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Australia’s decline in financial transparency increases corruption risk in Pacific region, says Transparency International

Transparency International updated its Corruption Perceptions Index for the Asia-Pacific region; Australia has shown one of the more significant declines in transparency during the past 10 years. This decline is due, in particular, to weakened lobbying regulations and the lack of a national integrity commission.

Transparency International highlighted that the decline could cause corruption risks in other countries in the Pacific because businesses working in Pacific countries are often registered in Australia. Transparency International called on Pacific Island governments, including Australia, to address corruption risks and strengthen anti-money-laundering laws.

New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Singapore scored best on the Index as regional entities.

Report - Transparency International

Australia announces US$414 million in grant financing to upgrade Papua New Guinea's ports

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an investment of A$580 million (US$414 million) for ports in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Upgrades and repairs are planned for PNG's major port in Lae, but upgrades will also be made to ports in the provinces of Manus, New Britain, West and East Sepik, and New Ireland.

Morrison stated that port improvement is an investment in the economic prosperity and well-being of the people of Papua New Guinea. Many of PNG's provincial capitals are not connected by road and are, therefore, reliant on ship-bourne freight.

Funding will be provided through the A$2 billion (US$1.4 billion) Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific. This fund was established in July of 2019 by combining grant financing of up to A$500 million (US$358 million) with long-term credits of A$1.5 billion (US$1.1 billion).

The A$500 million grant financing component was drawn from reductions in other assistance activities in the Pacific. Until the PNG ports announcement, the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility had announced very limited lending activity.

Press release - Prime Minister of Australia

Japan-Australia leaders' meeting emphasizes COVID-19 response, equitable vaccine access in Pacific region

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison met virtually with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday, January 6, 2022. The two leaders emphasized supporting the production and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, which will be driven by the next Quad leaders' meeting; the Quad consists of Japan, India, Australia, and the US.

Kishida and Morrison also emphasized the need to reinforce the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) efforts to assist the region's COVID-19 response and recovery from the pandemic. In addition, they stressed the need to strengthen cooperation with Pacific Island nations to assist their responses to climate change and recovery from the impact of COVID-19.

Press release - Prime Minister Scott Morrison

New Australian study with World Bank provides insight to tackle vaccine hesitancy; Australia provides 17 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to partner countries

Australia has provided more than 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Pacific Island countries, and 15 million doses to Southeast Asia. Australia has committed to providing 60 million doses in total by the end of 2022, the majority of which will be AstraZeneca vaccines that are produced in Australia.

Australia has also partnered with the World Bank to study vaccine hesitancy in the Philippines. According to the study, the main reasons for hesitancy appear to be insufficient information about vaccines available to individuals, mistrust of vaccine information or its source, and incorrect assessment of the relative benefits of the vaccine and its risks.

The research suggested that respondent mistrust could be tackled by asking individuals to consider who should endorse and exert a positive influence on the vaccination campaign. Other proposals included providing simplified information, having individuals consider what activities they would look forward to in 'normal' times, and asking them to identify who they most think about and want to protect.

Media report - Sydney Morning Herald

Media Report - Inquirer.Net

Report - The World Bank

Australia to establish One Health investigation fund to mange wildlife related diseases in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste

During the next four years, the Australian government will provide A$8.4 million (US$6 million) to fund research in wildlife health and early detection for zoonotic viruses and diseases.

The fund will partner with the World Organisation for Animal Health, and although primarily domestic, will provide Papua New Guinea with A$205,000 (US$150,000) in support of its African swine fever outbreak and A$180,000 (US$131,000) to assist Timor-Leste with biosecurity following its swine fever outbreak.

Media report - Australian Associated Press

Australia to establish domestic mRNA vaccine production

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia will establish a facility to produce Moderna COVID-19 vaccines in Victoria. The facility will be able to produce up to 100 million vaccines annually and could potentially manufacture vaccines for respiratory illnesses such as flu.

The government would also provide up to A$25 million (US$18 million) in funding for a domestic 'mRNA Clinical Trials Enabling Infrastructure Grant Opportunity'. The Victorian government has also planned to provide assistance for the mRNA vaccine development and manufacture in that state.

Production could commence by 2024. No indication has been given yet about providing the mRNA vaccines to countries in Australia’s region.

Press release - Prime Minister of Australia

Australia's failure to act on climate crisis is eroding foreign policy potency, says campaign from 100+ fomer diplomats

Over 100 Australian former senior administrators, ambassadors, and other retired senior public servants have launched a “Climate Focused Foreign Policy for Australia“ campaign. The non-partisan group is advocating for the development of better Australian climate policies and decisions, motivated by members' belief that Australia’s low ambition on climate change represents an obstacle to the realization of the country’s other global interests. 

