Partnering with our Pacific family to build COVID-19 resilience
COVID-19 continues to have a profound impact on Australia and our Pacific neighbours. Managing the health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19 remains a central challenge for our region. We are working closely with our Pacific family as the region learns to live with, and charts its recovery from, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australia’s COVID-19 response in the Pacific builds on years of cooperation in health, education, security, and disaster response. Since January 2020, Australia has worked with Pacific Island countries to help them prepare for and respond to the pandemic. We have adapted the aid program to provide immediate relief to help Pacific partners respond to the emerging health, economic, social and impacts of COVID−19. We have continued to provide COVID-19 testing kits, personal protective equipment (PPE), critical care equipment and other medical supplies to our region, including AUSMAT specialists to Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Australia has also committed to procure and deliver COVID-19 vaccines to our partners to the Pacific, Timor-Leste, and Southeast Asia, and has now shared more than 40 million doses across the region. We are continuing to deliver on this commitment, including through the recent announcement by the Foreign Minister that Australia will provide a further 200,000 paediatric doses to the Solomon Islands. We have committed AUD215 million to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation COVAX Facility Advance Market Commitment, which supports equitable global access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to improve vaccine access for Pacific and Southeast Asian countries. Australia is also working with our Quad partners to help ensure COVID-19 vaccines can be delivered where they are most needed. Regular updates on Australian support can be found on the Indo‑Pacific Centre for Health Security website.
Over two years, Australia successfully provided AUD300 million across nine Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste to help address the economic and social costs of the pandemic. The Package included AUD105 million of budget support measures to support the Government of Fiji’s priorities and continuance of vital services, including social protection programs for the most vulnerable, including women and girls. Additionally, AUD97 million was allocated towards Papua New Guinea to contribute to essential health and education services, provision of accessible primary health care. In the education sector it is helping to finance the cost of a PNG Government Tuition Fee Subsidy for primary school children.
Essential services and humanitarian corridor
The Australian Government has continued to maintain an essential services and humanitarian corridor (the Corridor) to the Pacific and Timor-Leste, to uphold critical connectivity in the region. This allows for the movement of essential humanitarian and medical supplies from and through Australia to the Pacific and Timor-Leste. It has also helped people to return home safely.
Through the Corridor, Australia is supporting our Pacific family’s COVID-19 testing and response capacity by quickly mobilising PPE and COVID-19 testing supplies for the region. In June 2022, we sent crucial testing supplies to Nauru to support its outbreak response. We also provided critical testing and PPE supplies to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Samoa.
Since the establishment of the Corridor in March 2020, Australia has:
- Provided over 235 tonnes of humanitarian and medical supplies, including PPE, and vaccine and testing consumables to Pacific Island countries
- Sent almost 300,000 GeneXpert PCR testing cartridges and over 450,000 rapid antigen tests to the Pacific, allowing our neighbours to detect and prevent the spread of COVID-19
- Facilitated over 500 flights and vessels to deliver essential goods and services, and ensure the safe movement of Australian, Pacific Island, and Timorese nationals around the region
- Delivered over 2.8 million vaccine doses.
Support for the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme
Pacific labour mobility is central to Australia’s strategic engagement in the Pacific. It delivers jobs for Pacific and Timor-Leste workers, enabling them to develop skills, earn income and support their families and communities back home. Pacific and Timor-Leste workers help to fill labour gaps in regional and rural Australia by offering employers access to reliable, productive workers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pacific and Timor-Leste workers were the lifeblood of many businesses, meeting critical worker shortages in regional and rural Australia. Throughout the pandemic, remittances provided a vital lifeline to families and communities in Pacific countries and Timor-Leste.
The newly consolidated Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme (which brings together two existing schemes, the Seasonal Worker Programme and the Pacific Labour Scheme) provides two options for Australian employers looking to recruit workers, when no suitable Australians are available:
- short term/seasonal deployments (or placements) of up to nine months or
- longer term full-time deployments (or placements) for one to four years.
The Australian government is committed to reforming and expanding the PALM scheme to support the economic recovery of Pacific nations and Timor-Leste from the impacts of COVID-19.
Assisting Pacific Islanders to return home
Australia’s Pacific Flights Program assures connectivity across the Pacific and Timor-Leste to enable regular, reliable, and scheduled flights across our region. Through this program, Australia has facilitated over 360 flights across the region, which has enabled the movement of people, and the transport of essential supplies into the region.
A well-connected Pacific with safe, accessible, and reliable air transport underpins security and economic recovery. Australia continues to work in partnership with Pacific Island countries to ensure safe and reliable air connectivity.