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Morrison announces new $2 billion Pacific fund, charities remain critical

Charities have said the Pacific push ‘needs more foreign aid’ as Morrison announces a new $2 billion Pacific fund

A $2 billion fund will be created for infrastructure investment in the Pacific as Prime Minister Scott Morrison puts Australia’s island nation neighbours at the centre of foreign policy.

Defence links will also be beefed up, with more training of Pacific militaries and regular Navy deployments.

But despite the fact that more foreign aid will go to Pacific nations under Scott Morrison, charities say the decimated aid budget still needs to be lifted from its lowest level ever.

Save the Children director, Mat Tinkler, said Australia’s aid budget needs to be higher to make a real difference.

“Many Pacific nations are still facing enormous need, for example, almost half of all children in Papua New Guinea have stunted growth from chronic malnutrition,” Tinkler said.

Tinkler welcomed Morrison’s plan to prioritise the Pacific when it comes to foreign aid “but our decimated aid budget can only stretch so far”.

In a speech in Townsville on Thursday, the Prime Minister will outline how Australia will make sure it is the first choice for Pacific nations on security, culture and the economy.

“My government is returning the Pacific to where it should be – front and centre of Australia’s strategic outlook, foreign policy and personal connections, including at the highest levels of government,” Morrison will say.

China has increasingly moved into the region with loans for infrastructure but Morrison wants Australia to be the first port of call for Pacific nations.

He’s announcing the creation of an Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific to develop energy, communications and transport projects.

“This $2 billion infrastructure initiative will significantly boost Australia’s support for infrastructure development in Pacific countries and Timor Leste,” he said.

“It will use grant funding combined with long term loans to support high priority infrastructure development.”

A further $1 billion will go to Efic, Australia’s export financing agency, to support Australian businesses active in the Pacific.

Australian navy boats will be deployed to the Pacific for training and exercises using the new Guardian patrol boats Australia is giving to island nations.

Defence, police and border security chiefs will also be invited to annual meetings.

Morrison will also speak to commercial TV networks about getting more Australian TV programming and sport available in Pacific countries.

“Our Pacific family switching on to the same stories, news dramas and sports we are watching at home,” he said.

Australia’s diplomatic network is already larger than any other country in the Pacific but it will be expanded with posts in Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.

“This will mean Australia is represented in every member country of the Pacific Islands Forum,” Morrison said.

A new sports pathway program will also provide stronger sporting links between the Pacific, which has a population of more than 11 million, most of them in Papua New Guinea.

Morrison will host a barbecue for Pacific leaders at the APEC conference in Port Moresby next weekend.

“It’s time to open a new chapter in relations with our Pacific family,” Morrison said.

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