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Department of Defence - Australian Government

12/09/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/08/2019 22:32

Sydney Institute Address

***Check against delivery***

Thank you, Gerard, for that introduction. And look, I think given where we are today, I ought to say in the beginning, coming from the Federal Government inside the Defence portfolio with Minister Reynolds, we all have our thoughts at the moment with the people of New South Wales and Queensland who are captured in these terrible fires. From the Federal Government's perspective, we've put our defence force on standby and Minister Reynolds, our Defence Minister, today in the Senate told the Parliament and Australians that we're also looking at how to use our new powers in relation to the Defence Force Reserves to make sure that all possible options are being considered to call up any needed resources from the Federal Government's perspective.

So, we really appreciate all of the work that is being done by our firefighters, by our first responders, by the communities who are working together out there and it would be remiss, I think, of us not to start today by just acknowledging the terrible circumstances that we find ourselves in. And we send all our thoughts and prayers. I think we'll be sending a lot more effort from all around the country to these communities and to the people affected in coming days. But you can rely on the Government, at the federal level and state level, to work very closely together, to do everything we can. And while hearing a lot about catastrophes in our Sydney basin, we're hearing about the catastrophic ratings that have been put out and some people are thinking: gosh, why are we doing this? Well, I think the Fire Commissioner here in New South Wales, Shane Fitzsimmons, put it best when he said we need to be over prepared to protect life and we need to be prepared to save life and prevent disaster. And I think the preparations that they've been making in that regard are absolutely outstanding. So we thank all of them for the work that they're doing.

So tonight of course, Gerard, I'm here to speak on the portfolio that I represent, the Pacific Step-up and the work that we've been doing at the Federal Government level. I'm sad to hear this will be the last time that you're going to be here in this building. I'm honoured, in a sense, to be the last person to give a presentation from this pulpit, having been here once before. And if I had known, I would have brought many more boxes because you've got some fantastic books in your office, Gerard, and I would have stolen hundreds of them off you. You really have some collector's items in there. So, I might ask my staff who are here to go in there while we're here and help Gerard move.

Look, thank you ladies and gentlemen for the opportunity. The Sydney Institute, obviously, is a great institution and tonight, I'd like to speak a little bit about what we're doing in the Pacific and Australia's role in the world. I think you can obviously see that in the recent times, we've had a government and a prime minister committed to the Pacific and in particular, to our Pacific Step-up. Twelve months ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Townsville, that great garrison town in Australia, and in front of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, he said: my Government, the Government that I have the privilege of leading, is returning the Pacific to where it should be: the front and centre of Australia's strategic outlook, our foreign policy, our personal connections, including at the highest levels of government. And our justification for doing this, founded in the Foreign Policy White Paper commissioned by the Turnbull Government, is simple. And again, in the words of the Prime Minister: this is our patch. This is our part of the world. This is where we have special responsibilities. We always have, we always will. We have their back and they have ours. We are more than partners by choice. We're connected as members of the Pacific family. So they are the 'what' and the 'why' of what we are doing and what the Government is doing.

So my address tonight will unpack, I think, some of these 'how' questions. How are we doing this? How is Australia seeking to pursue our Pacific Step-up and the shared benefits to Australia and our Pacific family? The Government's Pacific Step-up is, of course, about building strong partnerships for the prosperity and the stability of our region, not simply because it's the right thing to do or not simply out of our own self-interest, but rather because we want to work in partnership with those who call the vast blue Pacific our home. We want to strengthen their security, their stability, their resilience and ensure that all the people in the region have what they desire.

The past 12 months have been very busy. And certainly, if you look at the amount of visits that we've had, we've had over 50 visits, at the senior level, by governmental officials and ministers - 50 just in the calendar year; and myself, I visited nine countries in the last four months. The Prime Minister has set this bar very high and he's outlined in our travel priorities as a government that the Pacific region comes first in the travel priorities of Cabinet Ministers and the Government, and certainly travel to the Pacific ought to be prioritised throughout the year, which makes a big difference. The visits, of course, build upon the unique relationship that we have and we've had so many visits to Fiji, of course. I think this year when we visited Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister Bainimarama, in Fiji might maybe for our second or third time. I have to say we ran out of issues to talk about, which is the first time I've been in an international diplomatic event where we said: let's wind up our meeting and go to the football. And I think that goes to show the contact is regular. It's constant. The issues we're working through are progressing and the relationship is deep and strong. And when you think about where we've been with Fiji in recent times, it's great to see that the Fiji relationship is back on track, where it should be, in a great and healthy state between two leaders, two governments and two countries.

