The new government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced $4.5 billion dollars will be cut from planned aid spending in the budget forward estimates.
Dr Jimmie Rogers, Director-General of the region's leading technical agency, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, welcomes the Abbott government's focus on the Asia Pacific region but is concerned that the scale of the cuts might hit harder than had been previously thought.
Speaker: Dr Jimmie Rogers, Director-General of the Region's leading technical agency, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community
SCRIPT: The Abbott-led Coaltion's aid cuts come on top of cuts announced only last month by the former Labor government.
The Australian National University's Development Policy Centre calculates that together they mean a 12 per cent smaller budget this year.
The cuts get bigger until 2017, when they peak at 30 per cent of originally planned spending.
Dr Jimmie Rogers, is Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, an inter-governmental organisation providing advice to 22 Pacific Island countries and territories on everything from health and education to natural resources, economic development and climate change.
Australia is the biggest contributor to the SPC's $100 million budget.
Dr Rogers is concerned about what the pull-back in funding could mean to the Pacific.
ROGERS It does concern us. And it does concern me, in particular, as the Director-General, that Australia and the European Union are the 2 largest donors, between them 70% or our funding.
GARRETT: What could be the consequences of that pullback?
ROGERS: Well consequences of that pullback of funding at the regional level will actually reduce some of the critical services that SPC provides to member countries and territories, for example, the tuna fisheries. Tuna fisheries is by far the largest renewable resource this region has left. It is like our last gold mine. SPC provides world class scientific information on tuna fisheries.
GARRETT: Fifty-nine per cent of the world's tuna is caught in the Pacific.
But one species Pacific Blue Fin tuna is down to just 4 per cent of its original spawning stocks.
SPC programs track catches and stock numbers and feed into crucial negotiations with powerful fishing nations such as China, Japan and the United States.
Dr Rogers will be telling Canberra that these programs should not be cut.
GRAB: This is also one example of work that the SPC does that is of critical importance to Australia, because Australia uses the scientific data for its own planning. It uses the scinetific data as part of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to make policy decisions from its perspective as a government that impacts on what is a regional resource. So quite a lot of work that we do, that is supported by Australia, actually is of benefit to Australia as well. And I think that is an example of a world class service that might be affected.
GARRETT: Dr Rogers welcomes the Coalition's promise to focus its effort on the Indo Pacific region.
In the next few weeks Foreign Minister Bishop will conduct a review of aid priorities and is looking for an increase importance on building economic sustainability.
Dr Rogers says only the 5 Pacific of the 22 Pacific states have significant land.
ROGERS: They account for 98 per cent of total land area. So I guess the important point to make when we talk commercial development of agriculture, forestry or terrestrial mining we are talking 5 countries, we are not talking the other 17. And I think this is really crucial for policy makers in Australia, in particular, because Australia is the largest funder. Seven Micronsesian countries between them is 3000 sqare kilometres, ten Polynesian countries is 8000 sqare kilometres. Put them together they are smaller than Sydney.
GARRETT: Pacific leaders have been pushing for many years for stronger action on climate change.
At home, the Abbott government has moved quickly to cut climate change programs
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community hopes its focus on the here and now will protect its programs.
ROGERS: What we deal with in the Pac if climate variability. If we were to look at climate events in the Pacific, whether it is drought, cycyclones or disasters or increases in sea level rise, those are things that are very pressing on Pacifc Island countries particualry atoill island countries
GARRETT: Under the former Gillard Labour government Australia launched a major program aimed at empowering woremn in the Pacific.
Dr Rogers wants the project to continue and he sees a key role for Prime Minister Abbott.
ROGERS: Whatever we do to try to do to promote the status of women in the Pacific countries where this project works we must not only focus on programs for women. We need to actually make disciples of men in Melanesia.
GARRETT: Tony Abbot is Australia's women's minister now. What role does he have to play in this?
ROGERS: I think that is brilliant because he can be the leader that actually changes the perception of men, not only in his own constituency in Australia, but he can champion the idea that a male can actually drive a policy of change that will actually help improve women. And I think if Tony, is for Australia the women's minister, I'd love to see every Prime Minister and President in the Pacific being the women's minister.