The CSIS Global Development Forum, Washington DC

  • Speech, check against delivery

I am honoured to address you today at the CSIS Global Development Forum.

I want to congratulate the Centre for Strategic and International Studies for organising this annual event …

And for the contribution the Centre's people make across your innovative programs on Prosperity and Development; Energy Security and Climate; and Food Security.

As the theme of today's Forum notes, we are living in a time of great disruption.

Climate change is unleashing more natural disasters and driving a dramatic energy transition.

COVID-19 and its aftermath are weighing on our prosperity, disrupting our connectivity and unravelling global supply chains.

Geostrategic competition is creating instability and uncertainty.

International rules, standards and institutions – the architecture that for decades we regarded as almost a given in the international system – are under pressure and evolving.

And, of course, Putin's illegal war in Europe is causing terrible suffering and destruction.

These issues affect us all.

The sessions to come during this morning's Forum will drill into them in more detail

For my contribution, I would like to bring you a perspective from the Pacific and to explain how Australia and its Pacific partners are approaching the immense challenges and opportunities before us.

The Pacific is no exception to the trend of global disruption.

We are facing what Fiji's Prime Minister Bainimarama has termed “the three deadly Cs” – COVID, climate change, and strategic contest.

The Pacific has additional complexities when confronting these challenges, including geographic remoteness and relatively small and highly-dispersed populations.

Leaving aside Papua New Guinea, there are around 2.3 million people living in the island countries of the South Pacific.

That's the population of Houston, Texas, dispersed across an expanse of ocean four times the size of the United States.

So even in this modern, connected and interconnected world, the people and economies of the Pacific still face what a prominent Australian historian once called “the tyranny of distance”.

Small island economies, far removed from global markets and facing significant transport costs, have their own particular development challenges that predate the pandemic.

And COVID has demonstrated how external shocks can have a devastating impact on development gains in vulnerable countries like these, with long term ramifications.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate and enduring economic effect on the Pacific island countries.

I can't think of a region more negatively impacted, economically, than the Pacific.

This is because many of their economies rely heavily on income from tourism, remittances from their people working overseas, international aid and commodity exports.

The increased debt acquired during the pandemic will further exacerbate fiscal challenges for Pacific countries.

Public debt increased by almost 60 per cent between 2019 and 2022.

It is expected to have almost doubled by 2025 as the Pacific continues to deal with the ongoing economic consequences of the economic downturn sparked by the pandemic.

This could all lead to what the IMF has referred to as economic scarring – as challenging economic prospects have longer-term impacts on health, education and social wellbeing outcomes.

So COVID and its aftermath continue to be disruptive forces in the Pacific.

An even larger disruptive force for the Pacific is climate change.

For the Pacific climate change is not an abstract issue or a problem for the future.

It is an existential threat unfolding right now …

… as low-lying atolls and islands are already being partially submerged by rising sea levels;

… as salt-water incursion is affecting local food production;

… as island countries like Kiribati, surrounded by the ocean, are facing severe shortages of fresh water;

… and as cyclones are becoming more frequent, more powerful and more destructive.

This is why the countries of the Pacific including Australia, through the Pacific Islands Forum's Boe Declaration on Regional Security, declared that climate change is “the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific”.

Australia is a founding member of the Pacific Islands Forum.

We have a long-standing close relationship with the countries of the Pacific.

So when the new Australian Government came to office in
May this year, I was honoured to be appointed as Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

I am honoured to hold all my portfolios – but I am particularly delighted to have a responsibility for Australia's relationship with the Pacific island countries.

It's a consequential set of relationships.

We have a shared history.

And we know that our futures are inextricably linked.

For us, the Pacific is home.

We are bound by history – by the enduring bonds forged in crisis and sustained in peace and prosperity.

And we are bound deeper still by a whole raft of connections …

By our people's shared passion for sport …

By links between our churches …

By vibrant Pacific diaspora communities in Australia …

Cultural connections and affinities …

Educational partnerships and trading relationships …

And by a shared concern for the Pacific Ocean environment our countries rely upon.

Australia's closest neighbour is Papua New Guinea, which at its nearest point lies only 2.3 miles from Australia's Saibai Island.

If you weren't worried about crocodiles, a strong swimmer could swim between our two nations.

