June 21, 2019





SUBJECT/S: Foreign aid, Pacific Step Up, climate change


HOST: Australia is committed to improving its ties to the Pacific. We’ve seen more Government Ministers, including the Prime Minister himself Scott Morrison, make more trips to the region as part of so-called Pacific Step Up. And after years of tensions, Australia and Fiji’s relationship for example has reached a new level where the governments describe it as a “vuvale” partnership, which means “family”. But there are a lot of new family members going around. The Government has appointed a new Minister for the Pacific and International Development, Alex Hawke, while the Opposition Labor Party too has introduced Pat Conroy to the region, appointing him as its spokesman for the Pacific. Pacific Beat has invited Alex Hawke the Minister for interview. We’re told he will be available in coming weeks, but first we’ve spoken with Pat Conroy. He caught up with our foreign affairs reporter Stephen Dziedzic in Canberra this week.

JOURNALIST: Pat Conroy, thanks very much for joining the ABC, we appreciate you giving us your time.

CONROY: My pleasure.

JOURNALIST: We’ve seen Australia now, perhaps follow the lead of other nations and plunge far more money, promise far more money into infrastructure projects in the Pacific. Do you think that is a sensible re-orientation of our ODA program?

CONROY: Well, it’s sensible to the extent that it actually assists the economic development of those nations. There’s no point offering infrastructure finance that isn’t taken up or leaves projects that aren’t the key priorities for those nations. So, in some of those nations, basic healthcare and education is a much more fundamental driver than hard infrastructure. In other nations, it makes a lot of sense, and we need to work on helping these nations develop economically to escape from the extreme poverty that so many of their citizens face.

JOURNALIST: Is there a mismatch here between what the political elite might be calling for in Pacific nations, typically flagship infrastructure projects, sometimes prestige projects, not always, like for example new offices for MPs and the like, new airports, big new roads, etc. Is there a mismatch between those priorities of the political elite and everyday people in the Pacific?

CONROY: Well, I don’t have enough information to make that judgement. Certainly, I’ll be focused when I visit the region on looking at what their priorities are and how they match up with both the publicly announced priority and the priorities of the Infrastructure Financing Facility and the Australian Government as a whole. And the important point to make around the Pacific Step Up and the Infrastructure Financing Facility in particular is that I’m quite worried that it’s being undertaken at the expense of other international aid. For example, pulling aid from other parts of the aid budget to help facilitate an international financing facility is of enormous concern. It looks like we will be shutting down completely our international aid to Pakistan which is enormously troubling, for example, given the instability in that region, the dire poverty in Pakistan and the close proximity to Afghanistan obviously, and the potential flow of displaced people to the rest of the region. So, it’s very important that we focus on the Pacific Step Up, very important that we focus on the ability of the Infrastructure Financing Facility to advance the economic development of that region but we have to be very careful about where the money comes from.

JOURNALIST: Alright, let’s talk about climate change. You’ve already criticised the Government’s climate change policies and you say that it’s undermining their approach towards the Pacific, and as it is there have been a number of Pacific leaders who have criticised the government's policies. What do you think the Coalition should do on this front?


CONROY: Well they should do two things. It should commit to a responsible target for emissions reduction in this country and that should be 45 per cent by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. That is what the best advice from the Climate Change Authority and other international agencies propose as a responsible and appropriate contribution to the Paris Treaty by Australia. So first is to ramp up the targets to something appropriate and responsible. And secondly is to actually implement domestic mechanisms to deliver those emissions reductions because at the moment the Government has a woefully inadequate target and they have no way of achieving even that inadequate target. Emissions have risen every year for the last four years and this government has no hope of restraining them.


JOURNALIST: Isn't it inevitable though that there's always going to be a gap between the ambition that Pacific leaders would like Australia to show on climate change and what Australian political parties at least in the mainstream are willing to contemplate?


CONROY: Well there's no doubt that the Pacific nations would want us to be much more ambitious but as a minimum I say we should actually do our part in the Paris Treaty which we've signed up to. Prime Minister Abbott at the time signed up to the Paris Treaty. It is incumbent upon us to actually make emissions reduction consistent with that treaty, which is 45 per cent on 2000 levels by 2030, and have the mechanism to achieve that. And that's incredibly important from our own national interests and the transition occurring in our economy. It also undermines our relationship with the Pacific. The Boe Declaration is the most important statement recently about the collective interest of the Pacific and it identifies climate change as the number one security issue in the Pacific. If we as their international partner don't take climate change seriously it undermines our entire approach to the region.