Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

Strengthening ties with the Caribbean

Address to 13th Council of Foreign and Community Relations Meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)

Roseau Dominica

Speech (check against delivery)

6 May 2010

Thank you very much for that introduction.

It is an honour to attend the 13th meeting of the Caribbean Community's Council of Foreign and Community Relations.

And it is a pleasure to receive such gracious hospitality from our host, the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica.

This is the first visit by an Australian Foreign Minister to Dominica and the first time an Australian Foreign Minister has formally addressed a CARICOM Council of Foreign and Community Relations meeting.

My presence here underlines Australia's commitment to our relationship with CARICOM.

In my discussions with CARICOM member diplomatic representatives to the United Nations in New York on Tuesday, I said Australia recognises that CARICOM plays a critical role in the political, economic and social development of this region.

Australia also recognises that CARICOM has a significant voice in regional and international groupings on the broad range of foreign, security and international trade issues.

Australia's national interests often converge with those of CARICOM members on these issues.

My central message today is that Australia wants to continue to enhance ties with CARICOM and its members.

Though we are located in different hemispheres, we have much to offer each other in shaping effective global responses to the challenges of the 21st Century and safeguarding the long-term prosperity and security of our citizens.

Over the past two years, Australia has looked with fresh eyes at our foreign policy interests, and we have sharpened our foreign policy priorities.

Global challenges - from combating transnational crime to meeting the Millennium Development Goals - can only be effectively addressed through regional and multilateral cooperation.

Australia has taken concrete steps to strengthen our engagement in multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, the G20, the Commonwealth and in regional groupings - importantly in this part of the world, the Rio Group and CARICOM.

Our extensive regional priorities and global interests have obliged us to engage more with countries and regions that, until recently, Australia had regrettably neglected.

Africa and Latin America are two such regions, and the Caribbean is another.

Upgrading the Australia-Caribbean Community relationship is particularly timely.

In past years, our bilateral ties were friendly but limited.

Economically our trade and investment links have been modest.

Notable exceptions include BHP-Billiton's oil and gas projects in the region, and Austal's success in winning tenders to build passenger ferries and patrol vessels.

Politically, our cooperation with the region has primarily been conducted through the Commonwealth.

As well, Australia had provided some material and financial assistance to individual countries in the aftermath of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Dean in 2007.

Sporting links were and remain a very important part of our people to people ties, especially cricket and netball, two national sporting pastimes.

Those sporting links have recently extended beyond international competitions, and now include various sport-for-development programs and player and coach exchanges.

Four West Indies cricketers - including Captain Chris Gayle - played in Australia's 2009-10 Twenty20 Big Bash cricket competition this past summer, after the conclusion of the Australia-West Indies test series.

While these links are important, we both recognise that the potential exists to do much more to broaden and deepen the Australia-CARICOM relationship.

In November last year, in the margins of the CHOGM meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Rudd and Secretary-General Carrington signed the historic memorandum of understanding. This MOU marks a new phase in our relationship, one which lays the foundations for long-term substantial engagement and closer cooperation.

The MOU emphasises building regional economic resilience and helping small island states address global threats and challenges.

It identifies areas of special mutual interest to Australia and CARICOM:

It also provides for capacity building and technical and financial assistance to CARICOM members and related regional institutions.

The centrepiece of our new understanding is a $60 million development partnership, to be implemented over four years.

Today in Dominica we will discuss our partnership to ensure our resources are committed to projects that you believe will deliver the greatest beneficial impact.

Our development partnership focuses on three areas of special mutual interest identified in the MOU.

We hope that Australian assistance in these areas will not only improve the economic well-being of the region, but will also strengthen government structures, raise standards of environmental protection and enhance social stability and security.

Australia is well-positioned to assist small island states address their challenges.

We have extensive experience working with the Pacific Islands Forum, whose members are encountering challenges that are familiar to you.

We are also close partners of the Alliance of Small Island States.

We support the Barbados Program of Action and the Mauritius Strategy for its implementation as important frameworks for promoting the sustainable development of small island developing states.

Australia has a proven track record of representing effectively the interests and perspectives of small island states in a wide range of multilateral fora, including in the United Nations and in international climate change negotiations.

Australia takes this responsibility very seriously, another reason why our MOU is important.

It explicitly encourages Australia and CARICOM to exchange information and pursue greater cooperation in multilateral institutions and fora.

I'm looking forward to working closely with all of you on that element of our partnership, on issues ranging from international human rights to climate change, and from the management of coastal marine resources to the global economy.

This includes cooperation on G20 matters, as we do with Pacific Island Forum countries, now that the G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation.

We believe the G20 represents a significant milestone: advanced and emerging market economies now have an equal voice in global economic decision making.

The G20 recognises that further reform of the global economic architecture is required to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Australia attaches a high priority to implementing G20 Leaders' commitments on IMF and World Bank governance reform.

As co-chair of the Working Group on IMF Governance Reform, we are at the forefront of G20 efforts to boost the IMF's effectiveness and legitimacy.

Australia recognises the G20 must ensure the interests of non-G20 members are taken into consideration when making collective decisions that will affect the global economy.

