Thank you to the distinguished panel here today, including my friend and counterpart, the Minister for Foreign Affairs from New Zealand, Murray McCully, UNDP’s Helen Clark, EU Development Commissioner Piebalgs and the Governor of the Central Bank of Samoa.
What a delight it is to be here in this beautiful setting and be able to attend the very important UN SIDS meeting here in Samoa. I’m very pleased to take part in this session today, this presentation. For we are talking about an issue that goes to the very heart of economic growth in the Pacific and that is the Pacific Financial Inclusion Program.
Australia has been a partner and investing in this for the last five years. We’ve invested about $10 million and we are delighted to work with New Zealand, the EU and UNDP on what I believe is a very successful initiative.
Financial inclusion is fundamental to enhancing economic growth and providing the opportunities - including job opportunities - that we want to see in the Pacific.
Through this program, there’s been a significant increase in access to financial services, whether it’s through access to bank accounts and developing a savings culture, through life insurance and other forms of insurance services, low cost remittances, loans and lines of credit and the like.
The way the program has been able to do this is first by building demand and that is all about educating the population, not just the low income rural households that directly benefit but also focusing on the business community and in the education sector. Comments have already been made that two of the countries involved have embraced financial literacy as part of the school curriculum which I think is a fantastic initiative; building demand but also enhancing supply.
Part of this program is about training the financial service providers and ensuring that they have the capacity and capability to deliver. When you have supply and demand, that means innovative products.
One of the aspects of this program that excites me is the creative thinking that has led to innovative products including the use of mobile phones.
I’ve said that this program is successful. It certainly ticks all the boxes as far as the delivery of Australian aid is concerned. I believe that about 700,000 Pacific Islanders now have access to financial services that they didn’t have before this program.
In a very exciting outcome, about 40 per cent of new bank accounts, maybe more, have been taken up by women.
I am a great champion and advocate for increased economic empowerment of women in the Pacific.
From the moment I first visited this region many years ago I knew that the role of women was absolutely vital for the long term prosperity of this region as well as its peace, security and stability.
So enabling women to gain access to financial services is not only the right thing to do, but it makes smart economic sense. I truly believe that when you give women access to financial services then entire households, entire communities benefit as a result. I can see some women nodding fiercely in the audience so I’m getting agreement there.
What’s exciting about today is that we’re about to embark on the second phase of this program and Australia is again pleased to invest, this time $14 million (it’s increasing every time), which I hope will make up about half the target funding to get even better results.
This is very much an outcome focused program so we’re aiming for an additional 500,000 Pacific Islanders to have access to financial services, again aiming for 50 per cent of those Pacific islanders to be women.
The countries we are working with - Fiji, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu - are all making great progress and I look forward to this program expanding beyond those countries.
Again I want to thank our partner donors for supporting a program that really does deliver outcomes. We can see it. It’s evident in the number of people who are accessing financial services.
One final example is our life insurance initiative. The program has been working closely with the Life Insurance Corporation of India. In this, they have developed the first micro-insurance product for the Pacific to give low income and rural household owners access to low-cost life insurance, because a shock in a family can have a devastating impact. To have that kind of financial support makes a world of difference.
So I’m delighted to be a part of the second phase of the Pacific Financial Inclusion Program.
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