Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here in Niue today.
The theme of this conference, ‘Resilient Pacific Peoples’, is both timely, and critical.
Resilience refers to our ability to deal with challenges, to respond to disasters, to learn from the past and to develop future responses.
But when I look at the wide expanse of countries that make up the Pacific, I can’t help but think that resilience - on its own - won’t be enough.
There are 10 million people in the Pacific Islands, scattered across thirty million square kilometres of ocean.
That makes the Pacific Islands one of the most remote parts of the world.
In such a diverse, unique part of the world, we need to be resilient – but we also need to be collaborative, cooperative – if we are to meet our common challenges.
Apart from its isolated geography, the Pacific also faces economic constraints, challenging demographic trends, social divisions, and vulnerability to natural disasters.
We all need to work together – through regional collaboration – if we are to build a more resilient Pacific of the future.
There are a number of ways in which Australia contributes to building resilience to these challenges in the Pacific, which I’ll outline in more detail.
By providing support for disaster risk reduction, we’re helping to build resilience to natural disasters.
By supporting young people and women through education, technical training and sport, we are contributing to building the next generation of resilient Pacific peoples.
And by helping to boost Pacific Island economies, we’re contributing to economic resilience.
Resilience and disaster risk reduction
Extreme weather events, like Cyclone Pam, are terrible reminders of the need for greater resilience to natural disasters in the Pacific.
It has been predicted that, in the short term, natural disasters will affect the Pacific with increasing frequency and severity.
In the long-term, we know that rising sea levels pose a serious threat to the viability of low-lying island states.
Australia plays an important role in supporting the Pacific’s preparedness for and response to disasters.
We pre-position humanitarian relief supplies, we invest in warning systems and we have significant response capabilities.
Most recently, we provided $47.8 million to assist Vanuatu following Tropical Cyclone Pam.
But Australia isn’t the only nation providing much needed help when disasters hit.
There is already significant cooperation and assistance among Pacific Island countries when times are tough.
For obvious reasons, the impacts of climate change and other external shocks are priority issues for Pacific nations, including Australia.
That is why Australia is playing a significant role in supporting Pacific Island countries to prepare for, and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
We committed $200 million over four years to the Global Climate Fund, and will advocate for the interests of our Pacific neighbours through our seat on its board.
We have invested over $50 million in climate resilience related projects throughout vulnerable at risk countries across the Pacific.
We supported the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Declaration on Climate Change Action.
And we know that when Pacific Island Countries have presented issues collectively in the past, the international community has taken more notice – really listened – to what Pacific Island countries have to say.
At home, we’re taking serious action to tackle climate change and we’re seeing the results.
Our emissions per person are now at their lowest level in 25 years. Since 1990 Australia’s population has grown 39 per cent, yet emissions per capita have fallen by 29 per cent.
The Government’s post-2020 target will see emissions per person fall by at least 50 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 – the largest reduction in the developed world on announced targets.
Building social resilience in young people
When I travel through the Pacific – something I intend to do often in my new role as Australia’s Minister for the Pacific – I’m always struck by the strength and spirit of Pacific Islanders, particularly of the older generation.
But with half of Pacific Islanders now aged under 25, we need to ensure that young people have the opportunities available to them to build their resilience.
Unemployment figures for young Pacific Islanders are concerning, with extremely high rates of unemployment [23 per cent overall and up to 60 per cent in individual countries].
Young people are six times less likely to secure jobs than older workers.
The unemployment rate for young women in every Pacific Island Country and Territory is higher than that of young men.
Australia is no stranger to dealing with the consequences when young people aren’t engaged in the community.
Engaging young people, from early ages, in a very simple activity – sport – reaps benefits in terms of health, social inclusion and community engagement.
The values of sport – competition, team work, discipline, perseverance and fair play – help build trust between countries and engage young people.
It also supports equality of women and girls through showcasing achievement, and challenging gender norms.
Under Phase two of Australia’s Pacific Sports Partnerships, we support 11 sports across 8 Pacific Island countries, with a $14 million program over 2013-17.
In Fiji, where we are supporting a ‘Just Play’ football program, teachers are telling us that children are showing an increased level of focus in their schoolwork.
They also have a better understanding of nutrition – an important achievement when we consider that 70 per cent of deaths in the Pacific are linked to
non-communicable disease such as diabetes and obesity.
That’s just one program we support, in one country.
But it’s already helped over 2,000 kids – including around 100 with disabilities.
Engaging young people who are ready to leave school is also critical.
We need to grow businesses and employment opportunities and recognise the importance of access to good quality technical and vocational education and training, and higher education providers to support them.
Australia is proud to be funding education and training initiatives that prepare youth for workforce and self‑employment opportunities.
