Address to the Australasian Aid Conference, Canberra
Thank you, Helen, firstly for that warm introduction. And the opportunity to be here today at ANU. I'd also start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, and recognise elders past, present, and emerging, and commend Professors Howes and Sullivan, Helen and Steven, on the excellent work they've been doing for this event… the very timely conference that you're having here, given that we do have our aid review coming up.
I do want to acknowledge all of our officials here at ANU who've come from the Department, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s help with the preparations of the conference. DFAT does a great job on this in this regard.
The Government, as you know, has embarked on our aid review. We're well underway with our consultations and we'll be preparing our policy in consultation between DFAT and the sector in the coming months. With us today we also have our expert panellists – the Government has appointed an expert panel, an advisory panel, both to advise the Government on the preparation of the policy and also to test the Government, to test the rigour of the policy that we're putting together, and taking input from you. We've got four of them here today. Of course, we've got Jane Prentice, we've got Jack and Lynda [indistinct], we've got James Batley, and absent, we've got Dennis Richardson and Catherine.
I should say that your attendance here is very timely and I'm sure your discussions are very timely as well. And I want to thank all of you who have participated so far in the consultations that we've had. We're enjoying the roundtable process. We have many of them. We've got more happening back at Parliament today, and we're trying to get through every sector, every meaningful area of commonality that we can. And we're working to a pretty rigorous schedule. If you haven't got the opportunity to consult directly or appear at one of those roundtables, I would encourage you to put in your submission.
I should say thank you to the school and policy centre as well, the leadership we have this year, the Asia Foundation, and the many sponsors of course, who make that possible. We appreciate that as well.
I think a lot of you know we've had a very difficult summer here in Australia, and I think it would be remiss of me not to start by acknowledging the fact that we are still dealing with the consequences of a very difficult bushfire period, the effects of a changing climate, a prolonged drought. And you know there's been really, frankly, a very difficult season of disasters whether it be fires and – I don't need to tell you here in Canberra – storms. And now with coronavirus and challenges that face us as a country, communities in our country, but also regionally as well.
I mention this of course because as Pacific Minister, I really do want to take the time to say at the outset that Australians are absolutely in awe of the effort of Pacific people and Pacific countries in assisting us in our hour of need. And when you think about what's happened over the break, we've had people in communities across the Pacific Island countries, some of them have had wheelbarrows going down the streets collecting cash, at church services where people have gone and donated a lot. We've had Governments send over their militaries, their engineering corps, who have been so well received inside Australian communities. You've had so much going on, it's really humbling to think that sometimes the countries with very little have actually put together hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sent them to us to help us in our hour of need. So I always start by thanking all of the countries that offered support, I mean there's been over 70 countries offer that support. But our Pacific family in particular has really responded and you know, we're there for each other in times of need. I really want to thank, at the beginning, Pacific people who might be here today, we've got representatives from different countries. But really, the entire nations in the Pacific for turning up for us, and making what is a really big difference on the ground. So we thank them for that. And Australians have really been touched and overwhelmed, I think, to see that contribution, financially, physically, and through the great spirit of Pacific people that have turned up here just to help out and help us fix a lot of broken communities, so we thank them for it.
Today, of course, I'm going to speak about our international development policy and I'm going to speak a little bit about what we're doing with the review. But I'd start by saying: I am very proud of Australia's aid program. I'm very proud of our international development reputation. Our development program of course has helped us create so many economic opportunities, reduce poverty, improve education and health outcomes. It's saved lives during humanitarian crises, restored stability in many areas in our region, and it's also supported inclusion to address barriers and inequality, including in gender and other spaces.
Today, I want to speak a little bit about some of the major changes and trends in the development in our Indo-Pacific region. I'm also going to touch on development efforts in our policy and how they're evolving, and our longstanding commitment to our region, what we're doing in our Step-up, and our understanding of course, how we continue to support our region, our immediate region as a country, and keep it strong.
