Climate Change and the Pacific Islands

House of Representatives 5/09/2022

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (11:46): I recall that in this place in March I reflected on the then government’s Pacific step-up, and I actually termed it ‘the Pacific stuff-up’. It was really a failure of the former government in positioning Australia as the partner of choice for our Pacific neighbours. The sheer incompetence, at every post, at every milestone, at every turn, when it came to managing our international relationships, was stark.

Well, that period of ineptitude is over. Already, Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Wong have engaged significantly with our neighbours in the Pacific in the last few months. In doing so, they have re-established the foundation for engaging with our partners on substantive issues of mutual importance—issues like climate change, which represents an existential threat particularly to the Pacific, with the impacts likely to be more immediate and particularly severe in our region. Prime Minister Albanese joined Pacific leaders in July to declare that the Pacific is indeed facing a climate emergency that threatens the livelihood, security and wellbeing of its people and ecosystems.

That is why one of the first pieces of legislation introduced by the Albanese government was to legislate ambitious emission-reduction targets to achieve net zero by 2050 and limit the global temperature increases that are threatening the existence of our Pacific neighbours, including shifting our national energy market to be made up of 82 per cent renewables by 2030, so rejoining our key partners—not just those in the region, but Canada, South Korea and Japan—in our ambition towards 2030.

We have also committed to increasing official development assistance to the Pacific by $525 million over the next four years. This will include assistance for climate change adaptation and resilience programs. These programs will be developed, designed and implemented in consultation and partnership with our Pacific partners, because they don’t need us to tell them how to do it; already they are at the forefront, globally, on adapting to the impacts of climate change and are indeed world-leading in their calls for greater commitments to address the climate crisis. These programs will form part of a Pacific climate infrastructure financing partnership, supporting the building of the infrastructure and clean energy sources that will make Pacific communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. This is what true commitment to our Pacific partners is all about.

The previous government’s engagement was marked by paternalism, disrespect and, frankly, condescension. For our government, it is about engaging with our Pacific neighbours as co-equals, as sovereign states, treating them with the respect that they deserve and ensuring that Australia remains their partner of choice for the region. The Albanese government continues to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to this, across areas of shared priority with our partners, whether it be through the $5.6 million e-commerce fund that has helped over 850 small businesses across our region to participate in digital trade or our commitment of an extra $12 million a year for aerial surveillance to help combat the illegal fishing that threatens the region’s fishing industry and costs Pacific island governments more than US$150 million in lost revenue. We will also deliver an Indo-Pacific broadcasting strategy that will provide funding for the ABC to boost Australian content to the Indo-Pacific region, expand regional transmission and train media partners. We will make improvements to our Pacific mobility scheme, such as allowing primary visa holders to bring their partners and children. We’ll also boost permanent migration from Pacific countries.

Up to 3,000 Pacific engagement visas would allow people from Pacific Island nations to move to Australia. All of this is real. All of it is substantive. All of it matters to our Pacific neighbours in ways that will make a real difference to their lives, to their nations. That’s why this is real engagement. We understand the value of people-to-people exchange. We understand the value of cultural links not only for our mutual benefit but for the benefit of the entire region and for regional unity. Generations of migrants have shaped the modern Australian story, and our Pacific friends should continue to play an even larger part in that. We will welcome people from the Pacific Islands with open arms and give true meaning to that term ‘Pacific family’, and we will continue to deepen our ties and ensure Australia remains the partner of choice in the region.