PRESENTER Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has told a forum at the Small Islands Developing States Conference that fostering private sector-led development and innovation is a key component of Australia's work with Pacific and Indian Ocean nations.

Ms Bishop held a dinner for Pacific leaders in Apia on Sunday night and has held bilateral meetings with leaders and Ministers from a variety of countries. She says the conference is producing practical results.

JULIE BISHOP Samoa has really put in a huge effort to make this conference a success. I have met so many leaders, and Foreign Ministers and Development Ministers as well as private sector and NGO partners here, and we are focussing on development in the Pacific and beyond, and it has been a very good and successful and productive conference so far.

JEMIMA GARRETT So what is your feeling in terms of what will come out of it in terms of actual action for developing states in the Pacific?

JULIE BISHOP The theme of the conference is “partnerships”, perhaps not a theme that years ago we would have heard at a conference like this, but Samoa promoted this theme and it is working exceedingly well as people are looking at pragmatic ways of putting partnerships in place that can promote economic growth. And we are very interested in economic partnerships within the Pacific and we are focussing on issues such as the economic empowerment of women, the rehabilitation of our oceans and fisheries, disaster risk reduction and health and educational outcomes, but we recognise this must be done in partnership between governments with the private sector, with NGOs.

This evening, for example, I will be launching a new partnership between Australia and Carnival Cruises for Vanuatu. It will be a job ready program, where we are going to ensure that young people, Ni-Vanuatu, have the opportunity to work in the cruise industry. And this pilot program for young people to gain essential skills for employment on P&O ships is likely to be a blueprint for other cruise lines and other Pacific nations. So this is an example that the Islands here are appreciating. Partnerships are essential for economic growth, public-private partnerships are critical for jobs and sustainability into the future.

JEMIMA GARRETT Pacific leaders say climate change is the biggest threat to their economies and Samoa's Prime Minister has called on the Abbott Government to take its focus off the Australian budget and to give more support to the Pacific on that issue. How do you respond to that?

JULIE BISHOP Well, the Australian budget is a cause of great difficulty for us because we are facing a projected $667 billion debt and we are borrowing $1 billion dollars each month just to pay the interest on the Labor debt that we inherited. But we know climate change is an issue of importance to small island developing states, we know they are among the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change.

Australia is taking strong and effective action on climate change. We are going to reduce emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020 and that equates to an overall reduction in our emissions of some 22 per cent on 2000 levels, or as they say, below our “business as usual” level. Our direct action plan is investing over $2.5 billion dollars in an emissions reduction fund, which will help achieve the target. So we are working constructively, domestically and internationally, to ensure that all major economies play their fair part in global action.

JEMIMA GARRETT The Pacific countries want more than that. Is the difference between the Pacific approach to climate change and what Australia is prepared to offer, having a negative impact on Australia's relations with the region?

JULIE BISHOP Oh, not at all. Australia has been very well received here. Australia is the largest aid donor in the Pacific and that is well appreciated and well understood. They also note that we offer partnerships, and we are working together to get economic growth underway in the Pacific, we are focussing on job opportunities, we are looking at empowering women and we are looking at building productivity-enhancing infrastructure. So they also appreciate that Australia's domestic policy on climate change includes $2.5 billion dollar emissions reduction fund.

So we are taking action in Australia but also, through our aid program. If countries we are working with want a focus on climate change, then we continue to provide scope for targeted climate-related aid to partners in the Pacific. So that is through projects that can be part of that country’s climate change activities. So our program does target more of our funding at the region, with Pacific countries remaining a key focus.

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