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Address delivered to a reception at the Australian High Commission, Vanuatu

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The Hon Richard Marles MP Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs

Address delivered at a reception at the Australian High Commission in Port Vila


Port Vila, Vanuatu

8 October 2010

It is wonderful to be here again in Vanuatu. This is my third visit to Vanuatu. I was here back in 2008 just before the elections and before that, a long time ago doing something that John has said many Australians and Victorians do and that is come to this place for what was a

fantastic holiday back in 1992. Although, as I was telling the Prime Minister, our holiday season in Australia is December through to January, and this period coincides with the cyclone season in this part of the world. Of course, we were here in mid January and three days later a cyclone hit, so I have had the chance to see this country in all its different forms. One thing that utterly amazed me was that at the height of that cyclone, which was pretty fierce with branches flying around, ships rocking in the harbour and waves splashing up against the harbour wall, at the height of it there was a group of kids doing back flips into the harbour which said a lot to me about the adventurism and the resilience of the people of Vanuatu.

I come here very much bringing greetings from the new Gillard Government. As John said, I have known the Prime Minister for a long time and I know that Julia has a very personal commitment to this region and to Vanuatu. I also bring greetings from the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd who also is a very committed member of our Government to this region. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister were very keen that soon after the formation of the Government and soon after being given this appointment that I made my way to the Pacific to really make it clear to the people of this region how much you matter to Australia; how important our relationship is with you; how committed we are to engaging with this part of the world. We will see various trade deals done around the world, we will see various conflicts, we will see powers emerge and others fade away but in all of that, your neighbourhood is your neighbourhood and we will always be neighbours. For that reason there is always an importance, a significant importance associated with Australia's relationship with the Pacific and with Vanuatu.

And in talking about Vanuatu specifically, we are particularly pleased with the state of the relationship between our two countries. I think Vanuatu is, in many respects, a model of governance in the developing world. Certainly from our point of view, in terms of the aid partnership that we have with this country, we could not be more pleased with the way in which that partnership is working and the way in which the aid that is being provided by Australia is making such a difference in Vanuatu. That wouldn't happen but for the way in which this country is governed and but for the partnership that we have with the Vanuatu Government. And I can't emphasise how important that is for us in Australia. Between now and 2015, we will see Australia fulfil the commitment we have made to take our aid spending

up to 0.5 per cent of GDP, which will really see the aid program pretty much double in the next 4-5 years. That is a very significant thing within our budget against the overall fiscal context in Australia where we are "tightening the belt", if you like, to try and bring the budget back into the black after the stimulus spending through the global economic crisis. We are trying to bring the budget back into the black by 2012-2013. To have a very significant element of the budget, the aid budget, expanding represents a very important political decision and those decisions can only be made with the support of the Australian people.

What I think Australian tax payers want to see, understandably, is their money going to good use and having a good effect. For us to be able to point to a place like Vanuatu and what is occurring here and how our aid budget is spent does so much to help us build support for what we want to do in terms of aid globally. And in that I really thank the Vanuatu Government for what you are doing because you do much in terms of allowing us to pursue the agenda that we would like to pursue in relation to aid.

Today we went out to North Vila Primary School which was a great experience. We saw the Australia-Pacific Technical College. We were there with the Education Minister, Charlot Salwai, and it was great that he was able to give us his time also. We saw the way in which that school is developing. We saw firsthand the impact the impact of the Vanuatu Education Road Map, with school fees being removed for primary schools and the consequent increase in the enrolment of kids at that level. We saw all of that first hand as we did Vanuatu's students at the APTC learning about early childhood study and practising what will become their art. It was a fantastic experience. This afternoon we were also with Alan Horne the Telecommunications Regulator and heard the remarkable story about what has happened in this country in terms of telecommunications reform. Again, this is something that the Australian aid budget has been committed to in our partnership with Vanuatu. That is a revolution that you are seeing there in terms of the coverage of people being able to use mobile phones, from something like 20 per cent to nearly 100 per cent in just a few short years. I think there was a statistic that in 2002 there was 250 odd registered mobile phone numbers in Vanuatu and now there are 250,000. That is a thousand-fold increase in 8 years. That is not just a revolution in terms of communication; that is a revolution in terms of people being able to do business, people being able to access education and people being able to access health. That is development in action and it is an enormous credit to the Vanuatu Government that it has been able to take place.

Anyway, I have spoken for too long. I really want to thank you for having me and having our party here. We have been shown wonderful hospitality and I am looking forward to being back here again. It is a great pleasure to represent this Government in a position of partnership and friendship with the Government of Vanuatu.