Thursday, 12 November 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Southwest Pacific
My question is to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific and Assistant Defence Minister. Will the minister outline to the House how the Morrison government's strong regional leadership is ensuring a shared recovery from the pandemic in the Southwest Pacific?
I want to thank the member for Forde for his question. I recognise his work with his very large Pacific community, including a large Samoan community—and I know Queensland is looking for some answers in State of Origin III; he might be able to recruit a few from his large Pacific Islander community! There's never been a more important time for Australia to stand with our partners and our neighbours in our region. With Australia, so many countries in the Indo-Pacific have done so well during the COVID-19 pandemic in managing the crisis, and we congratulate them again. This matters; their success is our success, and regional leadership matters.
To the question: that is why, from 2018, we stepped up in the Pacific. Australia stepped up and we showed up. The Prime Minister, the government, the foreign minister and I have been regular visitors to the region, and we have stayed in touch with our counterparts throughout the region during the COVID-19 pandemic. As I was pleased to hear from the Prime Minister, the importance of this is underscored by his announcement that he will be visiting Papua New Guinea as one of his first priorities during the pandemic to make sure the depth of that relationship continues, and it is really appreciated at this time.
Of critical importance in the budget was the development assistance package. We announced a record for an Australian government of $1.44 billion to be spent in the Pacific region and, most importantly, an additional $304.7 million of new money to help all the countries of the Pacific deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This support has been very important for enabling workers in Australia from the Pacific to stay and keep working here through the pandemic, remitting money home. We have enabled more people under the restart of the Pacific Labour Scheme and the Seasonal Worker Program to come to Australia during the pandemic and keep working. Most important is the Morrison government's commitment to the vaccination of the countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific region. That historic commitment of $523 million is deeply appreciated by the population of every single country of our neighbours and friends in the Indo-Pacific.
The government are regularly working with our partners, such as the US, Japan, New Zealand, France, Canada and India throughout the region, and our alliance with the US underpins that rules based order. That is why we will keep investing in the region and keep investing in the priorities of our partner countries in the region to make sure they have what they need to get through this very difficult time.
The Morrison government makes no apology for prioritising the needs of the Indo-Pacific region first. They are our neighbours, they are our friends, they are our family; we owe it to them and we're delivering a record level support for them to get through this pandemic. Stepping up is vital for the shared future of this region. Under this government and this Prime Minister, we will keep stepping up, we will keep showing up and we will keep delivering for our family.