JULIE BISHOP: Prime Minister Tuilaepa, Prime Ministers, Ministers of Pacific Islands nations, Dame Meg Taylor, diplomats, key guests, Michael Fullilove and Jonathan Pryke from the Lowy Institute, friends of Australia, friends of Samoa, friends of the Pacific.
My Ministerial colleague Connie Fierravanti-Wells and I are delighted to be here with the Australian High Commissioner Sara Moriarty and our High Commission team on the eve of the Pacific Islands Forum, to be held here in Apia tomorrow.
I well remember hosting the first Foreign Ministers Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Sydney in 2015 because since I became Foreign Minister in 2013 I have made Australia’s relations with the Island nations in the Pacific one of our highest foreign policy priorities. We have a specific minister for the Pacific in the Minister for the International Development and the Pacific. I have made 34 visits to the Pacific in my time, I will make more. Together our high-level visits, underscore the commitment that we have to this part of the world.
Australia and the Pacific are bound by geography, by history, by the connections between our people and the deep affection that exists between the people of Australia and the people of the Pacific and our shared vision for peaceful, prosperous, stable and secure Pacific region.
Australia is a longstanding and enduring friend of the Pacific. Together with New Zealand we have provided substantial development assistance over many, many years and our assistance comes in ways that drive economic growth, that drives the reduction of poverty and that drives a better standard of living for all.
In health, we are focused on the eradication of disease through our regional health initiatives. We are focused on building the resilience of the public health systems in your nations. We drive capacity building in education. Today with the Prime Minister we launched the third phase of the Australian Pacific Technical Coalition, now named the Australian Pacific Training Coalition that reflects the commitment we have to working with departments across the region, partnering with universities, TAFEs, other institutions, business, governments to build skills and jobs growth here in the Pacific. In health and education we invest in human capital, human resources, in defence and security.
Our defence personnel, our police, our border security management are all designed to partner with you to keep your country, your region safe. Our Pacific maritime program, the old Pacific patrol boat program, whereby we are gifting patrol vessels with aerial surveillance capability, are all designed to ensure that you have control over your maritime domain, that you retain your sovereignty, that you protect your jurisdiction whether it is against smuggling, drugs, other forms of transnational crime, illegal fishing.
Our programs are designed to build resilience and I am pleased to say that this year Australia has set a record amount for our development assistance into the Pacific. While national budgets are under strain around the world, Australia has ensured that our aid budget to the Pacific has increased to a record high of $1.3 billion. It is how you spend this money that is so important and we want to ensure that in all of our investments into your nations we build local communities, we strengthen societies, and we ensure that you are sovereign, sustainable and growing economies.
Australia and New Zealand together make up over 50 per cent of the development assistance into the Pacific but we both welcome support and cooperation from other countries and from other institutions. Longstanding partners like Japan, the United States, partners like China, the EU, in fact, the UK post-Brexit will have a much larger presence in the Pacific. When we were at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London in April Great Britain announced that they would be expanding their diplomatic footprint across the Pacific with new posts in Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga. And this is to be welcomed because no one country or two countries can meet all the development needs of the Pacific.
It is something we must do in partnership and that is our message and it is why we are so delighted to support the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Aid Map. For the first time we will be able to see at a more granular level the aid flows into the Pacific. This is good news because we want to ensure that aid goes where it is most needed, that there is a level of transparency about it, that we can collaborate and partner with other donors and that there is no unnecessary duplication. I urge all donor nations, all partners to the Pacific to provide the information to Lowy so they can feed it into this online map that will give us all a clear and effective picture of the requirements of the Pacific – and that is what we all want. To realise the vision of an open, free, prosperous, safe, secure Pacific we have to work together in pursuit of that common goal.
I congratulate the Lowy Institute for undertaking this task, technology with development assistance and we have a very clear picture, with great clarity as to the development needs of the Pacific and this will ensure that your trusted partners, your trusted friends in Australia and New Zealand and others, will continue to partner with you as this region is, and remains, one of the most dynamic and beautiful in the world.
I am delighted to be here this evening, Michael. Congratulations to the Lowy Institute.