Exemplar’s Parliamentary Forum – Partnering on Pacific Priorities
I want to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet – the Ngunnawal people – and pay my respects to Elders, past and present.
I also acknowledge First Nations Australians who are with us today.
Thank you to Exemplar's CEO, Michaela Sargent, for your invitation and introduction.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge all the attendees in this room from the international development sector, working to advance our shared goals of healthy, prosperous, equal, and resilient communities throughout the region.
Australia's Engagement in the Pacific
I am pleased the title of this forum – Partnering on Pacific Priorities – matches the focus of our government in the Pacific.
The Albanese Government has made it a priority to forge genuine partnerships with the Pacific family to advance Pacific priorities.
We are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Pacific to respond to shared challenges and achieve our shared interest in a peaceful, prosperous and resilient region.
The Government is delivering on its commitment to bring new energy and more resources to the Pacific.
Our October Budget delivered an additional $900 million over four years in ODA to the Pacific to address development gains lost due to the pandemic and strengthen climate resilience.
I am proud that this Government will bring ODA funding to the Pacific to its highest level ever, a record estimated $1.9 billion in this financial year.
Alongside our development program, we are leveraging a broad range of national assets to support our Pacific family, including:
- our longstanding security cooperation,
- access to our labour market and migration pathways,
- enduring people-to-people and cultural bonds,
- empowering women and girls, and people with disabilities, and
- our likeminded partnerships.
I recognise the work of Exemplar in the region to address climate change, strengthen health systems, and advance disability inclusion.
I'll focus on these sectors briefly given we know they are areas of focus for Exemplar, and these have all featured prominently in the discussions I have had with Pacific counterparts.
Taking Climate Action
If today's session is on 'Partnering on Pacific Priorities', then we must begin with tackling climate change. It is by far the issue that Pacific counterparts raise most frequently with me.
It is therefore no surprise that it is central to the Government's approach to the region.
This is because we recognise, as articulated in the Boe Declaration, that nothing affects the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of Pacific peoples more than climate change.
The Pacific has shown remarkable leadership on global climate change for many years now. In that respect, we are following the Pacific's lead.
We know the threat is serious and real.
At home, we have enshrined our 2030 target - 43 per cent below 2005 levels - into law, and committed to net zero by 2050.
We are also re-establishing our climate leadership internationally, including by:
- standing up a new Pacific Climate Infrastructure Financing Partnership to support climate adaptation and clean energy infrastructure projects, and
- bidding to co-host a future UN Climate Change Conference in partnership with the Pacific to rally global climate action and share with the world Pacific experiences and priorities.
We were also happy to support efforts at the recent COP in Sharm el-Sheikh to have loss and damage added to the agenda and to see an agreement reached to establish a new fund.
Our hard work—again, in partnership with the Pacific—will begin now as the global community consults and designs the fund to ensure it meets the needs of the Pacific.
Strengthening Health Systems
We are also committed to supporting the national and regional health priorities of the Pacific.
We continue to actively respond to COVID-19 health needs including through:
- supporting vaccination coverage,
- COVID-19 testing and response capacity, and
- the movement of essential humanitarian and medical supplies.
But while COVID-19 remains a priority risk for the region, it is not the only health challenge.
Australia continues to invest in health services and systems across the region, in partnership with Pacific island countries, and with key regional partners, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Pacific Community.
We know the pandemic has exacerbated vulnerabilities and exclusion for people with disabilities, particularly as health and other social services have been disrupted.
We also recognise the impacts of climate change on public health, with the effects of pollution and climate change on air quality, water quality, and extreme weather events leading to increased risk of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
Advancing Disability Inclusion
Disability inclusion is a cross-cutting priority of Australia's foreign policy and development program and a priority for our Pacific partners, touching on:
- human rights
- gender equality
- sustainable development
- climate change, and
- humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The Government is committed to the empowerment and inclusion of people with disabilities, to ensure their full and equal participation in social, political and economic life.
As announced in the October Budget, we have restored funding to the central disability budget to $12.9 million in 2022–23.
This will support partners to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) and support organisations of persons with disabilities throughout the region.
This is part of Australia's larger contribution to disability-inclusive development across bilateral, regional and multilateral programs.
Australia will continue to be a key donor for disability inclusion initiatives in the Pacific, including the Pacific Disability Forum, to implement the Pacific Framework for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
But there remains more to do, and I will have more to say on disability inclusive development in the speech in the coming period, including in our new policy settings which are under development now.
Deepening relationships across the region
Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Papua New Guinea for the first time in my capacity as Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
My visit was the third by an Australian minister in a span of eight weeks – a clear demonstration of the Australian Government's commitment to Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbour and one of our dearest friends.
I managed to fit a lot in during my few days there – from visiting Kwikila Village and District Hospital in Central Province, to taking part in the commemorations for the 80th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign.
It was really special to be in Kokoda for those commemorations, for a campaign which symbolises the longstanding, deep commitment between the people of Australia and the people of Papua New Guinea.
It's a commitment that encompasses a broad spectrum of cooperation and partnership – in infrastructure, in trade, in security and in development.
These projects, designed in response to PNG priorities through the bilateral development program and the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, will be transformative for the communities and the regions they are in, helping to support sustainable development and economic growth in Papua New Guinea for many years to come.
Samoa is another partner with which we enjoy deep ties.
Some 98,000 people of Samoan descent live in Australia.
They wear their heritage proudly, making contributions to our communities, churches, and our rich diversity as a nation.
May I congratulate the Samoan High Commission on Samoa's historic participation in the Rugby League World Cup final on Saturday - a massive achievement by a team of such talented players.
The Government of Samoa's Pathway for the Development of Samoa provides the framework for our development cooperation, ensuring that Australia's partnership responds directly to Samoa's priorities.
Australia also worked hard to support Samoa's COVID response, including through vaccine and other medical supplies, eHealth support and budget support.
I acknowledge the resilience of the Samoan people in facing the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
Disability inclusion is an important priority for Australia and Samoa.
Australia supported Samoa's Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, to compile its first Report on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
And the Australian Pacific Training Coalition's (APTC) partnership with Samoa's peak disability organisation, NOLA (Nuanua O Le Alofa), continues to support and strengthen disability inclusion in Technical and Vocational Education and Training.
Climate change, strengthening health systems and disability inclusion are critical issues. They also impact our collective ability to foster a peaceful, prosperous and resilient Pacific.
And there is the key—our collective ability. There are many, many big challenges to grapple with, and opportunities to grasp. But we know we will do this best when we do it together.
These times demand that we work together with the Pacific, our partner governments, the development sector, civil society, business, and diaspora communities like never before.
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