Annual Report 2007-2008
 

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Your location: Performance > Outcome 1 > Output 1.1 > 1.1.6 Pacific

OUTPUT 1.1: Protection and advocacy of Australia's international interests through the provision of policy advice to ministers and overseas diplomatic activity

1.1.6 Pacific

On this page: Overview :: Pacific engagement strategy :: New Zealand :: Fiji :: Solomon Islands :: Papua New Guinea :: Tonga :: Nauru :: Other Pacific island countries ::French Territories :: Pacific Islands Forum :: outlook

Overview

The department played a leading role in the development and implementation of a series of major new government initiatives in the Pacific. They included an intensive program of high-level visits and other measures to implement the comprehensive strategy for stronger engagement with the Pacific set out by the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, in his Port Moresby Declaration of 6 March 2008.

We coordinated whole-of-government approaches to maintaining and enhancing security and good governance in the South Pacific, strengthened bilateral relationships and developed appropriate responses for the region. Further impetus was given to trade liberalisation objectives in talks with New Zealand on the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (ANZCERTA). In Solomon Islands, we successfully managed Australia’s contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and led the reinvigoration of bilateral relations with the Solomon Islands Government following a change of government in December 2007.

Relations with Papua New Guinea (PNG) were revitalised, resulting in a series of high-level bilateral visits and the 18th Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum in Madang in April 2008. Consistent with decisions taken by Pacific Islands Forum leaders, the department continued to press the interim government in Fiji to hold elections to ensure an early return to democracy and the rule of law. In Nauru, the department carefully coordinated the closure of the asylum seeker offshore processing centre.

Regionally, the department worked closely with New Zealand and Pacific Island Forum countries to begin consultations towards a Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus) free trade agreement. We successfully advocated stronger regional approaches on priority security and governance issues, including in relation to RAMSI and Fiji, as well as on fisheries management.

Pacific engagement strategy

In 2008 the department coordinated the development and implementation of the Government’s major new Pacific Engagement Strategy policy initiatives. These included chairing the high-level Steering Group charged with overseeing this work. A Pacific Partnerships Task Force, established in the department, has worked closely with AusAID to negotiate, in the first instance, Partnerships for Development with PNG and Samoa. The Partnerships program aims to conclude eight new bilateral cooperation arrangements by late 2009. The Task Force coordinated the preparation of a package of Australian initiatives for the August 2008 Pacific Leaders’ Meeting in Niue.

We helped shape government preparations for a pilot scheme for seasonal Pacific island workers in Australia. We organised a special meeting between our regional heads of mission and AusAID regional heads and the Prime Minister and portfolio ministers and parliamentary secretaries, to enhance policy coherence across the Government in advancing its new Pacific Engagement Strategy.

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Key stakeholders in the RAMSI partnership cut the cake at the celebration of RAMSI’s 5th anniversary in Solomon Islands. L–R: Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Dr Derek Sikua; Special Coordinator, Mr Tim George; Speaker of the National Parliament, Sir Peter Kenilorea; Pacific Islands Forum Representative to Solomon Islands, Dr Lesi Korovavala. Photo: RAMSI Public Affairs Unit
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PERSONAL PROFILE:

Tim George

Tim George is Special Coordinator of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), a unique mission made of up of some seven hundred civilian and police advisers and military personnel from Australia, New Zealand and 13 Pacific island nations. When RAMSI was first invited to Solomon Islands in 2003, its key priorities, following the years of civil unrest there, were restoration of law and order and stabilisation of government finances.

For Tim, following good progress in the past five years, the focus of the mission has progressively shifted to capacity development of Solomon Islands institutions in the fields of law and justice, economic governance and machinery of government. He says the key to future success lies in maintaining the strong sense of partnership between RAMSI, and the government and people of Solomon Islands. One of the mission’s great strengths is the close and constructive oversight role played by the Pacific Islands Forum.

Tim has had prior experience in the South Pacific and has served as Ambassador to Israel, and to Spain.

It is a rewarding, hands-on task, working closely with Solomon Islanders, members of the region, and members of the mission, in a joint endeavour to make Solomon Islands peaceful, more prosperous, and well-governed.

New Zealand

Strengthening Australia’s relationship with New Zealand remained a priority for the department. We supported the Australian delegation to the annual Closer Economic Relations (CER) Ministerial Meeting in July 2007 (attended by three ministers from each country). We supported several key meetings that enabled the government to engage with New Zealand on key bilateral, Pacific and multilateral issues. These included Mr Smith’s talks with his New Zealand counterpart, Mr Winston Peters, in April 2008, Mr Crean’s meeting with the New Zealand Trade Minister, Mr Phil Goff, in March 2008, and discussions between the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and the New Zealand Prime Minister, Ms Helen Clark in February 2008.