So, I've accompanied the Prime Minister from day one, from our first visit since the election, to Solomon Islands and myself visited another eight nations in the six months that I've been responsible for coordinating the Step-up. Uniquely, the Prime Minister, for the first time, tasked me with responsibility across both the Foreign Affairs and the Defence portfolios - and the first time a minister has been sworn into both portfolios - working quite closely under Marise Payne and Linda Reynolds respectively, to ensure the delivery of the Step-up in the Pacific is day-to-day and works and minimise the roadblocks to its success. But the professional approach of DFAT, the Defence staff, the ADF personnel is second to none as they pursue our policy objectives and this significant priority of the Prime Minister and the Government.

There are three interlinked approaches that I think are important to the Step-up which will determine its success. First, it is infrastructure and connectivity, both social and physical; and second, it's about the economics; and the third, I would say, is about the security and the resilience of the peoples and the places across the vast Pacific Ocean. I want to say a little bit about each.

Good quality infrastructure, of course, is the bedrock of any economy. Australia's got a great interest in ensuring that the Pacific has the right infrastructure and that every Pacific nation has access to its infrastructure, reliable, affordable, sustainable sources of financing, to support the local infrastructure needs, regional needs and enable opportunities for future development. The South West Pacific, in particular, the challenge to deliver services in geographically isolated places, in remote nations with small populations, smaller domestic markets, limited economic development, the opportunity, of course, is real.

Economic integration with Australia and New Zealand is critical for the Pacific, and we know that hasn't always been successful. Australia and New Zealand combined represent about 98 per cent of the GDP of eight Pacific Island Forum members. When you think about that - 98 per cent of 18 countries GDP between Australia and New Zealand - you understand how significant that is. Even PNG the largest- the third largest economy in the Pacific has a GDP which is only 10 per cent out of New Zealand but a population which is 70 per cent larger than New Zealand. When you think about some of these facts, you start to understand the nature and scale of the challenge that is faced by many of our Pacific partner countries. And for our part, I guess, we're investing the dividends of our own strong economic position to partner with countries in our region in addressing these challenges.

This year, you will have seen the announcement of the $2 billion Australia Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, the AIFFP. It's been operational since 1 July, and in close consultation with the Pacific governments and countries, it'll provide concessional grant and loan financing to support well planned, high quality, high priority infrastructure. [Indistinct] particularly focused on sectors like telecommunications, energy, transport and water and we certainly asked the AIFFP to take into account climate-resilient infrastructure and climate adaptation infrastructure in response to Pacific needs. The Government is also providing Export Finance Australia with additional credit and powers to finance overseas infrastructure projects in order to boost private investment in the region. And that's not typical. We don't usually ask the Export Finance Australia and give them additional credit and powers to make deals happen but we are in relation to the Pacific.

Through the delivery of this better quality and more reliable infrastructure, communities, we think, across the Pacific will be able to take advantage of improved conditions, attract investment business opportunities. And what am I talking about? Well, for example, the Coral Sea Cable that the Federal Government has funded between PNG, Australia, Solomons and Australia to Moresby and Honiara, enables faster, more reliable internet services in both of those countries. And this is a significant development opportunity for our partners in those countries, a significant opportunity for them to not just have reliable communications, which enables greater prosperity, but opportunities for business, NGOs, others to get in there and take advantage of the significant infrastructure from these cables that Australia has built.

