Annual Report 2008-2009
 

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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 :: PACER Plus :: New Zealand :: Papua New Guinea :: Solomon Islands :: Fiji :: Vanuatu ::Tonga :: Nauru :: Other Pacific island countries ::French Territories :: Pacific Islands Forum :: outlook

Overview

Photo - See caption below for description
The Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, and Papua New Guinea’s Minister for Works, Transport and Civil Aviation, the Hon. Don Polye, at the 19th Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum in Brisbane on 10 June 2009.
Photo: Kirkland Photography
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The department coordinated the development of a comprehensive whole-of-government strategy to advance our engagement with the Pacific, a key Government objective announced in the Prime Minister’s Port Moresby Declaration in March 2008. An important element of the engagement strategy is a new framework for cooperation with Pacific island countries centred on Pacific Partnerships for Development (PPD).

To complement this engagement strategy, we coordinated more closely with New Zealand on Pacific issues, including on ways of assisting Pacific countries achieve their Millennium Development Goals. Bilateral cooperation with New Zealand was enhanced through the implementation of an action agenda aimed at deepening trans-Tasman integration.

The department consolidated other key bilateral relationships. The 19th Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum, which we hosted in Brisbane in June 2009, advanced cooperation in priority areas for both sides. The Forum, as well as high-level visits to both Australia and Papua New Guinea, highlighted the significance of the relationship. Visits by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Trade and other ministers and parliamentary secretaries to Solomon Islands underlined our commitment to that country. We encouraged the negotiation between the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and the Solomon Islands Government of a Partnership Framework to establish a mutually agreed action agenda for the mission. We consolidated relations with Tonga, assisting it to establish a High Commission in Canberra in November 2008. We transitioned our development assistance to Nauru to a regular multi-year funding model aligned to its national development priorities.

Fiji’s military regime took a number of backward steps, including refusing to meet its commitment to hold elections by March 2009 and the abrogation of its constitution in April 2009. We continued to work with other Pacific Islands Forum countries and the international community to pressure the regime to hold elections and return Fiji to democracy and the rule of law.

We consulted closely with New Zealand and other Pacific Islands Forum countries on the commencement of negotiations for a new trade and economic agreement, the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus, or PACER Plus. We sought to focus international attention on key regional challenges, including climate change, and the impact of the global economic crisis.

Pacific Engagement Strategy

The department worked closely with other agencies to advance the Government’s Pacific Engagement Strategy. We chaired the high-level steering group charged with overseeing implementation of the strategy.

We assisted AusAID in reaching the goal of finalising the heads of agreement for the Pacific Partnerships for Development (PPD) with the states of Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Tonga, Nauru and Tuvalu ahead of schedule. The Partnership arrangements aim to achieve better development outcomes by linking Australia’s bilateral assistance to increased commitments from Pacific island countries to improve governance, increase investment in economic infrastructure and achieve more in priority areas such as health and education. We contributed to the development of strategies by our Pacific partners to implement partnerships in particular sectors. By the end of June 2009 at least one, and in many cases more, sectoral implementation strategies had been agreed with each Pacific partner.

We worked closely with other agencies to implement the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme, another important element of the Pacific Engagement Strategy. We assisted the finalisation of negotiations on bilateral arrangements underpinning participation in the scheme with Kiribati, Tonga and Vanuatu, leading to the signing of memorandums of understanding with these countries in November 2008. We supported negotiations with Papua New Guinea on its participation in the Scheme. After the arrival of the first group of Pacific Seasonal Workers in February 2009, we assisted other relevant departments such as the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and AusAID with practical management of the Scheme.

PACER Plus

At the August 2008 Pacific Islands Forum meeting, the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and other Forum Leaders agreed that preparatory work should be undertaken on possible negotiations for a new regional economic integration and trade agreement (known as PACER Plus). We supported close engagement with regional counterparts on PACER Plus by the Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, including during his visit (together with the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Mr McMullan) in April 2009 to Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands and New Zealand.

The department also supported the participation of Mr Crean and Mr McMullan in an informal meeting of regional Trade Ministers in Auckland in May 2009 and in the formal Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting in Apia in June 2009. Complementing Mr Crean’s high-level advocacy, officials engaged with partners at bilateral and regional levels, including through meetings of Forum trade officials in Tonga in November 2008, in Australia in February 2009 and in Vanuatu in May 2009. These and other bilateral interactions by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Kerr, contributed to the consensus recommendation by Mr Crean and his Forum counterparts that Leaders agree to begin negotiations on PACER Plus from August 2009.

