Remarks to the Pacific Emerging Leaders Breakfast - Canberra - 29/11/2023

29 November 2023



I acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, and pay respect to elders past, present and emerging.

I acknowledge parliamentary colleagues here today.

I acknowledge all dignitaries mentioned, my ministerial colleagues, and colleagues across the Parliament.

I acknowledge the Micah leadership team, including Reverend Tim Costello.

And I welcome all of the participants in this Summit.

All of you will know that last month year Australia held a referendum to establish a First Nations Voice to Parliament.

While a majority of Australians did not agree to enshrine the Voice in our constitution, debate made clear that the gap in equality and opportunity, between First Nations and other Australians, must be closed.

It’s true that the result has been hard for many people.

But now is a time for healing.

Now is the time to come together as a country, to chart a new course forward on reconciliation and closing the gap.

The Prime Minister has made it very clear, our Government will listen to and be guided by First Nations communities on what these next steps will look like.

Because this is not the end of the road.

Our land is home to the oldest continuing cultures on earth – the connections between the First Peoples and the peoples of the Blue Pacific stretch back through time.

It resonates here.

Just as these connections form a part of our shared history, they are also part of our shared future – as a peaceful, stable and prosperous Pacific.

I know and I can see how much people in this room understand this and value this.

Which is why we are continuing to embed First Nations perspectives and experiences into our engagement with the world.

The Ambassador for First Nations People, Mr Justin Mohamed, has been listening to First Nations communities on how they can make the most of the opportunities of our international partnerships.

From regional collaboration in health and the environment, to indigenous rights, exports and intellectual property.

And of course, our new International Development Policy, which many in this room have made a contribution to.

It seeks to embed First Nations perspectives in our development efforts.

In that new development policy, we commit to stronger action on climate change – the greatest threat to the livelihoods, wellbeing and security of the peoples of the Pacific.

Our commitment to addressing the climate crisis is at the heart of the Australian Government’s approach to the Pacific.

We start that commitment at home, with more ambitious emissions reduction and renewable energy targets. And we have been upfront in acknowledging that this scale of transformation means it can’t be achieved overnight.

At that same time, we are supporting the Pacific’s energy transition by investing in more renewable energy generation.

Through our Government’s increases to development, we are delivering more climate finance and climate-resilient infrastructure directly to the countries of the Pacific, and providing more support for climate adaptation and coastal resilience.

Many countries in the Pacific are on the front line of rising sea levels, grappling with how to safeguard their sovereignty, cultural identity and livelihoods.

It was this reality that prompted Tuvalu to come to Australia with a request to enhance our partnership, and provide more cooperation in climate adaptation and security, and for mobility with dignity.

I remember when Prime Minister Natano and I were speaking, and I said “how will you explain this to people?”

He said “mobility with dignity” – it’s a very Pacific way of talking about it.

The Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union that Prime Ministers Albanese and Natano announced earlier this month represents the most important step any Australian government has taken with a Pacific country since the independence of Papua New Guinea in 1975.

It builds on the work the Albanese Government has been doing to deepen the social, cultural and economic connections between Australia and the Pacific.

Because when we say we are part of the Pacific family, this is what we mean.

This includes our new Pacific Engagement Visa – a dedicated permanent migration intake for the countries of the Pacific to Australia for the first time.

But the Falepili Union is unique to Australia and Tuvalu - it reflects Tuvalu's special circumstances and builds on our longstanding, close relationship.

I wish to acknowledge the courage and leadership shown by the Government of Tuvalu and the Tuvalu eminent persons group for their work on this.

This Union gives form to the idea that binds us:

We share an ocean, and we share a future.

And as emerging leaders, you all have a role to play in shaping that future.

And because this summit is about leadership, I want to something about what leadership means.

We live in a time of growing conflict – indeed, the world is experiencing more violence now than at any time since the end of World War Two.

Across the world, one in six people have been exposed to conflict this year.

There are more people displaced, and more people hungry.

The climate is changing faster than our combined efforts to stop it.

Some leaders try to use these circumstances to divide communities, to gain attention and score political points.

But you know what the first responsibility of leaders is – it’s to bring people together, because you can’t lead if you don’t bring people with you.

The hard reality is that the problems we face, can only be faced together.

I’ll give you an example.

Many people in Australia are deeply distressed by the conflict in the Middle East.

Including members of our Jewish community who lost loved ones in the abhorrent terrorist attacks by Hamas.

Members of our Palestinian community who have lost loved ones in the conflict that has followed.

And many more who feel deeply about this issue.

As Australians who treasure our peaceful community and aspire to ever greater unity as a nation, we mourn every innocent life lost.

So, those who seek to exploit these feelings for their own advantage, I hope remember that is not what leadership is about.

People come to Australia because they want to live in a country that is peaceful, tolerant and respectful.

We must all work together in this, and in all conflict, to ensure that the distress in our community does not turn into hate and anger.

We must maintain respect for each other, for each other’s humanity.

There is no place for prejudice in our community.

Jewish Australians are fearful – they have been threatened in their places of worship and in their communities. We continue to stand against antisemitism in all of its forms.

It is also the case that Arab and Muslim Australians including women wearing hijabs have been targeted and threatened in public spaces – there is no place for Islamophobia.

Everyone must be able to worship, and to practice their faith, without fear, intimidation or interference.

You are emerging leaders and you are all here because you care about your communities, your countries, your culture, about this planet.

You want to play your part of making your communities stronger.

Today and in the future, all of us, all of our communities will face challenges.

Economic uncertainty, social conflict, climate change.

Today’s emerging leaders will have choices in these challenges.

You can choose not to engage with those challenges, to leave division where it is.

But the best choice you can make is to bring your community with you.

When you make these choices, I urge you to be guided by your faith and remember your purpose.

To always hold in the front of your minds and deep in your hearts the reasons you have sought to be leaders among your people.

Thank you.


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Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.