Joint media release
• Senator the Hon Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs
• The Hon Dr Craig Emerson MP, Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research
Measures announced yesterday, May 14, in the 2013-14 Budget for the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio reinforce the Gillard Government’s commitment to protect and advance Australia’s interests abroad.
The Government will invest $52.6 million over three years to construct secure, purpose-built residential accommodation in Kabul to provide a more manageable security environment for Australian staff working in Afghanistan.
The Government will also allocate $50.6 million over seven years to construct a new, more secure High Commission in Kenya.
The new High Commission building reflects Australia’s expanding trade and investment links with Kenya and East Africa.
In 2011-12, Australia’s two-way trade with Africa was valued at $11.6 billion with it growing at an average annual rate of 9.5 per cent over the last five years. Australia’s commercial relationship with Africa is focused on mining. Estimates suggest there are well over 200 Australian mining companies active in around 42 countries in Africa with current and prospective investments estimated to be approximately US$50 billion.
The Government will provide $215.9 million over seven years to upgrade and replace the government’s secure international communications network. This new international communications network will support greater information sharing across government agencies, and will ensure classified information is better protected.
The Government will also commit $14.1 million over four years to continue DFAT’s coordination role for the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
RAMSI has been one of the most successful security and development operations anywhere in the world.
This funding will allow DFAT to continue coordinating Australia’s leadership of RAMSI as Solomon Islands continues the transition towards long-term stability, security and prosperity.
The Australian Government congratulates Pakistan and its people on the successful completion of its elections on May 11, 2013.
These elections will see the first transfer of power from one democratically elected civilian government to another in the country’s 66 year history.
The Australian Government is encouraged by the high voter turnout, especially among women, despite threats of violence from some terrorist groups during the election campaign.
Since 2011, Australia has committed a total of $7 million towards the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) efforts to build the capacity of the Electoral Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The Australian Government also provided a further $200,000 to support the Commonwealth’s election observation mission.
The Australian Government commends the caretaker government in Pakistan and the ECP for their efforts in overseeing these elections, and looks forward to working with the incoming Government of Pakistan once it has been formed.
The Gillard Government will increase Australia’s Official Development Assistance to a record $5.7 billion in 2013-14.
This is an increase of approximately $500 million or 9.6 per cent on 2012-13 and brings the aid budget to 0.37 per cent of gross national income (GNI).
It will be the highest aid budget in Australian history.
It occurs at a time when aid among OECD countries has fallen by 4 per cent in real terms (over 2012).
Australia remains committed to increasing its aid budget to 0.5 per cent of GNI.
Given substantial write-downs to Budget revenues the Government will however defer this target by one year, to 2017-18.
We have seen great progress towards the Millennium Development Goals in our region, and Australia remains committed to supporting these goals.
That’s why, over the next four years, we will:
• Target malnutrition among women and children in the Asia-Pacific, providing over one million people with better access to food and improved nutrition;
• Lift universal education by supporting an additional 1.2 million children reach school; and
• Increase access to maternal and child health services for a further 900,000 women.
Compare this to the Liberals – their overseas aid budget never reached 0.3 per cent of Gross National Income, and was usually under 0.25 per cent.
Overseas aid has risen in every year of this Government – in total more than $2 billion since 2007/08 – an increase of over 60 per cent.
Australia remains concerned about recent political unrest in Libya that threatens to disrupt the country’s democratic transition.
The Australian Government is especially concerned about militia groups’ recent besieging of government ministries in Tripoli.
Australia calls on all parties in Libya to respect democratic processes and the rule of law.
The Australian Government underlines its support for the transitional government of President Magarief and encourages the Libyan authorities to continue their commitment to Libya’s democratic development.
Australia will continue to work with the international community to support reform efforts in Libya, including through the UN Security Council.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr held talks in Sydney last night with the Polish Foreign Minister, Mr Radosław Sikorski.
Senator Carr and Mr Sikorski discussed a range of international economic and security matters, including current developments in Europe and the Eurozone, the challenges posed by North Korea, Afghanistan, Syria, and Mali as well as reforms in Myanmar.
“Despite the geographic distance between Australia and Poland, our views on major international security matters are aligned, including in our condemnation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile program,” Senator Carr said.
“The program represents a threat not just to the region, but to global peace and security, and is a clear contravention of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”
The talks took place during Mr Sikorski’s official visit to Australia as a Guest of the Australian Government.
Mr Sikorski was accompanied by a business delegation. As part of the visit, a Poland-Australia Business Forum and Mining Seminar was held on 6 May in Sydney.
Mr Sikorski said both Ministers agreed that trade and investment between Australia and Poland had room for further growth.
“Poland is among the few countries in Europe and in the world which managed to sustain economic growth throughout the deep recession in the last years showing a respectable expansion since then,” Mr Sikorski said.
“Poland and Australia are the only two OECD countries that maintained economic growth during the darkest days of the global financial crisis.”
Senator Carr said he hoped the forum will pave the way for increased two way investment and commercial opportunities, particularly in energy and mining.
The timing of Mr Sikorski’s visit enabled him to celebrate Poland’s National Day with members of the Polish-Australian community, who play an active role in promoting the bilateral relationship.
Approximately 170,000 people in Australia identify as being of Polish origin.
“People-to-people links are at the very heart of our bilateral relationship,” Mr Sikorski said.
“So Senator Carr and I do hope to finalize soon the negotiations of a bilateral Work and Holiday Arrangement which aims to strengthen economic and cultural links between our two countries.”
Foreign Minister Bob Carr today announced Australia would provide $100,000 for the emergency supply of desalination units for the Marshall Islands, following continued severe droughts which have severely reduced agricultural capacity and risk endangering local lives.
“This is about saving lives and protecting the food supply across the Marshall Islands’ northern atolls,” Senator Carr said.
“It follows a specific request from the Marshall Islands Government.
“An estimated 5,000 people in the northern atolls are experiencing severe drought conditions with an additional 11,000 people affected by continued dry weather and crop loss.
The desalination units will help the Government of the Marshall Islands to provide more drinking water and reduce the impact of the drought on affected communities.”
“In some drought-affected areas, household water catchments and other storage facilities have run entirely dry, while salinity levels in underground water sources have reached unsafe levels. Frequently there is too little water for general consumption or for production of agricultural staples like breadfruit.
“All Australians would understand the hardship that comes with severe drought. This modest contribution for desalination units will go a long way to saving local lives and preserving agricultural supplies.”
Senator Carr said Australia would also work with the Marshall Islands on long-term drought preparedness planning, once the current crisis had passed.
May 14 this year marks the fifth anniversary of the detention of seven national leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran. It is an anniversary we commemorate with regret.
The Australian Government reiterates its concerns at continuing human rights abuses in Iran including those affecting the Baha’i community. These concerns were most recently voiced in March this year, in a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
In that statement, Australia expressed its concern at the use of the death penalty, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of human rights and political activists, suppression of personal freedoms and the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, including Baha’is. We also supported renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran.
We welcome some recent positive developments, including the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. We call for the immediate release of prisoners of conscience including the seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders: Afif Naeimi, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mahvash Sabet, Saeid Rezaie, and Vahid Tizfahm.
Australia calls on Iran to respect the rights to freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association.
Australia also regularly raises human rights concerns directly with the Government of Iran.