Sky News

Topics: Pacific Islands Forum; Pacific Step-up; climate change.
13 August 2019

Journalist: To enable Pacific island nations to increase their resilience to climate change and natural disasters, where specifically will this money go?

Alex Hawke: Well, we'll be discussing throughout the region, bilaterally with every partner country, their needs. We already deliver money through our climate programs into the region. That's a record amount of spending; we're talking about $300 million. But we're announcing that we're stepping up the money from $300 to $500 million to look at projects, more renewable energy projects, and more projects in climate resilience and adaptation. And we'll meet with every one of our partner countries to see what their needs are and make sure our money is being well spent on climate resilience and climate adaptation.

Journalist: This is money from the existing aid budget. So where is it coming from? Is it being reallocated?

Alex Hawke: Yeah, well as part of the Government's step up, we are reprioritising the Pacific. You're already seeing $1.4 billion being spent out of our ODA budget. Of course, this will mean out of that, more money than ever before will be spent on climate adaptation and climate resilience and climate issues. And that's in response to what we're hearing from the Pacific. So the Pacific's asked for us to spend more on climate, and we are going to spend more of our budget on more climate projects out of that budget.

Journalist: But is this investment though akin to putting an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff if at the same time Australia isn't doing more domestically to tackle the issue of climate change, which is what Pacific Island leaders are calling on Australia to do?

Alex Hawke: Well, what we're doing in the Pacific is important. It helps real people, like here in Tuvalu, deal with the impact of climate change. And we have to do it. We can't ignore the practical effects of climate change on Pacific Island countries; and we're not. And we're working with them to deal with it. Back home of course, we've got our own Climate Solutions package. The Government is absolutely committed to meeting our targets under Paris. We will meet them. And we're a big proponent of global action to tackle climate change. It has to be global action that tackles it. Australia will play its part. But more importantly, we're spending more than ever in the Pacific and reprioritising our money to make sure it is spent on Pacific Island country needs.

Journalist: The Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has singled out Australia in a speech here in Tuvalu over Australia's use of coal. He's also called on the Morrison Government to more fully appreciate the existential threat of climate change in the Pacific. Is this a threat that you, as the Pacific Minister, and your Government fully appreciate?

Alex Hawke: Well look, it's hard to be here in Tuvalu and not appreciate the threat of climate change. It is real. Pacific Island countries feel it the most and the Australian Government is responding to it. So yesterday, Prime Minister Bainimarama called for us to do more. And today, Prime Minister Morrison has announced we will do more in the Pacific. And Prime Minister Bainimarama made some warm remarks about Australia's role in the Pacific and the work that we do, and the appreciation that Pacific Island countries have for the role, the leading role that Australia plays in tackling real challenges in Pacific Island countries, and we welcome those remarks. We also hear his call to also transition our economy and he was reasonable and measured in his remarks. And we respect him for those remarks and the work he's doing in leading Pacific countries.

Journalist: You say he's implored Australia to do more, but he has done, but that's only in the sense to combat climate change domestically. One of the specific requests he has made is for Australia to phase out coal. That's obviously something when Scott Morrison touches down here in Tuvalu and meets his Fijian counterpart. He can't look him in the eye and say that's something that Australia's going to do.

Alex Hawke: There's a lot of challenges in the Pacific, and Frank Bainimarama spoke about all of them. And he also told us that he understands our historic reliance on coal in the setup of the Australian economy. I welcome his understanding. He also mentioned very clearly that every country in the Pacific is a sovereign country. And just like Australia does not tell sovereign countries in the Pacific what to do, he would not do the same to Australia. We welcome that. We also welcome his comments that every country needs to make a transition. Australia will make a transition, as every country will in the world, to new energy sources. We'll have a quarter of renewables in Australia under our Climate Solutions plan. We'll meet our Paris targets. And we'll keep working with our Pacific partners as well to deliver in the Pacific.

Journalist: Does it undermine Australia's Pacific Step Up if Australia isn't doing more at home to tackle climate change given this is an issue that has been declared the greatest security threat in the region and an issue that Pacific leaders are growing increasingly frustrated with?

Alex Hawke: Well, the Pacific leaders are clear that they want us to do more, and we are responding to those needs. We will do more. And in Australia of course, we're doing a lot about climate change as well. Australia understands the need in the Pacific. We're meeting the need. We also understand our international obligations. We're a good international partner. We do meet our obligations. We are forward funders of all kinds of climate solutions in the Pacific, and we look forward to partnering with countries on it.

Journalist: Australia's Pacific Step Up is largely driven by anxieties around what China is doing in the region and a desire to be able to counter that. As part of the Prime Minister's trip here, will he raise concerns at least in some of the bilateral meetings about what China is doing in the Pacific?

Alex Hawke: Well, no, Australia's interests in the Pacific, as the Prime Minister's made clear on many occasions, is about Pacific.

Journalist: [Interrupts] So Australia doesn't have any concerns about what China is doing?

Alex Hawke: This is our neighbourhood; this is our backyard. These people are our family. And Australia has a shared destiny with the people of the Pacific. And their prosperity will be our prosperity; their security is our security. And that's the approach that we take in the Pacific Islands Forum. And the dialogue here is about the Pacific. It's about what's best for the Pacific's economy; it's about what's best and what's needed in climate resilience and adaptation. And it's about what's best for the region's security. And those dialogues happen every year, and we'll listen. We listen as much as anyone else listens at these forums. We're not a lead partner here, we're equal with these countries. And we very much treat them as our equals.

Journalist: Is increased Chinese investment best for the Pacific?

Alex Hawke: Well, Chinese investment can increase in the Pacific and we welcome it where it's positively used. If it's in health projects or education projects, things that we can partner with…

Journalist: [Interrupts] What if it comes with crippling debt that these nations will just- going to be able to pay back?

Alex Hawke: Well the good thing about Australia's step up and Australia's participation in the region is we've always been good partners for Pacific countries. And we advise them on finance issues or Treasury issues and we would advise any country not to get to in debt to any other country. And our Government in particular is focused on debt in our own country. And I think we've got great credibility in using our expertise from Australia's point of view to help countries with their debt and financing arrangements.

Journalist: What do you believe China's ultimate vision and goal is for its role in this region?

Alex Hawke: Well look, we welcome any partner countries' involvement whether it's China or the US. You want to ask me about China, but we find we're talking regularly with New Zealand, China, France, with the UK, with everyone about the role that they're playing in the region. And the region is certainly attracting a lot more attention from countries, from international bodies, NGOs. More people are prioritising the Pacific and I think partly because Australia's Step up, Australia's request, and Australia's leadership to make sure our Pacific voices are heard more throughout the world is working.

Journalist: Minister Alex Hawke, thank you so much for your time from beautiful Tuvalu.

Alex Hawke: Thank you so much.

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