I think we understand that when our partners are more prosperous and strong, and stable and secure, our region is strong, and therefore we are strong. The understanding, that healthy, well-educated communities in our region will enable more entrepreneurial business, more economic opportunity, more skilled workforces, and contribute to the growth that we're seeking and the trade that we want is also fundamental. We understand high quality infrastructure as well will help generate sustainable growth and investment in the region. And importantly, we understand that issues like gender equality can unlock the potential of women and girls, and the inclusiveness in policy is also a key determinant in our region's success.
Australians are good people, and Australians want to do a lot to help build opportunity in our region, and help people live dignified, better lives, and we've got a great record on that. Our country stands for Australian values when we support health in our region, we invest in a region that's fair, open, inclusive, and a region respectful of human rights, and a region that's guided by sovereignty, importantly sovereignty, but also equality of nations in the rule of law. But also for a region in which smaller nations are not coerced or pressured by larger ones, and where we work cooperatively together to tackle shared threats and challenges. And internationally, I think you'll agree those goals and values are synonymous with Australia. They characterise the way we engage in our home, in our region, and in the world. And they form the foundation of our contemporary partnerships that we have in our region today.
And what I'd like to do now is explore, I think, some of those key trends that are in our region, affecting our partners and shaping the new international development policy.
So firstly, our development partners in the Indo-Pacific are experiencing, as you know, vastly different economic trajectories. They all have unique characteristics that shape their development opportunities. And the Indo-Pacific is home of course to some of the most dynamic emerging economies, which Australia has deep and longstanding ties to. And we're taking those ties even further by elevating many of those relationships formally, to strategic and economic corporation partnerships. I think that will bring in great opportunity. It's also home to the small island Pacific states like Tuvalu, which I spent a week in last year at the Pacific Islands Forum. And a population of just 11,000, with you know, elevation at the highest point of two metres above sea level, it really is graphic to understand the challenges when you go there for a week. And Australia is a large continent, a large island to see a small, essentially an atoll, with 11,000 people two metres above sea level and the challenges they face.
Solomon Islands of course, in which Australia has had such great engagement and enormous contribution through RAMSI, is similar in that it faces so many economic challenges, with some potential security challenges.
Our partners’ characteristics, I think, when you look at that, then you go from South East Asia through the Pacific, the real, different characteristics of these countries mean that the evolving trends we see in the world today have different impacts on those countries. We know about rapidly changing demographics, capabilities, and technologies that have the capacity to transform. Everyone here is involved in sectors and endeavours that want to utilise those changes for the good of people.
But economic instability, climate change, global terrorist networks, transnational crime, pandemics, maritime insecurity, rising illiberalism, and I think I'll also add increased protectionism from an Australian perspective. There's a range of challenges that impact our region, Australia, and the world in general.
And then secondly, I'd probably cite that while great progress has been made in some of these goals and development, some development challenges are still entrenched for us as a country. Over the last 25 years we've seen billions [indistinct] on the end, the global poverty rate is at its lowest point ever in history [indistinct]. At a macro level, we can say less people absolutely live in poverty than ever before. But that growth and that endeavour hasn't been felt evenly, hasn't served community and felt by everybody in our [indistinct] region.
Entrenched poverty of course stops people from achieving their potential, it holds back national progress. And when this unequal opportunity exacerbates social conditions, it does add to instability and [indistinct] security that we've seen. But I wanted to say upfront that I think about addressing the issue of entrenched poverty; we want to see progress against the 2030 agenda and the sustainable development goals, which all of us aspire to see great progress against as countries and as individuals.
Thirdly I'd say our development partners are feeling the effects of geostrategic competition and the international trade conditions that exist in the Indo-Pacific. And we know these trade tensions are playing out between our two major partners: the United States and China. It's not exclusive to those countries, trade tensions are at an all-time high at the moment, but they do impact our partners, they do impact our ability to unlock trade potential with our development partners. And it will continue to have a big impact on our region and the world.