Analysis by the World Bank, of course, says that over the coming 20 years, that improved internet access and connectivity could create 300,000 new jobs and boost the region's GDP by $65 billion. And we agree with that. Sorry, $5 billion, I should say, not 65. While digital infrastructure remains critical and we think it'll help, so too does the provision of what I spoke about earlier: the climate and disaster resilient infrastructure. The things that will last in terms of the disaster season: the resilient infrastructure in roads, schools, hospitals, seas, airports and seawalls. And earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced that a further $500 million would be committed to support climate and disaster resilience across the Pacific, building on the previous commitment of $300 million that had already been given. Some of this funding, of course, will go to specific projects that will help countries in the region understand and respond to climate change, but a significant proportion of our climate and disaster resilience funding will support existing infrastructure projects like the Papua New Guinea-Australia Transport Sector Program. It will build climate and disaster resilient roads, bridges, wharves and work with local partners to ensure that climate resilient infrastructure lasts. And it only makes sense, given the prevalence of disasters, the prevalence of catastrophic events on Pacific infrastructure, that we invest in these partnerships.

And despite some contrary reporting at home, we have an unprecedented wave of clean energy investment in Australia. It's underway. It's leveraging our own investments in renewables that we've seen in Australia in renewable technology. And it sets us on track to meet and exceed our targets under the Paris agreement. And of course, we'll help the Pacific move on from their dependence on expensive and obviously high carbon emitting diesel generation for power. And we're excited about those projects.

In the Pacific of course, we're making significant investments and other energy in renewable energy to support that low carbon growth. This sort of practical investment that we're talking about, I think, does leverage the technology that we have in Australia. It does leverage our businesses that are well established in this field. It will build the links with the Pacific in renewable energy generation that will make them more self-sufficient, not relying on either subsidies or other links to countries to power or generate power. And I think it will also, obviously, provide them with cheaper and cleaner electricity directly when they need it. And that technology and those business opportunities are real and will obviously see significant investment from the Government's AIFFP.

Other drivers of course that we see as pivotal in coming years, and we think will make a difference, include traditional sectors like tourism. Tourism, of course, you know, is an important driver in Pacific nations, and certainly, we encourage Australians, when they are in places like Fiji, and we have a great Australian market in Fiji, to understand more about the country of Fiji, to get outside of the resorts, to see a little bit about how your average Fijian lives and understand and deal more with the local culture. Three hundred and forty-thousand Australians visited Fiji in 2018; that's a significant economic opportunity in anyone's language and provides great opportunities for local business. And we also see traditional sectors like regional fisheries as another key economic sector that we want to advance. Probably from the Prime Minister down, the biggest initiative we'll see in that space is tackling illegal and unreported and unregulated fishing, which remains a significant problem for the region.

When you consider that's a loss of about $150 million every single year for the region, that's a huge amount of money lost in illegal and unregulated fishing from different countries outside of the region. And one of the most practical ways we can lift that economic opportunity is to tackle illegal and unregulated fishing, and we're certainly doing so through initiatives like our Fusion Centre, data sharing, open source data sharing, working together with countries, agencies and some of the programs I'll talk about shortly. Again, building on our environmental record in Australia and being a high standard economy and country in relation to the environment, tackling the potentially catastrophic impact of plastics in our ocean is another area of focus that the Prime Minister has led and Australia will assist in. Without action on ocean plastics, I think we know that scientists tell us that the weight of plastics in the ocean equal that of the fish in the ocean within 30 years. And when you think about how that will impact the Pacific in particular, you understand why we are focused on practical environmental issues that need this action immediately. While climate change remains a great concern, of course if there's more plastic in the ocean than fish, the fish are going to be long dead before climate change reaches them. We have to tackle ocean plastics and we have to do it now. For Pacific states reliant on this fishing and income and sustenance, this is real and we need to partner with them to address it.