New Zealand

The department strengthened Australia’s engagement with New Zealand on key bilateral, regional and global issues. We coordinated substantial high-level exchanges, including the annual Closer Economic Relations (CER) Ministerial Meeting in Melbourne in August 2008 (attended by three ministers from each country). We organised meetings between Mr Smith and the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Mr Murray McCully, in January and June 2009; and talks on regional trade and development issues between Mr Crean, Mr Kerr, Mr McMullan, Mr McCully and the New Zealand Trade Minister, Mr Tim Groser, in April 2009.

During a March 2009 visit to Australia, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr John Key, agreed with the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, on a wide-ranging agenda aimed at deepening trans-Tasman economic integration. The department is coordinating with other agencies to implement this agenda, including through work on the CER Rules of Origin, the Joint Food Standards Treaty, therapeutic product standards, a new tax treaty (signed on 26 June 2009) and a CER Investment Protocol. We supported an inter-departmental review of the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement. We also assisted in the preparations for the August 2009 Australia–New Zealand Leadership Forum.

The Prime Ministers agreed on the need for continued close cooperation between Australia and New Zealand on developments in the Pacific, with special emphasis on assisting Pacific island countries achieve their Millennium Development Goals. The department has continued to consult with New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ensure Australia and New Zealand work closely and effectively in the region.

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

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

Papua New Guinea

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The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, presenting a commemorative medallion to PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Samuel Abal, accompanied by Dr Mike Kelly MP (left) and the PNG Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, the Hon Charles Abel, on the margins of the 19th Australia–PNG Ministerial Forum in Brisbane, June 2009.
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The department focused on building on the outcomes of the Prime Minister’s visit to Papua New Guinea in March 2008 and the 18th Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum in 2008. The high-profile visit of the PNG Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, as a Guest of Government, accompanied by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Immigration, The Hon. Samuel Abal, from 27 April to 3 May 2009, further consolidated the bilateral relationship. We worked closely with other government agencies in coordinating the visit.

The department organised the 19th Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum, co-chaired by Mr Smith and his counterpart, Mr Abal, in Brisbane on 9–10 June 2009. The Forum involved 17 ministers from PNG and eight ministers and three parliamentary secretaries from Australia. The Forum took forward a number of priorities including: finalising the first five schedules for the Partnership for Development; endorsing the terms of reference for a review of the bilateral Development Cooperation Treaty; and putting into place revised arrangements for the Strongim Gavman Program (SGP). The successor to the Enhanced Cooperation Program, the SGP helps strengthen governance and accountability in PNG by placing senior Australian government officials in PNG agencies to provide mentoring and strategic advice.

The Forum also saw implementation of the Joint Understanding on the Kokoda Track and Owen Stanley Ranges. A cooperation agreement on sustainable forest management, forest certification and governance was signed, as was a comprehensive work plan to advance cooperation under the Forest Carbon Partnership.

The department supported other high-level bilateral exchanges, including Mr Kerr’s visit to Port Moresby and Bougainville in March 2009. This visit ensured that Australia engaged at an early stage with the new President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, Mr James Tanis. The Parliamentary Secretary for Trade, Mr Anthony Byrne, visited Madang in May 2009, to participate as a keynote speaker in the 25th Australia Papua New Guinea Business Forum. This visit helped to promote dialogue with the business community in Papua New Guinea.

The department maintained its oversight of the Torres Strait Treaty, including by facilitating a visit in December 2008 to the Torres Strait by Mr Kerr. We continued to work closely with other government agencies and Torres Strait indigenous community representatives to ensure effective, whole-of-government management of key Torres Strait border issues.

Solomon Islands

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The Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, and the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Mr McMullan, met Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Dr Derek Sikua, who presented Mr Crean with a traditional shell necklace, during a visit to Honiara on 2 April 2009.
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The department led the Government’s commitment to a peaceful and prosperous future for Solomon Islands, both through enhancing the bilateral relationship and through Australia’s leadership of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). We coordinated an intensive program of high-level bilateral visits, including by Mr Smith and Mr Kerr in July 2008; the then Minister for Defence, Mr Fitzgibbon, in September 2008; the then Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Debus, in April 2009; Mr Crean and Mr McMullan in April 2009; and a further visit by Mr Kerr in May 2009.

