Australian Council for International Development

  • Speech (check against delivery)
Subjects: Pacific region; Partnerships for Recovery strategy; Development Assistance Program; Quad leaders meeting; Regional Vaccine Access Initiative.
Mural Hall, Parliament House

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and let me also begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we met this morning and my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

Thank you very much, Susan, for your introductory remarks, to you and to Mark, thank you for the opportunity to be here today. To my parliamentary colleagues and Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator, the Honourable Zed Seselja, Senator Penny Wong, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, and to the many other distinguished parliamentary colleagues who are here this morning. It's an absolute pleasure to be here as a part of today's important event. I think that’s a very powerful, very powerful video. And thank you very much for those who contributed to putting it together to show us those images today.

It focuses in that video on some of the challenging situations that you as non-government organisations, we as a government, our officials, but most importantly, the communities that we strive to support and to partner with have faced in the last year. The emergence of COVID-19 has caused significant disruptions to people, to health systems, economies around the world. And what that has ultimately demanded is strong leadership, partnership and collaboration. And that's no more true than anywhere in the world than in our region, in the Indo-Pacific, which is why the Government, from the beginning of this crisis, has taken immediate action, worked in close partnership with our Indo Pacific neighbours to deliver that strong response.

And at the heart of that response is Partnerships for Recovery strategy, to strengthen the region's economic recovery, its health security and its stability by responding directly to the priorities of our partners. In just over three months, we redirected development funds of $840 million in 2019-20.

I want to thank non-government organisations and community for supporting and being part of that pivot. The Government also responded with more resources. In addition to our $4 billion Development Assistance Program in 2021, we announced temporary and targeted initiatives of over $1.3 billion to support economic recovery and importantly, to deliver safe and effective vaccines. This included support for the supply and delivery of vaccines across the Pacific and South East Asia and economic recovery and development packages for the region.

As Susan alluded to, we worked hard to ensure that our contributions are well lined up with the efforts of our partners. On Saturday, the Prime Minister and I joined the leaders of the United States, Japan and India at the historic Quad leaders meeting, following three Quad Foreign Ministers meetings in the last two years. We announced a landmark partnership on vaccines to accelerate the pathway out of COVID-19 through equitable vaccine access. Australia announced a further $100 million to fund vaccine supply and provide last mile delivery support in our vast region. This builds on Australia's early contribution of $80 million to the COVAX facility, which has meant frontline doses for workers are arriving in our region. Fiji, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines are some of the first in our region to have received vaccines. More are on their way.

Partners such as UNICEF are leveraging their global, regional and country level expertise in immunisation, helping us procure vaccines at affordable prices, and to support governments to vaccinate their populations safely and effectively. We are working hand in hand with Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbour, as we see cases rapidly rising there. Senator Seselja and I have been in regular contact with particularly Jelta Wong, the Minister for Health, including over the recent days.

Australia will deploy further AUSMAT resources – an AUSMAT advisory team, with two clinicians and an infection control specialist to assist in the immediate public health assessments and epidemiological medical supply and equipment needs. We have helped to scale up surveillance testing and critical care capacity in Port Moresby and in provinces with known outbreaks. We have worked with the Papua New Guinea Government and our partners to reopen testing and isolation facilities and funded patient transport and the supply of PPE. We are, of course, also providing over $144 million to Papua New Guinea through our Regional Vaccine Access Initiative.

Though it’s beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia is also partnering with our region, particularly on climate change which is, as we know, a major risk to sustainable development in the Indo-Pacific. We’re a proud signatory to both the Boe and Kainaki II Declarations through the Pacific Islands Forum, which set out our region's collective will to take meaningful climate action.

I'm pleased to advise today that Australia has exceeded our $1 billion climate finance commitment from 2015 to 2020 by over $400 million — a testament to our efforts in mainstreaming climate in our aid programme.

Building on our achievements, last December the Prime Minister met with Pacific Island Forum leaders and announced that Australia will increase our global climate finance target by 50 per cent to $1.5 billion between 2020 and 2025. That includes the $500 million we’ve pledged for climate and disaster resilience in the Pacific.

Our aid program, delivered by my Department and with your partnership, is delivering real and practical outcomes in the Pacific. For example, by supporting one of the region's biggest solar farms in Papua New Guinea, a major hydropower project in the Solomon Islands to strengthen their energy security and to reduce emissions from diesel power generation.

I'm also pleased to announce that the Australian Climate Finance Partnership has commenced with $140 million in Government funding, expected to leverage a total portfolio of $700 million in investments in low emission, climate resilient solutions for the Pacific and South East Asia.

Our Australian NGOs, you and so many of your colleagues and members, have been a central part to all of these efforts. You are on the frontline with us, and you are making a real difference in our region. Whether it is the beautiful photo that depicts WaterAid’s work on water, on sanitation and hygiene programs, and a multitude of other activities. Or ActionAid’s work with 4000 female leaders to raise health and hygiene awareness across communities in Vanuatu. Or Opportunity International’s work in Indonesia, supporting the translation of COVID-19 resources into local languages.

I particularly want to thank ACFID for organising this event this morning and commend you on the leadership that you provide — Susan and Mark, thank you very much. For all of us, 2020 has been a very strange year. In fact, I can't remember a calendar year in my parliamentary life where I did not have the opportunity to visit an Australian aid organisation, particularly in our region — in the Pacific and Southeast Asia — to see at firsthand the work that you and your teams were doing on the ground. As Susan and I exchanged views on this morning, that makes all the difference to appreciating and understanding the importance of the work that you do; the delivery that is involved in that, particularly through my Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

So, even though we can't visit you, know that we thank you; that we know that you are there, still, every day with DFAT teams in so many places, in so many ways, and, that you have grateful thanks and our strong support. I look forward to working with all of you as we continue to respond and to recover.

Ladies and gentlemen, I conclude with an apology by saying that I do have an 8.30 meeting, and I do have to depart. But I appreciated the opportunity to meet with a number of you this morning, to have a look at some of the great photographs that are here in the exhibition, and to see the video. Thank you very much for the opportunity.

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