Opinion pieces

Pacific aid and climate action key to foreign policy

June 07, 2019

The Pacific must be front and centre of Australia's foreign policy - it is the "blue continent" that is crucial to our security, stability and economic well being.

 This is why the Pacific Islands are the major beneficiary of our development assistance - their need is great, they are our nearest neighbours, and they face an existential threat from climate change.

There are 10 million people living across the Pacific Islands - diverse in language, culture, law, and development, and with which Australia enjoys good relationships.

Their remoteness presents challenges for service and infrastructure delivery, and their governments are looking for partners to help them develop sustainably and reduce poverty.

If Australia is the preferred partner of Pacific nations for critical infrastructure development, this will enhance the prosperity and security of the region, and therefore of our nation.

But infrastructure development must not come at the cost of other important areas of need, such as health and education.

This week Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited the Solomon Islands, announcing a welcome infrastructure pledge for priority projects.

But, as there is no more money in the aid budget, the infrastructure pledge comes at the expense of programs to improve health and education, as Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed.

Importantly, the infrastructure pledge does nothing to address the main concern of the islands of the Pacific, which is climate change.

One day after Mr Morrison, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters visited Honiara, and observed that "if climate change is the Pacific's number one concern, and it is, then maybe, just maybe, we should take it seriously".

The government fails our Pacific neighbours if it does not take climate change seriously.

It needs to acknowledge that our emissions are rising and commit to real policies to cut pollution.

A "Pacific Pivot" without addressing climate change, the existential threat to our Pacific neighbours, is not a genuine pivot.

The government also fails our Pacific neighbours if it does not increase development assistance to that region.

The 2019 budget confirmed that foreign aid spending will fall by $115 million next financial year, adding to more than $11 billion cut from the aid budget under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government.

These cuts force nations such as the Solomons to choose between infrastructure and improving the health and education.

And they ignore the importance of foreign aid, not just to our humanitarian responsibility, but to Australia's regional and national security.


This opinion piece was first published in NEWCASTLE HERALD on Friday, 7 June, 2019