Koror, Palau doorstop

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Opening of Australian Embassy; China stance; COP26 outcome and emissions targets; Australia aid and investment in region; Set the Standard report; Solomon Islands unrest; future of relationship with Australia.
03 December 2021

Marise Payne:  All right. Well, thank you both very much for the opportunity to say a few words this afternoon. This is my first visit to Palau, but it's an extremely important visit to Palau. Australia today has opened our Embassy here in Palau, and that is a great step for us in terms of our presence across the Pacific. We have one of Australia's fabulous female diplomats heading that up as our Ambassador here, Richelle Turner. And I am very pleased that we were honoured by the presence of so many senior dignitaries from the Palau leadership and community, including traditional chiefs, including senior members of the Parliament, the Speaker, senators, the President himself, the Chief Justice, the Vice President, and a number of others at that event.

It is a moment of great pride for a Foreign Minister to open a new Embassy. and to do that here today, notwithstanding that I think I've seen the extremes of Palau's weather in my visit, is a real acknowledgement of our commitment to the region and our commitment to the bilateral relationship between Australia and Palau. I know that the Ambassador has been working through the challenges of COVID in the time that she has been here, or I would have been here much before that as well.

As well as the opportunity to do that, I've met today, in formal bilateral meetings with the Minister of State, with the President himself. I have been for a visit to the maritime operations room and seen the Remeliik II Guardian class patrol boat alongside. I'm also immensely proud of Australia's Pacific Maritime Security Programme, which provides those patrol boats and works with our partners in the Pacific to address some of the real challenges for us in the region, including IUU fishing, which we had a very good discussion about with operational experts in that meeting this morning. This evening. I am looking forward to meeting with a number of women leaders here in Palau and tomorrow visiting a number of businesses in which Australians are engaged and look forward to learning about their experience here in Palau.

And we did discuss with the President and with senior ministers the challenge of economic recovery in the context of COVID. I know that, for example, tourism has taken an enormous hit here, and we hope very much not just here in Palau, but right across the region, to see that pick up in the very near future and I will be very happy to answer a few questions, if you have any.

Speaker:  You talk about the free and open Indo-Pacific region. First question is, what do you think of Palau's stance on China and in general, what do you think are the risks and benefits of nations in the Pacific standing up against Beijing?

Marise Payne: I think there's a number of things in that question. Australia and Palau probably have extremely similar views and commitments to what we want to see in the Indo-Pacific more broadly, and here in the Pacific. And that is, as you say, stability, security, peace and prosperity. And we encourage all those who live in our region and who are part of our region in their actions and in their deeds to make a contribution to that, by the way they carry themselves and by the way they operate. And that goes for all. It's certainly the approach Australia takes, to operate within international law, to operate within the, in terms of maritime engagement, within the construct of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, for example, in pursuit of freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight. I think the stance of each country in relation to these issues is ultimately a matter for them, but I do know that for Palau and for Australia, we share extremely similar views and extremely similar outlooks.

Speaker: Madame Foreign Minister, have you met with President Whipps in meeting?

Marise Payne: Yes. First in person meeting, previously we have been meeting by Zoom.

Speaker: Okay, so in your trip here and meeting with President Whipps did the issue of the Pacific Island Forum, knowing that many Micronesian countries have expressed their intention of leaving the forum within a year's time. So have that came out of your discussion with the President?

Marise Payne: I don't usually discuss the details of my bilateral conversations, but of course, the matter of the unity of the Pacific Island Forum is one in which Australia has a strong interest. We firmly believe that we are stronger together as a region, and I have shared that view with the President.

Speaker: And I guess my question will be on the emission target. the Pacific Islands has always been vocal about Australia's lack of emissions reduction target. And you talked about the Pacific step up; would the Pacific step up be credible without this emission reduction target that the Pacific is clambering for?

Marise Payne: Well, Australia has an emissions target of net zero by 2050. And so I think that is a very important recognition of the issues that are of great import to the Pacific. We made our commitment in Paris to a 26 to 28 per cent reduction on emissions, and we will beat that based on the projections that we have, in the region of 35 per cent. So that is something which we are very, very pleased to see we will be able to achieve. We do that in a number of ways. Importantly, in Australia, we take a strong technology focus, not a taxation focus. Our technology focus is one that we want to be able to share with the region. We have also discussed that today with counterparts, particularly in terms of solar technology. I made a commitment today to an Australian investment through the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific to a solar farm here in Palau, a contribution of $22 million from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility to the Pacific in a combination of a loan and grant structure.