As chair of the interdepartmental New Zealand Policy Group, the department provided support and coordination for new initiatives to deepen bilateral cooperation. We collaborated closely with the Department of Broadcasting, Communications and the Digital Economy, the Treasury, and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government in reviewing the remaining excluded services to the Protocol on Trade in Services to the ANZCERTA. The review has been a useful stocktake and will help ensure ANZCERTA remains a world-class trade liberalisation agreement. We coordinated discussions with other relevant departments on options for advancing priority Australian objectives under the Single Economic Market agenda, such as the achievement of a Trans-Tasman Treaty on Court Proceedings and Regulatory Enforcement and entry into force of the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition of Securities Offerings. We advocated the inclusion of investment liberalisation in ANZCERTA leading to recent New Zealand agreement to re-engage in negotiation of an Investment Protocol to ANZCERTA.

FIGURE 12. Australia’s trade in goods and services WITH New Zealand(a)

FIGURE 12. Australia’s trade in goods and services WITH New Zealand

(a) Goods data on a recorded trade basis, services data on a balance of payments basis.
Source: DFAT STARS database and ABS Catalogue 5368.0.

In cooperation with the co-chairs of the private sector-led Australia–New Zealand Leadership Forum, Mr Rod McGeoch AM, Chairman of Sky City Entertainment Group Limited, and Mr John Allen, CEO of New Zealand Post, the department helped deliver a productive Forum in Wellington on 13–14 June 2008 aimed at deepening trans-Tasman links. The Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, led the Australian delegation to the Australia-New Zealand Leadership Forum in Wellington 13–14 June 2008. She was accompanied by five Australian ministers, including the Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Kerr, along with a strong Australian contingent of business and community leaders.

Fiji

The department continued strongly to encourage the interim government in Fiji (set up following the coup in December 2006) to hold general elections in early 2009 to return Fiji to democracy, consistent with decisions taken by Pacific Islands Forum leaders in October 2007. This involved close coordination with countries in the region and elsewhere, and with international organisations including the Commonwealth, the European Union and the United Nations. As part of these efforts, the department continued to represent Australian interests in the Forum Joint Working Group with Fiji, which meets regularly in Suva as part of the regional effort to return Fiji to democracy and the rule of law.

The department continued to work closely with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to coordinate the implementation of travel sanctions against members of the interim government and other regime supporters and their immediate families. In recognition of the appointment by the interim government of a Supervisor of Elections, we helped facilitate the appointment by the interim government of an acting high commissioner in Canberra and a consul general in Sydney.

The department kept its consular contingency plans under regular review to ensure it could provide expeditious consular assistance to Australians in the event of a serious downturn in security in Fiji. Following death threats against our High Commissioner and staff in Suva in May and June 2008, we tightened security measures at the chancery and staff premises and made strong representations to the interim Fiji government about the importance of affording effective protection to Australian staff and property. Unfortunately the regime has failed to respond adequately.

The department coordinated the Australian Government’s mid-term review of textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) component of the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA TCF), and worked with the Australian Customs Service to assist Fiji Customs put in place a credible audit and compliance system, and with AusAID to deliver a range of technical and human resource interventions to the Fiji TCF industry to improve efficiency, productivity, quality and market reach. We worked closely with a range of Australian and Fijian agencies to develop a reform package under SPARTECA TCF that aims to improve the productivity of Fiji’s TCF industry.

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Christian Gergis.
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PERSONAL PROFILE:

Christian Gergis

Christian Gergis joined the department’s Solomon Islands section in February 2008 as part of his graduate training program. Drawing on his previous experience as a lawyer, he has focused especially on the law and justice pillar of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI)—working on efforts to rebuild the local police force and advising on legal issues relating to the mission’s deployment in Solomon Islands. Working closely with the Australian High Commission in Honiara, Christian has assisted DFAT’s efforts to coordinate and lead Australia’s cross-agency contribution to the mission (including representatives from Defence, the Australian Federal Police and AusAID) in partnership with the New Zealand Government and the Office of the Special Coordinator.

Operating in the sensitive environment of the Solomon Islands, Christian has gained invaluable experience in an area of strategic interest to Australia, and the opportunity to contribute to a unique nation-building mission.

