It’s always a pleasure to be with friends from the Pacific, here in my home state of Queensland.
I don’t need to tell you what a critical role the private sector plays in driving economic growth and economic resilience, and Vanuatu is no different.
For Vanuatu’s long-term prosperity and growth, we need to see more jobs, increased trade and greater investment.
That’s why Australia has made economic growth the cornerstone of our aid program, with a focus on supporting infrastructure, aid-for-trade projects, health, education and the empowerment of women.
And we recognise you – the private sector – make a critical contribution towards these goals, including through your participation in this Forum today.
But since this Forum met last year, Vanuatu suffered the most powerful cyclone, Pam, ever to hit the country.
And last year, the United Nations University found, according to its World Risk Index, Vanuatu has the world’s highest level of risk to natural hazards.
Let’s think about that for a moment.
83 islands scattered over 1200 kilometres of ocean, with some 260,000 people, the majority of whom live in rural areas.
Vanuatu’s people make their living – mostly – from tourism, and from agriculture.
Two industries which are highly dependent on, and deeply sensitive to, environmental conditions.
And Vanuatu is at the most at risk – in the world – of natural hazards.
Natural hazards like drought, climate change and devastating cyclones.
So forums like this one take on an extra sense of importance – of urgency – when we consider what is at stake.
Many of you here would know, much more intimately than me, the consequences of Cyclone Pam.
But, I think if there is a silver lining, it is the opportunity we have now, to strengthen resilience, build better institutions, stronger communities and successful business - to improve on the past.
And therein lies the real opportunity for the private sector.
An economy in recovery - support for Vanuatu
As all of you know, Vanuatu’s tourism industry is absolutely critical to its economy. Tourism makes up almost a third of GDP.
Over 200,000 Australians visit Vanuatu annually, although this number has declined this year, for obvious reasons.
Economic recovery can only take place by helping local businesses and creating jobs, and Vanuatu’s tourism industry is absolutely fundamental to this process.
So I am delighted to announce Australia will contribute $600,000 to the Vanuatu Government’s efforts to boost tourist numbers.
The campaign will help local businesses recover, and generate much needed employment for Ni-Vanuatu.
This contribution is part of our $35 million commitment to helping Vanuatu’s long-term recovery from Cyclone Pam.
It also complements our $15 million in emergency humanitarian assistance.
And it builds on our bilateral and regional development assistance which focuses on education, health and building resilience.
But we also want to encourage more businesses to invest in Vanuatu.
Our Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative, in partnership with the Asian Development Bank, improves the enabling environment for business.
In Vanuatu, Australian funding has contributed to the introduction of an electronic business registry, which will dramatically increase the ease of registration.
Working with the International Finance Corporation, Australia has contributed $16 million to the Pacific Partnership program to leverage private sector finance, for greater impact.
The program has seen $320 million in new private sector investments and improved economic opportunities for over 12,000 people throughout the Pacific.
We have also assisted the National Bank of Vanuatu to expand access to financial services in rural areas.
Over 15,000 new savings accounts have been opened, providing over 1000 microloans to men and women in rural areas to help them expand their businesses and increase their incomes.
Ladies and gentlemen, this Australian Government has been a champion for women’s economic empowerment – particularly in the Pacific.
Because women’s empowerment is a fundamental part of a strong economy, we have made it a fundamental part of our aid program.
That’s why we are supporting the Silae Vanua Market Vendors Association, comprising over 90 per cent of women from Port Vila’s Central Market.
The Association will empower women to engage constructively with market managers, giving women a voice when decisions are made about the environment in which they earn a living.
As Australia’s Minister for the Pacific, I’m very proud of our Pacific Women program, empowering women and girls across the region.
In Vanuatu, we have a Technical and Vocational Education and Training Program, or TVET. This is a quality skills training program, designed to meet the skills demands of employers and to support women to grow their businesses in the tourism industry.
Take, for example, Ms Assunda Roy, who left school in grade 6 to work as a cleaner on the minimum wage.
Ms Roy signed up for training and ongoing business management coaching through the Malampa TVET Centre.
She is now managing the most successful bungalow business in the province, Lakatoro Palms Lodge. She is an absolute success story of this program.
But she is one of many: 91 per cent of self-employed women who participated in TVET courses reported an increase in profits in the twelve-month period post-training.
88 per cent of self-employed women reported increased business income.
I’m sure you’ll agree these results are impressive – and show how with a little help, women will be an essential part of Vanuatu’s economic success.
