Today I welcome representatives from 15 Pacific Island nations to Sydney for a Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting on disaster management.

Australia has deep ties with the Pacific region and we support our neighbouring nations through our focus on economic development assistance; the Seasonal Worker Programme; and our emergency response to natural disasters such as Cyclone Pam. Reducing risks and mitigating the effects of disasters is critically important for this region.

We also have strong people-to-people links with our Pacific neighbours. There are currently 280 Australian students studying in Pacific countries under the New Colombo Plan, and over 1,000 Pacific Islanders offered study opportunities in Australia under the Australia Awards program.

Over the next two days, Foreign Ministers from Pacific Island countries will discuss how we can strengthen our coordination and improve how we prepare for and manage natural disasters in this region. We will focus on practical ways to achieve this, including harnessing the private sector and improving the role of women in responding to natural disasters.

The meeting will also consider how we can enhance our international engagement and work together to strengthen the voice of the Pacific in international affairs.

I look forward to working closely with my colleagues and friends from the Pacific to further our shared goal of a stronger, safer and more prosperous region.

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