‘A new era in Australian engagement in the Pacific’
from the Australia Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Penny Wong
Forum Fale, May 26, 2022
Bula Vinaka! Vinaka vaka levu.
Can I say what a pleasure it is to be back here in the Pacific, particularly as part of the new Australian Government.
Can I acknowledge your wise and gracious Secretary-General Henry Puna and the staff of the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat.
Can I acknowledge representatives of the Council of Regional Organisations, senior officials of the Government of Fiji, members of the diplomatic corps, members of our Pacific Vuvale joining us from around the region, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen.
Well, this is my fourth day as Foreign Minister, and it’s my first bilateral visit, as the Secretary-General said. And I hope I will be here often, and I hope that we can work well together as we deal with the challenges and opportunities this world presents us with.
And, in particular, I’m deeply honoured to be here at the Pacific Island Forum – the pre-eminent Pacific institution, the heart of Pacific regionalism. For more than 50 years the Forum has brought us together in the Pacific way. Through the Forum, Pacific nations have championed their interests on the international stage – and led international thinking on issues such as climate.
My country is a founding member of the forum. It’s a membership we treasure. And I’ve come here on day four because I wanted to say in person, and in the Pacific, on behalf of the new Australian Government how deeply we value being part of the Pacific family.
And to our Pacific brothers and sisters – I want to say thank you.
Thank you for your stewardship of our shared Blue Pacific and its amazing biodiversity.
Thank you for being custodians of some of the planet’s most ancient cultures, and many of the world’s languages.
We feel a profound sense of kinship with the Pacific, of wanting to connect with the Pacific as part of one family.
We have longstanding bonds – forged in times of crisis but sustained in peace and prosperity.
These bonds are evident in the dynamic contributions made by the Pacific diaspora to Australian life – in music, culture, sport, academia….
The many thousands of seasonal workers who contribute to our rural communities, support critical industries while gaining valuable skills.
One of the most powerful examples of the depth of our bond is the way our Pacific brothers and sisters have come to Australia’s aid – during the Black Summer bushfires and more recently during our devastating floods.
It shows that we do what families do.
We are there for each other in good times and in bad.
That is why I have travelled here this week – to make clear on behalf of the new Australian Government – and in particular on behalf of Prime Minister Albanese – our commitment to you: we will work with you to make our Pacific Family even stronger.
We will listen.
We will hear you – your ideas for how we can face our shared challenges and achieve our shared aspirations together.
As Australia’s first ever Climate Minister, I know the imperative that we all share to take serious action to reduce emissions and transform our economies.
Nothing is more central to the security and economies of the Pacific.
I understand that climate change is not an abstract threat, but an existential one.
It’s right there in the Pacific Island Forum’s Boe Declaration on Regional Security from 2018, and it’s worth repeating those words now:
“We reaffirm that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific.”
You’ve been saying this for a long time. Pacific leaders were saying this to me when I was Climate Minister over a decade ago.
You’ve been crystal clear and consistent. You’ve led the global debate.
I understand that – under past governments – Australia has neglected its responsibility to act on climate change.
Ignoring the calls of our Pacific family to act.
Disrespecting Pacific nations in their struggle to adapt to what is an existential threat.
Whether it manifests in rising sea levels in Pacific Island countries, or in disastrous bushfires and catastrophic flooding back at home in Australia, we can see that climate change is happening across the Pacific family.
I want to assure you that we have heard you.
As our election last weekend showed – Australians understand the imperative of acting on climate change.
The climate crisis loomed as one of the key concerns to the Australian people.
There is a huge groundswell of support for taking real action on the climate crisis in Australia…
…and the new Government is firmly committed to making it happen.
The Albanese Government was elected on a platform of reducing carbon emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.
We won’t just say this – we will enshrine it in law and submit a new Nationally Determined Contribution to the UNFCCC very soon.
We are committed to transitioning to a low carbon economy, moving to cleaner, cheaper energy.
Our plan will see the proportion of renewables in Australia’s National Energy Market increase to 82 per cent by 2030.
It’s a plan to boost renewable energy, create jobs and reduce emissions.
We will end the climate wars in Australia.
This is a different Australian Government.
We will stand shoulder to shoulder with our Pacific family in response to this crisis.
We understand that we need to work together like never before – for our peoples and for generations to come.
That’s why we have announced an Australia-Pacific Climate Infrastructure Partnership to support climate-related infrastructure and energy projects in Pacific countries and Timor-Leste.
It’s why we will work to regain Australia’s role as an international leader on climate change.
We will reinstate the role of Australia’s Ambassador for Climate Change.
And we have proposed a bid to co-host a future UN Conference of the Parties with Pacific Island countries.
