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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6275


Mr RUDD (GriffithMinister for Foreign Affairs) (17:36): I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her questions. They go, I think, in a sequence from ministerial travel to PNG health, with all the subsets around what she asked about PNG health.

On the question of travel, I think it is important to put in context the travel in which I have engaged in recent times in the region and the travel which has been engaged in by my Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, the Hon. Richard Marles. In terms of my own travel in the Pacific, in recent years I have travelled to Papua New Guinea twice. I have travelled to the Solomon Islands once. I have travelled to Niue. I have obviously travelled to New Zealand on a number of occasions. I travelled to Niue and Cairns for the Pacific Islands Forum, and as a consequence I have spent a lot of time engaging with South Pacific colleagues in regional deliberations.

Secondly, regarding the period I have been Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have mentioned before my engagements with the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare. I am also seeing the Prime Minister of Samoa in about 20 minutes time. I have been to New Zealand for discussions with my counterpart, Murray McCully, as well as with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key just after the New Zealand earthquake, where much of our discussion focused on developments in the South Pacific, including in Fiji.

I would also draw attention to the fact that, in the South Pacific, the first country that I visited abroad as Prime Minister, I believe, was Papua New Guinea. I did so quite deliberately to emphasise the critical and strategic importance of that country to Australia.

In terms of our engagement across the region, the honourable member may not be aware that a core priority for us has been the following: to renegotiate all of our aid relationships with the Pacific island countries in what we now call Pacific Partnerships for Development. What are they? We have changed the inputs measurements that we have traditionally attached to our aid relations with the Pacific island countries into outcomes measures, which in turn align with the Millennium Development Goals. The truth is that, when the government secured office at the end of 2007, most of the South Pacific region was performing appallingly against the Millennium Development Goals, so we had to make some changes there. On the question of ASEAN: over the last several years I think I have visited certainly the majority of ASEAN countries. As foreign minister I have visited, I believe, most recently, Indonesia on a number of occasions. Certainly I have spent time in Vietnam. I have also spent time in Singapore. I have also used regional meetings to catch up with the foreign ministers or deputy foreign ministers of most other regional countries. The foreign minister of the Philippines will be here tomorrow in Canberra, and I look forward to catching up with him as well. We attach high priority to our relationships with the ASEANs.

On the question of PNG health which the honourable member raises, I simply refer to advice provided to me by the department. I understand that the department provides $4 million a year to Queensland Health to offset the costs associated with providing cross-border health assistance to PNG nationals in the Torres Strait. This includes the management of about 60 PNG nationals with tuberculosis. In addition, $13.8 million over four years was committed to the Torres Strait Health Protection Strategy in the 2009-10 budget. The only sustainable solution is to improve the capacity of health services on the PNG side of the border, PNG remaining one of our most substantial recipients of Australian ODA. The Australian government works closely with PNG to improve health services in the Western Province of PNG. A comprehensive approach to the management of TB and other communicable diseases is being developed. Improving TB services at Daru General Hospital is a priority. AusAID is now investing $40 million each year to improve health services within PNG, and this investment is delivering results. The national TB detection rate has increased from 22 to 31 per cent.

Finally, the honourable member asked me about the relative prioritisation of what we do with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and our health priorities within PNG. The bilateral program with PNG is already substantial. (Extension of time granted) I think it is the second largest recipient of our ODA. And it receives vaccination assistance as well.