Support on climate change
As I mentioned at the outset, and as you know, Vanuatu is particularly susceptible to extreme weather events like Cyclone Pam.
They 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 lowlying island states.
For obvious reasons, the impacts of climate change are a priority for Pacific nations, including Australia.
Let me say that again – the impacts of climate of change are a serious issue for Australia.
While we’ve copped some criticism, unfairly I believe, Australia is playing a significant role in supporting Pacific Island countries to prepare for, and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
We are committed to helping our neighbours become more resilient to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.
Australia has committed $200 million over four years to the Green Climate Fund, and will advocate for the interests of our Pacific neighbours through our seat on its board and as co- Chair of the Fund.
And we will advocate alongside our Pacific neighbours in Paris this month at the France- Oceania Summit and COP21.
In Australia 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.
Australia has invested over $160 million in the Pacific through Australia’s International Climate Change Adaption Initiative.
And we currently have over $50 million invested in climate resilience related projects throughout the Pacific.
This year we provided an additional $16 million through the Pacific Risk Resilience Program, to strengthen the resilience of four disaster prone Pacific Island countries, including Vanuatu. The Pacific Risk Resilience Program has supported communities in Vanuatu affected by Cyclone Pam to restore crops and livelihoods – critically – in ways which build resilience to future events.
It also helps communities to better plan for natural disasters: for example, the program has developed School Safety Plans for schools in remote and high risk areas.
More broadly, we make sure all our aid investments in infrastructure – roads, schools – are climate and disaster resilient.
This safeguards their longevity and ensures value for money.
Partnership with the Private Sector
Ladies and gentlemen, the private sector is absolutely essential to supporting Vanuatu’s recovery and rebuilding efforts.
That is why Australia works closely with the private sector in Vanuatu, to increase opportunities for economic growth.
The cooperation between the Australia Government and Carnival Australia is a great example of business and government coming together to draw on resources and experiences to achieve real results.
We all know the tremendous growth cruise tourism has experienced in Vanuatu and the contribution it makes to Vanuatu’s economy.
In the wake of Cyclone Pam, Carnival pitched in to deliver much needed humanitarian aid to Vanuatu.
But more importantly, it resumed cruising as soon as it could, bringing tourists back to the economy.
Under our partnership with Carnival we are pursuing a number of exciting projects.
Expanding employment opportunities for Ni-Vanuatu on-board ships, and increasing opportunities for local suppliers to sell their products on board, building on earlier successes with Tanna Coffee and Vanuatu bottled water.
ANZ and Westpac have also been strong partners for the Pacific region, and the Australian Government has been working closely with both banks to make doing business in the Pacific easier – from one-person entrepreneurs to big time investors.
But smaller Australian businesses, with strong local connections, also play an important role in supporting Vanuatu’s communities.
Greg and Elizabeth Pechen, who own the Havannah Resort, and Tony and Louisa Pittar at the Eratap Resort, support the welfare of their local communities by employing locally, sourcing produce locally and contributing to local projects.
Local people building local solutions.
We’re also keen to tap into local ideas for innovative ways to do things better.
Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has been a champion of innovation.
Of being agile, responsive, and ensuring our development program achieves results.
In June, she announced the $2 million Pacific Humanitarian Innovation Challenge, which calls for innovative new ways of responding to natural disasters.
It calls for applicants to re-think three critical challenges − communicating needs; humanitarian logistics; and financial resilience – in responding to disasters.
The ultimate result? A more resilient Pacific.
I urge those of you here to consider contributing your ideas – the challenge opens on 30 November.
Finally, as Australia’s Minister for the Pacific, I must take the opportunity to stress the importance of the ongoing PACER Plus negotiations.
The negotiations promote regional integration to encourage robust economic growth and sustainable development throughout the Pacific.
Both Vanuatu and Australia stand to benefit from PACER Plus, through increased foreign investment, expanded services and cheaper goods for producers and consumers.
But we want to make sure trade agreements reflect the views of business.
That’s why we want to see more engagement and consultation with private sector and civil society on the PACER Plus negotiations.
I urge those of you here, already doing business in Vanuatu, or considering it, to support and get involved in the negotiations.
Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges of economic growth, disaster recovery, and building future resilience are indivisible in a country like Vanuatu. And they provide real opportunities for us in Government and in business to invest in Vanuatu.
Now is the time for us to learn from the past, to take stock of the risks, and to build a more resilient, more economically successful Vanuatu.
I wish you all the best for the forum.
- Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7110
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555