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Development assistance in the Pacific

Overview of Australia's Pacific Regional aid program

2020-21 bilateral allocation [budget estimate]
$274.7 million
2020-21 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$384.5 million
2019-20 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$336.4 million

* COVID-19 Development Response Plans are forthcoming and will be published on this page. Australia’s development efforts are set out in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.

* The Pacific Regional Program is a discrete appropriation that complements Pacific Bilateral programs. A portion of this funding is directly attributable to specific Pacific countries and this is included in their Total Australian ODA.

* The Total Australian ODA figure represents funding to the Pacific region that is not attributable to a specific country. It includes funding from the Pacific Regional Program, several other regional and global programs and other Australian government departments.

In 2020, the Pacific Regional Program has pivoted to focus on helping our Pacific family tackle the COVID-19 virus.  

The Pacific Regional COVID-19 Development Response Plan is forthcoming and will be published on this page. Australia's development efforts are set out in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia's COVID-19 Development Response.

Australia has been working with Pacific island countries (PICs) to help them prepare for the pandemic since January 2020. We have also been adapting the aid program to provide immediate relief to help respond to the emerging health, economic, social and impacts from COVID−19. The pandemic has underscored the importance of regionalism – addressing common challenges together, harnessing shared strengths, and delivering practical benefits to all Pacific people. Pacific island governments have acted quickly and effectively to contain COVID-19, but lockdown has come at a high social and economic cost.

Australia's response to COVID-19 in the Pacific builds on our Pacific Step-up, which has strengthened our co-operation in helping to grow economies, build resilience, and enhance regional stability.

The Pacific Step-up is one of Australia's highest foreign policy priorities, as highlighted in Australia's 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper and 2016 Defence White Paper.

The Step-up was first announced at the Pacific Island Forum Leaders' Meeting in September 2016 as a 'step-change' in the way we would engage the region. On 8 November 2018, Prime Minister Morrison announced Australia would take our engagement to a new level, launching a "new chapter in relations with our Pacific family".

The Step-Up responds to and recognises the broad-ranging challenges of our region, identified by Pacific leaders and communities themselves, including: strengthening climate and disaster resilience; sustained economic growth; and support to promote healthy, educated, inclusive populations.

The Pacific Regional Program gives effect to many of the Step-Up initiatives and activities. It adds value where it is more efficient and effective to work through regional approaches and complements our Pacific bilateral programs in support of a stable, secure and prosperous Pacific.

The Pacific Regional Program supports regional approaches to address a range of regional development and economic growth challenges. Geographic isolation and small and dispersed populations can make the provision of even basic goods and services logistically difficult and expensive. The Pacific is particularly vulnerable to disasters and the impacts of climate change. Climate change is a risk multiplier that exacerbates vulnerabilities in health, water, food, infrastructure and economic systems. Little progress has been made toward the Millennium Development Goals, and the private sector is typically small with large informal economies. Violence, a lack of women in leadership roles and constrained financial opportunities limit women's economic, political and social participation.

Working with regional organisations and a range of other partners, our Pacific Regional Program is organised around the following mutually reinforcing objectives as outlined in the Pacific Regional Aid Investment Plan. The Aid Investment Plan will be replaced with the forthcoming COVID-19 Development Response Plan.

Objective 1: Economic growth

The Pacific region continues to experience significant economic challenges. While entrenched extreme poverty–defined as the proportion of the population living below US$1.25 a day–is rare in the Pacific, poverty remains a big challenge for many countries. Over 20 per cent of people in most Pacific Island Countries live in hardship and are unable to meet their basic needs.

In much of the Pacific, economic growth is not keeping pace with population growth. Distance and weak infrastructure make international trade expensive, but small domestic markets and narrow production bases mean countries rely on it for income and consumption. Inefficient and burdensome regulation, weak contract enforcement, limited access to finance, and low skilled and unhealthy workers make the business environment challenging. Economic gains can also be eroded by the impacts of climate change and disaster events. For example, in 2016 Tropical Cyclone Winston caused massive social and economic consequences, leaving 44 dead and a damage bill of more than $2.5 billion.

The Pacific Regional Program supports a range of initiatives that are building a better business-enabling environment and encouraging increased private sector activity. Our investments aim to increase global and regional trade, increase finance for business activity, deepen labour markets and create better quality employment opportunities.

Responding to Australia's new Aid for Trade Strategy the Pacific Regional Program is helping to increase Pacific trade, tourism and investment and helping the region take advantage of the opportunities presented by global trade.

Through Australia's Seasonal Worker Programme and other regional labour mobility initiatives, we will increase the quantity and capacity of workers coming to Australia, thereby increasing opportunities for remittances. We will work to reduce the cost of remittances, including through our commitments in the G20.

