Speech to the Pacific Way Conference, Papeete, French Polynesia

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Good morning, bonjour ia ora na.

It is a great privilege to be speaking today at the Pacific Way Conference, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.


Many of the participants at that inaugural conference in 1973 went on to become prime ministers or presidents of their countries, or secretaries-general of what is now known as the Pacific Community.

Fifty years of drawing together all spheres of Pacific society – academics, journalists, faith leaders and civil society advocates.

Fifty years of creativity, resilience and leadership.

Fifty years of working together to ensure your voices and perspectives are heard.

It was Sir Michael Somare the PNG Prime Minister who said at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in 1974 -

PNG acceded to this Forum with the strong desire to contribute and support the Forum Members in the needs of our region. We are not here to rock the boat but add another sail in order that our voyage to that glorious destination may be reached.

And it was Australia's Prime Minister Bob Hawke who said at the PIF in 1984 -

The task of identifying regional solutions to regional responsibilities is amongst our most important responsibilities.

As a founding member of the PIF Australia has been a part of this journey with you.

It is a real honour to be here in French Polynesia for the first time as Australia's Foreign Minister – the 12th Pacific Island country or territory I have visited since the new Australian Government was elected in May.

12 visits since May is an expression of the priority that the new Australian Government attaches to this region.

Later today, I will have the pleasure of opening the Australian Consulate-General in Papeete.

This now makes Australia the only country in the world with a diplomatic presence in every Pacific Islands Forum member country or territory.

There is no clearer demonstration of Australia's commitment to the Pacific as a whole.

As a member of the Pacific family, Australia is committed to working with all in the Pacific to achieve our shared aspirations and address our shared challenges.

At every step we will be guided by Pacific priorities.

Like those articulated in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and endorsed by Forum Leaders this year.

This strategy is our North Star – or as your ancestors would have navigated, our te Matau a Māui.

It is a vision for the Pacific's economic, environmental and strategic future – written by and written for Pacific nations and their people.

At its heart is a simple concept: that the Pacific knows best what its priorities are.

And that the Pacific knows best how to achieve them.

Our region faces many challenges – PIF leaders have described the triple challenges of climate change, recovery from COVID-19, and strategic contest.

The most pressing of these is the existential threat of climate change.

“The single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific,” as powerfully articulated by the Boe Declaration of 2018.

COVID-19 has set back development gains and contracted economies across the region.

Many Pacific economies, like French Polynesia, rely heavily on income from tourism, which shut down during the pandemic or heavily reduced with international border closures.

Because the Pacific region was so effective in keeping COVID out, with many countries forced to keep their borders closed for longer, the region has been the slowest to recover in 2022.

And the economic recovery is further hampered by global economic volatility, and food security and energy crises driven by Russia's illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine.

The increase in the debt servicing burden will further exacerbate fiscal challenges for Pacific countries.

Public debt in the Pacific is expected to almost double by 2025 compared to 2019.

This is impacting on the lives of Pacific Island people – on the health, education and social wellbeing of families

We also know that the biggest impacts are felt by the most vulnerable in our communities – particularly women and girls, and people living with a disability.

When it comes to climate action, the nations of the Pacific have led the way for a long time.

You have called on us to act. We have heard you. And we have responded.

We have already enshrined in law our carbon emissions reduction targets of at least 43 per cent by 2030, and net zero by 2050.

Within the decade, 83 per cent of Australia's energy supply will be renewable.

And we want to bid to co-host a future UN Conference of the Parties with Pacific Island countries, who have led the way for so long, and who have so much to lose in a warming planet.

That's what we're doing at home, but we are also boosting our support for the Pacific region to address the climate emergency and achieve their development goals.

And so today, I am pleased to announce that in the Australian Government's budget, which will be released next Tuesday, we will increase our total Overseas Development Assistance Budget by AUD$1.4 billion over the next four years.

This includes AUD$900m of additional development assistance to the Pacific over the next four years.

This additional assistance will directly support action in the region to strengthen climate resilience, including on climate science and renewable energy.

We know how important regional funding is to all Forum members, including French Polynesia, and how this additional assistance will benefit the region as a whole.

It will ensure we continue to provide direct budget support to reduce fiscal distress, ensuring critical government services such as health and education continue to be delivered.

Restoring connectivity across the region through aviation links is critical to the pandemic recovery and through this additional assistance we will continue to facilitate the movement of people and goods around the region.

