I am delighted to be here in Samoa, on the eve of the Pacific Islands Forum Ministers’ Meeting and to have this opportunity to meet with you and to undertake some very important events here in Samoa underscoring Australia’s commitment to a deep enduring relationship.

Prime Minister, thank you for meeting with me this morning. We had a very productive and fruitful discussion, and I pay tribute to you for your leadership of this beautiful country over the past two decades, and the way we have worked so closely together to promote peace, stability, and prosperity for not only Samoa, but the Pacific more generally.

Australia and the Pacific Island nations are bound together through geography, through history, and through strong personal connections – the people of Australia have deep affection for the Pacific Islanders and we trust that affection is returned.

We work closely together, we are reliable partners, we are trusted friends, but most importantly we are family, and Australia will always be there in your times of need and particularly in your times of your greatest need in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Like all family, we cannot take it for granted – we must invest in and nurture our relationship, we must continue to work closely together to ensure better outcomes for us all and for our peoples.

Australia, and indeed New Zealand, have made engagement with the Pacific, a fundamental foreign policy priority. Indeed, in our Foreign Policy White Paper last year, we identified our engagement with the Pacific as one of our most important and vital foreign policy priorities.

As you said at the time Prime Minister, in relation to the benefits of greater economic integration in the economies of Australia and New Zealand, this will be of enormous benefit for Samoa and for other Pacific Island nations.

Prime Minister, by your words, “greater economic integration”, we took that to mean greater linking, and that is the most certainly the case. Not only through ensuring that Samoans receive better health and education outcomes, not only ensuring that there is more trade and investment between Samoa the Pacific Islands and Australia and New Zealand, but also ensuring that your people have the skills and the qualifications to attain employment here in Samoa, in other Pacific Islands, in Australia, New Zealand and beyond.

We have put in place a number of initiatives over the years to ensure that outcome of greater opportunity for Pacific Island nations.

First, the Seasonal Workers Program, since its commencement, over 25,000 Pacific Islanders have worked in Australia under this Seasonal Workers Program. About $145 million has come back into the region through remittances, and for Samoa about 1,340 Samoans have worked in Australia under the Seasonal Workers Program. 

Building on the great success of that program, we have initiated the Pacific Labour Scheme which is a non-seasonal program which we are currently piloting in Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru. This will provide opportunities for workers to attain a visa for up to three years to work in areas such as accommodation, tourism, hospitality, aged care.

Currently workers from those three countries are already working in North Queensland, Hayman Island and Hamilton Island.

Prime Minister, we are currently negotiating a memorandum of understanding with Samoa so that Samoa too can be a partner in our Pacific Labour Scheme.

We recognise that skills and qualifications are paramount, and that’s why in 2007 the Australian Government established the Australia Pacific Technical College, or the APTC as it has been known.

The APTC has been a resounding success. About 12,000 graduates across the five campuses are testament to that and around 5,000 graduates were females. With Samoa the latest figures we have is that about 1,500 graduates from APTC and at least 700 of those graduates were women, attaining Australian level qualifications of international standard and international standing.

The APTC has been a great success, as we’re reliably informed that 80 per cent of the graduates are actually working in their chosen qualification – 98 percent of all employers survey said they are satisfied with the training that the graduates have received.

We have some great examples like Gregory Soa, a APTC graduate from the campus here in Samoa in 2014, who undertook carpentry qualifications. Gregory is now running his own business, he has the confidence to start and run a business, he’s been contracted to work in New Zealand, and particularly in Christchurch to help rebuild that city after the devastating earthquake in 2011.

Gregory has developed expertise in seismic joints – this is the  kind of expertise that will be useful elsewhere in the Pacific. His business currently employs eight people.

A great success story.

The Australian Government has since 2007 has invested about $300 million into the APTC, but we have recognised there are still skill shortages in the Pacific.

We recognise that there is a high level of unemployment and that a key driver of economic growth productivity and job opportunities, are high quality qualifications. So we are now entering the second eight year period of the APTC and think it is time to refocus so that we ensure that the institution is fit for purpose, that its flexible, that it embraces innovation and that it is providing the level of training and qualifications that Pacific Islanders want and need.

For a start, we are changing the name to better reflect the operations of the APTC. It will now be the Australian Pacific Training Coalition.

We will be making partnerships a key feature of the APTC and the APTC will work in partnership with the universities, the TAFE sector, with business, with industry, with other training organisations. It will be a pathway for graduates to the universities. For example, the nursing courses at the National University of Samoa, if students have undertaken first aid, anatomy and some of the health training courses at APTC, then that will give them a pathway into the nursing qualifications, the bachelor and diploma courses at the National University of Samoa.

Likewise we want to increase our partnerships with the University of the South Pacific and with Pacific TAFE. We will also align the training and qualifications with our Pacific Labour Scheme so that there is a synergy between those two initiatives.

I’m delighted that Queensland TAFE will continue to provide services, and I congratulate the CEO for putting together a professional team including a number of Pacific Islanders who will deliver services across the APTC.

One of the huge benefits of the APTC is that as an institution, it is a significant employer. When we began the institution back in 2007, about 20 per cent of those employed by the APTC were Pacific Islanders. Today that is 80 percent of the trainers, the workers at the APTC are from the region, and I think that’s a wonderful outcome. We have examples of graduates in metal fabrication becoming the lead specialist trainer in that discipline.

The Australian Government will commit to a further eight years of the life of APTC and we will be investing $32 million more a year to ensure that we will continue to produce high quality graduates with qualifications that will drive economic growth here in the Pacific. That is our aim – to invest in human capital, to invest in human resources of the Pacific so that the people here can drive the stability, the security and the prosperity.

I thank all involved in the APTC since 2007 for their commitment, their passion, the leadership that they have shown as they have understood the purpose and the mission of the APTC, which is to build a resilient Pacific region.