Through my work with RAMSI, I have developed an appreciation of the development challenges and political dynamics of the Pacific region.

 

 

Solomon Islands

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Ms Estelle Parker, Policy Adviser, Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), judges a women’s craft competition with a panel of eminent Solomon Islanders at Kakabona Village, Guadalcanal Province, August 2007. Engaging directly with communities in Solomon Islands is an important part of RAMSI’s consultation process. Photo: RAMSI Public Affairs Unit
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The department continued to coordinate Australia’s whole-of-government contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Other agencies contributing in-country deployees are AusAID, Attorney-General’s Department, Australian Electoral Commission, Australian Federal Police, Australian Customs Service, Department of Defence, Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Treasury. These agencies, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, participate in a DFAT-led inter-departmental committee on RAMSI. The mission continued to work closely with the Solomon Islands Government in helping it to maintain law and order, strengthen public institutions and local capacity, reduce corruption and improve economic management in Solomon Islands.

The department worked closely with RAMSI to pursue a public diplomacy strategy in Solomon Islands, engaging with Solomon Islands media to improve understanding of Australian policy towards Solomon Islands, including our leadership role in RAMSI. We worked to advocate ongoing support for the bilateral relationship among Solomon Islands parliamentarians and senior officials. The public diplomacy and advocacy efforts have helped maintain strong public support for RAMSI’s activities in Solomon Islands.

The department moved quickly to reinvigorate the bilateral relationship with Solomon Islands following the change of government there in December 2007 and the return to Australia of Julian Moti, the subject of a formal extradition request. We provided support for a series of high-level visits that have underscored the strength of the bilateral relationship. These included: the January 2008 visit to Australia by Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Dr Derek Sikua, and Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Mr William Homae; the visit by the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, to Solomon Islands in March 2008 accompanied by the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Duncan Kerr, and the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Mr Bob McMullan; and the visit to Honiara in February 2008 by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, to attend the inaugural Pacific Islands Forum Standing Ministerial Committee meeting (FMSC) on RAMSI.

The department worked closely with the Pacific Islands Forum to maintain broad regional support for RAMSI. All 16 members of the Pacific Islands Forum, including Solomon Islands itself, are partners in the mission. We supported the outcomes of a Forum task force review of RAMSI and worked closely with the Australian leadership of RAMSI to implement the recommendations of that review. We assisted in work to develop a partnership framework to strengthen RAMSI–Solomon Islands Government coordination of priorities, as endorsed by the FMSC in February 2008.

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Australian High Commissioner, Mr Chris Moraitis, with the Governor-General of Papua New Guinea, Sir Paulias Matane.
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PERSONAL PROFILE:

Chris Moraitis

Chris Moraitis’ current assignment as Australia’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea is one of his most interesting roles to date. Chris and his team are kept busy by the myriad of important issues which make up the web of the bilateral relationship. He points to the many areas where Australia and Papua New Guinea intersect in such a direct and constructive way: defence cooperation, development assistance, border protection and trade promotion.

As High Commissioner, Chris always acts as an advocate for Australian interests in PNG—with the government, local media and business, and the community in general—whether in the field of bilateral and regional diplomacy, the development cooperation relationship, or trade promotion. The High Commission’s recent efforts to support the preservation and sustainable use of the Kokoda Track, and the continuation of the Strongim Gavman Program have been demanding but ultimately very rewarding exercises.

In a country with over 800 language groups and nineteen provinces of extraordinary variety—ranging from the cool Highlands to the tropical islands of Milne Bay or Bougainville—he regularly gets out of the capital, Port Moresby, to remind people of the fact that Australia is working within PNG in so many ways, in so many places.

A real highlight of my work has been meeting so many Papua New Guineans who have a genuine affection for Australia and Australians. It has therefore been particularly gratifying this year to have been able to get our Australian ministers to see parts of the country outside of Port Moresby: the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, to Goroka, Foreign Minister Smith to Madang, and Trade Minister Crean in the Southern Highlands.

Papua New Guinea

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Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Stephen Smith; Minister for Trade, Mr Simon Crean; Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Peter Garrett AM, attending the 18th Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum in Madang, Papua New Guinea on 23 April 2008.
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There have been significant advances in the bilateral relationship with Papua New Guinea, underscored by a productive program of visits in the first half of 2008. The department supported the Prime Minister’s visit to PNG in March 2008, where he issued the Port Moresby Declaration, which outlines the key elements of the Government’s new policy approach to cooperation with the island nations of the Pacific. We also assisted with arrangements for visits to Canberra by the PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Immigration, Mr Sam Abal, and the PNG Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Lands, Physical Planning and Mining, Dr Puka Temu, in February and March 2008, respectively.

