WHILE REMAINING geographically distant, Australia and the nations of the Caribbean have been growing closer in other ways, particularly over the last three years.
Since November 2009, Australia and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have been working to reduce poverty, enhance sustainable development and build people-to-people links, according to Australian high commissioner, Philip Kentwell.
Kentwell, resident in Port of Spain and accredited to all CARICOM member states, will be concluding his posting in coming months and has reflected on the state of Australia-CARICOM relations.
"The Australia-CARICOM relationship is stronger than ever. For example, the Australian government has committed A$60 million over four years to help tackle the challenges facing the Caribbean region," Kentwell said.
"Australia's long development relationship with its Pacific partners has provided useful experience for Australia in helping others to overcome the vulnerabilities of small island states."
In both regions, adapting to climate change and reducing disaster risk are high priorities. In the Caribbean, Australia is supporting efforts to manage these threats through the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre and the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency, as well as community initiatives to respond to climate change.
Australia was also among the first to respond to Haiti's devastating earthquake, initially contributing A$24 million in humanitarian assistance. It has now provided more than A$26 million.
"It is a little known fact, but Australia and the CARICOM are home to the two largest stretches of coral reefs in the world, and so we both share a strong interest in coral reef preservation and protection," said Kentwell.
"Drawing on its expertise in coral reef and marine management, Australia is working collaboratively with the Caribbean to preserve these threatened habitats."
Education and sporting links are also expanding. With 90 Australia awards scholarships offered to the region in the last three years, Australia is enabling Caribbean students to make strong contributions to their societies in fields such as engineering, agriculture, health and sports administration.
Caribbean diplomats are receiving training through a joint initiative of the Australian National University and the University of the West Indies.
The youth of the region are learning life skills and leadership through the Australia Sports Outreach Programme.
High Commissioner Kentwell said Australia is also helping countries in the region to build economic resilience through the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre and the International Finance Corporation.