The Prime Minister has announced already that we will tackle plastics in the ocean. We'll work with our Pacific neighbours in order to reduce plastics and waste. We've already provided $16 million for the Pacific Ocean Litter Project. And of course, as the largest economy and security partner in the region, we have the capacity and the obligation to do more and use our expertise to help. You've seen the Prime Minister lead initiatives in Australia to drive a change in our waste management sector. With other countries, deciding that we will no longer be exporting waste for recycling or other things, the Prime Minister led COAG to actually put a hard and fast date on when we would no longer export waste from this country. And that will drive change in our waste management sector, drive change in our behaviour, drive change in our plastics and manufacturing sectors, and I think lead to better outcomes in the use of plastics. And in relation to our role as economic and security partner in the region, we're also working to safeguard maritime exclusive economic zones - zones, of course, which are nearly 40 times the combined landmass of the nations concerned, and that's why the notion of the blue Pacific is so important to our Pacific Partners, because they see boundaries, their maritime zones are what is most important to their livelihood and their cultures. So we work to protect those fish stocks. We work to protect them not just from illegal and unregulated fishing but also from climate change, and our climate science work in relation to fish stocks is exceptional. And we certainly look at working to sustain coral reefs, biodiversity, fisheries management systems, capability and securing maritime entitlements. Our fishing of course will continue to play a huge role within the region. Earlier this year, of course we had a visit from the Marape Government, the new Prime Minister James Marape, who visited us with a delegation, probably one of the most senior delegations we've seen in some time; governors, ministers, who visited us here in Australia and met with us around the Cabinet table directly on Papua New Guinea and the aspirations of Papua New Guinea, and that the new government has for it. To achieve the vision that Prime Minister Marape has said, he said that him and his generation of leaders need to recognise and transform, upskill, and embrace diverse economic opportunities, tackle corruption, and unlock resource potential that benefits all citizens. And Australia of course is a natural and willing partner for any Pacific nation that seeks to improve economic opportunities for its people. We absolutely support the Government of PNG and its endeavours, and we have elevated the relationship between Papua New Guinea and Australia to a comprehensive economic strategic partnership which we're working on with our officials now to take it to the highest level that it's ever been and ensure that we use the renewed mandate of the Marape Government to drive even more outcomes from our partnership.

First established in 2006 of course, we also have the Australian Pacific Technical College, renamed as the Training Coalition. This is key to one of Marape's key points about equipping Pacific Islanders and people from PNG with Australian standard skills and qualifications in technical and vocational careers. And of course, we're reshaping it to better align with industry needs, including sectors that have been overlooked like agriculture and Australian agricultural expertise. Recently, we've seen other countries take this up. [Indistinct] Vanuatu APEC trains students use their skills, and their training to create new amenities blocks, plumbing systems at schools in Vanuatu, and other countries where we've seen Australian training leading to greater outcomes. And from the Government's perspective, building a capable and educated workforce in the Pacific with the right skills to help grow these local economies is absolutely the priority for us. And you'll continue to see more Pacific Islanders coming to Australia joining in on our training, whether that be through the Defence Force training, whether it be through technical and vocational training, whether it be in our labour systems. We certainly want to see our training systems all geared to take on additional people from the Pacific and send them back with the skills they need; certainly, to deliver that economic change that we're seeking. And labour mobility across the Pacific and providing those workers is one of our key areas of success. It's combining on the work that we've done over a decade with different governments in Australia. But we've seen recently great take up of the Pacific worker schemes that the Government's introduced. The changes we've introduced provide even greater opportunity and flexibility for people in Australia to have Pacific workers, and the Australian businesses that are supported by the scheme to thrive. And both Australia and New Zealand are good partners in this. We provide those economic opportunities for thousands of workers to come from the Pacific to our country and obviously learn skills, remit money and work. The World Bank describes this as a major transformational economic opportunity; and it is. And even more access to our market is something that we're going to continue to work on and group up in coming years. You know the schemes provide the opportunities that Pacific Islanders want, but of course the remittances that they send back home, they make a huge contribution to those countries, and including in remote regions. And when you think about how hard it is for government to make policy that benefits regions, I can give you an example from Vanuatu when I visited there. The biggest gain in economic average income in Vanuatu history in the regions and the remote regions has come from access to the Australian Pacific labour mobility schemes. And Vanuatu has the highest take up rate, they reached a great critical mass of about 5000 or more workers a year. And what that means is the remittances are going directly from people here to regions and remote areas, and you're seeing great economic change and uplift in regional areas where government policy struggles to reach or deliver economic change to those regions. That's exactly the kind of policy that we're looking at, exactly the kind of change that we want to achieve.