Australian officials regularly hold outreach meetings with our Asian and Pacific island neighbours to ensure the decisions of the G20 reflect the needs of our region.

This is particularly significant for our small Pacific neighbours.

We want to make sure they have a voice at this important economic forum.

And we encourage other G20 members to do the same with their neighbours, so that G20 decisions benefit all economies around the globe.

Australian and CARICOM interests also intersect in achieving a comprehensive and fair outcome under the UNFCCC.

Consistent with our MOU, we are happy to work closely with you on these matters.

Australia regards the Copenhagen Accord as a welcome step towards that goal.

Limiting global temperature rises is essential if we are to secure the prosperity and, in some cases, the viability of small island states.

The commitment to fast-start financing of some US$ 30 billion over 2010-2012 is an important outcome for CARICOM members and Pacific small island states.

Australia has valuable and highly relevant expertise to share with the Caribbean in the area of renewable energy.

While Australia is an energy- and resource-rich country, climate change is compelling us to look at options for renewable energy to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

The new Australia-Caribbean Community partnership will provide a framework for cooperation not only in climate change adaptation, but also in natural disaster risk management, private sector development and agriculture.

The priority activities of the development cooperation program flow from our dialogue with ministers and leaders.

We have listened and we are responding with activities carefully framed to take into account areas where Australia has relevant expertise and experience.

Education is an important element of our partnership.

Today I announce that Australia will commit over $10 million to Australia Awards for the Caribbean.

Australia will expand the new Australia Awards international scholarship program to the Caribbean.

Eighty students from CARICOM countries will benefit from postgraduate scholarships for study in Australia over the coming four years.

The first Caribbean scholars will take up their awards in 2011.

The Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University will host the inaugural course on Contemporary Political and Diplomatic Challenges for Small States in August.

We look forward to welcoming participants from all CARICOM countries to Canberra in August for this event, which is being developed in collaboration with the University of the West Indies.

People-to-people linkages will be further enhanced by the placement of Australian volunteers in the region.

Today I announce that Australia will double the size of our Sports Outreach Program in the Caribbean to nearly $2.5 million.

Education links will also be expanded through building ties between the Australian National University, the University of the South Pacific and the University of the West Indies Another focus of Australia's support will be strengthening business opportunities through trade facilitation and improving access to micro-finance measures.

Our partnership is substantial and far-reaching in its scope.

Importantly, while the inaugural Australia-CARICOM discussions about the development program have been tentatively scheduled for mid-2010, we have already made some good progress in the five months since the MOU was signed.

We have already provided $1 million in support of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency in Barbados, and another $1 million to the Caribsave, whose work focuses on climate change impacts across the region.

We have also decided to provide assistance to the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize and are working to develop a longer term relationship with the centre.

Australia has also provided A$1 million to the CARICOM Development Fund.

On the diplomatic front, Australia's High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, Philip Kentwell, was formally accredited on 30 April as Australia's first non-resident Plenipotentiary Representative to CARICOM.

We are in the process of establishing Honorary Consuls in a number of CARICOM countries, which will significantly enhance our profile in the region and help strengthen people-to-people and business ties.

We have also recently increased the resources of our High Commission in Port of Spain.

For the first time, AusAID, the Australian Agency for International Development, has posted an official to the High Commission.

Her remit will be to work closely with regional partners to further the development assistance elements of our partnership.

Australia's response to the crisis in Haiti has underscored Australia's new outlook on this region and the value we accord our MoU with CARICOM.

When the earthquake hit Haiti on 12 January, Australia was one of the first countries to offer support.

We initially provided $10 million for emergency humanitarian assistance, including food and medical services for displaced persons, and a further $5 million toward the long-term challenge of reconstruction.

In January, we also approved the deployment of a small team of Australian Defence air traffic controllers to help coordinate the delivery of humanitarian military and civil aircraft to Haiti.

As the dimensions of this devastating natural disaster became clear, Australia subsequently committed a further $9 million for Haiti's long-term reconstruction.

That brought Australia's overall contribution to over $24 million. This is not the first occasion on which Australia has sent assistance to this region in the wake of a natural disaster.

But the amount we have pledged to Haiti this year represents a far more significant financial commitment than any we made to the region in the past.

There were a number of reasons for this.

The scale of human tragedy for Haiti was overwhelming and the Australian people wanted to give generously, to do what we could for the welfare of all those affected.

But the size and speed of our response was also a reflection of how seriously Australia took our commitment to enhance our engagement with CARICOM.

The Memorandum of Understanding explicitly refers to our commitment to cooperate on disaster risk reduction and emergency management. In keeping with this commitment, part of our assistance is being directed through the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

The balance is being disbursed through Australian NGOs, the Red Cross and the Haiti Reconstruction Fund.

Conclusion

I thank Prime Minister Skerrit for his hospitality.

I thank my CARICOM colleagues for your support for our new partnership.

And I look forward to extending a warm welcome to Commonwealth members when Australia hosts CHOGM in Perth in 2011.

The Australia-CARICOM Memorandum of Understanding and our new development assistance package create a strong foundation for greater longer-term engagement.

I look forward to that closer cooperation with you in the future.

Thank you.