Thursday, 13 May 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is for the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Seselja. Can the minister update the Senate on how the Morrison government's budget will help create a safer, healthier and more prosperous Pacific region and how securing the Pacific's recovery helps secure Australia's own recovery?
I thank Senator Paterson for the question. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruption here in Australia and across our region. Our response is simple. We are supporting Australians and we are supporting our region. Through this budget, the government is investing in an open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific region. Labor is maintaining an outrageous lie—that we have cut development funding in the budget. Let me be perfectly clear: we've maintained Australia's baseline $4 billion ODA budget, which will continue over the forward estimates, rising in the out years. And, in response to the pandemic, the government is delivering $1 billion of additional investments over the years to 2023-24—over $800 million this year and next. We make no apology for the government front-loading these investments. Is Labor really arguing that we should hold off on supporting our neighbours at this critical time as they are dealing—
Opposition senators interjecting—
Well, you got it wrong. We're not going to take your advice and hold back the additional assistance at a time of crisis. The government has demonstrated again and again that we will allocate new funding in response to the need in our region. COVID-19 has created a highly fluid international environment, and the government's temporary and targeted measures are exactly the right tool to respond to that environment. In the year ahead, we'll provide $262 million to support our region's vaccine procurement and $156 million to address the economic impacts of the pandemic. In 2021 we delivered approximately $1.7 billion in ODA to the Pacific, over 50 per cent higher than Labor delivered to the region when last in office, so we're not going to be lectured to by the Labor Party about our commitment to supporting our Pacific family and our Pacific neighbours.
Thanks, Senator Paterson, for the question. The human suffering caused by COVID is immense, but, equally, its impact on long-term economic stability and security is also concerning. The government has committed $305 million to support economic resilience and recovery from COVID-19. Already $200 million has been disbursed to our nearest neighbours. In the year ahead Australia will provide a further $100 million across the Pacific and Timor-Leste to maintain essential services and protect the most vulnerable. For countries like Fiji which are highly dependent on international tourism, the shutdown of international travel has been absolutely devastating. We can help Fiji to get the virus under control and support its quick return to economic growth. I'll be speaking to the Fiji health minister today about our cooperation, and we'll be delivering more Australian vaccines to Fiji this week. We will always support our Pacific family. A safe region means a safe Australia, and our support at this time is more important than ever.
Can the minister update the Senate on how the budget builds on the government's record investments in the Pacific? Can the minister outline the comprehensive nature of this government's engagement with our Pacific neighbours?
I can, and in doing so we reject Labor's lazy approach to our engagement in the region. What those opposite don't understand is that Australia's partnership with Pacific nations extends far beyond the record ODA budget in the Pacific. Labor seems to believe that bilateral ODA remains the only way in which Australia addresses shared challenges in our region. By contrast, this government is using a range of economic tools to support economic stability and grow jobs in our region. We're providing bilateral loans to our most important near neighbours, PNG and Indonesia, at a crucial moment in their COVID-19 response efforts. The loan to Indonesia is part of our biggest package of economic support to South-East Asia since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. This government has established the $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, which is helping to deliver strategically significant projects, such as the Palau ICT cable project— (Time expired)