The campaign says Australia is viewed globally as lagging on climate policy and action, and should instead aim to become a major exporter of renewable energy. Australia should also be a significant supporter of its regional partners in decolonizing their economies.

Media report - Canberra Times

Australia provides US$34 million for internal COVID-19 research

Australia’s Health Minister, Greg Hunt, announced that A$48 million (US$34 million) will be provided for domestic research into COVID-19. The funding will support studies on the long-term health impacts of the disease and the effectiveness of combinations of different COVID-19 vaccines.

The research is intended to evaluate the effectiveness, safety, and feasibility of new treatments for COVID-19 and accelerate the development of antivirals to treat or prevent COVID-19. The funding will be drawn from the Medical Research Future Fund.

Press release - Department of Health

Australia’s US$1.4 billion climate pledge appears to rely on relabeling bilateral funds as climate-relevant to fudge commitment, say analysts

Australia's Prime Minister has committed to providing A$2.0 billion (US$1.4 billion) in climate finance between 2020 and 2025. However, analysts have raised serious concerns about the funding flows of the commitment. 

Terence Wood of the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University outlines the “awkward arithmetic” of Australia’s climate finance commitment in a new report, suggesting that while A$450 million (US$330 million) will be provided to multilateral institutions dealing with climate change, the other A$1.5 billion (US$1.1 billion) will probably be 'found' over the five years in Australia’s bilateral assistance program.

Climate finance is intended to be 'new and additional' money; however, because Australia is not increasing its overall assistance package, climate finance will likely be accounted for within existing funding structures. Wood raises concerns that Australian development assistance programs might be relabelled as 'significant' in their focus on climate change under pressure to meet the finance commitment, meaning that the pledge may be met by tricky relabeling of existing financial commitments, rather than by allocating further funds to solving the climate crisis.

Op-ed -  Development Policy Centre

Australia’s opposition party commits to rebuilding development program as part of 2022 election platform

Senator Penny Wong, a Labor Senator for South Australia, Leader of the Opposition, and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, committed to a clearer direction for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) if the Labor Party wins in the 2022 elections.

Wong committed to greater resourcing of DFAT, which would include rebuilding Australia’s development assistance program. Labor would focus more heavily in its development program on supporting women and girls and eliminating slavery. Wong also noted that Labor would focus more strongly on nuclear non-proliferation.

Speaking at the Australian National University’s National Security College, Wong said Australia would focus on stronger relationships in Southeast Asia under a Labor government. Labor would also appoint a special envoy to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and continue a strong focus in the Pacific region.

Media release - Penny Wong

Survey shows "cautious consensus" among Australian parliamentarians on development assistance policy hallmarks

A survey of 19 Australian parliamentarians from major political parties about the next phase of Australian development assistance policy showed a "cautious consensus" among respondents.

According to Australian National University's Development Policy Centre, which interpreted the results of the survey, any increases in Australian development assistance in the next years are likely to be made quietly and with an orientation toward Australia’s national interest.

Survey respondents were generally concerned with balancing Australia’s interests with humanitarian needs. Despite some advocates' criticisms of a national-interest-based development politic, others say such increases, couched in Australian foreign policy goals, could be more politically sustainable than those based on idealistic rationales.

Participants also expressed concern over China’s influence in the Pacific and a potential backlash from Australians against increased funding for global development at a time when many citizens are struggling with jobs cuts and the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, including national lockdowns.

Development Policy Centre Blog - Australian National University

Australia to begin providing mRNA vaccines to Indo-Pacific region partner countries

Australia’s COVID-19 taskforce commander, Lieutenant General John Frewen, indicated Australia will donate Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Indo-Pacific region.

Australia has a surplus of mRNA vaccines and will begin providing Pfizer vaccines in the next few months. It expects to donate up to 40 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by the beginning of 2023. 7 million doses have already been donated, including 1 million to Fiji and almost 3.5 million to Indonesia.

Media report - ABC News

Australia to launch Healthy Environments and Lives Network to build resilience to environmental change

Greg Hunt, Australia's Minister for Health and Aged Care, announced that Australia will provide A$10 million (US$7 million) to establish the Healthy Environments And Lives (HEAL) Network, a national multidisciplinary research network to build resilience to environmental change. The HEAL network will work with multiple partner organizations, which will contribute additional funds, to provide international and national leadership in health research and environmental change.

The network will involve 28 participating institutions and will be led by Professor of Global Health, Dr. Sotiris Vardoulakis, at the Australian National University in Canberra. 

Press release - Minister for Health and Aged Care

NGOs call on Australian government to increase ODA budget, highlight shortcomings in development programs

Humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are calling on the Australian government to permanently raise its official development assistance (ODA) levels. A temporary ODA increase of A$300 million (US$220 million) to address the COVID-19 crisis is due to expire in June 2022, prompting the intensified call from the civil society sector. 