Seventeen Australian government agencies participated in senior officials’ talks with PNG in Canberra on 3–4 April 2008. The PNG delegation was the most senior of its kind to visit Australia, comprising 11 agency heads. The purpose of the talks was to prepare for the 18th Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum in Madang in PNG on 23 April 2008. The department coordinated Australia’s participation in the Ministerial Forum, which was attended by six ministers and three parliamentary secretaries from Australia and 17 PNG ministers. The wide range of matters discussed at the Forum, as contained in the joint outcomes statement endorsed by ministers, reflected the commitments of both Australia and Papua New Guinea to give substance to the new era of cooperation and partnership in the bilateral relationship.

The Ministerial Forum noted the recommendations of a joint bilateral review of the Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP). The Forum agreed that the deployment of senior, experienced Australian government officials to Papua New Guinea agencies was successful and should continue through a revised program, renamed the Strongim Gavman Program (SGP). About 45 Australian officials are deployed under the SGP, making important contributions in various fields.

Improved relations in 2008 also led to an agreement to negotiate a Pacific Partnership for Development, a Memorandum of Understanding on protection of the Kokoda Track, and the closure of the Manus Offshore Processing Centre. The department worked closely with other Australian government agencies to support their work on these issues.

The department continued to give priority to coordinating Australia’s implementation of the Torres Strait Treaty. We worked with other Australian government agencies and PNG officials to arrange indefinite extension of the treaty’s Moratorium on Mining and Drilling in the Torres Strait in February 2008. To canvass challenges facing Australia and PNG in the Torres Strait, the department hosted a visit to the Torres Strait, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra in June 2008 by Mr Sali Subam, member for the PNG parliamentary electorate adjacent to Australia and PNG Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Immigration.

Tonga

The department supported and closely consulted with the Government of Tonga in its role as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, and worked with the Australian Federal Police and AusAID to implement targeted programs of development assistance, particularly in the field of policing. The department continued to play a strong role managing contributions to Tonga’s recovery and reconstruction following riots in November 2006. Elections in Tonga in April 2008 were held in a stable environment and facilitated a national dialogue on important governance issues. We facilitated high-level bilateral contacts including visits to Australia by Tongan Prime Minister, Dr Feleti Sevele, in May 2008 and to Tonga by the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Kerr, and the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Mr McMullan, in February 2008 and by the then Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, in August 2007.

Nauru

The department maintained leadership of an effective whole-of-government approach to managing Australia’s relations with Nauru. The closure of Australia’s offshore processing centre in Nauru in February 2008 was carefully managed to take account of key stakeholder interests including those of the Government of Nauru. The department facilitated high-level bilateral contacts between the Australian Government and the Government of Nauru, including a meeting between Nauru Foreign Minister, Dr Kieren Keke, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, in February 2008. During a period of parliamentary deadlock in Nauru between December 2007 and April 2008, the department coordinated responses to civil unrest and assisted Nauru to conduct general elections, which resulted in a return to political stability. In May 2008, talks between Parliamentary Secretary Kerr and Nauru Foreign Minister Keke reviewed the current bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and aligned the text and MOU programs more closely with Nauru’s development needs.

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Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Officer, Ms Joannah Leahy, with members of a Torres Strait dance group at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre, Thursday Island.
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PERSONAL PROFILE:

Joannah Leahy

The Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Office on Thursday Island is the department’s smallest Australian office, and its only office located in an Australian Indigenous community.

Joannah Leahy has been posted as the Treaty Liaison Officer since February 2007. She works with 14 Torres Strait Island communities, over a dozen Australian Government, Queensland Government and local government bodies, and a counterpart based in nearby Daru in Papua New Guinea (PNG), to implement the Torres Strait Treaty. The Treaty, which took effect in 1985, demarcates Australia’s border with PNG and regulates the extensive traditional cross-border contacts that take place between Australian Torres Strait Islander communities and 13 ‘treaty villages’ in PNG.

Many Australians do not realise PNG’s proximity: the PNG mainland can be seen from three of the inhabited Australian islands in the Torres Strait. At its closest point, PNG is only four kilometres away. Because of that geographic closeness, and our special arrangements for free movement, the Torres Strait border is one of the most complex of its kind in the world.

