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Topics: Australia’s foreign relations.
16 October 2019

LAURA JAYES:    …and joining me now is the International Development Minister and Minister for the Pacific, Alex Hawke. Let's return to our top story and that is the IMF downgrading global growth forecasts, including for Australia. Is the Government rethinking its current economic strategy because of this?

ALEX HAWKE:    The Government notes the IMF report and obviously it warns of a synchronised global downturn in growth. And of course, we understand that we still see the features of very strong economies like the United Kingdom, Germany, the powers of Europe, Singapore, who are experiencing negative growth. In Australia we've got positive growth. The Government's very focused on our economic policies to deliver more growth as well as recognising that we're taking a big hit with the worst drought that we have ever had on. We're preparing the economy, I think, for even further difficulties and you've seen that with our tax plans, with our welfare plans, with our jobs plans. All these things are designed to get us through a pretty difficult global environment. 

LAURA JAYES:    But you say you take note of the IMF report but that's where it ends?

ALEX HAWKE:    Well look, we look at these things constantly and I think people have been expecting difficult global times. We've been warning about them even in the election campaign.

LAURA JAYES:    So you're not surprised by the report?

ALEX HAWKE:    Well the Prime Minister's been talking about economic headwinds for a long time now and what he means by that is this global environment that we're in, and we're watching the regional economies, the world economies and integrating that into our plan. 

LAURA JAYES:    Surely you have to rethink the budget strategy because the global growth forecast is now completely out of whack with the Treasury forecasts.

ALEX HAWKE:    Well people have been saying we need to reconsider our budget strategy for several years but we've seen millions of jobs created, we've seen positive growth and decent growth in context of the global environment. Now we understand the headwinds but we're going to stick to our plan.

LAURA JAYES:    … slow wages growth also, low consumer confidence.... 

ALEX HAWKE:    Yeah. And look, we've seen some uptick in wages growth recently, we're happy with that. We've seen millions of jobs though - more people in jobs than ever before, and less welfare dependency than in 30 years. And these are very significant features as well. So lots of positives.

LAURA JAYES:    But a political feature as well is achieving the budget surplus. Are you putting that ahead of any necessary stimulus?

ALEX HAWKE:    No and there's a reason we need to get to a budget surplus and we've been conservative with our forecasts. You've got to remember the final budget outcome.

LAURA JAYES:    Not conservative enough, according to the IMF. 

ALEX HAWKE:    Well, but you look at the final budget outcome, we were $13 billion better than we forecast and we're in balance now and according to final budget outcome. So we've been conservative with our forecasts, unlike the Labor period where they have wild predictions. We are getting that budget into surplus and why? Because with a deficit budget, you know, continually in deficit with debt, we have to achieve paying down our debt and also bring the economy back into the black.

LAURA JAYES:    As we mentioned at the outset, you are the Pacific Minister. You have been travelling in the region. I don't think we've spoken to you since we saw that keynote speech from Scott Morrison, really criticising bodies like the UN - he didn't specifically say the UN - for acting unilaterally. They're not elected body. Have you heard any feedback about that? Do you agree with Scott Morrison?

ALEX HAWKE:    Well absolutely and I think his point was that our national interest is going to be the centre of the Morrison Government's foreign policy. And I think most Australians expect our Government to have that at the core. And that means of course with multilateral forums and I'll pick a particular one that effects Pacific - the Green Climate Fund. Australia put in more money than most countries into the Green Climate Fund, which was designed to operate in the Pacific and help of course with climate change. Now look, I was at Tuvalu for the Pacific Islands Forum, I heard from regional leaders, I've witnessed the examples from officials. Some of these multilateral agencies like the Green Climate Fund sometimes taking three years to get any finance for projects. So projects are just not being delivered.

Now Australia, when we do projects…

LAURA JAYES:    … Do you accept, without bodies like the United Nations, there would be never a forum where small nations, particularly in the Pacific, would ever have a voice? Do you think it provides that platform? 

ALEX HAWKE:    Of course. I mean, and the Prime Minister wasn't questioning the existence of the United Nations at all. He was merely talking about Australia's national interest. But we want the United Nations to be better, Laura. And we do want them to be better…

LAURA JAYES:    ... How?

ALEX HAWKE:    … more effective, more reactive, more capable of dealing with challenges and sometimes multilateral agencies lose sight of small nations. And I think the Green Climate Fund's a good example, Australia can do more with our money. Our money will go to climate change resilience and adaptation in the Pacific and it will go directly and we'll do a lot more with it.

LAURA JAYES:    As you travel in the Pacific, is the number one issue you hear from leaders there, climate change, and what Australia is doing?

ALEX HAWKE:    Well obviously you hear a lot of things. I think climate change is an existential threat for many of the small Pacific island nations. It always has been. I mean many of the geographical features of islands are they're low lying atolls. They always have been. They're atolls that have risen out of the sea. So they're very exposed to climate. What are the climate…

LAURA JAYES:    … so what do you tell them about Australia's ambitions? 

ALEX HAWKE:    Well they don't really care what the reason is for climate change – there are many features that deliver climate change over centuries…

LAURA JAYES:    So do they think Australia's doing enough? 

ALEX HAWKE:    Well they do and we work very closely bilaterally with them. Certainly they would like to see greater international action and we support their calls for greater international action. And this is what the Prime Minister has spoken about. 

LAURA JAYES:    So they do think Australia's doing enough?

ALEX HAWKE:    Well they know Australia in the region is the number one country that does act on climate change. We spend more than any other single country and in a speech I gave this week, I defied anybody to come forward and name a country that spends more on climate change in the Pacific. 

LAURA JAYES:    Well the IMF, whatever you're spending, perhaps you're not spending the money prudently enough, the IMF doesn't believe that Australia will meet its Paris climate target, climate emissions reductions target by 2030.

ALEX HAWKE:    We will do that and the Energy and Emissions Minister's been clear. But in the Pacific- 

LAURA JAYES:    It actually doesn't say so though, does it?

ALEX HAWKE:    Yeah. But look, I'll leave that to the Energy Minister. But in the Pacific, I can speak for our climate policies and Australia is the [indistinct] partner country in the Pacific spending money and delivering on climate change. We are spending the most but not just throwing money around, we're delivering projects to countries. And partner countries in the Pacific understand that and we work very closely with them. We've now got a $500 million window. That's the most an Australian government has spent.

LAURA JAYES:    Emissions don't have borders though. What you're talking about is direct funding to the Pacific. You're not talking about Australia's own emissions. 

ALEX HAWKE:    Well we are talking about work in Australia. We have the highest, obviously, global rate of renewable energy [indistinct] per capita. We're also speaking very carefully about investments in technology and waste. The Prime Minister's tackling the waste issue and Pacific plastics, making sure that we are working with partner countries in the Pacific to deal with real environmental challenges like the plastics affecting the Pacific Ocean. 

LAURA JAYES:    Alex Hawke, appreciate your time this morning. It's been too long. 

ALEX HAWKE:    Thanks so much, Laura. 

LAURA JAYES:    See you soon.

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