific countries to put forward projects that will unlock even more money for climate resilient and climate adaptation projects, and even water projects, all kinds of projects, so plenty of new ideas coming forth.

QUESTION:         So, China's shown great interest in military cooperation here in the Pacific. Are there any concerns for Australian Government?

ALEX HAWKE:    Well, the security relationship between Australia and Vanuatu is strong, it's longstanding. Obviously we have a deep relationship between our armed forces and the police here in Vanuatu. And you know, that will continue. We're in no way, of course, threatened by any other activities in other countries where they come with peaceful intentions. And when people want to come and build good quality infrastructure, or they want to do humanitarian work, or work in health or education, we welcome all those partners into countries in the Pacific, and indeed we look to cooperate with them where we can. So, if we can cooperate with the United States, we'll cooperate. If we cooperate with Japan, we'll cooperate. We cooperate regularly with New Zealand, and if China wants to work on good quality health or infrastructure projects, we'd like to partner with them on those as well.

QUESTION:         Minister, good afternoon.

ALEX HAWKE:    Good afternoon.

QUESTION:         In regards to the Boe Declaration, what are the components that Australia could help Vanuatu and any other Pacific Island countries?

ALEX HAWKE:    Well, Australia signed the Boe Declaration, obviously with a view to regional security, and very much Australia's invested in regional security, and that involves climate change, it involves water security, it involves obviously security of food, and economic security. So we're working now with all our partner countries to implement elements of the Boe Declaration. And we have the Pacific Islands Forum coming up next week which I'll be attending with Prime Minister Morrison, and we're there to listen of course to all of the next phases regionally that we need to implement in the Boe Declaration, including those security partnerships.

You will see Australia spending a lot of time working on the ideas like the Fusion Centre to share information, make sure that countries are working together and information sharing, so that fisheries are protected, so that we have better cooperation in the region, so that we have greater security.

QUESTION:         In terms of the climate change, a lot of Pacific Island countries are saying Australia is not doing enough in protecting climate and helping out in the pacific.

ALEX HAWKE:    Well, we're spending about $300 million, which is a new record for us, obviously directly on climate change effects. And we take very seriously the impacts of climate change on Pacific countries. Indeed, in Australia, climate change means impacts on drought. And we're seeing that with our farmers in our rural areas as well. So, through our Infrastructure Financing Facility as I mentioned, we've got $2 billion for climate resilient and climate adaptation projects. We think that will unlock more money to invest in that climate resilience and those climate adaptation projects.

But we listen very carefully to our Pacific partner countries. Obviously, at the Pacific Islands Forum, we'll be listening carefully about climate. We'll work together in a multilateral way where the Boe Declaration that we signed is about climate change as well. So, we work very carefully with partner countries.

QUESTION:         Minister, you visited the Maritime Wing in Vanuatu. What were the discussions and what were the assistance that Australia could bring to Vanuatu Maritime Wings?

ALEX HAWKE:    I was grateful for the tour of Mala Base. It was great to see it in person. I've heard a lot about the work that we do there together as countries. Our Patrol Boat Program is obviously front and centre of our discussions. The new Guardian-class patrol boat will be here in 2021, and we were talking about some of the training and other needs that will be required there to ensure a smooth transition. And of course, Australia helps partner with Vanuatu in training of police, and there are great partnerships there to be had between our state police forces and the police force here in Vanuatu as well, and we're looking at exploring some of those possibilities in the future as well. So, part of the security partnership that we have is obviously in policing and it's a strong partnership, and we expect that partnership will continue.

QUESTION:         About kava; where are you now in exporting – increasing the quantity of exportation of kava to Australia?

ALEX HAWKE:    This is an ongoing discussion. I welcome the discussion and we're looking at obviously our import restrictions. We're working closely with the Vanuatu Government about that, and our own officials, and we have proposals for a pilot to see if we can increase the amount of imports for personal use. But, we'll be working closely with the Vanuatu Government on that issue.

QUESTION:         Are we seeing like any dates or any timeframe?

ALEX HAWKE:    It's an ongoing discussion. We're working with our officials. We're hopeful of having a pilot up and running soon. All good? Other questions? Great. Thank you. Thanks guys. Thank you team. Appreciate it.

Media enquiries

  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555