Doorstop, Tuvalu

Topics: Aid to the Pacific and Climate Change.
13 August 2019

Alex Hawke: Well, good morning. It's fantastic to be here for the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. We've had a great welcome for Australia last night and this week so far. The Pacific is our family, it's our home, and we're very much been received as an equal family member here in the Pacific. My team is here early to make sure that we participate in all of the forums, including the important issues of climate, and the things that matter in the Pacific, to listen, to be on receive to make sure Australia understands and is ready to respond to the challenges of Pacific countries, whatever they may be.

So, we've had some great dialogues with the leaders. Great dialogue so far with the smaller states, and we're looking forward very much to receiving Prime Minister Morrison here tomorrow, to participate in the leaders' dialogues here at the Pacific Islands Forum. So I very much want to say thank you to Prime Minister Sopoaga of Tuvalu, and the people of Tuvalu for the great welcome we've received, the warmth of it, and the fantastic job they've done here in putting on the Pacific Islands Forum.

Journalist: I just want to ask our Prime Minister yesterday in his opening statement. He made a strong statement, thanking Australia for being a significant member of the Pacific Islands Forum, but at the same time, he raised concern on Australia's reliance on coal for the fact that the Pacific island- small Pacific Island countries are still trying to mitigate climate change. Is it fair when [inaudible] make those comments?

Alex Hawke: Well, thank you. I want to thank Prime Minister Bainimarama for his words yesterday, and his very kind encouragement of Australia to do more. Prime Minister Bainimarama yesterday said please do more. And today Prime Minister Morrison announced that Australia will do more on climate, we'll do more through our Climate and Oceans Package. So very much we want to say to Fiji, we want to say to all of the member states here, Australia is listening on climate. We will be doing more. We'll be spending more through our package and dealing with the adaptation, the resilience needs of the Pacific. And very much speaking to Pacific countries in a bilateral way, across the region, to make sure that the money we are going to spend on climate is well spent on adaptation and resilience measures.

Journalist: Will Australia, you know, draw a red line on discussion of- about coal industry? Or is that sort of something that we're willing to talk about here?

Alex Hawke: Well yesterday, I think Prime Minister Bainimarama put it well when he said he understands Australia's economic reliance on coal in the past and he called on us to make a transition. The Australian Government is making a transition over time. Of course in our Climate Solutions Package you'll see our dependence on coal reduces. Over a quarter of our energy will be generated by renewables. But importantly in the Pacific in the money we're going to be spending, we're also spending on renewable energy projects through our climate spending. The Government has announced, and Prime Minister Morrison will announce here, that we'll spend $500 million from 2020 over five years on climate. It will be dedicated money, and out of that you'll see more renewable energy focus, climate adaptation focus, and climate resilience focus. This is the most amount of money that Australia has ever spent on climate in the Pacific.

Journalist: Speaking of spending money, Prime Minister Morrison recently said that he wants Australia to dial down on the aid in the next 10 years. Just your thoughts on that, and considering that in the next two to three years, aid will continue to increase. When do you dial down on it?

Alex Hawke: Well, so our aid budget is staying the same. However, we're making sure we spend more on what the Pacific has been telling us is their needs, and that is on climate change adaptation and mitigation. So, what we've announced is that for the first time, Australia will spend $500 million through our aid budget on climate specific projects. And that includes things like our new infrastructure financing facility, which is a $2 billion facility, which will of course leverage private sector investment into the Pacific through a new climate window.

That will mean more climate projects and renewable projects, whether they are road projects, or resilient schools, or renewable energy. This will mean spending will flow, it'll flow directly out of our aid budget every year from 2020 at an increased rate for five years.

Journalist: Minister, as you just- sorry, Kate Lyons for the Guardian Australia. As you just said, it's not new money, it's coming from sequencing a budget. Alan Jones said on his radio show this morning that the PMO had rung him privately to assure him that it was not new money. How reassuring do you think that's going to be for Pacific leaders who have made it so clear that they want urgent action to reduce emissions, as well as mitigation and adaptation money, that this is repurposed aid budget that they are receiving?

Alex Hawke: Well, the aid budget is staying the same. We don't hide from that. That's absolutely the case. That's what we promised at the recent elections. The Australian people re-elected us and the aid budget will stay the same, subject to ongoing cabinet decisions every year. However, what we are saying is for the first time, we're going to spend more of the budget on climate projects. And this will be $500 million, this is the most any Australian government has ever spent. It'll be more than ever spent individually, bilaterally we'll be meeting with every country to discuss their needs, and you'll see that money flowing to climate resilient projects and climate adaptation.

Journalist: Which sectors will be reduced then, in the aid budget, given that you're re-diverting money towards infrastructure and other sectors?