And while the ambitions I think are more ambitious and assertive, China is expanding, the reach of its political, economic and strategic influence continues to grow. The region is absolutely being challenged by this growth and this change. And the difficult and important questions that come to us through the Government, it comes to us through our development program and that program follows from [indistinct] challenges to the status quo. And those important questions include, you know, about our institutions and the rules and the norms that we've all grown up with that underpin foreign affairs, that underpin trade and security, and that a lot of relationships include – do our institutions and rules reflect the current global realities? Are they fair rules? Do they work as intended and how do we reform and strengthen those rules? And these are important questions to consider too in any discussion about development.
Australia and our development partners rely on the certainty and the stability of these international institutions, and that certain stability, if it isn't there, can often impact our development efforts and what we're trying to do in so many places in the world. So Australia's position has been and will continue to be ensuring that these international rules and the international order does remain robust and effective in the face of unprecedented challenge. And I'm sure you'll agree with me that's an important thing for Australia to endorse.
Open trade and investment, being a trading country is key and we see it as a key to economic growth for our development partners. And we do need to work hard to counter protectionist instincts as they continue to develop because Australia has been [indistinct] to the global and free trade system. It works, it provides great benefit to our partner countries and we know it will continue to work for our region. And we need to be continuing to be forthright advocates against increasing protectionism in this space.
Fourthly, countries in our region are adapting to new sources of finance, including from new donors in the private sector, and the opportunities of greater connectivity. And I want to say a bit about this. In our consultations we've had some great discussions about new sources of finance. While our official development systems and ODA remains, obviously an important development tool, it's making up a smaller and declining share of financial flows to developing countries generally. But what we have seen is success in other areas of policy; remittances, private capital, foreign investment - increasingly important for our development partners throughout the region, in many cases, far outweighing ODA funds and flows that are available from governments.
In 2018, the total ODA provided by all OECD Development Assistance Committee donor countries was just under $150 million. In comparison, remittances, just remittances, reached USD $529 million. You can see the stark difference in those figures just there. I point here locally to the success of this philosophy as well when you look at the fact that Tongan workers, for example, were picking fruit in far north Queensland, in meatworks in Western Australia. In South Australia our Seasonal Worker Programme and labour schemes have achieved great success. In Tonga this year, for the first time, the total value of the remittances now exceeds the ODA economic assistance that we've applied to Tonga. And this is a big change, a big success story for government policy and seasonal worker programs and the Pacific Labour Scheme, meaning that we are seeing from our market, from opening up our labour market, opportunities directly flowing to people in Tonga at a greater rate than the Government can provide.
We know these remittances also succeed in an area of policy that's very tricky for government, in that they flow directly to people in very remote and regional areas. And I can tell you as a government minister in many portfolios, it is very, very tricky in policy to succeed in Australia or external to Australia to get money to flow to regional and remote areas. It's very hard to do. But yet, the labour schemes have led to challenges emerging in regional areas of high flows of incomes that we have to address. So we have success but we also have to continue to monitor and adapt to that success.
For our development partners, of course, other opportunities have emerged - new donors, external sources of finance - and they offer great opportunities to boost economic growth as well. But we know our partners need to tread carefully, they need to steer clear of investments that are economically or environmentally unsustainable, or that create crippling debt burdens on Australian forces. Advocating strongly and assisting our partner countries against taking [indistinct] on crippling debt burdens or bad debt that will of course punish those countries.
For Australia, it does mean our ODA needs to be- needs to avoid duplicating the role of the private sector and other sources of finance, which I believe that it does. And it needs to help countries in our region harness investment opportunities to get that durable and sustainable development outcome that we're all seeking.
