9 July 2024

Address to the Pacific Banking Forum, Brisbane


Bank on Australia in the Pacific

Thanks to Virginia for the introduction –

And thanks for the chance to speak today near the banks of the mighty Maiwar, on the lands of the Jagera and the Turrbal people.

We pay our respects to elders, customs and traditions.

This is a big occasion for Australia.

We couldn’t be more grateful to all the Pacific Nations’ leaders gathered here today, what an absolute honour it is to be here with you today and to provide some perspectives.

This is an event that the Prime Minister of Australia and the President of the United States both personally asked for in October last year.

We’re proud to see it has become a reality –

And I’m honoured to be asked to give this keynote address.

The message we are sending today to the entire Pacific family is clear –

You can bank on us.

And we hope that’s the message that’s received over the course of the forum.

The calibre of those gathered in this room is testament to the magnitude of the occasion.

I’d like to make special mention to a few of the distinguished guests here today.

His Excellency the Honourable David Adeang, President of Nauru.

The Honourable Mark Brown, Prime Minister of Cook Islands.

Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Baron Waqa.

And Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Central Bank Governors, and senior officials from all over the Pacific.

I also want to acknowledge our Forum co‑hosts, the United States, and welcome the delegation with us in the room, led by Under Secretary Brian Nelson.

And thank Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones for his excellent keynote address yesterday, and for co‑hosting last night’s dinner, where you heard from Reserve Bank Governor Michele Bullock.

Thank you all for making the journey to my home state and the wonderful city of Brisbane.

As you know, South East Queensland is home to so many families from the Pacific Islands.

I’m privileged to represent them.

In fact, my electorate is home to one of the biggest communities of people with Pasifika heritage in Australia.

I spend a lot of time with Pacific Island brothers and sisters living in our community – people from Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Cook Islands and other Pacific countries.

And I’ve been struck by their love of family and their dedication to community.

By their appetite for hard work –

Their strong faith –

Their passion for sport and especially rugby league –

And the close connections they have back to the countries of their birth.

I pay tribute to them and to the vibrant Pacific Islander communities all over Queensland, and Australia.

More than 185,000 people who were born in the Pacific now live here.

And around a third of this Pacific diaspora call Queensland home.

Australia’s relationship with the Pacific is a special one.

Not just because we share the biggest ocean in the world.

But the values we share –

The history we share –

The profound sense of kinship we share –

And the prosperous future we are all working towards sharing in the years ahead.

As Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in her State of the Nation Address in Canberra at the end of last month –

The Albanese government is doing the hard work to make Australia the partner of choice for you all.

We’re restoring trust –

And we’re rebuilding relationships in the Pacific.

In the first 12 months after we came to Office, Albanese government ministers visited every Pacific Islands Forum member –

To renew our Pacific partnerships –

Listen to Pacific priorities –

And deliver on our collective interests.

Within 18 months of taking office, we took Australia’s biggest step with a Pacific country since the independence of Papua New Guinea, through our Falepili Union with Tuvalu.

And I’d like to acknowledge again the tireless work of Penny Wong and also my friend Pat Conroy, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, here.

The Prime Minister himself has also been deeply involved –

Attending the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum in November last year in Cook Islands –

Where he signed the Falepili Union and announced a series of investments to build climate resilience –

And even walking the Kokoda Trail in April this year, side‑by‑side with Papua New Guinean Prime Minister, James Marape.

We’ve been making record investments in the Pacific and we are the region’s largest development partner.

Around $1.9 billion in official development assistance to the Pacific last financial year –

Which will rise to $2 billion in this one.

Whether it’s creating more opportunities for Pacific and Timorese nationals to live, work and study in Australia through our new Pacific Engagement Visa program –

Improving the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme –

Helping our partners in the region restore critical services in the wake of cyber‑attacks –

Or stepping up to respond to natural disasters –

These are all ways we restore and rebuild our relationships.

We know that climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well‑being of the Pacific.

And we’re proud to be part of the solution, with ambitious targets to reduce emissions and increase renewables.

As well as a $100 million investment in the Pacific Resilience Facility last year, the first Pacific‑led, Pacific‑owned and Pacific‑managed community resilience financing facility.

Again, I’d like to acknowledge Penny and Pat’s hard work here, alongside the Minister and Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen and Jenny McAllister.

We’ve also enhanced our maritime security cooperation thanks to work led by the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles –

And signed a status of forces agreement with Fiji, and landmark bilateral security agreements with Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

Today we are here today to talk about banking.

There couldn’t be a more important time.

The challenges in front of us are clear, and confronting.

We know the Pacific has seen the fastest withdrawal of correspondent banking services of any region in the world.

We know these vital services help communities to access foreign currencies and international payment systems.

And we also know that without them, large parts of the Pacific risk being cut off from the global financial system.

At stake here is the ability of the Pacific to engage with the world.

To attract investment –

To grow your economies –

And for loved ones and family members to receive money from family and friends overseas.

