Supporting economically resilient, stable and secure countries in the Pacific is one of five priorities in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, which is delivering a "step-change" in our engagement with Pacific island countries. This new approach recognises a more ambitious engagement by Australia, including helping to integrate Pacific countries into the Australian and New Zealand economies and our security institutions, is essential to the long-term security and economic prospects of the Pacific.
This new ambition in our engagement with the Pacific builds on Australia's long-standing and close partnerships with governments and communities across the region. 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, 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 will focus 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.
These priorities build on our commitment to work with governments in the Pacific to respond to climate change, bolster resilience, strengthen emergency responses and improve governance, education, health and gender outcomes.
Australia's development assistance to the region is the largest of any country, and has grown to record levels ($1.3 billion) under the 2018-19 budget.
Overview of Australia's aid program to the Pacific
The flagship economic initiative of Australia's "step-up" is the Pacific Labour Scheme. To commence in July 2018, with an initial intake of up to 2,000 workers, the scheme will allow workers from the region to take up non-seasonal low and semi-skilled work in rural and regional Australia in growth sectors such as health care, social assistance and hospitality. In parallel, our Seasonal Worker Programme will be streamlined to give more Australian employers access to a reliable seasonal workforce drawn from the Pacific and Timor-Leste. The program has provided employment opportunities for over 23,000 workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste since 2012, delivering $144 million in net income gains to the region.
Australia is also working with Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to build high-speed telecommunications cables from Sydney to Port Moresby and Honiara. The cables will allow faster and more reliable internet connections in both countries, providing significant opportunities for economic growth and development.
The Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER PLUS) has been signed by 10 countries including New Zealand, and is driving economic growth and creating opportunities for increased trade and investment.
Defence and security issues have been features of Australia's engagement with the region for decades, with a particular focus on maritime issues. Under the Pacific Maritime Security Program (PMSP), Australia will provide 19 new replacement patrol vessels to Pacific Island countries from 2018 onwards, together with an aerial surveillance program.
The Australian Federal Police's (AFP) Pacific Police Development Program (PPDP) works with police in Pacific nations to improve the rule of law as a prerequisite for economic, social and political development.
Australia will continue to support and better coordinate defence, police, intelligence, border and law and justice training. We will work with Pacific partners to establish an Australia Pacific Security College to deliver security and law enforcement training at the leadership level.
We are boosting civil maritime cooperation to enhance information sharing and to improve responses to threats such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and smuggling of people, wildlife and drugs. In support of these efforts, Australia will continue to cooperate closely in the Pacific with New Zealand, the United States and France on maritime surveillance and disaster preparedness and response.
We have signed a new security treaty with Solomon Islands and bilateral security partnerships with Tuvalu and Nauru. Work on a security partnership with Kiribati is also underway. Australia is a strong supporter of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) consultations for a 'Biketawa Plus' regional security declaration. This declaration will guide future regional responses to emerging security issues.
Australia is also a first responder in times of disaster and humanitarian crisis. We supported PNG in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck on 26 February 2018 and after Tropical Cyclone Gita devastated Tonga on 12 February 2018. To further support Pacific countries, Australia has committed $300 million for a package of climate change and disaster resilience support over four years, announced by Prime Minister Turnbull at the 2016 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting.
People to people links
The people to people links between Australia and the Pacific are long-established and extensive. More than 140,000 people of Pacific heritage are resident in Australia and hundreds more come to Australia to study. In 2018, we are providing 876 Australia Award Scholarships to Pacific students.
Large numbers of Australians are also being exposed to the Pacific. Almost 600,000 Australians visited and holidayed in the region in 2017. Since 2014, more than 2,430 Australian undergraduates undertook study or internships in the region under the New Colombo Plan - helping create a future generation of Australian leaders with a better understanding of, and deeper connections with, the Pacific.
Australia will shortly begin the pilot phase of the Australia-Pacific BRIDGE School Partnerships Program, starting with schools in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.
Australia was a founding member of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Pacific Community (SPC). We have the most extensive diplomatic network in the Pacific, which will grow to 14 missions with the scheduled opening of a new Post in Tuvalu in 2018-19.