I am looking forward to further discussions in the region about this idea.
Brothers and sisters – our region has not faced a more vexing set of circumstances for decades.
The triple challenges of climate, COVID and strategic contest will challenge us in new ways.
We understand that the security of any one Pacific family member rests on security for all.
We have a collective responsibility as we face these challenges to secure our region’s interests today and in the future.
I commit to working with, and listening to, this generation of Pacific leaders to navigate these challenges together.
Australia will remain a critical development partner for the Pacific family in the years ahead.
We are a partner that won’t come with strings attached, nor impose unsustainable financial burdens.
We are a partner that won’t erode Pacific priorities or institutions.
Instead we believe in transparency.
We believe in true partnerships.
We will respect Pacific priorities and Pacific institutions.
We will support growth and development that is sustainable.
We will contribute to the long-term stability and security of the Pacific.
We will expand opportunities for Pacific workers in Australia, while also improving their working conditions.
We will deepen our defence and maritime cooperation.
We will offer quality, climate resilient infrastructure.
And we will increase Australia’s overseas development assistance to the Pacific by $525 million over the next four years, working with you to recover from the pandemic.
I know that Pacific women have a key role to play in your recovery, and in your economic development.
Societies work better, economies work better, communities work better, when we remove barriers to the participation of women and girls, when all have an equal place in national life.
As the countries of the Pacific continue to chart a course to recovery from the challenges of COVID, we know that women and girls – their status, their participation, their education, their safety – will be a vital part of that recovery.
We will always seek to work in partnership with our Pacific Family.
Part of that partnership will be reflecting Australia’s full identity to our family.
There is vast untapped power in modern Australia.
The world is multicultural and so are we.
There are at least 270 ancestries represented in Australia.
Nearly half of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas.
This gives us the capacity to reach into every corner of the world and say, “we share common ground.”
As Foreign Minister, I will tell Australia’s full story, our modern diversity and the rich heritage of First Nations peoples.
Australia is proudly home to the oldest living culture on the planet.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart – delivered in 2017 – was a generous offer to all Australians from First Nations peoples to take the next step in our journey towards reconciliation.
The Albanese Government is committed to implementing the Uluru Statement in full. Voice. Treaty. Truth.
We will move to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in this term of government.
This builds on the legacy of former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who in 2008 ensured that his Labor Government finally delivered the National Apology to the Stolen Generations.
And in my own portfolio as Foreign Minister, we will develop a First Nations approach to foreign policy.
We will appoint Australia’s inaugural First Nations Ambassador – who will lead a new office within DFAT.
And on a range of other fronts we will be working to enhance the role and position of First Nations peoples, both at home and overseas.
We will do more to share our voice and reflect Australia’s modern identity in our region by boosting Australian broadcasting and media content.
And we will increase support for media training and capacity building across the Pacific.
For generations, Pacific Islanders have been adding to and shaping Australian culture.
We welcome the contribution people of Pacific heritage bring to Australia
We want to look at ways we can continue to build upon those links.
Australia will do more and will do it differently.
We will ensure that those Pacific Islanders who come to work in Australia are treated fairly – with better conditions.
We will allow workers to bring their families.
And we will create the pacific engagement visa – to provide a pathway to permanency for 3,000 members of our Pacific family per year.
But ultimately our relationship with our Pacific family is not a suite of initiatives. It cannot be counted in dollars or MOUs.
It is so much more.
Nothing will change our geography, our proximity. Nothing will change the fact that our future is intertwined.
Can I say to my generous hosts here in Fiji – vinaka – thank you for your climate leadership on behalf of the next generation.
We will continue to work with you to strengthen our Vuvale Partnership.
And I’m delighted that so many Australians are finally able to return to Fiji, to a place they regard as their home away from home.
To the Pacific Islands Forum team – vinaka – thank you for having me here today. The Forum is where the Pacific Family, in all its strength and diversity, gather to speak with a unified voice to the world.
A united Pacific is a stronger Pacific.
I look forward to the Forum meetings in coming weeks; and I know Prime Minister Albanese is looking forward to listening and contributing positively to the Leaders’ meeting.
Today, I was keen to use this opportunity to start to underscore our commitment to doing our part to strengthen our Pacific Family.
Central to this is action on climate change.
But as I have outlined, we will draw on all elements of our relationships to achieve our shared interests in building a stable and prosperous region, where rules and sovereignty are respected.
As fellow members of the Pacific Family, our security and prosperity is truly a thing we achieve together, or not at all.
Like any family, when we listen, when we understand each other’s concerns, when we act in partnership together – we will succeed.
Thank you. –ENDS
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