Obviously we announced an expansion in the Pacific Labor scheme right across the Pacific and we're certainly seeing a lot of low and semi-skilled Pacific workers working in a range of industries in Australia; horticulture and meat processing, hospitality, aged care where employers were otherwise unable to find suitable local workers. And we know the challenges in our own country finding suitable workers in regional parts of Australia. And I'll give you a couple of quick examples of good news stories. Retati from Kiribati, she is the eldest of seven and aspires to run an events business. She studied hospitality at the APTC. She's now working on Hayman Island under the Pacific Labor scheme, learning those skills. She sends money home for her siblings' education, and has also used her savings to buy a car. She rents it out to others when she isn't using it.

I'll give you another example. Samoan, Elia is a father of four. He studied at the APTC and also works on Hayman Islands with the Pacific Labour Scheme. His earnings in Australia have supported the reopening of his family's corner store in remote Samoa, in a remote community, directly benefitting that community. The Pacific Labour Scheme of course is building on many of these successes of our Seasonal Worker Program as well, and there are good news stories from that also.

There were 12,000 workers supported under the Seasonal Worker Program in 2018/19, and it's growing at about 40 per cent a year. So you can see the demands are real, matching the demands in our economy, and it's making a great contribution to the economies of the Pacific.

We see Tongans in particular are major contributors to the Seasonal Worker Programs, and great contributors. And remittances have comprised - and this is, again, very important to understand - 30 to 40 per cent of Tonga's GDP have been remittances. You know, which of course is providing great economic uplift in the last five years.

I think the mutually beneficial approach to jobs, skills, and training is something that really connects our two countries and two cultures and those people-to-people links. We know we've got these labour shortages in these sectors, we know they've got people willing to work who want the work and skills, and we know that culturally the Pacific really does relate and fit in to our concept of Australian and Australian society.

And we want to thank and commend all the Australian businesses who are playing a vital role in Pacific nations, but we also ask the businesses here and the businesses that are looking at this to do more, and partner with us in our Step-up in the years ahead. We're certainly going to see more Pacific workers being used in Australia to make sure that we have greater connection with different Pacific partner countries and benefits both ways.

I think Australian business can also lead the way in relation to this. We've got our initiatives, we've got our infrastructure financing facility, but it's really only business that can capitalise on the opportunities that flow from some of these great infrastructure projects and investments. And again, the government will be here to help; it's a top priority of our government. It will remain, in my view, a top priority of future federal governments regardless of who's in government for decades to come. I don't think you'll see a change in Australian foreign policy in relation to the Pacific for a long time, now that Australia is back at full capacity, working and partnering, taking the Pacific as our first and most important relationship.

I also want to say a word about Austrade in the Pacific. I think it does a great job in the Pacific, PNG, and New Zealand in particular, partnering with them to support Australian business. They're always looking for the opportunities, but we're also working hard to support countries and provide investment certainty to business. Our role, of course, partnering with different countries is to do a better job of ensuring there is an investment climate that is attractive to finance and stable for businesses to invest. We know of course there's about 4000 Australian businesses doing business in PNG at the moment. That's worth an estimated $2.5 billion. Australian investments in PNG in total are about $17 billion, and the businesses tell us that with patience and with the presence that they have, the Pacific can be a profitable place to invest, and we're certainly working with the Government of PNG at the moment to ensure that their budget is well managed, and they're doing a good job of really refinancing and managing their budget. And we're certainly speaking with them about a stable investment climate.

It's certainly not just the big listed companies that are present too, and I want to point out this feature about them being engaged across the region, and I'll cite a Victorian company, Biofilter, as an example. It's working with our Australian aid program in Tuvalu, and the local non-government organisation to provide new food growing technology to improve the availability and consumption of fresh produce. Thanks to the World Bank funding, we also see airports in Kiribati in Tonga being upgraded by Melbourne based Reeves International, and Hunter H2O from Newcastle is working with the water authority of Fiji to better manage water distribution, water quality monitoring, and improve emergency response times across Fiji.

