Thursday, 4 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Pacific Islands Forum
I thank Senator Scarr for his question. It was a great pleasure yesterday to join, with Prime Minister Morrison, the Pacific leaders for the special Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Retreat. I particularly want to thank Prime Minister Natano of Tuvalu for his strong leadership as forum chair during a very difficult period with COVID-19. It was the first meeting of Pacific island forum leaders since the pandemic began and the first ever to be held virtually.
Leaders considered two issues of vital performance to our Pacific family: our COVID-19 pandemic response and the appointment of a new forum secretary-general. Firstly, let me acknowledge and warmly welcome my friend Henry Puna, the former Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, as the new PIF secretary-general. Australia looks forward to continuing its very warm and productive relationship with Mr Puna in his new role. I thank and acknowledge the great service of the outgoing secretary-general, Dame Meg Taylor of Papua New Guinea, who led the forum with drive and purpose over the last six years. Let me also acknowledge the other candidates, also friends of Australia, who put themselves forward, and thank them for their willingness to contribute in this role.
Together Pacific leaders have acted decisively to escape the worst health effects of COVID-19. The economic and fiscal effects of the pandemic on the Pacific, however, have been significant. This week leaders committed to working together towards sustainable economic recovery in our region, including restoring vital air and sea connectivity. Underpinning that, they emphasised the need for global cooperation on the critical issue of equitable and affordable access to vaccines. Leaders made clear their objective for full vaccine coverage for all Pacific countries and committed to working together to ensure timely and equitable distribution of vaccines across our region.
Pacific Islands Forum members will continue to work closely together to safely support the vital Pacific humanitarian pathway on COVID-19, which is ensuring the movement of essential supplies and personnel and will then enable people to move safely as economic recovery grows. It's tourists, it's more Pacific workers, it's students, it's family members. It's essential for our shared economic recovery.
We're working in a partnership with our Pacific friends to support continued operation of the aviation sector in the vast, blue Pacific continent. It's an essential underpinning for economic recovery and to support safe travel. Importantly, I'm pleased to inform the Senate that leaders also endorsed Australia's proposal for a formal annual meeting of Pacific women leaders as part of the PIF program, adding to meetings of foreign ministers, trade ministers, economic ministers and so on. It's added to the formal forum meeting agenda. It will drive even stronger political focus on gender equality— (Time expired)
Of course, leaders were focused on emphasising the critical importance of productive partnerships for the timely and equitable distribution of vaccines, and the government's regional vaccine access and health security initiative will contribute very positively on this objective. We announced formally that Australia will support Pacific island countries to achieve full population coverage with safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. That will contribute strongly to our important regional partnership on vaccines and was very warmly welcomed by leaders. Senator Seselja and I have been discussing Australia's commitments individually with respective leaders across the Pacific over the past month.
It will also build on Australia's contribution to the global COVAX Facility fund for developing countries, facilitating delivery of more than a million doses to Pacific island countries by the middle of this year. Our package is end to end. It includes helping secure doses and technical support for safe and effective vaccine rollout, including supply chain distribution, and assessments of vaccine safety, efficacy and quality and capacity building for health workforces. (Time expired)