We know investing in women and girls has a powerful effect on economic growth and wellbeing.

Which is why the Australian Government will restore the target of 80 per cent of all Australian ODA to address gender-based issues.

At the broader level, we are supporting Pacific economies to grow, unlock opportunities and boost connectivity to priority sectors.

This includes increased support for infrastructure in the Pacific and Timor-Leste through the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP).

This Facility will grow from $3.5 Billion to $4 Billion to support grant and loan packages and there is additional funds to strengthen project and risk management capabilities.

We are also increasing our investment in climate-related infrastructure and promoting climate-smart enhancements, through the Pacific Climate Infrastructure Financing Partnership.

We recognise that as a major lender in the region, we have a responsibility to ensure that Australia is a partner that won't impose unsustainable debt burdens.

This is why, amidst global economic headwinds and rising interest rates, Australia will offer concessional lending and grant assistance to ensure Pacific partners can continue to deliver sustainable and transparent infrastructure projects that meet international standards.

We will continue to work with partners like the IMF, ADB and World Bank to support productive, quality assets built and maintained with local content and labour.

These new steps are in addition to our commitments to expand and improve our labour mobility programs with participating Pacific countries and Timor-Leste.

And our commitment to establish an Australia-Pacific Defence School and to double the aerial surveillance component of the Pacific Maritime Security Program to help tackle illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

So, we will look to you, and our other Pacific partners, as we work towards achieving these priorities.

French Polynesia's leadership on protecting our oceans is just one example of the way you, and other Pacific nations, have used your voice and lived experience to shape the global debate.

Our region can navigate our shared challenges best when we do it together, through organisations like the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Community and technical agencies.

Unified, strong and inclusive Pacific regional organisations like the PIF are critical to maintaining and strengthening Pacific regionalism.

Together, the Forum family has made great strides on the pathway to unity across the region.

We are all sovereign nations and territories, but we freely come together through organisations like the PIF to solve problems together.

To build a region that is peaceful, prosperous and resilient.

Where the sovereignty of nations, large and small, is respected.

Where the responsibility for Pacific security remains in the hands of the Pacific.

I also acknowledge the vital contribution that France makes in support of Pacific priorities.

As a Pacific country, France has a stake in the peace and prosperity of the Pacific and brings a unique understanding of the region.

It is a voice for – an advocate for – the Pacific, including by providing leadership on Pacific issues within the EU.

As with all of Australia's partners, we will continue to work with France to advance our shared Pacific priorities.

We demonstrated this most recently following the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga in January this year.

Alongside the Pacific partners, France, Australia and New Zealand coordinated our essential humanitarian support through the FRANZ Agreement, which has just marked its 30th year of combined cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

We are also working with other groups, such as Partners in the Blue Pacific, an inclusive group founded by Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Partners will work with the Pacific Islands Forum and its members to pool our collective strengths to back the 2050 Strategy and Pacific priorities.

As with all of our work, Pacific Island priorities and interests will be at the heart of what we do in the region.

We share an ocean, but more than that, we share values.

We share dreams.

And we share a future.

The connections we share across our communities, our families and our cultures – forged and strengthened by institutions like the University of French Polynesia – are central to how we envisage our partnerships with the countries of the Pacific.

We have seen this with our Australia Awards and Australia Awards Pacific Scholars, who build networks between their home nations and Australia, and throughout our region.

Australia is a better place thanks to the contributions of Pacific diaspora – whether in the arts, business, agriculture, social services, academia, or sport.

These connections stretch back through time. The peoples of the Torres Strait Islands in Northern Australia in particular share particularly close cultural and historical links to the Pacific.

As the home of the oldest continuous culture in the world and over 300 different ancestries, we want to share the full story of Australia with the Pacific – starting with our First Nations perspectives and experiences.

At home, we are continuing the journey of reconciliation with First Nations Australians and are seeking to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

And we will appoint Australia's inaugural First Nations Ambassador, who will be a frequent visitor to the Pacific and will foster cooperation between First Nations and Pacific communities in areas such as health security, environmental management and climate change.

The future we share together is bright.

And we will be stronger and more resilient when we face our shared challenges together.

Thank you for having me here today as we work.

Guided by the Pacific way.

Guided by the wisdom of Pacific voices.

To build the Pacific of the future, together.

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