Speech to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme

08 September 2023

Talofa and thank you for having me. 

I acknowledge the Chair of this Talanoa, Minister Ampelosa Tehulu. 

Thank you to the Government and people of Samoa for hosting this event, and to the Director General Sefa for convening the meeting.

And thank you to all the Ministers, Excellencies, partners and friends here today.

In Australia, it is normal practice to pay our respects to the elders of the land on which we meet, acknowledging and celebrating their culture and their deep connection to land and water.

In that spirit, here in Samoa, I would like to acknowledge your ancestors who journeyed across this vast expanse of ocean thousands of years ago.

And I pay my respect to your elders past and present, whose custodianship of the land has ensured its resilience, despite the emerging existential threats you are facing. 

It’s lovely to be here, in beautiful Samoa. 

It’s easy to see why so many Australians choose to visit this place. 

Where the trees are greener, where the ocean is bluer, and where the people are as friendly as you’ll find anywhere on earth. 

Thank you for welcoming me and my colleague, Assistant Minister Jenny McAllister, with your characteristic hospitality today. 

We wanted to be here, to speak with you in person, as colleagues and peers and friends.

To learn from your experiences. To hear your ideas. 

And to listen. 

When island nations of the Pacific speak up, it’s on the rest of us to pay attention.

Because this ocean has always been your lifeblood, ever since your people first sailed across it. 

Following the stars, reading the tides. 

Showing a genius for navigation across thousands of miles and thousands of years. 

As Prime Minister Fiame has said: 

‘The ocean is in us and we are the ocean. It is the lifeblood of our Blue Pacific and the lungs of our planet’.

The people of the Pacific know, better than anyone, that our future depends on the ocean’s health.

We also understand that in Australia. 

It’s a knowledge that our First Nations have held for more than 60,000 years. 

And like our neighbours, we also rely on this ocean for our health and prosperity and our sense of culture.

Our government has been in office for over a year now. 

Under our Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, we have set ourselves some very clear goals for working with our friends and allies.  

One was to increase Australia’s engagement in international forums, particularly on climate and the environment. 

The other was to renew our relationships in the Pacific.

These goals speak for themselves.

And crucially, they work together. 

We are fighting for stronger international agreements, because we believe in these treaties and know they can be good for our people. 

But we are also being more active in these negotiations, so we can amplify the voices of our region.

One of the first things our government did last year was submit more ambitious climate targets to the United Nations – net zero by 2050. 

And one of the first things I did as Minister was travel to Portugal, for the UN Ocean conference last year.

Because we know our economy needs to make the transition to net zero, but we also recognise that transition has to be nature positive.

I met representatives from many of your countries there, who told me about your concerns and priorities.

On climate change. 

On ocean management and protection. 

On getting plastics out of the Pacific.

I heard these messages. I took them home with me.

And I’ve shared them in international forums. 

This was the case in Montreal last year, where we campaigned together for an international agreement on biodiversity.

There were some tense moments there, at the end of negotiations. 

But we got the final agreement, and it was a genuine step forward for our region and our planet.

For the first time, as a global community, agreeing to actively protect thirty percent of our land and sea by 2030. 

We all signed on to that mission. 

And Australia is working hard to fulfil that commitment at home, by strengthening our national marine park system. 

I recently added an area the size of Germany to the highly protected waters around Macquarie Island, bringing Australia’s protected marine estate to 48% of our Exclusive Economic Zone. 

And we are also growing our Indigenous Protected Area program, where Indigenous Rangers are employed to look after their traditional land and sea country. 

Another important forum was the new UN biodiversity treaty for the high seas. 

This was also secured this year, after decades of preparation and advocacy. 

The high seas cover sixty percent of our oceans. 

They don’t belong to any single country. 

But they are home to most of the world’s marine life. 

The high seas are where fish and whales migrate. It’s also where pollution travels. 

In coming weeks, when it opens in New York, Australians will be one of the first countries to sign the treaty. 

And when it comes into force, we want to keep working with you, to potentially support new high seas marine protected areas in our region. 

The other process we have heard spoken about today is the fight for an ambitious global treaty on plastic pollution. 

You see the terrible impact plastics are having on this region. 

When it washes up on our shores.

When it enters the stomach of our animals.

When it threatens the health of our fishing industry. 

I want to see a plastic pollution free Pacific in our lifetimes. 

Recently I travelled to Paris, to push this case, together with a number of others here today. 

Australia is a proud member of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution. 

And Pacific voices have been vocal in these negotiations. 

We want a treaty that covers the full lifecycle of plastics.

That promotes a safe and circular economy. 

That introduces sustainable design standards. 

That removes harmful chemicals. 

And that includes a consistent set of global rules to drive national action.  

We also want to assist your efforts, locally and across the region. 

Which is why we are supporting the Pacific Ocean Litter Project. 

A project to help reduce single use plastics through national policies and local action.

In government, but also helping businesses and communities replace these plastics with more sustainable alternatives.

No doubt there will be lessons from the project that can be shared around the world. 

Because this has to be a global effort. 

Nowhere is that more obvious than with our oceans. 

Water ebbs and flows. It moves around with the tides and the waves. 

And plastic that’s dropped into a river in Asia can end up killing a turtle off the coast of Fiji.

And that’s one of the reasons Australia is convening the Global Nature Positive Summit in Sydney next October.

We want to bring the best environmental minds to Australia, from every continent on earth. 

Sharing their expertise and experience. Spreading new ideas. 

And showing how we can work together to protect this planet for our kids and grandkids. 

I warmly welcome you to Sydney next year – and I would value your advice on how we can make sure this summit speak to your priorities. 

We’re all on a journey here.

Australia is committed to supporting that journey in the Pacific, while also doing the necessary work at home. 

Transitioning our economy, from fossil fuels to renewable energy, with a target of 82% renewables by 2030. 

Writing stronger environmental laws, to better protect our land and sea. 

Defending the Great Barrier Reef, by blocking a coal mine next to the marine park and by protecting our coral ecosystems. 

Establishing a new Environment Protection Agency. 

Reaching our thirty by thirty targets.

Developing a national sustainable ocean’s plan. 

And stopping new extinctions on our continent. 

I’ve just come from Australia’s Threatened Species Day in Australia, where we reaffirmed our commitment to protecting native species and tackling invasives. 

So thank you for having me today.

Thank you for welcoming me to your wonderful country. 

And I hope to see you in Sydney next year.