I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, the Awabakal and Worimi people, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
Thank you, Siosina and Catherine, for your welcome dance, as well as to Inoke for your heartfelt opening prayer.
Thanks Professor Alex Zelinsky, for your kind introduction.
I’d also like to thank you, the University of Newcastle, and the team for inviting me to speak here today.
This event highlights the deep connections that exist between the Pacific and Australia – particularly here in the Newcastle region.
That’s a testament to the sustained work that the University of Newcastle has been doing to build those connections over many years…
Working with Pacific partners on solutions to the region’s – and the world’s – biggest challenges, and establishing a dedicated Asia Pacific Research Centre, and the Pacific Node in Apia in Samoa.
It shows the university’s commitment to international partnership, and to engaging strategically with our region for the long term.
That commitment has had positive impacts for the university itself, which has built a reputation as a truly international university which fosters real connection.
And it has had positive impacts for the students across the Pacific who come here to study, as well as local students who gain a broader perspective on our region.
The Pacific is a community.
We share a region, we share an ocean, and we share a future.
And education and skills development will make important contributions to that future.
We invest in education because it builds relationships between countries.
It reduces poverty and promotes economic growth and social and human development.
And we invest in education because it is central to making sure we are ready to meet the challenges of the future, together.
One of those challenges is, of course, climate change.
The Albanese Labor Government came into office pledging to take real action on climate change.
It’s an issue that Pacific island countries have been leading on for a long time.
And it’s an issue which Australia has not always listened to our partners on.
But on taking office last year, we joined with others in the Pacific family in declaring that the Pacific is facing a climate emergency.
An existential threat, and not an abstract one.
The Australian Government acted quickly to legislate carbon emission reduction targets – by 43 per cent by 2030, and reaching net zero by 2050.
We’re supporting the Pacific in preparing for and responding to the impacts of climate change.
As you might know, the Australian Government launched our new International Development policy earlier this month.
That policy is built on listening, respect and genuine partnership.
And it identifies ambitious targets and action on climate change, as being central to Australia’s international development efforts.
We’re expanding the tools and resources available to Pacific island countries to address climate change on their own terms.
And we’re supporting initiatives endorsed by Pacific institutions like the Pacific Islands Forum and The Pacific Community.
To give you just one example, we’ve pledged $30 million to ‘Weather Ready Pacific’, enhancing early warning systems and increasing climate resilience in the Pacific region.
That program is delivered by the Pacific Meteorological Council through the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, and will make countries in the region safer from severe weather events.
That’s a fundamental component of our relationships with Pacific island countries.
In everything we do in and with the region, we do so in collaboration and in response to Pacific priorities …
Respectful of the leadership of regional institutions.
And the University of Newcastle’s approach to managing its strategy in this region is similar…
Including in the way it works with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme to deliver cooperative solutions to the complex challenges faced by Pacific Island communities.
That’s another thing I noticed when I looked at today’s program.
There are PhD candidates studying conservation biology.
All fields which will contribute to a more sustainable, liveable future for us, and for future generations.
That’s why education is a priority for Australia.
More than 100,000 students have received an Australian Government scholarship to study in Australia.
That’s more than 100,000 people who have earned qualifications and furthered their careers here, as well as elsewhere in the Pacific.
Who have built friendships and relationships between Australia and countries all over the region and the world.
It’s great to see that today’s showcase includes some of our Australia Awards alumni.
There are forty students – 22 of them from Pacific Island countries – currently studying under our prestigious Australia Awards scholarship program at this university.
Earlier this year, I met some Alumni students at Parliament House.
Those emerging Pacific leaders from Fiji and Papua New Guinea studying midwifery are literally contributing to the health and wellbeing of future generations, from the very start!
In addition to those scholarships, we’re very pleased that Australia Awards Fellowships have restarted, providing even more opportunities to study in Australia.
We have an extra 40 fellows coming to the University of Newcastle over the next 12 months.
These types of programs are a key part of our connections with Pacific Island countries.
In my discussions with Pacific partners, I hear time and time again that they would like more education pathways to Australia.
And we’re listening.
The Pacific Engagement Visa will make it easier for more Pacific Islanders to study at schools and tertiary institutions in Australia.
Pacific Engagement Visa holders will have access to HELP loans, VET student loans, and other financial supports.
It means that they have the chance to not just settle in Australia, but to upskill and thrive.
To pursue education opportunities here.
To progress in their careers.
And to be active participants in their new communities.
These changes demonstrate our commitment to strengthening ties within the Pacific family, as well as to enriching Australia’s education systems through exchange and learning.
I hope to see more Australian tertiary linkages and partnerships building on the experiences of the University of Newcastle …
Educational experiences like the ones the Pacific Engagement Visa will enable…
…Or like the ones enabled by the Australia Award scholarships or through the New Colombo Plan.
There are nine New Colombo Plan scholars from the University of Newcastle currently studying and interning in the region.
The young people who study here, and in universities around the region…
…Are links between our nations.
So too are our sportspeople across the region.
Whether it’s soccer or rugby or netball, Australians love sport.
We share that love of sport with Pacific island countries.
And we want to strengthen the links between our sports initiatives and other Pacific programs.
The Australian Government has supported the Fijian and Fijiana Drua to play in the Super Rugby and Super W … creating opportunities for young Fijian men and women to pursue their sport ambitions on the international stage.
We’re particularly proud to be investing in women’s sport, because we know the transformative change when women and girls are full participants in their communities.
We’ll keep working to create sustainable and inclusive pathways for Pacific teams and athletes to realise their dreams in sport.
Because that’s another way we build up the region.
Investing in people like you is investing in a deeper understanding of the world around us.
Because your voice and aspirations matter.
Your generation will shape the kind of region we want to live in – peaceful, prosperous and resilient.
Working together – openly and transparently, in the Pacific Way – is essential as we navigate the challenges of the present into the future.
Today’s program is a tangible example of that work.
Thanks again for having me today – I’m looking forward to hearing from you.