9 August 2018
JOURNALIST: The Lowy Institute has found that Australia is still by far the most significant donor to the Pacific Island but your contribution has still fallen from $1.2 billion to $800 million. Will this strategy continue or will it be stabilised?
JULIE BISHOP: Those figures are, in fact, not correct. The Australian aid investment in the Pacific is at a record level, $1.3 billion this year and in 2016 the figure you quoted, it was actually over $1.1 billion. I think the mistake was that people are using US dollars whereas the Pacific and Australia use Australian dollar statistics, and that doesn’t take into account the foreign exchange fluctuations. The Australian aid budget to the Pacific is at a record high of $1.3 billion and that will continue.
JOURNALIST: Of the announcements you have made today in funding, the millions of dollars more you are committing to Samoa, how much of that would you consider part of your competition with China that you mentioned to give aid to the Pacific?
JULIE BISHOP: Our relationship with the Pacific is longstanding and enduring and we have been increasing our aid budget to the Pacific over a number of years. It is targeted and it is focused and it is ensuring that we reduce poverty in the Pacific, we build sustainable economies and we lift standards of living. This is not about competition, it is about our vision for the Pacific, a free and open and prosperous, safe and stable Pacific region.
JOURNALIST: How do you maintain that, as you said, maintaining all of those good things happening in the Pacific, whilst negotiating the relationship that China is growing with the Pacific and finding a way to make sure that goes, as in the debts that are growing in the Pacific are problematic?
JULIE BISHOP: We welcome all countries who have an interest in developing the Pacific to work with us and work with other countries in ensuring that the assistance we provide in the Pacific builds strong, more resilient communities. No one country can support all of the Pacific needs. We need groups to come together, China, Japan, the United States, the European Union, the World Bank as well and the Asian Development Bank, are providing support so that we can meet the infrastructure, and health and education, defence and security needs of the Pacific.
We welcome more investment in the Pacific but Australia and New Zealand together are still by far the largest investors in economic and social development in the Pacific and I am sure it will be that way for some time to come.
JOURNALIST: One final question, the Lowy Institute map shows that the EU and the US have actually been dropping in terms of their aid – does that worry you?
JULIE BISHOP: We have raised this issue with both the EU and the United States, and they both have committed to increasing their engagement in the Pacific. Some countries, for example, the UK and the EU at present, have also committed to expanding their diplomatic footprint in the Pacific, opening new missions in Samoa, and Tonga, and Vanuatu. The United States, the Secretary of State, yesterday gave a speech about greater economic engagement in the Pacific. So, I am confident that both the EU and the United States will continue to focus on the Pacific. For Australia, it is one of our highest foreign policy priorities to ensure we are supporting a strong, stable, prosperous, secure Pacific