Alex Hawke: Well the aid budget works in a number of ways. We'll be re-prioritising some of those needs over time. You'll see, I think, more money come on, because much of the funds that we are using through the aid budget is to leverage more private sector investment. So we're not being ambitious today in saying how much private sector investment will be leveraged, but the purpose of for example, the $140 million fund that we're using here within the $500 million is to leverage more investment for Pacific countries. And again, we have seen, of course, when Australia leads on delivering projects for the Pacific, when we manage our own step up, the money does flow and the projects do flow. And here in Tuvalu we've ensured projects do flow. Last night, I launched the Green Climate Portal for Tuvalu, with the Prime Minister, and we have more green climate portals going into Pacific countries in the future. So, we believe our aid money will unlock more.

Journalist: Will Pacific businesses tap that window? One of the concerns that's been expressed, for example in Fiji, I'm with Islands Business magazine in Fiji, is that Australian businesses are being subsidised and that local businesses may be at a disadvantage, given that there will be subsidies for renewables companies, for example, from Australia, whereas there are renewable companies in Fiji.

Alex Hawke: Well the news for the private sector is all good. The $140 million fund is to leverage private sector investment into the region, and we'll be doing that to pay down the risk for the private sector investment. So more investment into the region will be good for businesses, whether they're local or whether they're people investing from outside the region. It's not just to prioritise Australian business, it's to find investment- source private sector investment from around the world. Obviously, we want to see more Australian businesses doing business in the Pacific. We've got a range of mechanisms for that to happen, but leveraging more private sector investment we believe will help with the economies here. It will help with the climate and sustainability models that we have and many of the businesses, internationally, are seeking to invest into the region, into climate resilient projects. And Australia will pay down the risk with this $140 million fund so that they can do that and the projects can come on.

Journalist: Minister, are carry over credits on the table for Australia at all and will Australia consider dropping that commitment to use the Kyoto carry over into the Paris Commitment?

Alex Hawke: Well the Government's absolutely committed to meeting our Paris targets. We believe we will do so. We will use those credits. Obviously those discussions will be held with the leaders in the next few days. But we believe …

Journalist: [Interrupts] You're prepared to talk about that are you, like winding back the use of those credits?

Alex Hawke: Well, Australia's position's been clear and look, there's been great respect for Australia's position in general. They tell us that they want us to do more in the region to help with climate and we are doing. They also tell us that they understand that our economy is structured in certain ways and that to help with the assistance in the Pacific, the Prime Minister Bainimarama was clear about this. He understands that we have to work through our own economic transition in Australia and the Government's got our own plan to transition our economy into the future.

Journalist: Does it send a bit of a mixed message though with Adani starting up in Queensland while also talking about transitioning to more renewables in Australia?

Alex Hawke: Well no. We're committed to a quarter of renewables in our plan, our Climate Solutions Fund and we're going to be funding more climate resilience and projects into the region as well. So $500 million is a significant step up of Australia's climate commitment to the region to see more renewable projects into the region.

If you look down the list of global coal mines that are coming on, you'll see hundreds in other countries, you'll see dozens and other countries. You'll only see two in pre-construction in Australia. So it's a global conversation. And Australia's position has always been without global action on these sorts of issues we can't see any global solutions.

Journalist: How do you see your strategic competition in this region? And do you think the Pacific Islands are making, sort of, good use of that strategic competition to strike better deals on things like climate change, you know, they've got this $500 million commitment? Are they using that leverage?

Alex Hawke: Look, I think the countries in this region understand that there are lots of countries that want to invest into the region, and particularly on issues like climate. There's plenty of partners out there at the moment. Australia's helping in any way we can to help those partners get into the region and make those investments and we're looking for partnerships. Competition is healthy for the region. I think there is going to be more investment in the Pacific than we've seen in it for a long time and I think the countries here welcome it. We just want to make sure that it's spent on the right projects, that is for health, for education, for the benefit of the people, and benefits to the governments, and benefit to the countries. And Australia can play a great role in assisting with that.

Journalist: Back with PNG, you were aware our PM is trying to finance its debt and this is after the fanfare of the state visit that's been I think. Just your thoughts on that as a government and Prime Minister Marape said it's [indistinct]. Just you're thoughts on that.

Alex Hawke: Yeah. Well, Australia welcomes the increase in our bilateral relationship, the step up of our own relationship between Papua New Guinea and Australia. In just a few weeks we'll be in Port Moresby for ministerial forums where we will be discussing all of the issues relevant to Papua New Guinea and Australia and things between us. The Marape Government has already signalled to Australia the importance of our relationship by coming to Australia, by bringing a big ministerial delegation and we'll be taking a very senior delegation to Moresby, to discuss the exact issues you're talking about. And Australia is open to assisting, we'll assist in any way that PNG needs. We'll be discussing finance, we'll be discussing their budget, we'll be discussing health, education, agriculture, the priorities of the Marape Government and I think that partnership is going to see a big boost and a step up.