We’re all here today because we refuse to let the decline in banking services in the Pacific continue.

Ensuring all Pacific countries have access to safe, secure and stable banking is one of Australia’s highest priorities in the region.

You can bank on Australia to work with you to keep the Pacific connected to the global financial system.

I know you unpacked the problem in detail in yesterday’s discussions –

Including in Stephen Jones’ speech, which talked about what’s driving the withdrawal of banking services –

Reserve Bank Governor Michele Bullock’s encouraging words at last night’s dinner about the ‘green shoots’ she’s seeing –

And United States Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen’s comments about how the US Treasury should do ‘all it can’ to help here.

Today, I want to focus on the solutions.

Steps we are already taking, and new measures I’m announcing, to strengthen our response.

The key to any lasting solution to the decline of services is rebuilding robust financial markets infrastructure across all Pacific nations.

And so that’s what we’re targeting.

This is a coordinated effort involving all of you –

Including the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, government agencies from all Pacific nations, regulators, the private sector and the United States.

Our goals here are clear:

We want to arrest and reverse the decline in services –

Alleviate the immediate pressure on local financial systems –

And attract new private capital into Pacific markets.

Our strategy is to build more resilient banking infrastructure, bolster its integrity and boost private sector investment.

And our message here today is you can bank on Australia to stand with you and face this pressing challenge in the Pacific.

We’ve already made substantial progress via the multi‑year Pacific Partnership.

Working with New Zealand and the International Finance Corporation –

We’ve helped roll out national payments systems infrastructure across Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

This infrastructure means these countries now have access to electronic payment systems which allow commercial banks to connect with central banks and each other to make electronic transfers –

And Central Securities Depositories to settle and clear government bonds.

I’d like to make special mention here of the work of New Zealand’s Finance Minister Nicola Willis, and her predecessor.

When we met earlier this year, we discussed in detail this very forum, and our shared future in the Pacific.

Australia is also investing in:

Developing the digital economies of our regional neighbours to meet the needs of islanders engaged in critical sectors like agriculture, education, and energy –

Facilitating cheaper remittance transfers to the Pacific –

And a safe and secure way to make digital payments that mean lower costs and faster services for governments, businesses and bank customers.

We’ve provided support to Samoa to pass their National Digital ID Bill –

And Australia’s financial crime watchdog AUSTRAC has also been working to protect and preserve the security and trustworthiness of financial systems in the region –

By helping countries across the Pacific with anti‑money laundering, uplifting regulatory standards and installing better financial crime monitoring technology.

Today I’m pleased to announce we are investing an extra $6.3 million to help build better banking infrastructure in the Pacific.

This funding is about working with you all to ensure our part of the world is stable and prosperous.

Preventing the loss of banking services in the Pacific is vital to the safety, security and economic development of our region.

We’re providing new funding to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to develop digital identity infrastructure and improve compliance with regulations.

And funding our Attorney‑General’s Department to help build capacity in Pacific countries, to strengthen protections from financial crime and build trust in the system.

The private sector has a big role to play here too.

Australian banks like Westpac and ANZ provide vital banking services to the region, and have been in the Pacific for more than a century.

We know how critical these services are for local communities –

Which is why we have been actively talking to all the major Australian banks, to let them know how important a continued Australian banking presence in the region is to the government.

We value the contribution they make to the creation of strong and resilient banking sectors in Pacific countries –

And a peaceful, stable and prosperous region.

We welcomed Westpac’s decision last year to maintain its presence in Fiji and Papua New Guinea –

And we’re working with Nauru to ensure ongoing banking services in the country as Bendigo Bank exits.

ANZ is the Australian bank with the most branches in the Pacific, and it was good to hear CEO Shayne Elliott’s remarks yesterday reinforcing how important this is to their banking network.

Our vision is for safe, secure and stable access to banking services in the Pacific.

But this commitment to a continued Australian banking presence is only part of what is required to deliver this vision.

Making it happen requires us all to work together.

For international financial institutions to bring their skills in coordination and collaboration –

For regional governments to reiterate their ongoing commitment to implement global standards –

For regulators to contribute to an uplift in those standards –

And for the private sector to bring their enthusiasm and expertise to expand and improve service delivery.

That’s what this inaugural Pacific Banking Forum does and why it has come at such an important time.

We know there’s more to do.

I’ll be heading to Suva later this year to attend the Pacific Islands Forum Economic Ministers Meeting.

This is the pre‑eminent gathering of economic ministers in the Pacific, where we’ll discuss our shared economic challenges, and how we can grow our economies to deliver for our communities.

I’ll take the opportunity to update all the economic ministers on the progress we’ve made since today’s forum to reverse the decline in banking services.

We are one Pacific family –

And Australia takes its responsibilities as a member of that family seriously.

We say to you all today:

You can bank on Australia to stand with you –

Face these pressing challenges together –

And build a prosperous future together in the years ahead –

For every country on the shores of the ocean we share.