Senator HENDERSON (Victoria) (14:55): I am delighted to ask the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Seselja, his first question as a minister of our government. Can the minister advise the Senate on how the Morrison government is supporting—
Opposition senators interjecting—
The PRESIDENT: Order on my left!
Senator HENDERSON: It is really disrespectful. No—first question!
Opposition senators interjecting—
The PRESIDENT: Order!
Senator HENDERSON: It is very disrespectful.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Henderson, this is not a reflection on you. I’ll ask you to start the question again when there is silence. On my left: it is not only disrespectful, which it is; it’s also completely contrary to the standing orders, and we are only an hour into our first question time.
Senator HENDERSON: Can the minister advise the Senate on how the Morrison government is supporting our Pacific family in the face of the current global pandemic?
Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory—Minister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:56): I thank Senator Henderson for her question. Firstly, I want to recognise the honour I have been given and to reiterate that there has never been a more important time for Australia to stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners across the Pacific. The impact of the global pandemic on the economies of our Pacific neighbours has been profound, and the risk to their health systems is acute.
The pivot of Australia’s development program in response to COVID-19 has been unprecedented. The government’s Partnerships for Recovery strategy provides the whole-of-government framework for our response. It is tightly focused on health security, stability and economic recovery in the Pacific, Timor-Leste and South-East Asia. Australia’s 2020-21 ODA budget is fully aligned with this strategy, with an estimated $1.44 billion for the Pacific—a record high. The government is also providing $304.7 million for a Pacific COVID-19 economic response package. This targeted, temporary funding for two years is in addition to Australia $4 billion ODA program and delivers critical financing to mitigate fiscal crises, maintain essential health services, sustain aviation connectivity and protect the most vulnerable.
We have restarted Pacific worker employment programs to boost economic activity and incomes for Pacific families and Aussie farmers. These programs not only provide work for our neighbours; they support Aussie businesses who face their own losses if we do not act. The Pacific step-up means working with our Pacific partners to build a region that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically. Together these programs show Australia’s support for the Pacific not only as the leading contributor of aid in the region but also as a neighbour, a partner and a friend in these difficult times.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Henderson, a supplementary question?
Senator HENDERSON (Victoria) (14:58): Can the minister provide an update on the progress of Australia’s provision of vaccines to the Pacific and South-East Asia?
Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory—Minister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:58): There is no higher priority for countries in our region than access to COVID-19 vaccines. Senator Payne and I already have reached out to our counterparts in the Pacific and South-East Asia to underline our commitment and to advance the next steps on vaccine rollouts, including $523.2 million over three years for a COVID-19 vaccine access and health security initiative for the Pacific and South-East Asia. Previously $80 million was committed to the multilateral Covax Facility’s advanced market commitment to support vaccination for the populations at greatest risk in 92 developing countries. This initiative offers full vaccine coverage for the Pacific and Timor-Leste, and will enable the procurement of vaccines and provide technical support to prepare for vaccine introduction. We’re working closely with New Zealand, France and the United States to ensure our Pacific family have vaccines that are safe and effective and can be accessed to support the economic recovery of the region.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Henderson, a final supplementary question?
Senator HENDERSON (Victoria) (14:59): Can the minister also provide an update on the support provided by Australia to our Pacific neighbours after Cyclone Yasa?
Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory—Minister for International Development and the Pacific) (15:00): First, I acknowledge the dreadful loss of life and devastating property damage in Fiji and the conditions they now face again, unfortunately, with Cyclone Ana. But we have stepped up with $4½ million in humanitarian relief. At Fiji’s request, a RAAF aircraft conducted aerial damage assessments to aid relief planning. HMAS Adelaide was deployed to support relief efforts, including construction and engineering to repair over 30 schools. In total, we delivered over 165 tonnes of supplies and almost one million litres of water. I had the opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who thanked his Australian vuvale and noted again Australia’s willingness to help Fiji in their hour of need. I reminded the Prime Minister that 12 months earlier it was Fiji who helped us with our bushfire recovery. It’s a great example of how people and nations across the Pacific can help each other, and we will continue to support our Fijian vuvale in their recovery.
Senator Birmingham: I ask that further questions be placed on notice.