We will listen, Penny Wong tells Pacific

Australia is committed to working with Pacific nations to make the Pacific family even stronger, said Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in her first visit to Fiji as a government minister.

In her first bilateral meeting with the Pacific Islands Forum she pointed out that dealing with Pacific nations was more than just a suite of initiatives.

Ms Wong has had a whirlwind start; a draining election campaign followed by a trip to Japan and then off to Fiji.

The trip was necessary according to Ms Wong. The relationship between the Pacific and Australia had been neglected and she was there to remind Pacific leaders that things were going to change.

The timing of the trip gave the suggestion that Australia was serious about the Pacific. On one side, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a stop in Solomon Islands and was expected to be in Kiribati on Friday evening and then to Fiji on Saturday.

Penny Wong meets with PIF staff at the PIF Fale in Suva on Thursday night. Picture: Shalveen Chand

Ms Wong said the new Australian government had a point to make. She hosted local and international media at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

“It reminds us that we do what families do – be there for each other in good times and in bad. And that’s why I’ve travelled here this week – to make clear on behalf of the new Australian government and, in particular, on behalf of the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese that our commitment to you is this: we will work with you to make our Pacific family even stronger,” said Ms Wong.

“We will listen. And we will hear you, your ideas about how we can face our shared challenges and achieve our shared aspirations together.”

Unlike the stand of the previous government, Ms Wong said they understood that nothing was more central to the security and economies of the Pacific. She said climate change was not an abstract threat but a present and existential one.

Penny Wong delivering her keynote address at PIF in Suva. Picture: Shalveen Chand

“In the Pacific Island Forum’s Boe Declaration on Regional Security for 2018, the first key article that I actually referenced a number of times in our election campaign is this: “We reaffirm that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific,” she said.

“You’ve been saying this for a long time. Pacific leaders were saying this to me when I was climate minister over a decade ago. And you’ve been crystal clear, and you’ve been consistent. You’ve thread global debate.

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“I acknowledge that and I understand that under past governments Australia has neglected its responsibility to act on climate; ignoring the calls of our Pacific family to act, disrespecting Pacific nations in their struggle to adapt to what is an existential threat.”

Ms Wong said the election last week showed Australians understood that acting on climate change is imperative.

Penny Wong and PIF secretary general Henry Puna at PIF. Picture: Shalveen Chand

“We were elected on a platform of reducing emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050. And we’re not just going to say it – we will enshrine it in law, and we will submit a new nationally determined contribution to the UNFCCC very soon,” she said.

“We are committed to transitioning to a low carbon economy and moving to cleaner and cheaper energy, and the plan that we have will see the proportion of renewable energy in Australia in our National Energy Market increase to 82 per cent by 2030.

“So it’s a plan that’s about boosting renewable energy, creating jobs and reducing emissions because we will end the climate wars in our country.
“This is a different Australian government and a different Australia. And we will stand shoulder to shoulder with you, our Pacific family, in response to this crisis.”

Australia is committed to working with Pacific nations to make the Pacific family even stronger, said Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Picture – Shalveen Chand

Ms Wong said the triple challenges of climate, COVID and strategic contest will challenge the region in new ways.

She said Australia will remain a critical development partner for the Pacific family in the years ahead and they will be a partner that doesn’t come with strings attached nor imposing unsustainable financial burdens.

“Ultimately our relationship with our Pacific family is not a suite of initiatives. It can’t be counted only in dollars or MOUs. It’s so much more.

ecause nothing will change our geography, our proximity, nothing will change the fact that our future is intertwined,” she said.

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