Forum of Small States: 20th Anniversary
1 October 2012
Statement by H.E. Ambassador Gary Quinlan
of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you to Singapore for its initiative in 1992 to create the FOSS and in its support for it since. Thank you to Prime Minister Thinley and our Ministerial panellists.
Australia is participating today not as a FOSS member, of course, but as a partner. So my comments will reflect the perspective of our partnership.
Australia may be a big country geographically. And we may be a medium-sized country in other ways. But we have a distinct position globally that has characterised our approach to the UN, to other organisations, to development more broadly – an approach that is serious about the interests of small states.
And of smaller developing states in particular.
The fact is that 22 of our 24 closest neighbours are developing countries, most small, and most small island developing states. So for Australia, the development and resilience of small states genuinely matters to us.
And the stronger the voices of smaller states the better. Amplifying the voices of smaller countries keeps bigger countries honest. And it keeps the multilateral system – which should be indispensable for all of us - legitimate and viable.
This is why Australia has made it our business to bring the voice of smaller states to our own multilateral efforts.
Thus, we have supported the pressure for smaller countries to have the necessary voice and representation in global financial bodies.
And thus, we are committed to ensuring that development is a core G20 priority – one that is central to the broader objective of achieving strong, sustainable economic growth. Australia has been one of the leading advocates within the G20 for a development focus (and in particular addressing the needs of LDCs). We will use our G20 chairmanship in 2014 to pursue this agenda. The work of the 3G group has been helpful and the principle of “variable geometry” is something we subscribe to.
We bring the same messages to APEC – the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. And to the East Asia Summit.
And, of course, to the WTO where we have championed the agenda of agricultural producers through our chairmanship of the Cairns Group. And have sought trade deals through the Doha process which advance the growth prospects of developing countries.
We are also committed, as Chair-in-office of the Commonwealth – an association of 54 States (mostly small states or SIDS, but representing one third of the global population) - to advancing the interests of small states. We specifically included an additional group of non-Commonwealth small developing states at last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth (October) in order to ensure that their interests were also taken into account in the Commonwealth’s own deliberations – the results of which were themselves then taken by us to the G20 Leaders annual discussions shortly after.
On development, Australia is redoubling its efforts to help reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015; this effort has a direct bearing on the ability of small, and particularly small vulnerable states, to achieve their development targets.
Australia has tripled its aid over the past decade and will increase it again by a further 50% by 2015 – when we will be the sixth largest donor by volume.
We are already the largest donor to small island developing states.
In total, Australia will contribute $20 billion over the next four years to ensure that collectively we can meet the MDGs.
Over 20% of this will be spent on education, making Australia one of the largest donors in the sector. Education is the critical enabler for development. It provides the opportunity for people to lift themselves out of poverty, and is central to the achievement of all MDGs.
Australia is also committed to improving the resilience of communities and will contribute over $4.5 billion over the next four years for: humanitarian and disaster risk reduction to help protect the most vulnerable and provide life-saving assistance to 30 million people at times of crises; and food security, social protection and agricultural research and development which will improve agricultural productivity, rural incomes, jobs and access to financial services.
Australia’s financial commitment to achieving the MDGs is matched by our Prime Minister’s personal commitment to achieving the MDGs.
Prime Minister Gillard now co-chairs, at the invitation of the Secretary General, the MDG Advocacy Group with the President of Rwanda. The Group seeks to galvanise international action to achieve the MDGs.
The Prime Minister is one of only eight champions of the Secretary General’s Education First Initiative launched last week, which aims to provide all children with a quality education.
Finally, on climate change - Australia is acutely aware of the impact that climate change can have on economic growth and hard won development gains - and that it is the smallest and most vulnerable countries that are most at risk and which feel the impacts earliest and hardest.
As the Foreign Minister of Nauru – and current Chair of AOSIS – said this morning, for many countries in our own Asia-Pacific region, climate change is an existential threat. It not only threatens economic growth, and exacerbates food and water security challenges. It also directly threatens the very physical existence of low-lying islands.
Australia therefore supports the efforts of small island states to have the UN consider climate change as a security issue, including in the UN Security Council. Indeed Australia will be a leading advocate in the Security Council, if elected, of recognising and acting upon the security implications of climate change.
Australia is also already meeting its three-year $600 million fast start climate change financing commitment, to build resilience to climate change in some of the most vulnerable communities.
A final point – about Prime Minister Thinley’s comments today on Gross National Happiness. Whether we use the term happiness, or well-being, or speak of a human development index, the fact is that an alternative measurement to simple GDP is essential. My own country has been developing such indices for a long time. We have now added sustainability indicators to these measures, which have become instrumental in the way we approach our development.
Australia has been a long time champion of small states, from our negotiating position during the UN Charter negotiations in 1945, where we advocated for equal rights for all states, to our current approach across the broad multilateral agenda.
It is the way we work, it is what we stand for.
We recommit to continuing to work closely with FOSS member states in the future.