The Australia-Pacific Technical College enrols students from 14 Pacific countries at Pacific campuses offering targeted training in according to industry demand.
More than 8000 Pacific Islanders, mostly young people, have benefited from this training since 2007.
Australia’s long term support for the University of the South Pacific, or USP, ensures youth can access quality, internationally-recognised higher education qualifications.
USP produces high calibre graduates for the Pacific workforce, with more than 25,000 students studying at its 14 campuses and 11 centres throughout the Pacific.
That’s quality education, delivered over an area three times the size of Europe.
What a fantastic example of regional collaboration at its best.
In 2014, a total of 4,455 students graduated from USP – and I’m delighted to tell you, over half of them were women.
Economic growth through regional integration
Building economic resilience will also be essential to the future of the Pacific.
One in four Pacific Islanders are still living in poverty.
Some Pacific Island nations have shown promising growth in average annual real GDP growth rates over the past decade, but these are exceptions rather than the rule.
While Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste – both blessed with substantial natural resources – show positive growth, their Pacific neighbours have not been so fortunate.
Fiji, Samoa and Kiribati have all experienced annual growth of 2 per cent or under, over the past decade.
It is clear that the changes over the last 70 years, since the end of the War – and since SPC was founded – that economic empowerment and economic growth has substantially changed the lives of people in our broader region for the better.
But we need to see similar growth in the Pacific.
That’s why the Australian Government has put economic growth at the heart of our aid programme, with a stronger emphasis on supporting infrastructure, aid-for-trade projects, health, education and the empowerment of women.
Economic growth which promotes private sector development and jobs is critical to the long-term prosperity of the region.
And Australia believes trade is the fastest route to economic growth, generating jobs and raising living standards.
That’s why Australia is working with the private sector, including Carnival, ANZ and Westpac, to increase opportunities for Pacific island businesses.
As a mechanism for regional economic advancement, the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, or PACER Plus, will be a pivotal opportunity to boost Pacific economies.
It will facilitate a more open regional trade and investment climate for Pacific Island countries.
That is why Australia provided $13.3 million from 2007 to 2016, to support Pacific Island countries’ engagement in the negotiations.
Our assistance includes
- support for an Office of the Chief Trade Adviser to advise and assist PICs in the negotiations,
- training in trade negotiations for PIC officials,
- and funding for each PIC to conduct independent trade research to inform their negotiating position.
Separately, Australia’s aid-for-trade helps Pacific Island countries improve their business environment through regulatory reform, access to finance for small and medium enterprises, and opportunities for women in the private sector.
We are also increasing labour mobility within the region to support economic growth.
We have introduced a two-year lower skilled work visa for Pacific microstates.
We have also uncapped our Seasonal Workers Program, with 5000 people from the Pacific Islands expected to participate in the coming year.
Although not specifically targeted at youth, many young people have participated in this program.
And the mobility is a two-way street, with young Australians going to study and work across the Pacific, with the support of the New Colombo Plan.
The benefits of labour mobility are obvious: training and up‑skilling for workers, and linking people who need jobs with employers who haven’t been able to source employees locally.
But what is less obvious – and perhaps the most positive result of the program – is the generation of remittances, as workers send money back home.
The average SWP worker remits about $5,000 over a six-month placement, money that is spent on housing, education, healthcare and household consumption.
In some Pacific Island countries remittances are greater than foreign direct investment, per-capita income, or aid flows.
I’ve mentioned the importance of women and girls several times today.
Development research consistently demonstrates that Pacific women are key to the region’s future prosperity.
It also shows a higher rate of return on aid funds spent on females than on males.
Across the Pacific, gender inequality is a significant issue for all women.
Women and girls face disproportionate levels of violence, vulnerability and poverty.
Women make up six per cent of parliamentarians, compared to a global average of 22 per cent.
Men outnumber women in paid employment outside the agricultural sector by approximately two to one and women occupy a third of formal sector jobs.
This makes women’s economic empowerment a critical component of our work.
Our ‘Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program’ – a 10 year $320 million program – is supporting improved political, economic and social opportunities for women across 14 Pacific Island Forum countries.
To date, women in all 14 Pacific Island Forum countries have received some form of support and approximately $54 million has been spent.
Ladies and gentlemen, Australia is committed to working closely with our neighbours in the Pacific toward our common goals.
That’s why Australia supports Pacific Island Countries in international forums, and why we are working with our partners through our development assistance, education, trade and investment links to support economic growth and opportunity.
It’s in all of our mutual interests for a secure, prosperous and resilient Pacific region.
And, in my new role as Minister for International Development and the Pacific, I look forward to working with you all to that end.
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