And that is about backing businesses here in Palau and backing the government here in Palau, and their investment in renewables, which is similar commitment to our own. So we are one of the largest per capita uptake countries of solar power in the world. We also have strong investments in wind but also in low emissions technologies like green hydrogen, which we are currently very engaged on. Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison and President Whipps met in Glasgow themselves to have these conversations and discussions, and I think I've been able to build on those today. But as Foreign Minister, I have signed up for Australia to both the Boe Declaration and the Kainaki II Declaration, both of which clearly acknowledge the security threat and the climate threat of climate change. And Australia is also committed to both of those.

Speaker: So just in relation to the climate change question, the Pacific representatives and negotiators have condemned the outcome of COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. They said that the outcome was watered down and a monumental failure that put Pacific nations in severe existential danger, with one saying that as well as refusal to support funding for loss and damage suffered by Pacific, it was aa deep betrayal of the region. What would you say to that?

Marise Payne: Well, I do think COP meetings are always challenging. Nobody gets everything that they want, but I think the presence of the Pacific countries, and I know it is no small thing to travel from Palau to Glasgow in the middle of a global pandemic, the presence of Palau and other Pacific nations was extremely important to, I guess, act as a very clear marker to the rest of the world of what the Pacific regards as important.

We very much welcome the finalisation of the Paris rule book at COP26, and I've already spoken about our own targets in relation to net zero 2050 and the expectations that we have in relation to our emissions reduction by 2030, 35 per cent reduction. We are very focused on transparency. We think that is key to accountability, and there are a lot of ambitions ‘on paper’. Australia is delivering on achievement as well, and that is something which we think is also very important.

I'd also say that through the COP26 process, Australia doubled our climate finance commitment to $2 billion and more than $700 million of that is a commitment of direct climate finance to the Pacific. And part of announcements like today, whether it is the solar farm or the work that we've done on the sod turning for the cable is about making sure that when we are supporting infrastructure development in the region. We are supporting infrastructure development that is both climate resilient and climate adaptive, that we are focusing on what we have found to be the four key areas that are the priorities of our Pacific family. Communications, like the cable, energy, like the solar farm, transport and water. I've seen a lot of water today. I think that Australia and Palau could share some very interesting comparisons of experience on water retention, water management in that context. Although I understand this is not usual weather but then, in transport terms, we have also had a number of discussions, particularly in relation to aviation today, that I also found very useful.

Speaker: Okay. Last question, the unrest in Solomon Islands. The Australian government has sent its defence forces to help in the peace keeping on that. Because in 2017, the RAMSI ended in 2017. So how long do you think that the peacekeeping process will remain there in the Solomons?

Marise Payne: Well, can I start by saying that I spent time in the Solomon Islands myself during the period of RAMSI as a parliamentarian. I do regard this as a very different situation. Australia has indicated that we will deploy police-led security support to ensure stability in the Solomon Islands for a period of time. And it is not just engaging Australia. So it's led by the Australian Federal Police, supported by the Australian Defence Force. But since our first deployment, we now have security from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. We have members of the Royal Fiji Military Forces. We have police and a small contingent of military from New Zealand as well. So it isn't just about Australia. It's about members of the Pacific family who want to support stability in the Solomon Islands. I want to be very clear; Australia plays no part and has no role in internal Solomon Islands politics and political issues. That is not our intention and not our issue. It is a matter domestically for the Solomon Islands. But I think we all in the region very much want to see a return to stability in the Solomon Islands.

Speaker: And you talk about meeting with women today and your first portfolio as Minister for Women. There is an urgency or there is a call or the Jenkins Report to be, to act on urgently. Do you support all of the recommendations?

Marise Payne: So the report, which is called "Set the Standard". I absolutely agree that we need to take steps as a priority to address the recommendations. They are complex, in so far as they go to the presiding officers of the Parliament, they go to the Parliament itself, they go to party leaders and they go to the government. The government's part, this is a priority for us, and we want to progress this as quickly as possible.

Speaker: Just one more question, please.

Marise Payne: That's what everyone says.

Speaker: How do you see Palau and Australia's relationship moving forward?

Marise Payne: Well, you've asked me that on a very good day, [indistinct], and you know why? Because today we opened an Embassy here, and that is a really important step for Australia and Palau. I had an opportunity to meet with leading members of the government here, members of the judiciary, members in business, members of the community in business. And I would describe Australia's relationship with Palau as strong and growing. And I look forward to being part of that into the future. Thank you.

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