We’re very, very focused on making sure we have a strong Pacific – Australian Assistant Minister Anne Ruston
Australia is committed to helping Samoa reach its sustainable development aspirations through infrastructure and upskilling, says the Australian Assistant Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Anne Ruston.
In her first official visit to Samoa, Ms Ruston visited Australian funded projects such as the Pacific Climate Change Centre at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) offices, the site of a new crossing over the Vaisigano River, and attended the opening of the new Maota Fono, Samoa's Parliament House.
Last November, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a strengthening of his country's presence and efforts in the Pacific Region, including an AUD$2 billion infrastructure fund.
For Samoa, a "range of opportunities are on the table," Ms Ruston said.
"Some of them are already available and others are about to be stood up, for example our Infrastructure Fund that gets stood up on the first of July."
Programs like the seasonal workers programs, the new Labour Mobility Scheme and the Pacific Maritime Security Program are all different ways Australia is "stepping up" to work in the Pacific.
"We certainly accept the fact in Australia that we needed to do more in the Pacific, I mean the fact is that we live here, this is our region and our region is only as strong as the individual parts of it and that’s all the countries that make up this area.
"We’re very, very focused on making sure we have a strong Pacific and that means very strong countries within the Pacific."
Australia recently signed a trilateral agreement with Japan and America, and Ms Ruston said agreements like these are the only way to finance the much needed development in the Pacific.
She said even the Asian Development Bank has acknowledged the Pacific region will require close to US$50 billion of investments to meet its goals.
"Undertaking relationships with other like-minded partners is the only way we’re going to be able to work together to deliver the aspirational economic and social development goals of the Pacific," said Ms Ruston.
When asked if Australia was working with the international community to counter China's increasing investments in Samoa and the Pacific, Ms Ruston said all investments are welcome as long as they are "the world's best practice," and "on our terms."
"There is certainly no doubt that there is an increasing level of interest from the rest of the world in our region," she said.
"[We want] to make sure that the investments that are being made in the Pacific actually meet the development aspirations of the individual countries."
Ms Ruston said investments must be transparent, competitive, and above all climate resilient. Australia, being in the Pacific, can show that to the world.
"There are a lot of things we can demonstrate to the rest of the world, when they want to invest in the Pacific, about what is going to be in the best interests of the Pacific," said Ms Ruston.