And finally, I'd say Australia and our development partners will face new and unexpected challenges, which of course will potentially disrupt development gains. And as you know, and I don't need to tell this audience, development is a long-term undertaking and the Government is very cognisant of that. As a development partner for countries in our region, Australia is valued because we do state a cause and we will continue to state a cause. We're also valued by countries in the region for being nimble and responsive when necessary, and ready to respond to new priorities of partner countries. So conversely while we understand the importance of long-term and enduring programs, we have to be able to do both. We have to be able to respond to the new priorities of our partner countries when they do emerge. And that's an important part of a competitive advantage as a partner that we need to reflect in our approach in the future.
And I cite the outbreak of the novel coronavirus is obviously another example of an immediate emergent threat in our region. Something that we'll regard as the first order of priority; the health and safety of people in our regions is the first order of priority for the Government. And we've taken a range of measures already, as you know, the health, the safety and wellbeing of Australians here and abroad. But we're also supporting the Pacific with the threat of coronavirus, and we're taking measures, we have already taken some measures, and we're preparing more measures as you would expect us to be well prepared in the case of an outbreak.
You might already know of course that the Government, as well, includes funding through the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, which works with the WHO and international partners on longer-term approaches to health in the region. The full human and economic cost of coronavirus won't be known for some time. But we make the commitment that we will work hand in hand with international partners to ensure that government gains are not lost in any of this. And we keep an eye on that all the way through.
And of course what I will also say is one of the longer-term and significant challenges; especially to our region here, is climate change. And we know that as climate change impacts Pacific countries, extreme weather events become more frequent, and disasters emerge more often. We need to prepare and be resilient and have climate adaptation as part of our approach in our [indistinct] program.
When you think about the destruction of infrastructure and the length of time it takes to rebuild following disasters, the cost that it has on both partner countries and donor countries, and the impact on those economies, this obviously makes sense. Climate change continues to pose one of the greatest threats to the development of this region, and we do share the deep concerns of our Pacific partners about the entrenching impacts of climate change.
So, in 2019, you might have seen we announced $500 million over the next five years to build regional climate and disaster resilience following on from the previous commitment of $300 million over four years. We've also created a dedicated climate infrastructure window within the infrastructure financing facility for the Pacific to ensure we're sending a signal to those people that are applying for projects into the market, that we want projects that include our infrastructure financing facility that are climate resilient.
You've seen the government also initiate innovative measures like the $140 million private sector mobilisation climate fund to leverage private sector investment in low emissions, climate resilience, and solutions for the Pacific and South East Asia. And climate adaptation, I think in resilience, will continue to be a top priority for our neighbours and therefore it will continue to be a top priority for the money that we're spending and the way we spend that money inside Pacific countries.
And when we think about all these trends, we think about all these challenges, it's clear that our development approach must continue to evolve when you consider the nature of the challenges that we face. Five years ago of course, Julie Bishop sharpened the focus of our program towards our region the Indo-Pacific, and I don't think that's been missed. Everybody here understands our focus, and from a global perspective, has returned to the Indo-Pacific.
This Government, of course, is strengthening the focus of our development efforts again on our region where we have the strongest relationships, our national interests are the sharpest, but also we can have the greatest impact on developing countries. Three years ago we released the white paper, the Foreign Policy White Paper, which provided our framework for our international engagement, including development. And since that time, you know the changes that have occurred. I mentioned many of them already. The challenges to prosperity, stability and of course resilience will continue. And in the Pacific, you know we've had a particular area of policies to deal with those challenges, which is our Pacific Step-up, and leveraging economic assets, cultural ties of both government, but the private sector and the business community. And of course, that is an ongoing effort.
We also need to continue to modernise our development approach so it reflects contemporary partnerships in the region and ensures we have a joined-up approach across government efforts to respond to new realities. And today, I'm pleased to share some of the priorities of the government's new development policy.
But I will talk a little bit about those priorities now because I know that you are clearly more interested in our new development policy infrastructure. So, under our new development policy, we'll have a strong focus on the Indo-Pacific and we will differentiate our approach with Southeast Asia and the Pacific, recognising that they are different and unique regions.
