I’m absolutely delighted to be back in the Philippines. This is my third visit since becoming Foreign Minister 2 years ago and I’m pleased that I have been able to attend the Foreign Ministers’ component of the APEC meeting in anticipation of the Leaders’ component that will commence tomorrow.
We have had a very positive discussion in the APEC meeting at aligning Australia’s focus on economic diplomacy with the Philippines 2015 APEC agenda, focusing on issues such as innovation, the education and training needs of the region, economic empowerment of women, energy security, urbanisation and infrastructure, natural disaster resilience and the like.
I am delighted by the hospitality that we’ve received from Foreign Secretary Del Rosario and Secretary Domingo. I’m also particularly delighted to be joined today by Secretaries Soliman and Caguiao who are joining me for this announcement today. In fact, Dinky, the last time you and I saw each other, we were standing at the airfield in Tacloban in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan when I came to the Philippines to provide assistance and assurance that the Philippines was not alone at this time.
Today, I am announcing a partnership between the Australian Government and the Department of Justice and the Department of Social Welfare and Development to launch and implement a program designed to protect Filipino children from online sexual abuse and exploitation. This is an abhorrent crime. It is a serious social issue and it’s not only confined to the Philippines. All countries are affected by this including Australia. The existence of this crime has intensified by virtue of new technologies and social media. Tragically and sadly, it is also compounded by the fact that parents who live in poverty often use their vulnerable children as a means of attaining funding for basic resources and needs.
The Australian Government believes that we must act, and in partnership with the Philippine government and the Asia Foundation, we are providing $2 million over three years for programs, specifically to ensure that we can protect children from this kind of criminal activity. We’ll be working with Philippine government and the Asia Foundation, and specifically our funding will be used to assist in the passage of legislation to set up a registry of sex offenders, to establish a national notification system, to ensure that the stakeholders within the court system have the skills, have the training to deal with these exceedingly sensitive issues with very vulnerable young children, ensuring that we have rules in place that can deal with the appropriate treatment of children in the court system and in the judiciary process.
We want to be advocate for changes to the wiretapping laws so that there can be electronic surveillance of potential offenders. We want to support the setting up of child protection teams with police, with prosecutors, with social services, officials and representatives. We want to support education, training, information across the sector. We also want to focus on particular hotspots of abuse to ensure that we can protect children in every way possible.
So this Child Protection Program will seek to protect Filipino children, to prosecute the offenders and to promote children’s interest and their rights. I’m particularly pleased that the private sector is supporting our efforts, and a number of Australian companies have contributed to this program: ANZ, Telstra and QBE, and I thank them for their presence here today.
Yesterday, I announced Australia’s ongoing assistance in another area of significant challenge to the Philippines, the Filipino people, and the Philippine government, and that is the ongoing peace process in Southern Philippines. I announced that Australia would provide further $4 million to help the Philippines ensure that ceasefire is maintained in the conflict-ridden areas of Southern Philippines, that we can do what we can throughout that peace process to ensure people have skills and building capacity to provide long lasting peace and security in this nation.
So, too, with this announcement today, this is about ensuring that people of the Philippines have the training capacity and capability to deal with a very serious criminal issue, and we hope to align this Children’s Protection Program with other Australia’s initiatives that are attacking crime in our region, transnational crime including human trafficking and money laundering.
Online sexual abuse and exploitation is unacceptable at any time. It is utterly unacceptable in the case of children anywhere, anytime, and I believe this response is timely.
So, I thank my colleagues, Secretaries, for being here today and I am pleased to launch a much needed and highly appropriate response to this crime of online sexual abuse and exploitation of Filipino children. Let us hope that through our combined efforts with the Philippine government, the departments and the Asia Foundation together with Australian Government, we can stand up and end this scourge forever.
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