The coalition of humanitarian agencies has warned that development achievements will be jeopardized if higher funding levels are not sustained and has requested that the government commit extra funding in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), which will be delivered in mid-December.

A publication by the Lowy Institute highlights a mismatch between Australia’s announced global development ambitions and funding levels for its programs. An increase in Australian assistance volume would allow Australia to be more actively involved in shaping major international achievements, including building community resilience and reducing violence against women in the Pacific region, according to the report.

News article - Sydney Morning Herald

Report - The Lowy Institute

Major Australian fund opens prospect for increased international collaboration in medical research

The Australian Department of Health has published its Medical Research and Innovation Strategy (2021-2026) for Australia's Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). 

MRFF has expanded the possibility of engaging with researchers in other countries. The Fund was established in 2015 to fund health and medical research and was intended to support Australian researchers working on diseases that were specifically a burden to Australians.

MRFF now offers Australian research entities more opportunities for collaboration with other private or public sources of medical and health research funding. The Fund’s five-year strategy for 2021 to 2026 outlines adaptive approaches to collaboration nationally and internationally on emerging challenges. However, such collaboration will still require an Australian researcher or institution as a partner.

Funding for global health research through the Australian assistance program is limited. By comparison, the Medical Research Future Fund disperses approximately A$650 million (US$465 million) annually. Even a small portion of MRFF funding could significantly increase Australia's contribution to research into emerging international health issues.

Report - Department of Health - MRFF Strategy

Report - Department of Health - About the MRFF

Australia supports land, forest management in Southeast Asia with new US$371 million partnerships

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne, announced new climate investments to leverage up to A$500 million (US$371 million) for two climate-related partnerships. The partnerships will support Southeast Asian countries in adapting to climate change through improved management of agriculture, land, and forests. 

One investment of A$13 million (US$10 million) will leverage private sector investment into a sustainable forestry fund in Southeast Asia. 

Separate assistance will be provided to design an Asia Climate Smart Landscape Fund for Indonesia, which will support loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises for sustainable agriculture forest protection, and land regeneration. 

Press release - Minister for Foreign Affairs

New tuberculosis vaccine under development at Australian university

James Cook University of North Queensland, Australia received four grants for vaccine research and development for tuberculosis (TB). The research includes a focus on the disease’s lymphatic stage.

Professor Andreas Kupz of the University’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine said the Institute has received grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health USA, and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. 

These grants total over US$6 million and will be used to develop a TB vaccine for comparative study. 

Media report – Mirage News

Australia to provide an additional US$375 million for climate projects in the Pacific and Southeast Asia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on the first day of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow that Australia would provide an additional A$500 million (US$375 million) for climate projects.

This announcement is additional to the A$1.5 billion (US$1.1 billion) the Prime Minister announced in December 2020. The funding will be provided over five years and will focus on Southeast Asian and Pacific countries. The Pacific region will see an increase in funding from A$500 million (US$366 million) to a minimum of A$700 million (US$513 million), and the funding will enhance climate resilience through infrastructure investments such as bridges, schools, and roads.

The funding will be provided bilaterally. Morrison ceased Australian contributions to the Green Climate Fund in 2018 and instead provided funding bilaterally for climate action projects targeted in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Press release - Minister for Foreign Affairs

News report - The Guardian

Australian biotech company to begin human trials of COVID-19 vaccine 'patch'

Human trials for a COVID-19 vaccine using needle-free patches are planned to begin mid-year 2022. Clinical trials on animals were successfully conducted by the University of Queensland in conjunction with the biotechnology company, Vaxxas.

The Vaxxas needle-free technology offers the prospect of more simple and effective vaccine delivery. The patch can be self-administered and stored at room temperature. 

Development of the technology has received support from the WHO and A$12 million (US$9 million) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Media report - ABC Radio

Press report - Australian Financial Review

Australia confirms 2050 zero-carbon emissions target, receives backlash for intermediate climate goals

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced Australia's commitment to a zero-carbon emission target for 2050 prior to the UN's major climate conference, COP26.

Morrison indicated Australia will use a balanced approach to achieve the target but did not release many details. He noted that "priority technologies" such as hydrogen development would achieve 85% of the reductions in emissions. 

The announcement followed detailed discussions with junior members of the Liberal-National Government coalition. The National Party had concerns about the domestic effects of a zero-emissions target on the agricultural and mining sectors. Australia's Productivity Commission will, therefore, review the impact of the emissions target on regional areas every five years.

Morrison announced Australia will not be increasing its interim 2030 reduction target, despite receiving criticism that that target is neither ambitious nor sufficient. Australia's 2030 target is set at a maximum reduction of 28%. In comparison, the UK's reduction target is 68% and the European Union's is 55%.

COP26 will take place in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31 - November 12, 2021. 

Press release - Prime Minister of Australia

News article - The Age