Senate debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Pacific Islands

2:59 pm

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

I thank Senator Scarr for his interest and for the question. Australia, with our Pacific family, has swiftly and effectively responded to the health impacts of COVID-19, and our Pacific regional institutions have been absolutely central to this response.

Yesterday I joined PIF colleagues for the inaugural virtual meeting of the ministerial action group for the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19. The meeting—with my counterparts from Tuvalu, who chaired the meeting; the Cook Islands; Fiji; the Marshall Islands; Nauru; New Zealand; Tonga; and Vanuatu; and also key regional organisations, such as the Secretariat for the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, the University of the South Pacific, the Pacific Immigration Development Community and the Oceania Customs Organisation—discussed the movement of essential supplies and humanitarian support and personnel in the COVID-19 context. We've strongly supported the Pacific humanitarian pathway initiative of the PIF since its inception, and forums like yesterday's are concrete examples of collaboration in the region to find that collaborative solution to the pressing health, social and economic challenges of the pandemic.

To perhaps illustrate the challenge, when ministers first met to discuss the pathway, there were 1.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide; today, there are over eight million. So our strong, collaborative approach has been vital to helping the region keep infection rates as low as possible. There are currently 322 cases in the Pacific, and that low rate is thanks in part to this excellent cooperation and to the efforts of those governments. Our two largest Pacific neighbours, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, have both gone at least 42 days without a confirmed case, which is very, very important in the minimising of transmission and infection rates.

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