Joint press conference - Apia, Samoa

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Visit to Samoa; Australian Government’s action on climate change; new Guardian-class patrol boat for Samoa; Pacific worker schemes; Pacific Engagement visa; PACER Plus agreement; China’s proposed regional security pact.

Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, Prime Minister of Samoa: We're very fortunate to welcome the Honourable Senator Wong from Australia, Minister for Foreign Affairs, so very soon after their new Administration has taken over. And also, she arrives as we begin our celebrations of our 60th anniversary of independence. I'd also just like to mention that another key milestone which is aptly commemorated during this visit is that we're celebrating fifty years of diplomatic ties with Australia. So, Minister, I'd like to invite you to make your remarks. If I need to, I'll say something. Otherwise, I understand the media, you have five questions.

Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, thank you very much, Prime Minister, and thank you for receiving me. I'm very grateful. As the Prime Minister said, we obviously have a new Government in Australia. We were elected on the 20 something of May, and I was sworn in ten days ago. So, this is my second bilateral visit, the first being to Fiji. And I want to thank the Prime Minister and her Government for making us very welcome. And I want to thank your country for 50 years of partnership with Australia. It's a relationship we value deeply. I also extend my congratulations for your 60th anniversary of independence. I'm sure that was a very stirring celebration for Samoans.

We've had a very good meeting, I think, and I've been very pleased today to see some of the ways in which we're working together in areas such as health and development. If I may, Prime Minister, just to say a new Australian Government has been formed. We want to put more energy and more resources into the Pacific. We have made a commitment to engage more closely and to listen respectfully. We understand we need to work together, as part of the Pacific family, in ways we are called on to do so, now more than ever. We want to make a uniquely Australian contribution to the Pacific family. And most importantly, I want to be very clear, that we are deeply committed to taking stronger action on climate. We were elected with a mandate to do so, and we understand how important climate change is to this Prime Minister, to the leaders and peoples of all Pacific Nations. When I was Climate Minister, and I was Climate Change Minister many years ago, from 2007 to 2010, the experience of Island nations was crystal clear and your voices have become even stronger since that time. So, I want to be very clear with you - there is a lot of bipartisanship in the relationship, both parties of government in Australia value our relationship with the Pacific family deeply - but on this issue, there is a change in direction, and we look forward to working with you. So, thank you for your hospitality, Prime Minister, for your welcome and for your leadership in the region.

Prime Minister Fiamē: Thank you. As the Senator has intimated, climate change, of course, is very high on the priorities of both our respective governments. We're very pleased in Samoa, and no doubt the Pacific region, that with the new Australian Government, the policy shift brings them closer to alignment with the Pacific advocacy for climate change. We feel that this will strengthen the Pacific position on climate change. And of course, we've worked closely with Australia, especially in responses to climate impact. And I do want to recognise your former Administration. We agreed to differ, but then, as we do as partners and development, we keep moving forward in ways that we are able to move forward. But we feel that, Senator, with your policy stance, we are greatly encouraged, not only in Samoa, but I'm sure for the other Pacific countries.

I have indicated Samoa's appreciation of Australia's assistance to us, especially in our COVID response. Together with our other partners and part of her visit here, as you've seen in the press release, she was able to participate in an event to further our collaboration in the health sector, but more generally, too, under the project of Tautua for all. We've covered a range of issues; RSE workers, the security issues that seem to be high on the media attention. And most importantly, we have discussed the unity of the region and how important that is to carry forward the positions of our region, but to also ensure that with unity, we can bring a higher level of development to our respective countries. So once again, I'm very happy to receive this visit from the Minister of Foreign Affairs from Australia, and I wish you all the best in your work, and I look forward to collaborating with you further. Shall we go to questions? The Minister has one more particular announcement.

Foreign Minister: On one issue obviously, support from Australia for maritime patrols, for patrol boats, has been an important part of our relationship. And I was pleased to advise the Prime Minister today that we would announce today a replacement Guardian-class patrol boat to replace the Nafanua II. I know that this will occur in about, next year, so we obviously have some production time, but we do understand how important these maritime assets are to island nations. So, I was pleased to advise the Prime Minister that we will be doing so.

Prime Minister Fiamē: Can we all clap? Yeah. Can I just say that our Government is very appreciative of this further development in our partnership with Australia. I think it's very generous on the part of the Australian Government and people that they are gifting as yet another patrol boat, despite the unfortunate circumstances of our last boat. And I hope that the lessons learned from that unfortunate appearance will help us ensure that we can keep these assets that are generously gifted by our partners and especially in a very critical area of our maritime security. So, thank you very much, Senator.

Journalist: [Indistinct]

Foreign Minister: Well, the climate wars I was referring to was the war in our domestic politics that we've seen, or the conflict in our domestic politics on climate that we've seen, over the last ten years which the Australian people have voted to end, and that's, I think, a very reasonable assessment of the election.

But you asked a policy question, I think we are committed to doing a number of things; the first is we will lodge a much more ambitious NDC under the Paris Agreement. Our commitment is a 43 per cent reduction by 2030, along with net-zero emissions - we will legislate the 2050 target. We will put in place stronger mechanisms to actually achieve the target, for example. And I know Samoa has been very focused on renewable energy. Obviously, Australia has had a reasonably carbon-intensive economy, so we understand we have to transition. The market has been doing that transitioning, but government certainty, government policy will accelerate that and will actually reduce electricity prices compared to what they would otherwise be. We'd anticipate under our policy framework around about 83 per cent of our national grid will be powered by renewable energy by the end of the decade. So that's a very substantial change in our plans.

