Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally



1.1.6 Pacific

Overview

Stability, security and prosperity in the Pacific are important to Australia’s national interest. One quarter of Australia’s aid program is dedicated to the region.

The department strengthened Australia’s bilateral relationships in the region, including by supporting an intensive program of visits by the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Marles.

Relations with Papua New Guinea were a strong focus of the department’s work which included implementing the outcomes of ministerial consultations in July 2010. Our High Commission in Port Moresby worked closely with PNG ministers and officials on the establishment of sovereign wealth funds to ensure revenues from the multi-billion dollar PNG LNG project and other resource projects contribute to a stable and sustainable future for Papua New Guineans.

The department had an active role in whole-of-government work on economic integration with New Zealand and on coordinating Australia’s response to the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011. Our High Commission in Wellington and
Consulate-General in Auckland helped many Australians affected by the earthquake and supported Australia’s earthquake response.

At a regional level, the department led Australia’s efforts to encourage Fiji’s return to democracy. The High Commission in Nuku’alofa facilitated Australian electoral and constitutional support to Tonga as it implemented democratic reforms, culminating in free and fair elections in November 2010.

We coordinated Australia’s leadership of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The department supported Pacific efforts to increase economic growth and regional economic integration through leading Australia’s participation in Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus negotiations and contributing to negotiations for a new regional treaty to protect Pacific fisheries.

Pacific Engagement

Photo - See caption below for description
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Rudd, inspects damage in Christchurch following the earthquake with the then New Zealand Minister for Civil Defence, Mr John Carter, on 25 March 2011.
Photo: Simon Woolf

The department supported the participation of the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Smith, in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders’ meeting in Port Vila in August 2010. It coordinated Australia’s implementation of the meeting’s outcomes, including efforts to achieve progress on the Millennium Development Goals, climate change adaptation and mitigation actions and effective implementation of the Cairns Compact on Strengthening Development Coordination.

The department worked with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in developing Australia’s approach to negotiations on protecting Pacific fisheries, which have made good progress.

Following the appointment in September 2010 of the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Marles, the department supported his visits to Forum member and associate member countries, to advance bilateral relations and reinforce Australia’s leading role in promoting regional development and stability.

The department also supported Mr Marles’ participation in the May 2011 Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting in Tonga, which decided future steps in the PACER Plus negotiations. This built on the department’s work, in consultation with other agencies, to develop and advocate Australian positions on priority PACER Plus negotiating issues at officials’ sessions in October 2010 and March 2011.

The department helped organise a September 2010 capacity building workshop on rules of origin and customs procedures for regional trade officials. In consultation with IP Australia and the World Intellectual Property Organization, the department played a key role in the April 2011 regional workshop that finalised a memorandum of understanding for a Regional Trademark Applications System.

The department supported the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations in implementing the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS). This included consulting with participating countries to obtain agreement to changes made by the Australian Government in December 2010 to improve the Scheme’s flexibility and bolster demand. There has been a significant increase in demand, with over three-quarters of the visas granted under the Scheme granted in the 2010–11 financial year. We facilitated the participation of the first group of workers from Papua New Guinea in May 2011.

New Zealand

Australia’s close and valued partnership with New Zealand was further strengthened during 2010–11. The department contributed to visits by Prime Minister Gillard in February and March 2011 and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in June 2011, which advanced trans-Tasman cooperation, including on joint regulation of therapeutic goods. We supported Mr Rudd’s participation in Foreign Ministers’ Meetings with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully in November 2010 and March 2011, which deepened cooperation on a range of regional and global issues.

In collaboration with the Treasury, the department strengthened economic integration with New Zealand through finalisation and signature of an Investment Protocol to the
Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (ANZCERTA). We assisted other agencies in implementation of amendments to the Agreement’s Rules of Origin.

With support from the department, Dr Emerson, Mr Marles and other Australian parliamentarians participated in the business-led Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum in Auckland in April 2011. The Forum discussed economic integration and shared strategic priorities.

Working with a range of other government agencies, the department coordinated Australia’s emergency response to the earthquake in Christchurch on 22 February 2011. Over 750 Australian personnel were involved in rescue and relief efforts.

FIGURE 13. AUSTRALIA’S TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES WITH NEW ZEALAND (a)

FIGURE 13. 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.
Based on DFAT STARS database and ABS catalogue 5368.0.55.004.

Papua New Guinea

Photo - See caption below for description
The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Marles, is greeted by a traditional ‘sing sing’ or welcome ceremony during his visit to an eye clinic in Papua New Guinea on 28 March 2011.
Photo: AusAID

Australia’s substantial and complex relationship with Papua New Guinea made good progress during 2010–11, gaining momentum from bilateral ministerial consultations in Alotau in July 2010.