Journalist: About the climate change issues, you mentioned in the question that I asked earlier, you're ready to have bilateral discussions with these Pacific Island countries. But then Mr Sopoaga in [indistinct] said yesterday that they will speak with one voice. So why a bilateral meeting?

Alex Hawke: Well, Australia's approach is going to be to have bilateral meetings on climate to identify the needs. And the reason is because every country does have some particular needs in terms of climate adaptation, and resilience, and mitigation. We find that countries do want to have that bilateral conversation as well as the regional conversation. Some of the solutions we're providing will no doubt be regional solutions and we're looking for those synergies.

Australia helps a lot in our oceans, we do a lot of work with providing money to clean up our oceans – money to make sure that waste is removed out of the ocean, money to make sure that all the exclusive economic zones of countries are surveyed. So we don't, for one second resile from regional solutions or multilateral solutions. But the bilateral component of our climate change and oceans package is very important to countries in the Pacific and very important to us so we can specifically meet the needs of individual countries as well.

Journalist: Minister on multilateral responses – at yesterday's dialogue there was a lot of talk about the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund. Your government's already announced that you won't contribute further funds; previously Australia was co-Chair of the Fund. Would you reconsider that decision given that a number of Pacific Island governments are calling for the replenishment to be a really important part of the Paris accord?

Alex Hawke: Well look, this is an issue we've had some mixed signals on. I think yesterday we heard from countries about the flow of money from the Clean Green Climate Fund. One of the concerns is it doesn't flow fast enough. That was the tenor of many of the discussions yesterday and we'd encourage that money to flow to Pacific Island countries to make sure those projects are delivered. But as you know, Australia in this region is here all the time – this is our Pacific family. These are our friends, our neighbours. We work with countries all the time on delivering projects and we think we've got a very good track record of partnering on what Pacific Island countries need and making sure those things are done. When we provided $200 million for the Green Climate Fund it was provided that [indistinct]. When we put forward $500 million, as we will from 2020, that money will be spent on climate adaptation and resilience and it will be spent well.

Our funds which will unlock more private sector money will unlock that money. So we're good partners in the Pacific. We are not going to replenish the Fund that you mentioned. Obviously we think we can, on a bilateral level and on a local level, listening in our neighbourhood, in our backyard, do more and do more good ourselves.

Journalist: Most private sector investment goes to the bigger Pacific countries – Papua New Guinea, Fiji. Are you really confident that the Australian private sector and internationally are going to come to smaller places like Tuvalu which has hardly any foreign direct investment? Do you think this is really possible, this talk of leveraging, or is most Australian money going to flow to the oil and gas industry in PNG for example?

Alex Hawke: Well absolutely not. And look, we're in a dialogue with our partner countries listening very carefully to Pacific Island countries about their economic needs as well. And we do hear the requirement for us to invest in projects and here in Tuvalu we have made sure projects have been bought on from the Australian Government's perspective. We're here to assist them with their needs. And Prime Minister Morrison has made the point that the economic partnership between our countries is a prime part of our step up. So you'll see our Pacific Labour Scheme is being stepped up, so we're making sure that access to our markets is being given to more and more people from the Pacific so they can work, so they can remit money back home, so they can get more skills. And we're also looking to increase our sports scholarships and training, our work with Pacific countries so their economies are stronger and we have better economic cooperation.

Journalist: Prime Minister Sopoaga said ahead of the Forum that there was no point to these multilateral fora if countries came with national positions they weren't willing to budge on. He and Prime Minister Bainimarama have made it clear that coal, they've also mentioned Adani and carry over credits are really huge issues in the Pacific nations. It sounds like Australia is not willing to move away from its national position on any of those. If so, what is the point of Australia being here for those discussions?

Alex Hawke: Well, look, I take a different flavour to this. The Pacific Islands Forum is a very important forum from Australia's point of view. It's the obvious premiere regional forum where leaders come together to discuss their issues. And certainly, we hear loud and clear that climate adaptation, climate resilience, is a prime concern to people in the Pacific and Australia is responding. We're a good partner. We have responded already with $300 million. Now we are stepping up our climate commitment to $500 million from 2020 for five years. Australia will do more on climate. We'll do more practical work on climate. We'll work with our partner countries bilaterally to find things that they need to adapt to make themselves more resilient and deal with the climate challenges they face. And Australia is a good partner on climate because we understand from our neighbours the impact that it has. When you stand here in Tuvalu, you understand the imperative about the climate and our Prime Minister will be here. I'm here all week. We're listening and we're responding this week to the needs of the Pacific. Thank you all.

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