Journalist: Your new Labor Government policy is to bring families of RSE workers to Australia. When are you going to put in place that policy?

Foreign Minister: You're correct, and thank you for being aware of what we said during the election. We made a number of commitments. We made a number of commitments on the Pacific and they were driven by the desire to ensure that the investment, the resources, the energy and the policy framework for the Pacific reflected a uniquely Australian contribution. And one of the things we can offer as a member of the Pacific family is access to our labour market, as you know. But we did listen to the criticisms or the concerns raised by some stakeholders, and one of them is the difficulty for people to take their family to Australia. So, we did propose as part of our election policies that for the longer visa – so, there's the shorter term visa, eight to nine months, which is the Seasonal Workers Program, the Pacific Labour scheme visa, which is longer - that we would change those visa conditions to enable people to bring their families with them because many workers and representatives from participant nations had said to us that is a real barrier to people participating. I've only been in office, in this job for ten days, but we will work through that. We will also work with those countries whose workers, whose citizens do come to Australia on the implementation because there are some issues which people will want us to take into account as we implement.

Journalist: My question is around the new quota system that you will introduce of 3000 a year permanent citizens. How many would the average of participants be for Samoans, and what does it entail?

Foreign Minister: I'll answer the second part of that question, first, if I may. The Pacific Engagement visa is an election policy that, that is government policy. And we announced that in order to provide a limited number of Pacific Island citizens with the option of a pathway to permanent residency in Australia. So, you're correct, we identified it as 3,000. It's modelled on, and you might know this better than I, a New Zealand visa arrangement. We will work with the region on the details of that implementation because obviously, we would not want to have a situation where you might have too many applicants from a particular nation that might not be sustainable. So, we will work through that with the region, which will go to issues such as the one you just identified.

Prime Minister Fiamē: Just a minute, you and then back to you. And that'll be five, right?

Foreign Minister: I'm going to bring the Prime Minister to Australia. She can do all my press conferences.

Journalist: Senator Wong, you have spent the most part of the last decade as Shadow Minister and your strong support of the Pacific region has been noted in that time, within hours you sent out a message to the region.

Foreign Minister: Did you watch it? Oh, that's good.

Journalist: We heard every word of it. So, no doubt the region is expecting this passion to be translated to improved relations. Senator, in that time, in the Shadow Ministry role, you’ve seen what the relationships are but what is the one thing, one good idea, policy, approach or development issue that you just couldn’t wait in that nine years to implement, and Pacific Island nations can really feel on the ground once it’s in place.

And Senator, PACER Plus,

Foreign Minister: Yes. Two questions. Definitely.

Journalist: We have seen over the decades of negotiations and talks and the [indistinct] of PACER Plus has always meant for Pacific Island countries an opportunity to address the long trade barriers that hinder their true participation in free trade. [Indistinct] that still exist for some manufacturers and exporters which both trade in goods and services. What can expect that could be changed in your Government’s implementation?

Foreign Minister: Okay, second question first. Well, I was the shadow Trade Minister, so I have had some engagement with some of the issues you speak about. I would make the point that obviously since PACER Plus was ratified, we have had COVID. So, the utilisation, by virtue of that, is going to be less. Implementation of a trade agreement is always challenging. The negotiation of a trade agreement is challenging and then the implementation is challenging. So, we understand that. So, I was at the High Commission today and people spoke about the establishment of an implementation unit for PACER Plus I think here in Samoa. We'll be guided by Pacific priorities and particular exporters and their engagement with us about what could be done to pick up utilisation. We do have, if the non-trade barrier you're referring to is our quarantine and biosecurity arrangements, they are things which apply to all nations, this is a long-standing position of Australia. You asked what is the one issue I have been itching to implement, it is climate. I spent a lot of years trying to change our country's position on climate. I was at Copenhagen. You know, I have two daughters. I would like us to be able to say to our children that we did something. I think that matters.

Journalist: [Indistinct].

Foreign Minister: Well, I think if I may, your Prime Minister has shown a lot of leadership and wisdom, not only now, but I think in many of her statements about the importance of robust regional architecture, respectful regional processes to deal with some of the external circumstances we all find ourselves in. We have taken the view that regional security is an issue for the Pacific family. We have taken, consistently taken the view, that what sovereign nations do - and sovereign nations are sovereign - but ultimately have the potential to affect the nature of the security arrangements of the region. So having a collective consideration of those matters is important. I think that's a long-winded way of saying I think it was a very wise intervention.

Prime Minister Fiamē: If I could just add a little bit more. It's been reported that apparently, supposedly, we had signed on to this proposal from the Chinese Government. I think that's been a misrepresentation so I want to use the press conference just to clarify that. The signing that took place here last week, that some of you came to, were bilateral programs, projects. Most of them had started a number of years ago and it was a formalising process, which is a normal process. It just seemed a bit abnormal because the Minister of Foreign Affairs was here and there was this particular proposal from the Chinese that they were seeking regional agreement on. So, our position was that you cannot have a regional agreement when the region hasn't met to discuss it. And to be called to have that discussion and have an expectation that there would be a comprehensive decision or outcome was something that we could not agree to. So, I think the region has come to the conclusion; that we need to meet as a region to consider any proposal that's put to us by our development partners that requires a regional agreement so I just hope that's clear.

Well, I think that's five questions thank you.

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