The department contributed to implementing outcomes agreed at the Alotau meeting, including to chart new directions for Australia’s development assistance program through a joint response to the Development Cooperation Treaty Review and to review the use of technical advisers, which resulted in a significant reduction in their number.

The Alotau meeting also reaffirmed Australia’s commitment under the 2009 Joint Understanding on Further Cooperation on the PNG LNG Project to support the PNG Government’s implementation of the project. The department worked with the Treasury, the Department of Finance and Deregulation, and AusAID to help the PNG Government develop three sovereign wealth funds to ensure LNG project revenues are managed effectively.

The department worked with other agencies on arrangements to facilitate the
cross-border movement of officials and health professionals in the shared border region of the Torres Strait. The then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Smith, signed an exchange of letters at Alotau to formalise this arrangement. The department coordinated the whole-of-government response to the Senate Inquiry into the Torres Strait. Mr Smith also signed a Second Joint Understanding to promote development and heritage preservation in the Kokoda Track region, which had been negotiated by the department.

During 2010–11, the department supported four visits to Papua New Guinea by Mr Marles to promote cooperation on the PNG LNG project, the PSWPS, Bougainville, the Kokoda Track, and disability issues. Mr Marles also held discussions on the proposal to establish a regional processing centre.

In late February to early March 2011, under the Special Visits Program, the department hosted the President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), John Momis, who provided insights into future plans for development in Bougainville. The department is leading inter-agency deliberations on how Australia can further support the PNG National Government and the ABG in implementing the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

With AusAID, the department supported Mr Marles in hosting with Deakin University the first annual PNG symposium in May 2011. The event attracted academics, students, politicians and business leaders from PNG and Australia. A key objective is to reinvigorate interest in academic studies on Pacific issues.

Solomon Islands

Photo - See caption below for description
The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Marles, is greeted by students at Kukudu village, Kolombangara Island, Solomon Islands on 29 June 2011.

In consultation with the Solomon Islands Government, regional partners and other Australian agencies, the department continued to coordinate Australia’s leadership of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The aim is to achieve a stable and more prosperous future for Solomon Islands.

As part of a UN-coordinated international observer effort, the department led a 10-member Australian team to monitor the Solomon Islands election, which RAMSI helped conduct through an AusAID-managed electoral strengthening program and reinforced security deployments.

Mr Marles and the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator Feeney, attended a meeting of the Forum Ministerial Standing Committee on RAMSI in Honiara in June 2011. The meeting advanced plans for the further draw-down of RAMSI personnel in 2011–12 and beyond, as planned in the mission’s 2009 Partnership Framework with the Solomon Islands Government.

The department worked to strengthen further Australia’s bilateral relationship with Solomon Islands. We supported bilateral visits to Solomon Islands by Mr Marles, Senator Feeney and the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr O’Connor. The department effectively managed the potential impact on relations of a so-called ‘intelligence report’ which made unfounded allegations against Australia. In February 2011, the Solomon Islands Prime Minister and the Australian High Commissioner issued a joint press release agreeing to move on and focus on the substance of the bilateral relationship.

Fiji

The department continued to lead Australia’s efforts to encourage Fiji’s return to democracy. The Fiji regime has not yet, however, taken any credible steps towards democracy and continues to abuse the human rights of Fiji citizens.

We worked with regional partners in the lead-up to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders’ meeting in August 2010, at which leaders confirmed Fiji’s continuing suspension from the Forum and reaffirmed the importance of solidarity amongst the international community for Fiji’s early return to democracy.

As part of the effort to engage the Fiji interim government, we supported the participation of Mr Marles in the PIF Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) meeting on Fiji in Vanuatu in February 2011. The MCG welcomed an invitation from the interim government to visit Fiji, but the interim government has not yet agreed dates for a visit to proceed. Mr Rudd participated in Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meetings in September 2010 and April 2011 which expressed regret about the lack of progress towards restoring democracy in Fiji, necessitating its continued suspension from the Commonwealth.

Australia’s response to the expulsion of Australia’s acting High Commissioner by the Fiji interim government in July 2010 was coordinated by the department. We also continued to draw international and regional attention to the deteriorating economic, social and human rights situation in Fiji, including through a statement at the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011.

With the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, we continued to implement travel sanctions directed at members and leading supporters and beneficiaries of Fiji’s military regime.

Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and Nauru

We worked with AusAID and Tongan authorities to support democratic reforms in Tonga, culminating in the election of a new parliament in November 2010. The department led a nine-member Australian team which monitored the election. We worked to establish productive relations with the new Tongan Government that took office after the election, including through supporting two visits to Tonga by Mr Marles, which enabled early high-level engagement on bilateral and regional issues.

To demonstrate Australia’s strong relationship with Vanuatu, the department supported the visit of the Governor-General to Port Vila in July 2010 to attend celebrations for the 30th anniversary of Vanuatu’s independence. Mr Marles visited the nation in October 2010 to highlight Australia’s substantial contribution to the achievement of Vanuatu’s development goals.

We also engaged Vanuatu on a range of regional issues. Vanuatu assumed the chair of the PIF at the Leaders’ Meeting in August 2010, attended by Mr Smith and the then Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Mr McMullan. Vanuatu also chaired the MCG meeting on Fiji in February 2011, in which Mr Marles participated.

The relationship with Samoa was marked by a successful Guest-of-Government visit to Australia in June 2011 by Prime Minister Tuilaepa. In October and November 2010, the department arranged visits to Samoa by Mr Marles which advanced our bilateral and regional interests. We negotiated with Samoa a Partnership for Security, which was signed by Mr Smith and Prime Minister Tuilaepa at the PIF Leaders’ meeting in August 2010. The department facilitated a further derogation under the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement (SPARTECA) treaty for imports of automotive wire harnesses made in Samoa.

The department worked with the Government of Nauru and other Australian agencies to promote economic, governance and institution-building reforms. In November 2010 we arranged a visit to Nauru by Mr Marles which consolidated the progress being made in health and education under the bilateral Partnership for Development.

Other countries and entities

The department supported visits by Mr Marles to New Caledonia, Kiribati, Tuvalu, American Samoa, Niue, Palau, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the US state of Hawaii, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. These visits reinforced Australia’s strong engagement throughout the region, with maritime surveillance and protection of the region’s fisheries a prominent theme in many of the discussions.

The department negotiated a Partnership for Security with Kiribati, which Mr Smith and President Anote Tong signed at the PIF Leaders’ Meeting in August 2010. Under the Special Visits Program, the department hosted visits by Kiribati’s Foreign Secretary, Tessie Lambourne, and Tuvalu’s Opposition Leader, Enele Sopoaga, for discussions on climate change and development issues.

In November 2010 the department led Australia’s delegation at bilateral senior officials’ talks in Noumea, the first of their kind with New Caledonia since 2005.

Personal Profile:

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Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands, Mr Matt Anderson, following the presentation of his letter of introduction to Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Mr Danny Philip.

Matt Anderson

As High Commissioner to Solomon Islands, Matt Anderson is responsible for deepening one of Australia’s most significant bilateral relationships in the Pacific. Working closely with the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), Matt’s posting to Honiara comes at a time when RAMSI is in transition, with several of its highly successful Economic and Machinery of Governance programs likely to move gradually from RAMSI to bilateral and multilateral programs.

“The Pacific is a fantastic area in which to work. There are as many challenges out here as there are cultures, but the rewards are both frequent and humbling. I’ve been lucky to have helped negotiate a weapons disposal agreement in the shadow of a volcano on Bougainville, travelled in a dug-out canoe to attend meetings on the majestic Sepik River in PNG, and been co-opted to Samoa’s National Disaster Management Committee to help implement Australia’s response to the September 2009 Pacific tsunami. Put simply, I reckon I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world.”

Matt joined the department as a graduate trainee in 1995. He has been posted to Cape Town and Port Moresby, was chief negotiator of the four-nation peace monitoring group on Bougainville. Matt was awarded the Public Service Medal in the 2011 Australia Day Honours List for his role leading the consular and humanitarian response to the 2009 earthquake and tsunami in Samoa, where he was High Commissioner from 2007–2011. He took up his appointment as High Commissioner to Solomon Islands in June 2011.

Outlook

The department’s bilateral and regional efforts will continue to focus on ensuring a strong Australian contribution to the region’s economic development, stability and security. The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ meeting in Auckland in September 2011, which the Prime Minister will attend, will be a priority.

Relations with Papua New Guinea in the lead-up to elections in 2012 and support to the PNG government in implementing the PNG LNG project will require careful attention. The department will continue to work with the region and the international community to put Fiji back on a path to democracy. In Solomon Islands we will steer RAMSI’s transition, including the planned continuing draw-down of personnel.

The department will focus on regional economic growth and integration through implementing Australia’s commitment to the PACER Plus negotiations and working to increase the number of workers participating in the last year of the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme. The department will also contribute strongly to negotiations for a legal framework to strengthen fisheries protection by late 2012.

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