Joint remarks with the Prime Minister of Vanuatu

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16 Jan 2019
Prime Minister

THE HON. CHARLOT SALAWI TABIMASMAS MP, PRIME MINISTER OF VANUATU: Welcome Prime Minister, Senator Anne Ruston and other Ministers, senior officials, members of the media. Let me again take the opportunity honourable Prime Minister, to welcome you and the members of your delegation. To the Prime Minister's Office, the [inaudible] of Port Vila, welcome to Vanuatu. I wish to convey that the honourable Scott Morrison, I had a very fruitful discussion with this morning.

I also expressed my delight at meeting him again soon after our very cordial meeting in the margins of APEC in Port Moresby. We had a barbecue and he was kind to invite us leaders of the Pacific to his barbecue.

I also recall my very successful guests of government visits to Canberra in June last year 2018. The honorable Scott Morrison's visit to Vanuatu at this time not only comes at a critical juncture between Australia's and Vanuatu's relationships but also marks a historical milestone for the government to receive such a high-level visit of Australia to Vanuatu. Australia-Vanuatu relations have never been better and will continue to grow stronger on the basis of the principles of mutual respect and equal partnership.

During our discussions this morning, I had also conveyed my desire to this visit to continue to build on recent development in Australia-Vanuatu relations and to strengthen our strategic partnership and mutual development cooperation. Specifically, Australia's assistance throughout the years in the areas of economic governance and financial development, education, health and law and justice has continued to mean the difference of the average people in Vanuatu.

With regards to trade and economic relations, the Vanuatu Government continues to place a specific emphasis on increased trade with Australia. Particularly, incremental increases to its export base and other initiatives. The Productive Sector 2019 is one such initiative, which is aimed at increasing productions and promoting value addition, especially of primary products with cooperative and competitive advantages, both in the domestic and export markets, which is also in line with general efforts to adequately prepare Vanuatu’s smooth transition and [inaudible] status in 2020.

The Vanuatu Government also continues to value its participation in labour mobility initiatives such as the Seasonal Workers Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme, which not only provides important conduits for socio-economic development in Vanuatu but also hopefully address labour shortages in the Australian market.

I also convey the appreciation of the government of Vanuatu and the people of Vanuatu for Australian assistance in the infrastructure development, which remains one of the biggest priorities and challenges for the Vanuatu Government, particularly in the development of climate resilience and quality infrastructure.

The Australian Government also continues to remain an important partner in police cooperation and security, both at the national and regional level. This is also true for the Australian contribution to [inaudible] and assistance in times of great devastation and distress, something which Vanuatu is also thankful. We also discussed opportunities to enhance cooperation in the social sectors of health, education and increased cooperation in sports.

Finally, I would like to commend and thank the Australian Prime Minister for taking time out of his busy schedule to visit Vanuatu and for the ongoing commitment by the Australian Government and people, of Vanuatu's development priorities and aspirations.

Thank you. Thank you, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Prime Minister, and it’s a great pleasure for myself and my wife Jenny and the Minister to be here today, to be at this historic first visit between an Australian Prime Minister and a Prime Minister of Vanuatu on a bilateral visit outside of the Pacific Island Forum. It was indeed back in 1990 when Prime Minister Hawke visited here in Vanuatu as part of that Pacific Island Forum.

The first time I came here was off a cruise ship with my parents, I was under 10. It was pre-independence and it is a great thrill to see what has happened here in Vanuatu under independence.

Australia believes in an independent, sovereign, prosperous, free, stable, successful Vanuatu. That's why we're here. Late last year after some months of very detailed work, my Government announced that we were going to ‘step up’ in the Pacific. And if you're going to ‘step up’, you've got to show up, you've got to turn up. With the announcements that we have made last year about our infrastructure facility, about the work we're doing in the Seasonal Labour Programme, the work we're doing to expand skills development across the region, the work that had already been done on things like PACER Plus and initiatives such as this, security partnerships across the region.

Then the task is to show up, turn up and start to roll out the programmes and that's why I'm here today. That's why I was very happy to accept the invitation of the Prime Minister to come. When a family member or a friend invites you to visit their home, Australians more than often say: "Yes, of course we'll come,” and who would ever turn down an invitation to visit Vanuatu? So it’s wonderful to be here and to be with you Prime Minister and to talk about the multi-faceted nature of our very deep relationship. I would agree that it has never been in a better place than it has today.

Our people share so much in common, whether it’s culturally, whether it’s a diaspora of people from across the Pacific including here from Vanuatu, who have made their home in Australia or who come to work in Australia under the various programmes. There is a lot in common in sport, in religion, in any number of issues. So part of our programmes that we’re announcing here today involve those cultural exchanges. They involve supporting the broadcaster here in Vanuatu and the services they’re providing.

We have discussed a range of issues from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister’s strong commitments to ensuring climate change is addressed here in the Pacific and we share his commitment and we share in our involvement in the programmes which we know can provide the resilience in the Pacific. Australia has not only maintained our commitment to our targets when it comes to addressing climate change globally, we are stepping up on our commitments here in the Pacific to support Pacific Island nations, including here in Vanuatu, to build the resilience and the capability, whether it’s how roads are constructed, how schools are developed, to ensure that there is a resilience against the impact of climate change here in the Pacific. It is our intention into the future to ensure that more of that investment is done directly with Vanuatu, not through third party agencies or international organisations, but directly partnering directly with our friends and family here in the Pacific to deliver on the programmes which we know can make a real difference to addressing the impacts of climate change here in this region.

But whether it’s PACER Plus – and I’m pleased to announce that today, in response to some outstanding advocacy done by the Prime Minister, because I know this has been an issue for some time - we have agreed that we would be working to put a pilot program together to ease some of the limitations on importation of kava into Australia. But that is for personal use I should stress, and we will run that as a trial program and we’ll get the arrangements in place to ensure that’s properly managed. But that is an expression of our interest in developing trade in the region. Kava is an important product which is produced here and has a great and successful market around the world. We have done a lot of work with Vanuatu to ensure that some of those markets are opened up and that can include now, to a greater extent that has currently existed in Australia, for that to be realised as well.

But of course, our security relationship is incredibly important. Later today we'll have a bit more to say about the commitment we're making to community policing. I want to commend the Prime Minister for the work and the priority he has placed on law and order and community policing and the security of Vanuatu. We're very pleased to work with him and the internal affairs agencies and other departments here  in Vanuatu to ensure that it remains the friendly, happy, safe place that visitors who come from all over the world have come to enjoy and come back to enjoy again and again and again.

So there are many commitments, it is a deep and wide relationship. It is one that is based on the principles of family, working together, sharing notes, seeing how we can assist each other as we continue to be independent, sovereign and prosperous countries in our own rights and great friends and equal partners.

Thank you very much.