And certainly when I spent a week in Tuvalu as an atoll, a small place of 11,000 people, Australian businesses, being in there helping with food growing technology in a place where they have salinity issues, water issues, challenges in food production - makes a huge difference when you consider Australia is the only country that even has a post there. Nobody else has a post there. Everybody came and visited, but we have a post. We work every day with them. We're helping build the local school. We're helping with food growing technology through our businesses. Really, Australia does a great job in so many different ways, and business is another arm of Australia and what we do.

I think also dealing with water quality issues in the Pacific is a topic that I visited in Vanuatu in August, is a key priority, our recommender business. Just last week, Austrade led a delegation of 40 to Honiara for a contractors' briefing by Solomon Water for a US$75 million water and wastewater project, and another delegation of Fiji to the water authority of Fiji. Given our own challenges with water at the moment, and drinking water, I think we can understand the challenges that are faced and use our technology and skills to respond. These mutually beneficial projects are critical. And I think water will remain a key area for investment and for our water utilities and water businesses to help win in the Pacific Step-up.

I want to turn for a moment to security and safety. I think this is an issue that is much talked about in relation to the Pacific and I think we all know that the region is changing rapidly. We see the strategic, economic, technological, and environmental changes that are taking place in the region, including the increased investment and competition for influence and the present opportunities and challenges that the Pacific face. I think how we harness these opportunities and defray the risks is a key component of the step up as well. Given the shared history, the heritage, and the geography that we have, Australia, I think, remains today the security partner of choice for the Pacific region. And it's a responsibility we don't take lightly. We're committed to a secure and stable, and importantly politically sovereign Pacific region. And sovereignty, we feel, is the essential key to the strength of Pacific countries.

A consistent approach to managing our security and other investments in the region is absolutely important and a key focus of the Step-up. It's undoubtedly in our self-interest to live in a stable region. We also know that others will look to challenge the status quo of our region, and this happens regularly in history. A consistent approach to managing our security and other investments in the region is very important in what we do. I think, as you know, we're the largest aid partner in the Pacific and remain so today by far. That's $1.4 billion every year from our aid and development budget into the region. That's the highest of any Australian government commitment and it will continue to grow. Our contributions are more than the combined contributions of all other nations to Pacific countries, and I think it signifies our interest and commitment.

In addition to our foreign aid investments, Australia's contribution to security in the region is significant. In particular, through our defence and police engagement, and you might see much of the defence and police engagement, but I can tell you Australians don't know a lot of it as well. It's been a constant commitment for 40 years, in some cases for decades, of cooperation, and it's consistent regular and enhanced. Our particular flagship program of course is the Pacific Maritime Security Program. We've already delivered five of a new 21 Guardian-class patrol boats that have been gifted to Pacific nations by the government, and the remaining patrol boats constructed in Western Australia to be delivered by 2023. We think we'll provide that extra security, whether it be in relation to fisheries, whether it be in relation to policing, whether it be in relation to transnational crime, and we know our Pacific partner countries are grateful to Australia for this excellent program.

The boats, part of the $2 billion program, are essential in our view to economic and strategic security, and we're certainly working with our partners, including Timor-Leste, to deliver these boats. Our in-country advisers' support also underpins our security strategy, and our upgrading of infrastructure assets such as wharves, and other assets that relate to shipping - which is very important to the Pacific - will also enhance security and safety. We also provide an aerial surveillance capacity. It's managed through the Forum Fisheries Agency; it provides the intelligence that maritime agencies need throughout the region, but it also allows coordination and regional cooperation, in operational terms, which provides great benefits.

This year the recently completed Operation Solania supported the patrolling of the exclusive economic zones in Solomon Islands, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, to detect and deter illegal fishing. And it's a great success. We have this great ongoing support of regional police forces. We support their crime fighting and we support the partnerships to stop new developments in transnational crime, even the scourge of drugs which has hit the region in recent times.