Our bilateral work complemented the support we provided for RAMSI’s engagement with the Solomon Islands government, helping that government to maintain law and order, strengthen public institutions, build local capacity, reduce corruption and improve economic management. Intensive joint work by RAMSI and Solomon Islands resulted in the conclusion in May 2009 of the Solomon Islands Government–RAMSI Partnership Framework, which sets out agreed objectives and plans for the Mission’s work. The Framework is a significant milestone which will facilitate a new level of cooperation between RAMSI and Solomon Islands.

We worked with the Pacific Islands Forum to consolidate regional participation in, and support for, RAMSI. Continued regional engagement with RAMSI is vital to its success. All members of the Forum maintained their participation in RAMSI in 2008–09. The department continued to support regional oversight mechanisms for RAMSI, participating in two meetings of the officials-level Enhanced Cooperation Mechanism and supporting attendance by Mr Smith and Mr Kerr respectively at two meetings of the Forum Ministerial Standing Committee on RAMSI.

The department represented Australia’s position on RAMSI to the Review of RAMSI by the Solomon Islands Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee. We made a written submission to the Committee and High Commission staff testified at two hearings.

Fiji

Australia worked closely with Pacific Islands Forum members, countries outside the region and international organisations, including the United Nations, the European Union and the Commonwealth, to encourage Fiji’s prompt return to democracy and the rule of law.

We supported a special meeting of Pacific Islands Forum leaders in Port Moresby in January 2009, at which leaders unanimously agreed on a 1 May deadline for the Interim Government to undertake serious and credible preparations for the holding of an election in 2009. Fiji’s Interim Prime Minister, Commodore Bainimarama, had earlier reneged on his commitment to hold elections in Fiji by March 2009.

Following the failure of the Interim Government to meet this deadline, the Forum took the unprecedented step of suspending participation by the Interim Government in Forum meetings and events. In addition, the regime ceased to be eligible to receive Forum technical assistance, other than assistance to restore democracy.

In reaching this decision, leaders considered the report of the Forum’s six-member Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) after its December 2008 visit to Fiji. The MCG, which includes the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, had earlier visited Fiji in July 2008 and had confirmed that holding an election by March 2009 was still possible, provided there was commitment on the part of the regime.

The department raised at an international level Australia’s deep concern about events in Fiji, especially the abrogation of its constitution in April 2009, the introduction of Public Emergency Regulations that have further eroded free speech and other basic human rights, and continued intimidation of critics of the regime. We made strong protests to the military regime about the expulsion of three Australian media representatives, two of which took place despite court injunctions.

With the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, we coordinated the implementation of travel sanctions against members and leading supporters of the regime. We kept contingency plans under regular review to ensure we were in a position to provide consular assistance to Australians promptly in the event of a serious downturn in the security situation in Fiji. While there have been no further death threats to the High Commissioner and staff in Suva since the middle of 2008, we have yet to receive an adequate response to our requests to the military regime for a thorough investigation.

Vanuatu

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The Australian High Commissioner to Vanuatu, Mr Pablo Kang (centre), with the Vanuatu Prime Minister, Mr Edward Natapei (right), and the then Vanuatu Health Minister, Mr Joe Natuman, meeting the local community on Tanna at the launch of the Malaria Reference Group meeting on 4 May 2009. The Australian Government is providing $6 million towards the elimination of malaria in Tafea province by 2014.
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We quickly established productive links with Vanuatu’s new government following its election in September 2008, contributing to the signing of the Australia–Vanuatu Partnership for Development during the May 2009 visit to Australia of Vanuatu’s Prime Minister, Mr Edward Natapei. We also supported other high-level bilateral visits, including by the Vanuatu Interior Minister, Mr Patrick Crowby, to Australia in February 2009, and visits to Vanuatu by Mr Crean and Mr McMullan in April 2009. We assisted the Australian Tax Office and the Australian Federal Police with the Project Wickenby investigations into serious tax fraud and money-laundering.