The Treaty established a Torres Strait Protected Zone (TSPZ) straddling the border to protect the culture, livelihood and environment of traditional inhabitants. The treaty allows traditional inhabitants of the TSPZ to move freely between Australia and PNG within the TSPZ, without passports or visas, for traditional purposes such as trade and barter, traditional fishing, ceremonies and cultural activities. Australia and PNG extended the TSPZ mining moratorium indefinitely in February 2008.

Joannah coordinates Australia’s response when issues arise under this unique regime. Health, quarantine, fisheries, immigration and law enforcement considerations are a priority. Environmental issues are also important. She also spends several weeks each year travelling through the TSPZ and the PNG treaty villages to consult communities and officials on implementation of the treaty. One of her current priorities stemmed from the April 2008 PNG–Australia Ministerial Forum in Madang, PNG, which commissioned a major joint bilateral report on cross-border health concerns. Joannah is working closely on this with the department’s Papua New Guinea and Fiji Branch and other agencies.

People in the Torres Strait reacted very positively when Australia and PNG extended the TSPZ mining moratorium indefinitely—it helps protect their way of life and environment. It’s great to realise that the work I do on issues like this can have such a direct and positive impact on the well being of fellow Australians.

 

Other Pacific island countries

The department facilitated regular contact between Australian ministers and their Pacific counterparts, by supporting visits to Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Vanuatu by Parliamentary Secretaries Kerr and McMullan, guest-of-government visits from Tonga and Kiribati, and the first official visit to Australia by the Governor of Guam. The department also consulted with private sector representatives, bilateral business forums, non-government organisations and academic institutions and research bodies on a range of Pacific island country issues.

French territories

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Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Duncan Kerr SC (left) and Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Mr Bob McMullan (centre), at the opening of the Samoan Police Headquarters, Apia Police Station and Armoury, with Samoan Police Minister, Mr Toleafoa Faafisi, on 1 February 2008.
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The department coordinated closely with other agencies, principally the Department of Defence, to build on existing regional relations with France and its territories in the Pacific and to expand defence cooperation. We worked closely with other agencies, particularly Austrade, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, to coordinate approaches to quarantine and phytosanitary issues affecting the French territories and to support our expanding commercial presence there.

Pacific Islands Forum

The department worked constructively with the Pacific region’s institutions, including the Pacific Islands Forum, to support collaborative and coordinated responses to the region’s priority governance and security challenges. The October 2007 Forum Leaders’ Meeting delivered strong Forum endorsement of RAMSI as an ‘outstanding example of cooperative regionalism’ and endorsed a process for the return of democracy in Fiji through the holding of Parliamentary elections by March 2009.

Recognising the real threat facing the Pacific’s key commercial tuna fish stocks, including yellowfin and bigeye, the department worked successfully with Forum members to deliver the Vava’u Declaration on Regional Fisheries by Forum Leaders. The Declaration directed immediate measures to strengthen fisheries management and protection. As a result, in May 2008, Forum fisheries ministers invited the United States and France, given their significant regional maritime presence, to participate in discussions with Parties to the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region in October 2008. This meeting will examine new multilateral arrangements for the exchange of fisheries law enforcement data, cross-vesting of enforcement powers and the use of fisheries data for other law enforcement activities.

As mandated by Forum Leaders, the department participated in informal discussions in Auckland in May 2008 with New Zealand and Forum trade officials on a possible way forward on a comprehensive trade and economic agreement between Australia, New Zealand and Forum island countries (PACER Plus). The constructive tone of the Auckland meeting should enable continuing informal consultations towards a trade ‘plus’ agreement that promotes and underpins regional economic integration.

Outlook

In the coming year, the department will continue to develop and implement the comprehensive strategy for stronger engagement with the Pacific set out in the Port Moresby Declaration.

The situation in Fiji will continue to be a significant challenge. Persistent and effective advocacy of Australia’s position and cooperation with other countries and regional forums will be needed, to maintain pressure for an early return to democracy and the rule of law.

The department will coordinate, in the coming year, a comprehensive review of Australia’s contribution to RAMSI, including resources requirements beyond 30 June 2009. Australia remains firmly committed to RAMSI and to supporting Solomon Islands achieve a more prosperous and secure future.

The department will maintain its coordination role of Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea including the involvement of Australian agencies in the Strongim Gavman Program.

Pacific regional issues will remain a high priority for the department. Australia will host the Forum Leaders’ Meeting in 2009 and will work with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to assist it to manage its leadership transition, respond to a challenging regional agenda and carry through commitments to internal reform.

 

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