We will recognise the diversity that is in the region, the varied development outcomes we're seeking, and the challenges, and the particular nature of those bilateral partnerships, which really do differ greatly between countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
So as minister for the Pacific of course, you can expect me to have a particular interest in the enduring development, very much a joint effort between the Foreign Minister and myself. I'm going to put my hand up and say I am absolutely biased in favour of the Pacific region. But there's a tension between us, between the Foreign Minister of course and myself, working very closely together on formulating that approach.
I would say, of course, to you though, that the Pacific will remain significantly important to Australia because it's where we live, it's our family as the Prime Minister says, it's our backyard. It's where we have the most historic and cultural obligations, even when you think about it from the perspective of our Aboriginal people – their descendants of Melanesia over time, beyond memory.
It's therefore important we remain the biggest contributor of support to that region, and we are. Our government, of course, will spend our $1.4 billion in the Pacific this year. It's a record amount from an Australian Government. So whatever you do read or hear about the aid budget, the $1.4 billion is the largest amount that has been spent on the Pacific by any Australian Government. And of course, that will continue to remain a high amount.
We know that will make a key contribution to building resilience and economic growth and social development in our neighbourhood. And I can say to you in the second year of the Morrison Government's Pacific Step-up, we have made significant progress in partner countries. You can see the outcomes that we've achieved, even though opening up access to our local markets. I mean, a very great difference that is helping in Pacific countries.
And we've also completed, as you know, the Coral Sea Cable to Honiara and to Port Moresby, which is a great investment in enabling infrastructure – that connectivity that I spoke about earlier. We know that high speed internet has the capacity to revolutionise the lives of people, particularly young people in the Pacific.
But as you know, we've also done our $2 billion financing facility that will help with transformative infrastructure projects - high quality infrastructure. That includes, of course, as many people asked me about, social and environmental infrastructure. Safeguards, training and employing workforces. And it's a facility with our partners that will help avoid unsustainable net burdens with high quality infrastructure using Australian expertise, which I think is perhaps the most important thing that we can do, is to have that expertise provided to our partner countries. So you will see, I think, in short, Pacific countries have great choices when it comes to infrastructure financing. And putting in a climate window, which signals our very clear intention about the quality of the infrastructure and the impact that we expect.
And you'll see us expand, of course, the Pacific Labour Scheme, the seasonal worker programs. We're not finished with those. We want them to increase. We want volumes to increase and we want access to increase, and the Government will continue to pursue it. We've got more than 800 people from across the Pacific already working in a wide range of sectors in Australia, learning new skills and contributing remittances through our labour scheme. But we no longer also, importantly, look at our ODA in isolation in the Pacific or in other parts of the world. And that point I would make is that in this review we will obviously be looking at the whole of government effort better than we ever have before. Better integration across government; that is, what is the totality of what we spend and do in our partner countries across government agencies, whether it is ODA eligible or whether it is not ODA eligible. And I think you'd agree, better mapping the effort of government in the sectors that we're contributing to, and regionally, will give us greater understanding and greater capacity to see the impact and the outcomes that we're having.
Equally as important, I think, Australia will continue to be a leading effort on the development and a security partner for Southeast Asia. But our approach will be different from the Pacific Step-up. The Pacific Step-up is a particular policy designed to understand and enhance our region. But Southeast Asia will remain of course very important to our development assistance budget. It does total a billion dollars in this current financial year, signifying its importance. But we'll also continue to be a leading contributor to humanitarian responses, [indistinct] crises in Bangladesh and Myanmar. We've already provided $160 million since 2017 for humanitarian assistance focused on women and children and vulnerable people, which has had a good impact.
We're going to continue to work across ASEAN to train and improve and on management to combat human trafficking and also continue support of the ASEAN Australia Smart Cities initiative, which is helping to unlock the potential in Southeast Asia.