Tonga

The department maintained its strong support for the efforts of the government and people of Tonga to recover from the November 2006 riots. We helped Tonga establish a new High Commission in Canberra in November 2008 and facilitated high-level contacts, including visits to Tonga by Mr Smith, Mr Crean, Mr McMullan and Mr Kerr. We and other agencies have agreed to the Tongan government’s requests for additional Australian support to facilitate constitutional and electoral reforms ahead of planned elections in 2010.

Nauru

The signing in July 2008 of a revised memorandum of understanding on Australian assistance by Mr Smith and the Nauruan Foreign Minister, Dr Kieren Keke, saw Nauru take another step away from its dependence on the offshore processing centre for asylum-seekers, which closed in February 2008. This transition continued with the initiation of negotiations for a Partnership for Development, which will enable Nauru to move to a multi-year assistance program framework. We encouraged Nauru to continue reforms, including on economic and financial governance, fisheries management and law and justice, aimed at restoring essential infrastructure and services and improving economic self-sufficiency.

Other Pacific island countries

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The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Duncan Kerr SC, with the Solomon Islands Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Mr William Haomae (right), during a Forum Ministerial Standing Committee meeting on RAMSI, May 2009. The Hon. Billy Talagi, MP (left), from Niue looks on.
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Reflecting the focus on enhanced engagement with the region, the department supported an increased tempo of visits and contact between portfolio ministers and parliamentary secretaries and their Pacific counterparts, including visits to Palau, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Niue. Guest of Government visits by the leaders of Samoa and Tuvalu were supported. We hosted the Kiribati Cabinet Secretary under the department’s Special Visits Program. We also consulted private sector representatives, contributed to research bodies, academic dialogues and business forums, and briefed media when necessary on a range of issues.

French Collectivities

The department worked to strengthen engagement with the French Government and the governments of the French Collectivities of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna, including by providing support to the November 2008 visit of the then French Minister of State for Overseas France, Mr Yves Jego, and to the visit by Mr Kerr to New Caledonia for an Armistice Day ceremony and bilateral discussions. We also helped coordinate the visit by the French High Commissioner to New Caledonia, Mr Yves Dassonville, in March 2009, which led to enhanced cooperation between New Caledonia, France and Australia on disaster response, maritime security, policing, and environmental issues.

Pacific Islands Forum

The department worked constructively with regional organisations and institutions, particularly the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, to support responses to the region’s political and security challenges. In particular, the department’s advocacy at the Forum Regional Security Committee meeting resulted in strong statements of support for regional positions on Fiji and RAMSI.

At the August 2008 Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Niue, the department contributed to the development of a leaders’ declaration on climate change and a framework for fisheries management. We also supported rationalisation of the functions of regional institutions. Australia announced a $150 million climate change adaptation initiative focused predominantly on the Pacific. This initiative was welcomed by leaders and served to focus attention on climate change as a critical challenge for low-lying Pacific island countries.

The department worked closely with other government agencies and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to develop a policy framework for the August 2009 Leaders’ Meeting in Cairns. Through engagement with the secretariat and Forum island countries we contributed to the development of a comprehensive agenda for the Leaders’ Meeting and a plan of action for Australia to engage with the region in our role as Forum Chair in 2009–10.

Outlook

As Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum over the coming year, Australia will play a leading role in taking forward the decisions made by the Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Cairns. Priorities will be support for the development of policies that build resilience in the face of the global economic crisis, strengthening development coordination, development of a regional response to climate change, renewable energy, fisheries, and regional economic integration (PACER Plus).

The department will advance Australia’s Pacific Engagement Strategy, including through the implementation of existing Pacific Partnerships, and the extension of the Partnerships to more countries in the region. We will also work actively to achieve greater economic integration and trade in the Pacific region.

We will lead whole-of-government coordination of Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea, including the involvement of Australian agencies in the Strongim Gavman Program and in implementing the decisions of the Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum.

Australia remains committed to assisting the Solomon Islands Government achieve a sustainable future for its people. The department will coordinate Australia’s support for Solomon Islands and work closely with donor partners and RAMSI to meet the challenges faced by that country.

Dealing with the military regime in Fiji will continue to be a significant challenge. Sustained advocacy and cooperation with other countries, regional forums and multilateral institutions will be needed to maintain pressure for an early return to democracy and to respond to Fiji’s declining economic position.

 

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