Strengthening Pacific partnerships

| July 10, 2018

The Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop delivered a comprehensive summary of Australia’s step up in engagement in the Pacific to a large audience in Brisbane on 9 July 2018.

She outlined a number of programs and projects that are underway to assist with the Pacific’s economic growth, education, security and support for climate and disaster resilience. The Foreign Minister stated that “I am truly passionate about the Pacific, I love the people, the culture, the languages, the diversity and the richness of the Pacific. It gets into your blood.”

It was certainly evident from the figures recounted by Minister Bishop that Australia’s Pacific engagement is significant being the largest provider of aid – $1.3 billion in 2018-19 which includes 10 aid partnership agreements.

The Pacific Labour Scheme commenced on 1 July 2018 which enables Pacific Islanders to take up low and semi-skilled work opportunities in rural and regional Australia for up to three years. The scheme currently focuses on Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu and will be extended to other Pacific Island countries based on need, impact and progress on the PACER Plus regional trade agreement.

Minister Bishop was encouraged by the fact that over 60% of Australia Award Scholars in the last decade have been women, and there is a second cohort of 23 women participating in the Australia Awards Womens Leadership Initiative this year.

The New Colombo Plan Scholarship Program will also see over 40,000 young Australians travel overseas to study and undertake internships in the Indo-Pacific between 2014 and 2010, with over 2,500 undergraduates having studied in the Pacific region to date. “This is going to create a generation of future Australian leaders with a better understanding of and deeper connections with the Pacific” said Ms Bishop.

Under the Pacific Maritime Security Program, Australia are providing 19 new patrol boats to Pacific partners to assist with protecting fisheries, securing borders and fight trans-national crime, which is also supported by continued bilateral police and defence partnerships.

Australia is also contributing to bringing high speed internet to PNG and the Solomon Islands through undersea telecommunications cables linked to Australia. Ms Bishop also emphasised the importance of working with New Zealand, Great Britain, Japan, the EU, the USA and China to enable deeper engagements in the region.

Ms Bishop added that “Investment and support to the Pacific is welcome while ever it supports the sovereignty, long term stability and viability of Pacific nations.” She went on to say that “Australia and other nations of the Pacific are natural partners, tied together by geography, history and a combined love of our region,” and reiterated that Australia is deeply committed to working more closely with Pacific Island nations.

Indeed this commitment was emphasised through the number and depth of initiatives and programs mentioned earlier in the speech.

Ms Bishop ended her speech with: “The very best days of our long and close friendship lies ahead of us.” It is evident that there has been a ‘step up’ in engagement in the Pacific and that the Australian government and Foreign Minister Bishop are very committed to this.

Pacific Connect, whilst not specifically mentioned by the Foreign Minister, is part of the Australian Government’s ‘step up’ suite of people to people initiatives in the Pacific. The aim of Pacific Connect is to help deliver the Australian Government’s agenda to step-up Australia’s pacific engagement by building stronger relationships between people in Australia and the Pacific. This involves facilitating activities that lead to genuine, long-lasting relationships between Australians and Pacific Islanders around common challenges. The Pacific Connect initiative is being delivered by the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships which is a not-for-profit, non-political organisation established to encourage and facilitate dialogue, discussions and better relationships between current and emerging Pacific and Australian leaders in government, civil society and the private sector.

To quote an old proverb: “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” – with strong and enduring Pacific partnerships we can be optimistic that everyone will eventually be able to get a bite (or two).