Doorstop, Pango Village, Vanuatu
Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy:
So, I’ll make some short introductory remarks and then very happy to answer any questions you may have. Well, it’s a pleasure and privilege to be back in Vanuatu. This is my third visit to Vanuatu in five months, and that’s a sign of the Australian Government’s commitment and support for one of our closest neighbours and one of our dearest friends, Vanuatu.
This is a partnership of equals, and it’s one that we’ve seen going from strength to strength from the visits last year, the signing of the bilateral security agreement between Foreign Minister Wong and Prime Minister Kalsakau, to Prime Minister Kalsakau’s very successful visit as a guest of the Government to Australia last month. The relationship between Vanuatu and Australia is exceptionally strong.
I was very keen to come today, or yesterday and today, to receive briefings on the impact of the two cyclones, to talk about how Australia can provide more assistance to the people and Government of Vanuatu as one of your closest partners. And that’s why I was proud today to announce with Foreign Minister Napat that Australia will be providing an additional (655) million vatu, or eight million Australian dollars in further assistance to support your cyclone recovery.
This is in addition to the four and a half million dollars we immediately dispersed through the non-government organisations, including some behind us, to get assistance out as soon as possible. We were privileged to send over HMAS Canberra, the largest vessel in the Australian navy, as soon as possible with helicopters, with personnel to support the recovery effort including rebuilding schools, including Pango Village, so that kids could get back to school as soon as possible.
That is assistance that we are privileged to provide as hopefully your partner of choice. And so my visit today is about meeting again with your leaders to understand what we can do to assist more. And hear their views of Australia and how we can support them and very importantly to come out to Pango Village to meet your chiefs and your community leaders and meet some of your delightful school children to hear more about what we can do as a close friend and partner of Vanuatu. So thank you, and very happy to answer any questions. Does anyone have any questions?
There’s a microphone right behind.
Thank you for coming today, Minister. [indistinct] at school today what is your opinion on the response [indistinct]?
I was very keen to come today, or yesterday and today to receive briefings on the impact of the two cyclones, to talk about how Australia can provide more assistance to the people and government of Vanuatu as one of your closest partners. And that’s why I was proud today to announce with Foreign Minister Napat that Australia will be providing an additional 627 million vatu, or eight million Australian dollars in further assistance to support your cyclone recovery.
Well, I’ve been inspired by the response clearly led by the community. And I think that’s so critical. Response to natural disasters is something that is incredibly fraught and to have it led by the community, to have the chiefs lead it, to have the disability council lead it, to have it led by strong women as well, is incredibly important. One of the facts that stays with me is that after a natural disaster women and girls, particularly girls, are four times more likely to be pulled out of school and to never return. So, to have a community-led disaster response, to have the school only closed for two weeks and to have the 300 students under your brilliant principal come back to school is a wonderful lesson that I think is really inspiring.
Thank you. To the additional aid from the Australian Government [indistinct].
Yeah, that’s an excellent question. So, we’re proud to be aligned as a development partner of Vanuatu, and our assistance obviously goes much broader than the $8 million dollars that I announced today. We provided 25 million dollars in budget support only a couple of months ago. And that money, for example, is going to things like help rebuild roads, providing support for Vanuatu exports out of the PACER Plus so that more of your farmers, for example, can sell their goods to Australia [indistinct]. So that’s the sort of assistance we’re providing, and that’s on top of our normal bilateral development assistance.
The other thing that I think is a great symbol of our relationship is that there are 36,000 Pacific islanders working in Australia under our labour mobility scheme; ten and a half thousand of them are [indistinct]. So Vanuatu sends more workers than any other country in the Pacific, and on average those workers send back 15,000 Australian dollars a year while they help fill our labour shortages and get skills to come back and set up businesses in Vanuatu.
So our relationship is very broad, and it’s going from strength to strength. And one of the things I’m here to do is talk with your leaders but also your community leaders about what more we can do.
Thank you. [indistinct] partnership with the country [indistinct] how can bilateral relations be broadened [indistinct]?
How can we what, sorry?
Well, I think the relationship is very broad at the moment, and I think that we have great opportunities. I think we were proud to co-sponsor Vanuatu’s International Court of Justice climate change question. So, climate change is an area where we can broaden our relationship by working together. We’re obviously leading a bid for Australia in conjunction with the Pacific to host the UN Climate Conference, and I think that is critical. Vanuatu unfortunately is a country most impacted by natural disasters as the two cyclones in 48 hours demonstrated.
And with climate change there is a desperate need for a certain and ambitious action on climate change. And Vanuatu’s leadership on that [indistinct] has been phenomenal. Vanuatu’s stand in the global community has never been higher than it is right now because of your passionate advocacy on climate change, and Australia with a new Australian Government is very committed to taking action on climate change, and we’ll be working hand in hand to really encourage the rest of the world to take action. So, I think that’s an area where we can broaden our support.
Prime Minister [Indistinct] Prime Minister.
Yes, thank you. So I met with Prime Minister Kalsakau this morning. That’s my fourth meeting with Prime Minister Kalsakau in five months. And we had a great, wide-ranging discussion. It included obviously cyclone recovery. It included our security arrangements and how can we work together for a peaceful, safe and prosperous Pacific. It included discussions around how we can support further work around visa processing.
Through strong advocacy from the Vanuatu Government, including Prime Minister Kalsakau raising it directly with Prime Minister Albanese, we were able to announce the establishment of a visa processing office in Port Vila, and I was pleased to inform Prime Minister Kalsakau that a senior Home Affairs official will be setting up that office in July. That is a direct result of the advocacy of the Vanuatu Government, particularly Prime Minister Kalsakau talking directly with our Prime Minister and its early fruits from the bilateral security agreement that was signed in December last year.
Anyway, I think we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much, everyone, for coming, and thank you for the excellent questions from the media.
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