Climate Change: Pacific Islands

Monday, 05 September 2022

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (12:29): The opposition welcomes the motion from the member for Jagajaga in relation to our Pacific family and the role that Australia has played for a long time in supporting our region and the peoples of the Pacific. It was, of course, the Turnbull, Abbott and Morrison governments that stepped up and ensured that Australian foreign policy pivoted from the rest of the world to our region, and we weren't alone in doing this. For those members who were here, you will recall President Obama announced on the floor of this House that US foreign policy would also pivot to our region. This was continued by President Trump and has been continued by President Biden. What it says is that in foreign policy terms the Pacific region is one of the most significant to the world and also to the United States of America but, most importantly, to Australia.

Our Pacific family came first under the previous government, it came first in our foreign policy objectives and it came first in our aid and other delivery budgets. That's why most of our aid budget was spent in the Pacific. That's why Australia is still the largest development partner of every single country in the Pacific today. We welcome the government continuing the policy to ensure that this region is at the forefront of Australian foreign policy and at the forefront of our development dollar. We know that our family here in the Pacific is the most important for the security of our region, for the economic prosperity of our region and for the success of the peoples of it. That's where we could recommend to the government that they enhance a motion such as this from the member for Jagajaga.

They could have spoken about some of the economic challenges that face our region. When you go to the countries of the Pacific, as I had the opportunity to in government as the minister, you'll see the abject poverty that many people live in, in the Pacific. It's a serious issue. Abject poverty has led to malnutrition. Malnutrition has led to issues like stunting of entire populations and generations of young people, which Australians still don't know enough about. I believe it's incumbent on all of us here—and I know the government shares my view—to do as much as possible to help our Pacific neighbours—our friends and family—to make sure that we lift people out of this abject poverty and malnutrition, and to make sure they have healthy lives. We welcome motions like this, which promote healthy living and ensure that Australia will be at the forefront of efforts to do just that in the Pacific.

Climate change is, of course, a significant concern. When you go to places like Tuvalu you understand that the highest elevation is about two metres above sea level—any human population on the archipelagos of Tuvalu will always and primarily be very concerned, every single day, with changes in the climate, changes in the weather and changes in the sea levels. Coming from an island like Australia, with huge mountain regions, it's hard to understand the psychology, but when you go there you see two metres above sea level is the highest elevation. It's a prime concern. We understand that, and we accept it.

The government will, as it says here, continue our government's policy of having climate at the centre of our infrastructure development, and that's why Australia has been such a good partner for this region. The infrastructure we build is resilient for the climate. It has to take into account the frequent tropical storms and cyclones that have happened in the region over many generations and that happen more these days. There frequent and extreme weather events are mentioned here. Our funding has been resilient and has taken climate into account, and it's better placed than all of the other efforts that come from other partners of the Pacific in this region. That's why Australia has spoken loudly about other partners—and there are some notable ones, whether they be the United States or China—who come into this region and spend their development dollars in a way that is not resilient for the climate. There are plenty of examples of environmental disasters from other countries that do not take the care that Australia takes in relation to environmental projects or economic projects in the region. They have wrecked the environment of many particular countries. You can go to examples in PNG and Solomon Islands, where we've seen the strip-logging of forests and vegetation in the most environmentally unfriendly way. We've seen pristine waters spoiled by mining operations from certain countries and partners that wreck the environment.

The opposition knows that Australia has always had a very, very good environmental record in the Pacific region. It's our backyard, just like it is our prime foreign policy area, and we would never despoil the environment of Pacific, but that's not the attitude of other partners. We welcome motions like this that recognise Australia's role and we support the government in its attempts to keep the Pacific at the forefront of foreign policy, but we take to task those partners who do not have the care or concern for the peoples of the Pacific at the heart of their agenda. We say that Australia will always put the people of the Pacific first.