I want to praise in this sense our Australian Federal Police, the Home Affairs Department, and all of those that are working in the whole of government effort that we've created under the Office of the Pacific and the Pacific Step-up. The whole of government effort, in my view, has been one of the most successful operational elements of the Australian Government in many decades. Now, I've served in a number of portfolios, as Gerard says - the Treasury portfolio, in the Immigration portfolio, which was a merged department of immigration and customs. And then I was there for the standing up of our new Home Affairs Department, and in the time I've been in the Executive, I haven't seen anything as effective or working as efficiently as the Office of the Pacific, and the whole of government effort that underpins the Pacific Step-up. And that's good news, because sometimes in government - and certainly, we can tell this joke anywhere in the world, we can make the joke anywhere that the hardest thing for government to do is to work with itself. We know that many departments find it very challenging to work with each other, more than they do with you, more than they do with business, more than they do with other governments sometimes. Certainly in the region, every politician knows what I'm talking about. But in Australia, we have managed to do a whole of government effort that collaborates between very significant and big departments, the two I administer - the Defence Department and the Foreign Affairs Department - cooperating efficiently, effectively, regularly almost day by day. And when you add in complex agencies like Home Affairs, the federal police, immigration, other components of our government, whether it be agriculture or other departments. We're certainly the envy of many places in the world, and when you look around the region, you see New Zealand has looked at what we're doing and done- not a step up, but they call it a reset. Japan has refreshed their Pacific initiative after looking at what Australia has been doing. And the US, of course, speaks to us regularly in our alliance about their view of the efficiency of how our Government is able to cooperate with our government. And given how much bigger they are than us, I think there's inspiration for what we're doing and the drive that the Government has in making sure this works and delivers outcomes for the Pacific.

So tonight, of course, I'm giving you a small snapshot about what we have been doing through our Pacific Step-up. It's probably mind boggling for you to understand that that isn't even the short version of what Australia is doing in the Pacific, and what we have been doing for some time now. There is a lot more. And half an hour, for once, isn't enough. I'd like to speak less than the allotted time generally than in today's day and age I find that's what people want. But in relation to Step-up, even after six short months in the portfolio, I'm confident in looking everybody here in the eye and saying that Australia is doing everything we can to make our Pacific a stronger and more prosperous place, and doing the right thing by the people of the Pacific. And I think that's where I'll finish today, is that that is what is key for Australia. The cultural and family ties that we share, making sure that we turn that into real prosperity and secure the sovereignty of the region against any threats or challenges as they come over the years, and unlock the potential that lies just in our backyard, our neighbourhood, the Pacific.

We know it has significant infrastructure and investment needs and we're going to be there the whole time to partner with other countries, to partner with multilateral donors, to partner with those that want to do the right thing by the people of the Pacific. And that means people who are there to help them. We'll partner with anyone. We'll partner with the US. We'll partner with China, as long as we're doing things together that enhance the health, the education, the infrastructure, the outcomes for Pacific countries and Pacific peoples. And we urge those partners to join us in that commitment to the region.

Finally, I'd just say that Australia puts a high emphasis on our strong economy, and our Government constantly talks to the Australian people about the strength of our economy. It's our greatest asset. It's our greatest enabler. It's our greatest security safeguard - a strong economy. A strong, free, vibrant economy protects us and secures us and enables our future prosperity. It's the same for the Pacific. We want to make sure they have strong economies. We want to make sure they have the ability to have independence and resilience through greater economic participation in our market and in the markets of others. Our relationship and our partnership with our Pacific family is honest, it's clear eyed, it's pragmatic, and it accepts the difficult challenges and it looks for the opportunities that are there.

I think one year on from the Prime Minister Scott Morrison's commitment to the Pacific Step-up, six months into my joining this role, I would say it's clear much has been achieved. But of course, we know and we're open-eyed about the great challenges that are ahead.

I want to thank you all for your patience tonight, and just commend to you that you can be proud. And I think through the businesses and the community groups and the charities and the churches, the civil society, the military, the Government, our foreign affairs arms; all of us are stepping up and I'd encourage you all tonight to think about how we can step up together.