And from July this year, I think it's important to remember that the new Southeast Asia Economic Governance and Infrastructure Facility will also be helping countries to make difficult economic reforms, globalise finance and implement quality infrastructure projects. And throughout the Indo-Pacific we'll continue a strong focus - both through Southeast Asia and the Pacific - on gender equality and women's economic empowerment. And Marise, as Minister for Women, you know, in addition to that portfolio, I think, it sort of highlights and underscores our commitment in that portfolio being added to our development space.
As one example that I would cite, and I think it's important to cite examples sometimes - the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research recently launched the Meryl Williams Fellowship to support female agricultural researchers in the Indo-Pacific. The fellowships recognise the inequality of education and leadership opportunities for women in agriculture, as well as the opportunities to be gained from better research, capability and innovation. And I think this is a good example because we continue to ensure development does focus on gender-related empowerment. And I think you'd expect from the Australian Government, even though we haven't been able to achieve the success that we would like, to continue to focus on issues of gender empowerment with our near neighbours.
We'll also make sure our development programs respect and uphold the sovereignty of regional partners, helping maintain their stability and resilience and find pathways to prosperity. And obviously, this does translate to investment in governance and we believe those investments continue to remain important. We need those governance investments to make sure progress continues to be made in the important areas such as human rights.
The new development approach will absolutely modernise our approach to partnerships. And I think you'd agree, I think that the ethos of this age is that we’re moving on the ethos of donor and recipient frameworks for our relationships. And nobody is seeking a return to donor recipient constructs. Our contemporary relationship with PNG is as an example is perhaps, to me, one of the greatest examples of how we're evolving things through our Comprehensive Strategic Economic Partnership, but the close collaboration between governments on budget issues, on development issues, on the co-alignment of governance, development, budget support and other matters that are very important for us: health, education, security.
Under the new policy, of course, we'll work with those governments to help them shape their contributions and their challenges. You can expect us to collaborate very closely with partner countries and we'll continue to do so. But we also want to state, absolutely, that we want to continue to collaborate with partner countries and all partner countries that want to cooperate on helping people, in developing, are welcome, whether that's China or whether that's India or whether it's Indonesia. Whoever wants to collaborate with us, or we want to collaborate with them. Partnerships can produce the best results in development outcomes and we certainly seek those partnerships from our partner countries. But we're going to continue of course to work and collaborate more, even more closely with the traditional partners that you would know, whether that be New Zealand, the United States, Japan, the EU, France, the United Kingdom and Canada. And as Pacific Minister, I can tell you the interest and the actual engagement with all of those countries that I mentioned - higher than ever before. And certainly an opportunity for all of us, you here, us as a government, and us as a people, to take advantage of that interest and that engagement and that opportunity to boost those partnerships with key partners inside our region.
But we're also going to continue to support those multilateral efforts we know have a huge impact in our region and work. And again, this is where the health and education frameworks have their best impacts, with some of the regional or the multinational funds. We've seen funds such as The Global Fund, which we continue to fund. We continue to look for those that will have great impact, an impact, whether it be multinational funding. And you can expect us to do that.
Now, I also spoke earlier, I'll just say lastly, about the increasingly important role of the private sector in development, and there's no doubt we'll continue to emphasise that. There is great scope to better harness personal, cultural and community connections, but also the private sector and the private sector collaboration with our development budget. And we'll look to you for those contemporary suggestions and those contemporary offers, about how the private sector can continue to contribute to development outcomes. And of course, we need to encourage and continue to strengthen our partnerships.
We're currently partnering with 57 accredited Australian NGOs. I know many are here today and we welcome you. And obviously, we will regard you as seminal in the delivery of our development programs. So, we'd encourage you to have as much input into our review as you can, with an eye for, you know, what is a contemporary update needed to our policy?