Responding to the Strategy for Australia's Aid Investments in Private Sector Development and the Ministerial Statement on Engaging the Private Sector in Aid and Development, we will work with corporate and multilateral partners to increase access to finance for individuals, businesses and infrastructure projects. We will help remove obstacles to increased economic activity and improve the business environment, bringing innovative approaches to enterprise development.

Australia supports PACER Plus as critical to deepening regional economic integration and promoting trade and investment in the Pacific. PACER Plus aims to improve Forum Island Countries' ability to pursue their trade interests and help them participate more fully in the international trading system.

Economic growth and private sector development in the Pacific region

We will work with Pacific countries, regional organisations and multilateral development banks to extract greater long run income streams from fisheries and agriculture by improving market access and value chain development. We will help Pacific farmers improve the quality of their produce and meet the biosecurity requirements and standards of Australia and other importing countries. We will also strengthen effective management of oceans through better maritime security, improve food and economic security including sustainable fishing operations in offshore tuna operations, and improve the management of coastal and inshore fish resources.

Fisheries assistance in the Pacific region

Australia's Pacific regional education program focuses on those aspects of Pacific education systems that benefit from a regional approach. Australia supports key education programs and partnerships designed to improve education system performance and ensure that Pacific Islander women and men, girls and boys can develop the skills they need to lead a productive life, promoting economic growth and enabling mobility of skills and qualifications.

We will work with employers to identify their needs to tailor job skill programs through regional technical and vocational and tertiary institutions. The Australia Pacific Technical College (APTC) is valued highly across the region. As our largest single investment under the Pacific Regional Program, the College produces graduates from 14 Pacific island countries with Australian-standard, labour market-relevant skills. Our support for the University of the South Pacific, which is the premier provider of tertiary education in the Pacific region, is often cited as the best example of regional cooperation in the Pacific.

Education in the Pacific region

Objective 2: Effective regional institutions

Australia supports Pacific regional organisations led by the Pacific Islands Forum to contribute to regional growth, stability and development. Our key partners include the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, the Pacific Community, the University of the South Pacific, the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

Australia also supports a number of discrete initiatives for effective governance. These assist countries across the region to strengthen their public sector capacities, transparency, accountability and adopt and adhere to regional norms and standards.

Effective regional institutions in the Pacific region

Objective 3: Healthy and resilient communities

Australia's support for health in the Pacific contributes to the security, stability and prosperity of the region – ensuring that women, men and children can lead healthy, productive lives. Australia works closely with regional and international organisations, and partner governments to support Pacific Island Countries (PICs) to improve health outcomes.

Managing health's 'double burden' of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with continued threats from communicable diseases and maternal and child mortality remains a large challenge. Containing communicable disease outbreaks and other health security threats in the Pacific is in Australia's national interest.

Health assistance in the Pacific region

Pacific island countries are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which exacerbate broader development challenges and heighten vulnerability to shocks. Climate change and oceans are closely linked, with the impacts of ocean acidification, sea level rise and more extreme weather events directly affecting fish stocks, coral and mangroves, with potential flow on effects on tourism, livelihoods, food security, economies and maritime boundaries. These will all have a significant impact in the Pacific context.

Australia provides funding and technical support across the region to help promote climate resilience and disaster preparedness, response and risk reduction. For example, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology supports the National Meteorological Services (NMSs) of 14 Pacific countries to provide meteorological, sea-level monitoring and early-warning services to Pacific communities. The Pacific Risk Resilience Program (PRRP) is strengthening the resilience of the most disaster prone PICs to natural hazards and climate change risk. We are also providing technical advice to make our Pacific programs increasingly climate-informed.

Australia works with PICs to help them achieve their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the global Paris Agreement and implement their commitments under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. We support implementation of the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific, including through the Pacific Resilience Partnership that integrates climate change and disaster risk management, and the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape, including through the Pacific Ocean Alliance.

Resilience in the Pacific region

Australia supports the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Pacific Disability Forum in their work with Pacific governments and disabled people's organisations to implement disability-inclusive policies and create opportunities for people with disabilities. Under the Pacific Sports Partnership program, people with disabilities are involved in regular cricket, table tennis and football activities that improve their quality of life and increase their participation in the community.

Objective 4: Empowering women and girls

Women's empowerment is a cross-cutting component of the Pacific Regional Program. All our investments will support women to participate fully, freely and safely in political, economic and social life. Gender equality and gender-responsive reporting will be a feature of our mutual obligation arrangements with regional and multilateral organisations. Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development (Pacific Women) is a 10-year program working across 14 Pacific Island Countries, providing practical support in partnership with governments, regional and UN organisations, and civil society groups to achieve gender equality.

The program is working towards four intended outcomes: expanding women's economic opportunities; improved representation and effective leadership; reducing violence against women; and strengthening women's agency, supported by a changing legal and social environment. Pacific Women is funded from bilateral and regional programs. Regional and multi-country activities comprise about 30 per cent of the budget and address common issues across the region and complement country activities.

Investments for promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls in the Pacific region

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