PAUL O’CALLAGHAN. For Caritas Australia, bankrolling the Pacific misses the mark.

At Caritas Australia we have long been in the business of supporting the grassroots development of our Pacific neighbours.

That’s why the Morrison Government’s recent announcement of a Pacific bank falls so short of the mark, failing to address the underlying systemic inequalities which precipitate poverty.

A two billion dollar infrastructure bank will target “high priority” projects including telecommunications, energy, transport and water and reflects the top-down economic approach adopted by the Chinese Government in the region.

The policy’s failure to engage in carbon emissions reductions, overlooks our national duty to address climate change as one the exacerbating factors of poverty in the Pacific. 

As a former Australian High Commissioner to Samoa, I am aware that the highest policy priority presented by the Pacific’s political and Church leaders has been for Australia to demonstrate leadership in its own climate policy, particularly on national emissions and to commit a reasonable share on climate finance.

The latest announcement continues to ignore that regional priority.

Our Pacific partners from Kiribati to Fiji are the worst affected, while having contributed the least to global warming. They look to Australia to take real action on reducing emissions, so that the region’s future is secure.

Additionally, Mr Morrison’s banking model will intensify the cycle of debt for already vulnerable Pacific communities.

Though Prime Minister Morrison is right to point to the need for improved infrastructure in the Pacific, a real need which Australia is well placed to contribute to, there are various other ways to finance such development.

Basing Australia’s new pivot to the region on a concessional loan model which was rejected by previous Australian governments because that model was found to cause debt traps for the most vulnerable countries, is not an ideal policy approach.

Caritas Australia’s recently released “State of the Environment for Oceania 2018 Report: Waters of life, Oceans of Mercy” contains dozens of first-person accounts and stories relating to the impact of climate change on communities from Papua New Guinea and Kiribati to Tonga, Samoa and the Carteret Islands. The full report can be read here: https://www.caritas.org.au/act/our-common-home/caritas-state-of-the-environment-report

Paul O’Callaghan is CEO of Caritas Australia. His extensive leadership comes from serving on five non-for-profit boards and previously as a diplomat in South East Asia and the Pacific. 

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