Finally, of course, we'd recognise that the breadth of our contribution from Australia to the development of our region extends well beyond our ODA, as I've mentioned. And make no mistake - we understand the importance of the development program, the ODA budget. It's a critical development tool and we want to make sure it's working with our wider efforts. But we do need to better align Australia's diplomacy, in our trade, our defence, our education, our commercial opportunities with the development program. It will be a prime focus of this review. My own appointment as a minister in the foreign affairs and the Defence portfolios is about that whole of government cooperation of achieving Step-up. We also want to achieve whole of government cooperation into the development space. A better whole of government cooperation. And aligning those interests in those policy areas and those expenditures, I think, will make a big difference.
So in that regard, I'd also say the new Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership is a great example of how trade and development agendas can work together to support the regional development outcomes. I think you'll see that with the visit of the President just last week, and the ongoing elevation in that relationship. That is one of the conditions that we're seeking with our partners. We don't believe we take all the advantage of the opportunities that exist and that's why the Prime Minister has put an emphasis on elevating partnerships in Southeast Asia, and we're seeing other partnerships are being elevated as well. And those processes will help us deliver better outcomes.
I want to state again, I think, before concluding today that I think we are seeking those outcomes that you would expect an Australian government with Australian values to seek from our development budget. We know without security and stability, development partners can't reduce poverty. But we will regard, as I said at the outset, poverty reduction as fundamental in achieving stability, prosperity and resilience. Just as stability and security and prosperity in our region, I also think, are prerequisites to that development.
And so, I think we should have an ambitious agenda with our development review. But we should also recognise the things that we do very well, the partnerships that have succeeded, the high reputation that Australia has, and the optimistic nature of Australians, whether it be from our people, from our NGOs, from our government officials. The can do approach that Australians take is well received in our region, in our world. And I think we should continue to be applying a cultural fit with how we approach development and what we can achieve.
I do want to thank everyone who's made a submission so far. I do want to say again, you do have an opportunity [indistinct] those submissions and attend our stakeholder consultations. The conversations that I've been a part of and the expert panel's been a part of so far have really been centred on creating improvements to the development program and things that we can do better, recognising the situation and the context that I've explained today. But again, given our outlook as a people, given our reputation as a country, we have the opportunity to do so much more together. This review will give us the chance to update our policy, to refresh what we are doing in light of a rapidly changing world, but I believe keep the focus, importantly, on the things that really matter with a development budget, and that's the outcome that we're all seeking to achieve.
So thank you to everyone for being here today.
QUESTION: Thank you. Anne Kennedy, I'm an independent consultant. Just wondering where things like a possible reinvestment in things like Radio Australia fit in the paradigm. Australia had great soft power advantages from those kinds of initiatives, which could be done in partnership with other countries in the Indo-Pacific, and I think helped leverage our relationship with those countries for minimal investment.
ALEX HAWKE: Yeah, thank you. This is a good question. I won't propose to answer directly what would happen with particular components of the budget today. That wouldn't be wise for me to do that at this point. However, your questions about communications and Radio Australia - I can say the Government has obviously got a number of initiatives in the communications space, especially in the Indo-Pacific that we are supporting. We have our Free TV contract roll out, of course the content will be delivered to the Pacific soon. And you know, we do talk with our relevant media communication partners, including the ABC, regularly about the things that we can do better in the region, and the things that we can fund to ensure that we do have good quality Australian content, Australian conversations, and a two-way dialogue. Importantly, also, how do we get more regional stories coming into Australia, how do we get more content coming into Australia so there's a greater shared understanding between communities and partner countries.
And, you know, there's a real market for this, in my view. There's a real need for this, in my view. And I think that will continue to be a focus of this. You know, obviously Radio Australia plays a very important part. New Zealand has a great commitment to this as well. Some of our partners have certainly demonstrated great commitment to investing this space. We see that, we see the success of that, and we understand it's importance as well.
I will say, this will be an ongoing area of policy, and we understand its importance in the region.