First Nations Australians, particularly our Torres Strait Islander communities, and Pacific peoples have deep cultural ties.

Australia is a proud member of the Pacific family.

And our approach needs to reflect that.

The Pacific Way is about relationships, where you sit together, you listen, and you engage on a personal level …

Where countries work together on shared solutions rather than one country seeking to impose its will on others.

I congratulate the Biden Administration for the way it has been engaging with the Pacific.

In July, Vice President Kamala Harris announced an intention to refresh the South Pacific Tuna Treaty that allows US commercial operators to fish for tuna in Pacific islands' waters.

This boost to the Tuna Treaty would see $600 million flow to Pacific islands countries over the coming decade.

It's a very significant boost to the economies of these countries.

But the agreement was only possible because the Biden Administration understood the value of personal engagement in the Pacific.

Before the agreement was finalised, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Monica Medina, travelled to Fiji and sat down at the conference table with Pacific Islands Forum Ministers to talk through the final details face to face.

I was at the table, and I know this personal engagement was hugely appreciated by Pacific Ministers.

The Australian Government's approach is grounded in this philosophy.

Australia's Prime Minister, at my urging, has announced that I will be visiting every Pacific Island Forum Member in the first twelve months of Government.

And we are broadening our relationships with the Pacific beyond a traditional development focus.

We will utilise all tools of national power to support the Pacific's efforts to deal with those three C's – climate change, COVID and strategic competition.

We will be seeking to more closely align Australia's economic, development, diplomatic and security efforts in the Pacific – to deploy all the arms of statecraft in the service of our Pacific relationships.

We are expanding access for Pacific islanders to the Australian labour market and creating new opportunities for permanent migration from Pacific countries to Australia.

Labour mobility is a powerful way of supporting economic development in the Pacific.

One third of Pacific Islanders live on less than A$1,000 per year, the definition of extreme poverty.

In contrast, the average Pacific in Australia worker sends back $15,000 in remittances each year.

It not only provides Pacific countries with remittance income, it also provides training and develops the skills of their workforce.

We want Pacific temporary migrant workers to return home after their stay in Australia with new skills that will support their own countries' economic development; and with new financial resources that will allow them to start their own small businesses.

The benefits are two-way.

Australia, like the United States, is suffering from labour shortages across key sectors that range from agriculture to aged care, and our Pacific Australia Labour Mobility program is helping alleviate these labour market pressures.

Our new Pacific Engagement Visa is revolutionary in its concept, and will drive a very significant growth in our Pacific diaspora.

Our engagement with the Pacific is guided by simple principles.

We are reliable. We turn up. We show respect. We listen.

We are transparent, accountable and prioritise quality and local outcomes.

We don't impose solutions. We don't provide assistance with strings attached. We don't facilitate unsustainable debt.

But above all, we believe in unity. We believe in the region's collective strength – to face the disruptions and meet the challenges of the three deadly Cs.

Along with expanded opportunities for labour mobility and migration, the new Australian Government is enhancing our cooperation with Pacific Island Countries to ensure we are the Pacific's partner of choice for development and security.

We are increasing our Official Development Assistance by $525 million over the next four years.

This will lift our investment in Pacific development to a record level, building on Australia's record as the region's largest development partner.

We are designing a new development policy, and reviewing our development finance settings, to ensure we can work in partnership with Pacific island countries to develop without generating unsustainable debt levels.

We are increasing our support for aerial surveillance activities under the Pacific Maritime Security Program to help tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Pacific Island Exclusive Economic Zones.

To protect the Pacific's greatest resource, after its people, it's fisheries.

We are extremely proud to be a founding member of the Pacific Islands Forum.

We work together – in partnership and cooperation – for the good of the region as a whole.

This idea is laid out most clearly in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, endorsed by Pacific Islands Forum leaders at our annual summit this year.

PIF members have described this strategy as “our North star.”

It is a vision for the Pacific's economic, environmental, and strategic future – written by Pacific nations and their people, for Pacific nations and their people.

At the heart of this vision is a simple idea – that the Pacific knows best what its priorities are and how to achieve them.

No matter the challenges – be it COVID, climate change, or strategic contest – the Pacific will chart its own course to the beat of its own drum.

