Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Pacific and South-East Asia
My question is to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Seselja.
A government senator: Hear, hear!
Hear, hear, indeed! Can the minister advise the Senate how Australia is working with partners in our region to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and to support our region's economic recovery as soon as possible, helping to ensure that we can all recover stronger together?
I thank Senator Scarr for his question and for his deep and abiding interest in the neighbourhood and the Pacific. Our neighbourhood continues to face unprecedented challenges from COVID-19. No nation is immune to the virus, but we must tackle it together, and this government is getting on with the job of shaping a region which is safer, healthier and more prosperous for all of us. We've now gifted over 2.1 million life-saving vaccines to our neighbourhood, because, until everyone is safe from COVID-19, nobody is safe. And, similarly, hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs depend on strong economic growth across our region.
To support that growth, in 2021 we delivered a record $1.7 billion in support to the Pacific, over 50 per cent higher than when Labor were last in office, and we've delivered over $1 billion in support to South-East Asia. Together with a $1.5 billion loan to Indonesia, this represents our largest amount of funding to South-East Asia since the 2004 tsunami. Beyond our existing aid program, we've already delivered nearly $200 million in emergency economic support to the Pacific. In Fiji, this funding is supporting social protection payments to the most vulnerable, benefiting more than 100,000 Fijians. In Timor-Leste, we are supporting new infrastructure projects in more than half of the nation's 450 villages, directly benefiting communities and economic recovery. In the Solomon Islands, we're improving water supplies for more than 4,000 households and sanitation facilities for over 2,000 households, and we're rolling out critical infrastructure support in the region that supports Pacific nations' long-term economic aspirations. We're investing in ports, roads, airports, energy generation and transmission, and telecommunications. Our high-quality loan financing is in high demand. These are projects that will create jobs and unlock new opportunities, ushering in an even stronger era of growth in partnership between Australia and the Pacific.
I'm pleased the minister touched on assistance to Fiji in particular, and I know Queensland has a wonderful Fijian diaspora. Could the minister provide further detail with respect to how Australia is working with Fiji in their fight against COVID-19? What support is Australia providing to the people of Fiji at this critical time?
Senator Scarr is right to reference the outstanding diaspora here in Australia, including in Brisbane. Fiji is one of Australia's closest partners in the region. The pandemic is having a grave impact on Fiji's people, but we're proud to be supporting our Fijian vuvale at this time of need. In addition to our longstanding development program, we've provided over $80 million in emergency budget support to Fiji. We are directly funding doctors and nurses in the Fijian health system, and we've donated over 860,000 Australian vaccine doses. Now, with our support and our vaccines, Fiji is delivering a world-leading vaccine rollout, with first-dose coverage of over 95 per cent of their target population—an incredible performance. And we now have dispatched three Australian and New Zealand medical teams to Fiji. These teams have helped to save countless Fijian lives. Their efforts and their sacrifices will not be forgotten. As Fiji sent its military to help Australia rebuild after the 2020 bushfires, we too are standing by our partners in their time of need. (Time expired)
If could lift the focus perhaps to the Pacific more generally, noting the outstanding contributions of Pacific workers to the Queensland economy, could I ask the minister: how is the Liberal and National government assisting regional Australian businesses to access more Pacific workers as part of the national plan agreed by national cabinet? Why is this important for securing our recovery from the pandemic, including in my home state of Queensland?
It's an outstanding question. Since our Pacific initiatives recommenced in September last year, more than 10,600 Pacific workers have arrived from seven participating Pacific nations and Timor-Leste. In the next few weeks another 1,000 Pacific workers will arrive, with a further 27,000 Pacific workers ready and waiting to come to Australia.
This is immediate action to address workforce shortages in regional Australia as part of the PM's commitment to double the number of Pacific workers in Australia by March 2022. We'll shortly announce practical improvements to these programs to offer greater flexibility and less red tape for Australian employers. These changes will boost worker welfare and deliver Pacific workers, who, throughout COVID-19, have proven themselves to be the lifeblood of regional business, ensuring meat could be processed and crops could be harvested.
These programs are a win-win for Australia and our Pacific family. We look forward to welcoming more Pacific workers and the invaluable contribution they make to Australia at this challenging time. (Time expired)