QUESTION: Yes, Fiona Wrigh tfrom the Cairns Climate Action Network. Yeah, so I'm just asking about- it's great to see you're putting more money into adaptation, particularly in the Pacific, but every time extra money is announced, it always says from the existing aid program. So it's not new money, it's taking money from other parts of the aid program. And that kind of goes against what was said in the initial climate change treaty back in '92. You know, that all funding for climate finance should be new and additional, and certainly making statements, and the reality of the fact it's just transferring money from one part of the aid program to another.
ALEX HAWKE: Thank you. We're very aware of that issue. The Government took to the election budget, and that's why we've highlighted in the review … whether it will be 2022-23, that will be the budget. We do have to re-prioritise within the budget that we hold. Climate certainly is a reprioritisation effort that we're seeing through and that's in response to what we're hearing from partner countries. So, obviously, partner countries want to think about climate adaptation, climate resilience, frameworks and infrastructure, for their needs more often. And we listen very carefully, as you'd expect us to respond to those needs and re-prioritise accordingly.
But yes, the budget is set and it is fixed, and it is the Government's budget through in this budget cycle.
QUESTION: Thank you Minister. I'm Brett Schuster. So, I don't speak for all Pacific people, but I guess as a Pacific person, good to recognise your acknowledgement. Which brings me to my question in the spirit of partnership. Australia has demonstrated a very strong commitment to the regional sort of collective decisions around development whether it be in education, security, health and so forth. But I guess one of the true tests of a partnership is not when we're at home, but when we're abroad. And I just wanted to ask, when we look at the political coalitions that have been formed that now Australia's a part for example, the Pacific Islands Forum. How do you reconcile sort of the differences of perspectives within that coalition when it comes to basic global platforms? I guess the example here is on climate change. What are some of the suggestions you might have as the Minister for International Development, but more importantly, of the Pacific, to reconcile those differences when it comes to global negotiations as a collective, to the Pacific Islands Forum.
ALEX HAWKE: Thank you. Firstly, thank you for your opening comments as well. Thank you again. That's a very intelligent question about foreign affairs, and these things are very complex. The Pacific Islands Forum though, I attended for a week. It's my first Pacific Islands Forum as a Minister. I had the chance to engage with all the leaders; I was there representing us for the week before the Prime Minister arrived and obviously took over with his colleagues. And often the realities of these international forums are different from how they're reported in the media, many, many occasions. Sometimes the information received in the public domain isn't how the forum's conducted. And I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about there. The Pacific Islands Forum – you know, there's a whole week there spent on really important subject matter, that received little to no coverage. One of the best things that I saw there as a government minister in the week I was there was a scientific presentation, with a policy of a political edge on fish stocks in the Pacific and how climate would impact fish stocks, including the relativities of increases and decreases in stocks in various areas and so on. And to the policy-makers, I guess, those experiences are very valuable. So most of the regional forums, this is the premier regional forum, you were right to point to our Pacific Islands Forum.
So it must inform their view, shared partnership, shared challenges, shared discussion, shared progress, and then of course there's disagreements, and disagreement isn't always division, I would say about various different issues. Leaders came to a joint and unified position [the Kainaki II Declaration]. There's a signatory connecting statement, as is every Pacific Island country. That process, I think, is rigorous and robust, but issues again just…very difficult challenges, including climate change issues for our country…but also climate change challenges for Pacific countries that can be reliant on fossil fuels for diesel power generation. How do we overcome these challenges as well as how do we meet our international commitments?
And then, of course, as you point out, there are then more global forums in relation to these discussions, and it's absolutely the sovereign right of every country in the region to take their positions on the international stage. Australia does that on a case by case basis. We would always stand up for our Pacific partners wherever we can, in all international forums. However, we also have to respect their own sovereignty and their own right, and I have to say, working at the Pacific Island Forum - the understanding of that from the Pacific island leadership, the leaders of those countries. There's great respect between us about standing up for our own position and our own sovereignty, and I think that is the overriding principle that builds mutual respect. We understand when there's a difference between us, but we understand that- you know, the sovereign right to do it, and I think the Pacific partners understand we have a sovereign right to do it when we need to.
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