Pacific aid to enforce climate, gender equality targets

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong (R) on a tour of climate change impacts in the Marshall Islands, October 2022 (Nathan Fulton/DFAT)

Australia will push to create local employment and boost the domestic economies of its Pacific island neighbours while keeping an eye on climate change and gender equality.

The latest international development policy is underpinned by a new fund that will use $250 million (US$164 million) to leverage private investment and provide direct support to regional community organisations as Canberra works to improve its relationships across the Pacific.

Half of all new investments valued at more than $3 million (US$1.9 million) from 2024-25 will be required to have a climate change objective and this will phase up to 80 per cent by 2028-29.

All projects over the same threshold will also have to include gender equality objectives, as will 80 per cent of development investments of any value.

Pacific Minister Pat Conroy said Australia would continue to work with Pacific Island nations to tackle climate change and improve the lives of women and girls.

“We are responding to the priorities of our partner countries and helping to lift people out of poverty, building resilience and strengthening relationships in our region,” Conroy said.

The government is aiming to combat opaque Chinese infrastructure investment that can leave Pacific nations saddled with debt and poor construction quality.

China often uses its own labourers and underbids for contracts, forcing nations back to the table to stump up more money to complete the project.

Australia will instead ensure there is a focus on using local Pacific labour for infrastructure projects to double the economic dividend and has pledged to pursue transparency and finance with no strings attached.

The government is also prepared to stump up millions of dollars to cover gaps between contract bids to ensure Pacific Island nations can go with quality infrastructure providers that will use local labour.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia would continue to use “all elements of our national power to advance our interests and shape the world for the better”.

“This new policy reflects who we are,” she said. The government has committed an additional $1.7 billion (US$1.1 billion) over five years to the international development budget.