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The Morrison government needs to do a better job selling its efforts on tackling climate change in the Pacific to ward off criticism Australia is a laggard on action, one of the Prime Minister's key confidantes has admitted.
International Development and Pacific Minister Alex Hawke told an Australian Institute of International Affairs conference that government's measures to help vulnerable Pacific nations mitigate the impact of global warming were often undervalued.
“I accept fully – I think it is – the fault of the Australian government that we have not done enough to promote what Australia is doing on climate change in the Pacific,” he said.
“I think you will see more from this government, speaking directly to audiences like this and the Australian public about what it is we actually do down the track.”
Hawke accompanied Scott Morrison on the PM's trip to Fiji last week for meeting with that country's leader Frank Bainimarama, who has emerged as one the chief regional critics of Australia's emissions reduction policies and economic dependence on coal.
Regional anger over Australia's stance on climate change erupted at the Pacific Islands Forum in August, where Pacific leaders framed it as an existential threat to their survival.
The dispute threatens to undermine Morrison's Pacific Step Up programme, where he is seeking deeper ties with the Pacific amid a contest for influence with China.
Hawke told the AIIA conference "there won't be walls built" around island nations to keep rising sea levels at bay but the $2 billion (US$1.3 billion) infrastructure financing facility available to Pacific nations incorporated a "climate window" for mitigation, adaptation and resilience projects, as well as renewable energy.
A further $500 million (US$338 million) is available for spending on climate projects.
“Sometimes Australia comes under criticism for not doing enough. That we're not doing enough on climate change," he said.
“Australia is doing more than any other country. I defy anyone here to think of another country that does more on climate change in the Pacific.
“We're spending more than any other government has in Australian history to make sure we achieve this.”
Hawke also brushed off criticism that the government had not injected more money into the United Nations' green climate fund, saying that money was better spent in bilateral arrangements.
“We know through our agencies we can deliver a better outcome for Pacific partners directly. We can do more with that money on the ground in a faster way,” he said.
As foreshadowed, opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong used her speech to the conference to attack Morrison for his "reckless" handling of foreign policy, particularly the relationship with China, for short-term political gain.
Following her speech, Senator Wong said it would be untrue, and a disservice to the public, to suggest that Labor risked being defined as the pro-China party, and the Coalition the anti-China party.
“What the government is doing is lurching from one press conference to another around a series of unplanned domestic political tactics when it comes to the China relationship in foreign policy,” she said.
Senator Wong said Morrison's recent speech to the Lowy Institute where he warned against “negative globalism” highlighted his inconsistent handling of foreign affairs.
“Scott Morrison bowls up, wants – for domestic political purposes – to rail against globalism but he’s free trade,” she said.
“He’s pro-free trade. Well you can’t be pro free-trade and rail against globalism,” said Senator Wong.
SOURCE: FINANCIAL REVIEW/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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