Australia is taking our partnership with the Pacific to a new level. We want to work with our Pacific partners to build a Pacific region that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically.
This is one of our highest foreign policy priorities, as highlighted in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper. This new approach recognises that closer cooperation among Pacific countries is essential to the region’s long-term economic and security prospects.
We provide support to the Pacific through our aid program, police and defence assistance, access to the Australian market and to jobs and scholarships, and through emergency assistance following natural disasters.
Stepping-up our engagement
At the 2016 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Meetings, former Prime Minister Turnbull announced a 'step up' of Australia's engagement in the Pacific. At the 2017 Forum in Apia, he announced a series of initiatives, developed in partnership with Pacific island countries that recognised the need for new approaches and a higher level of ambition from Australia to help address the region's major economic, security and development challenges.
Our support is focused on three priorities:
- promoting economic cooperation and greater integration within the Pacific and also with the Australian and New Zealand economies, including through labour mobility
- tackling security challenges, with a focus on maritime issues, and
- strengthening people-to-people links, skills and leadership.
In November 2018, Prime Minister Morrison and Foreign Minister Payne announced further measures to strengthen the ambition of Australia’s stepped-up Pacific engagement. They include:
Supporting infrastructure in the Pacific
On 17 November 2018 at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Papua New Guinea, Australia joined with Japan and the United States to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on a Trilateral Partnership for infrastructure investment in the Indo-Pacific.
The Trilateral Partnership MOU complements two major infrastructure initiatives announced on 8 November by the Prime Minister, to strengthen Australia’s ability to support the Pacific region’s infrastructure needs. They are the $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP), and an extra $1 billion allocation to Australia’s Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (Efic) to support additional investments in the region.
Also at APEC 2018, Australia joined PNG, Japan, New Zealand and the United States to announce the Papua New Guinea Electrification Partnership, which aims to connect 70 per cent of PNG to electricity by 2030.
Diplomatic presence in the Pacific
Australia now has the most extensive diplomatic network in the Pacific and in close consultation with host governments the Australian Government intends to expand our diplomatic presence to every Pacific Islands Forum member. Over the next few years, this would see Australia establish five new diplomatic missions in Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Niue, Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Office of the Pacific
We have established a dedicated Office of the Pacific in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In support of Ministers, the new Office will play a critical role in the implementation of recently announced initiatives to boost Australia’s engagement with the Pacific. It will have strong links to other Australian government agencies, such as the departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Defence, Home Affairs and Attorney-General’s.
Expanded Pacific labour mobility
The Pacific Labour Scheme commenced on 1 July 2018 following a successful pilot program in northern Australia, and building on the success of the Seasonal Worker Programme. The Scheme will help meet business demand across all sectors in rural and regional Australia.
On 15 November, Foreign Minister Payne announced an expansion to the Pacific Labour Scheme to all Pacific island countries. In addition, the current cap of 2,000 places will be lifted.
Defence and security
On 8 November, Prime Minister Morrison announced further Defence and Home Affairs initiatives in the Pacific. These include a dedicated vessel to deliver support, including for:
- Pacific humanitarian and disaster relief and response
- an annual Joint Heads of Pacific Security Forces event hosted in Australia
- an Australian Defence Force Pacific Mobile Training Team, and
- the Pacific Faculty of Policing at the Australian Institute of Police Management.
Cyber Cooperation Program
Australia will expand our Cyber Cooperation Program in the Pacific to:
- strengthen cybercrime prevention, prosecution and cooperation
- enhance cyber incident response capability, and
- foster best practice use of technology to support economic growth and sustainable development.
Church Partnerships Program
To enhance our long-standing social and cultural links, we will encourage Australian and Pacific churches to work more closely together through a Church Partnerships Program. The program will support Pacific churches to provide community services and encourage greater engagement between Pacific and Australian church leaders.
Enhancing educational links
We will deepen educational links by providing a new package of scholarships for Pacific students to study in Australian secondary schools. We will also increase the number of scholarships for vocational education and training and expand our school partnerships program (BRIDGE) to improve teacher training in the Pacific.
These initiatives complement the Australian Government’s Australia Awards and New Colombo Plan programs, which focus on tertiary education.
Australian media content
The Australian Government will work with commercial media operators to ensure the Pacific has access to more quality Australian media content on TV and other platforms. This will include lifestyle programs, news, current affairs, children’s content, drama and potentially sports.
Enhancing sporting ties
We will establish a new grants program — the Australia Pacific Sports Linkages Program (AP-SLP) — to strengthen sports linkages between Australia and the Pacific. As part of this package, we will sponsor teams and athletes from the Pacific to participate in sporting competitions across Australia.
The Pacific Sports Partnerships (PSP) program continues to deliver positive outcomes in leadership, gender equality, health and improving the lives of people with disability through sport, while building lasting relationships between Australia and Pacific countries.
Improving visiting Pacific leaders’ travel experience
To improve the travel experience of visiting Pacific leaders from political, government, business, church and sporting spheres, Australia has introduced a new Pacific-Australia Card. The card offers invited leaders priority immigration processing at major Australian airports, priority processing of tourist and business visitor visas (subclass 600) and longer validity tourist and business visitor visas (subclass 600) where relevant conditions are met.
Invited leaders from the following countries and territories are eligible for the card: Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.
Other key people-to-people initiatives
These include the Pacific Research Program, the Australian Aid: Friendship Grants program, and the Pacific Connect program.
Overview of Australia's aid program to the Pacific
Australia’s Step up in engagement builds on our development assistance to the region of $1.3 billion.