Thank you and what a pleasure it is to be here at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre for this important conference on developing sustainable, resilient infrastructure in the Blue Pacific.
I’d like to start today by recognising the traditional owners of the Brisbane region, the Turrbal and Jagera peoples, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
I also offer my respect to other First Nations people here today, so important as we move closer and closer to the Referendum on introducing a First Nations Voice into the Australian Constitution.
And I’d like to thank all of you for being here today, because I know your presence here has taken a significant commitment of time, resources and energy to achieve.
The importance of the Pacific
Of all the remarkable things about our Pacific home, one thing stands out above all else: its vast scale.
Every distance, every journey here to Brisbane from other parts of the Pacific takes more time than one expects, simply because the distances involved, across the largest ocean on Earth, are always vast.
Maybe that’s unsurprising, considering the Pacific Ocean covers nearly a third of the world’s surface – an ocean basin larger than the landmass of all the continents combined.
But it’s not unremarkable, because as we grapple with the big issues that confront our region and world today, it’s important to realise the scale of the Pacific.
If we misunderstand the scale of the Pacific, we misunderstand the importance of tackling the challenges the world faces here.
You only need to consider the environmental and resource importance of the Pacific to the world at large...
...an area and its unique vulnerability to the environmental impacts of climate change...
… when you think about the millions of people who call this region their home, who depend on its health, vitality and connectedness to the rest of the world for their livelihoods...
...and when you think about how much global trade passes through this space...
...the true global importance of the Pacific becomes clear.
The fact is, when we think about the infrastructure needs of the Pacific – as this conference will today and tomorrow – we are actually talking about the infrastructure and environmental needs of a hugely significant part of the planet.
155 million square kilometres.
A critical laboratory and refuge for global biodiversity.
More than half the world’s global tuna supply.
And a population – not counting Australia and New Zealand – of around 13 million people.
The Pacific is a critical part of Earth’s economy, ecosystem and future – so it’s our unique responsibility in this most consequential era to work together as Pacific states to look after our region sustainably and fairly.
The importance of infrastructure
In that context, it’s great that we are here to talk about Pacific infrastructure.
The nations of the Pacific – and those of elsewhere in the world who come here in pursuit of their own economic growth – need a huge investment in infrastructure over the decades ahead.
Everyone in this room knows this.
How important air links are to join Pacific island countries with Australia and New Zealand and other parts of the world.
How important ports are for sea trade.
How important digital connectivity is for driving local economies...
...for creating long-term, sustainable local Pacific jobs...
...for supporting education across the Pacific...
...and giving the Pacific access to the global economy.
The Asian Development Bank has done its best to come up with an estimate of how much investment is needed – and its figures suggest something in the area of US$3.1 billion is needed each year through to 2030 to meet the needs of Pacific countries.
We are a long way from achieving that – but we are making a substantive contribution – with Lowy data suggesting that in 2020, for example, development partners disbursed about US$280 million in infrastructure grants across the Pacific, and US$640 million in loan financing.
Australia’s approach and level of spending
For our part, understanding the significance of this demand is why Australia focuses so heavily on the Pacific, and on infrastructure development and financing, in our development program.
And is why we continue to work with the Pacific Islands Forum in drafting and developing a common set of principles for quality infrastructure and financing development.
All countries that invest in the Pacific should follow the same set of common-sense, straightforward principles.
Those principles are:
- That all infrastructure investments provide local jobs and training opportunities;
- That investments deliver value for money – not just for investors but for Pacific island countries and communities;
- That investments put climate resilience at the centre;
- That investments provide responsible and transparent financing;
- And that investments promote inclusivity.
Australia will support infrastructure investments and principles that, first and foremost, benefit Pacific people and Pacific economies.
Australia supports infrastructure that is sustainable, that creates local jobs, and helps Pacific businesses get off the ground – or over the water – and reach out to global markets.
Australia, in the leadup to the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Cook Islands, will support a Pacific-led approach to infrastructure development and I’m confident that’s the right direction – Pacific-led for the interests of the Pacific.
Our investment in infrastructure
In Tuvalu, only last month, we announced a brand-new project to support the critical maritime infrastructure that underpins Tuvalu’s economy.
The project – co-financed by the Asian Development Bank – will see us rehabilitate one of Tuvalu’s main harbours and construct new harbour facilities in a second location.
This is just one of a number of growing projects Australia is supporting in the region under the AIFFP – the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.
And through the AIFFP Australia is providing A$1.25 billion for projects across the Pacific, to meet the needs identified by our Pacific partners.
These projects include:
- major investments in Papua New Guinea’s ports, roads and electricity sector;
- the Tina River Transmission line in Solomon Islands;
- investments in Fiji’s airports and roads;
- the East Micronesia Cable, which will connect the Federate States of Micronesia, Kiribati, and Nauru;
- the rehabilitation of Nauru Airport;
- an undersea ICT cable and solar farm in Palau; and
- investments in airport facilities in Timor-Leste.
To that growing list, I’m excited to add our most recent announcement: an upgrade of the Nuku’alofa Port in Tonga.
That Port is responsible for an estimated 98 per cent of Tonga’s imports arriving by sea and is its economic gateway to the world.
The Australian Government will provide A$31.25 million – in partnership with the Tongan Government and the Asian Development Bank – to upgrade, rehabilitate and restore a vital port.
It is a project that will proudly support Tonga’s economy as it recovers from 2022’s tragic tsunami and volcanic eruption.
We’ll not only work side-by-side with the Tongan Government to re-build it – we’ll build it back better.
The project will have an in-built climate-resilient design that will account for the current and projected impacts of climate change.
It’s but one of many projects Australia has committed to – projects that we, and our Pacific partners, believe will deliver quality, long-term outcomes for our region.
I want to end my remarks today by recalling that, almost a year ago today, the Foreign Minister Penny Wong was in Papeete, officially opening our new Australian Consulate-General.
The opening made Australia the only country in the world with a diplomatic presence in every Pacific Island Forum member country or territory.
At that event, Minister Wong made a promise:
She said that Australia would not waver in our commitment to work with the Pacific to achieve our shared aspirations and to address our shared challenges.
And that ‘at every step we will be guided by Pacific priorities’.
That’s a promise we continue to fulfil, with each new project and each new infrastructure announcement.
Because we share a region.
Because we share an ocean.
Because we share a future…
…one that we’re committed to building, together.