This notion of Pacific regionalism is deeply important to Australia.

One expression of this is in relation to security.

This year, the Pacific Islands Forum articulated the notion that there is a Pacific “family first” approach to security.

We seek a world where all nations, no matter their size, can determine their own futures.

In many ways, Pacific countries exemplify what the multilateral system is all about.

Ensuring all countries have a voice, not just those who are the most powerful.

Ensuring all countries abide by the international rules-based order, without reversion to “might is right”.

This matters – to the Pacific, and to the rest of the world.

In the multilateral system, small developing countries can sometimes struggle to be heard.

But in this system, small countries can also punch above their weight.

A great example of this is the new World Trade Organization agreement to impose new disciplines on economically and environmentally unsustainable exploitation of fisheries.

Pacific nations were instrumental in securing this ground-breaking deal on fisheries sustainability at the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Geneva in June this year.

This is the first WTO agreement to explicitly address environmental concerns – and one which took more than twenty-one years to negotiate.

And even after all that time, it almost didn't get over the line.

Negotiations were at a standstill in Geneva, until the Pacific members, including Australia, joined together to negotiate a last-minute compromise that delivers for small island countries across the globe – protecting against the depletion of global
fish stocks and unsustainable and illegal fishing.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing costs Pacific island governments an estimated US$43 million a year in lost revenue.

So the new WTO deal – combined with the renegotiation of the US-Pacific Tuna Treaty – will deliver economic benefits as well as protecting the Pacific ocean environment.

Many people here today will know of the powerful moral leadership that Pacific countries have displayed in UN's international climate negotiations.

For decades, Pacific Island countries have been at the forefront of global climate action, shining a light on the lived experiences and real impact of climate change and shaping the international conversation.

Pacific voices have been the conscience of the globe.

And they have long understood that climate change poses an existential threat.

This is a view we share in Australia.

Within our first months in office, we have legislated ambitious new emissions reduction targets and are taking concrete action to ensure Australia is doing our part.

We are also committed to amplifying the voice of the Pacific in multinational fora.

But we are looking to the world's biggest emitters to do their part as well.

We welcome the Biden Administration's commitment to tackling climate change head on.

The measures passed by Congress in the Inflation Reduction Act will go a long way towards hastening the United States' clean energy transition and significantly reducing emissions.

But the truth is that not all big emitters are doing their share.

And it is countries like the low-lying islands of the Pacific which stand to lose the most from empty promises.

The shifting geopolitical environment, and rising strategic competition, are generating unprecedented global interest in the Pacific.

Both traditional and new partners have upped their engagement.

The Biden Administration's increased efforts have been head-turning, including the historic US-Pacific Island Country Summit last month.

We welcome the focus of that Summit on the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific.

We welcome the inclusive approach taken by the US to all Pacific Islands Forum members.

It signalled respect for the centrality of the Pacific Islands Forum to the overall security, stability and wellbeing of the region.

Similarly, the Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative puts Pacific needs centre stage.

Partners in the Blue Pacific was founded this year by the US, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

And we are delighted that Canada and Germany have now also joined.

Partners in the Blue Pacific recognises that bureaucracies in Pacific countries are often lean.

They cannot afford to engage each partner at length, repeating priorities.

So through this initiative we seek to make engagement more efficient. To be a boost not a burden.

We seek to harness our collective strength according to principles of sovereignty, transparency, accountability and, most of all, led and guided by the Pacific.

One initiative I recommend all partners support is the development of the multi-dimensional vulnerability index through the UN High Level Panel.
Australia is a proud member.

It recognises Pacific island nations – indeed all small island development states – are among the most vulnerable in the world to external shocks.

Yet many Pacific nations cannot access development finance nor concessional funding as they have surpassed eligibility thresholds which rely on the traditional development metric of Gross National Income.

The multi-dimensional index would recognise the vulnerabilities and unlock access to important finance sources to chart the course out of COVID.

While serious disruptions face us, Australia looks forward with the view that our Pacific family has the agency to shape our region.

Our best bet is to do so collectively.

Collectively with countries that share our values and aspirations.

Together I hope we can realise a vision of a region that is peaceful, prosperous and resilient, and where the sovereignty and priorities of Pacific island countries are respected.

Thank you.

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