The Minister for International Development and the Pacific Assistant Defence, MP Alex Hawke, has announced that Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic represents a significant challenge for governments and communities across the Pacific.
Mr Hawke says “it is a challenge the Australian Government is committed to tackling with our Pacific partners, in the long-term interest of the stability, prosperity and resilience of our region.”
Prime Minister Morrison told G20 leaders on 26 March that the Pacific needed to be a focus of international support. As the world’s economies, large and small, grapple with a pandemic that does not recognise national borders, co-operation will be critical.
Australia’s response will build on our existing Pacific Step-up, which has strengthened our co-operation in helping to grow economies, build resilience, and enhance regional stability through our defence, policing and border security cooperation.
“We have never faced a challenge of the scale of COVID-19, but we will combat it together as a Pacific family.”
Mr Hawke said in his announcement that “the top priority for our governments right now is to keep infection rates as low as possible.”
As have many Pacific nations, Australia has closed its borders to non-citizens and non-residents, and we have banned Australians from travelling overseas.
Pacific islanders transiting Australia to return home are exempt from the travel ban.
The Australian Government have also put in place enhanced health screening for passengers flying to the Pacific.
As a region, we need to enable the movement of a small number of international experts, as well as essential supplies, medicines and food, across the Pacific.
Australia is already taking steps, as a transit country to much of the region, to facilitate a humanitarian and essential services corridor to the Pacific, and Timor-Leste.
Australia’s high commissions and embassies across the Pacific remain open and have also worked quickly to ensure essential Australian advisers – in health and frontline services – have been able to stay and continue their work with Pacific governments.
Mr Hawke in his statement says “Australia has also been strongly engaged with Pacific partners to prepare for, and prevent, the spread of COVID-19, and to manage the broader health and economic impacts.”
Australia is assisting Pacific Island governments with laboratories, medical equipment, health expertise, public information campaigns and support for national preparedness plans and the World Health Organisation’s regional plan.
Hawke says “regional institutions are critical to this response, and we are working closely with the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Community.”
The Minister for International Development and the Pacific Assistant Defence says “this unprecedented situation, the Pacific Islands have moved quickly to reorient our development partnerships to bring forward funding for critical health services and to mitigate the economic shock.”
Hawke says “No country should be alone in this crisis. Nowhere is this more true than in the Pacific.”
“Australia faces its own immediate challenges, but our support for, and partnership with, our Pacific family is essential for our regional health security and our long-term interests.”