Annual Report 2006-2007

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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 :: New Zealand :: Fiji :: Solomon Islands :: Papua New Guinea :: Tonga :: Nauru :: Other Pacific island countries :: Pacific Islands Forum :: outlook


The department continued its efforts to maintain and enhance security and good governance in the South Pacific and to strengthen further our relationship with New Zealand.

We coordinated the Government’s responses to the fourth coup in Fiji and worked with the international community to press Fiji to return to democratic rule as soon as possible. We successfully managed Australia’s whole of government contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and actively supported a review of RAMSI by the Pacific Islands Forum. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), the department coordinated the Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP). The department also helped implement measures taken in response to the escape from PNG, of an Australian who was the subject of a formal extradition request. Elsewhere in the region, the department played a major role in responding to the riots that destroyed much of Tonga’s capital and successfully concluded a fifth memorandum of understanding with Nauru.

Regionally, the department helped to consolidate firm regional responses to the challenges of weak governance and to ensure that concrete actions were taken to implement the Pacific Plan vision of a more prosperous and stable region.

New Zealand

The department maintained its efforts to strengthen our important and diverse relationship with New Zealand. Our support for Mr Downer’s biannual talks with the New Zealand Foreign Minister and for Mr Vaile’s hosting of the annual Closer Economic Relations (CER) Ministerial meeting (attended by three ministers from each country) helped drive a broad agenda of shared foreign and trade policy objectives. Foreign Ministers’ talks continued to provide strategic direction to trans-Tasman coordination on key Pacific issues, including events in Fiji and Tonga and RAMSI.

As chair of the interdepartmental New Zealand Policy Group, the department provided support and coordination for new initiatives to deepen bilateral collaboration. On trade and economic issues, we collaborated closely with the Department of Industry, Technology and Resources, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and the Australian Customs Service to implement new rules of origin under the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (ANZCERTA). The new change of tariff classification rules entered into force on 1 January 2007 following ANZCERTA amendments and passage of domestic legislation, and will promote trans-Tasman trade by simplifying administration and reducing business compliance costs.

Working with the co-chairs of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, James Strong AO (Chairman, IAG Ltd and Woolworths Ltd) and John Allen (CEO, New Zealand Post), the department helped deliver a fourth annual Forum in Sydney (22 to 23 April), which participants considered highly successful. Bringing together senior government, business and community leaders, the Forum has become an effective private sector-led mechanism for strengthening trans-Tasman ties.

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.

Following the 27 March 2007 determination by the Australian Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine that imports of New Zealand apples should be allowed into Australia under strict quarantine conditions, the department worked closely with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to manage the impact of this sensitive market access issue on bilateral relations.


Fiji experienced its fourth military coup in 20 years on 5 December 2006. In the months leading up to the coup, the department worked with other countries to convey to the Fiji military the international community’s strong opposition to its efforts to destabilise the country. We put in place extensive consular preparations to evacuate Australians from Fiji in the event of an emergency and led inter-departmental consideration of the Government’s response to the coup. We encouraged regional and international responses, including by the Pacific Islands Forum, aimed at pressing Fiji’s military regime to restore democratic rule as soon as possible.

With the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), the department coordinated the imposition of travel sanctions against coup perpetrators and their supporters. We continue to work closely with DIAC to implement those sanctions.

The department continued to coordinate Australian participation in the Pacific Islands Forum’s Joint Working Group (JWG) with Fiji that helped secure ‘in principle’ agreement by the military regime to a timetable for an election in the first quarter of 2009. In addition, we have taken up in the JWG our strong concerns over the abuse of human rights by the military regime. In United Nations forums we have ensured continued international attention on human rights in Fiji.

Before the coup, negotiations between Australia and Fiji over proposed amendments to the textiles, clothing and footwear (TCF) component of the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA) continued. In close consultation with the Australian and Fiji TCF industries, relevant government agencies and the Fiji Government, the department secured agreement on the details of amendments to SPARTECA-TCF and the related package of assistance. In the aftermath of the coup and in partnership with other government agencies, the department has progressively implemented the reform package which aims to improve the productivity of Fiji’s TCF industry.

Solomon Islands

The department continued to coordinate Australia’s whole of government contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Other agencies participating in the RAMSI Inter-departmental Committee are Attorney-General’s, AusAID, Australian Federal Police, Australian Customs Service, Defence, Finance, Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Treasury. Other agencies that contribute in-country deployees are National Archives, AusAID, Australian Electoral Commission, Australian Federal Police, Australian Customs Service, Defence, Finance, Australian Office of Financial Management, and Treasury.

Photo - See caption below for description
Ms Jacqui Rabel (second from left), a departmental officer attached to the Office of the Special Coordinator, and members of RAMSI undertaking community outreach in Solomon Islands, April 2007. Photo courtesy of RAMSI
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The Australian National Audit Office undertook a performance audit of the coordination of Australian Government Assistance to Solomon Islands (Audit Report No.47 2006–07). The report noted that the department, along with AusAID, had put in place arrangements that enabled effective and sound coordination of Australia’s participation in RAMSI.

The department worked closely with the Pacific Islands Forum to enhance regional support for RAMSI. The mission continued to assist the Solomon Islands Government to maintain law and order, strengthen institutions and local capacity, reduce corruption and reinvigorate the economy. All sixteen members of the Pacific Islands Forum, including Solomon Islands itself, are partners in RAMSI. We continued to explore ways to expand regional participation in RAMSI, including through targeted recruitment of an increased number of Pacific islanders. The department actively supported a review of RAMSI by the Pacific Islands Forum, as mandated by Forum Leaders in October 2006.

The department carefully considered and provided advice on Australia’s response to bilateral tensions following the expulsion of Australia’s high commissioner to Solomon Islands in September 2006.

We worked closely with RAMSI and the Australian high commission to develop an effective public diplomacy strategy for Solomon Islands, and engaged proactively with Australian media to improve understanding of Australian policy towards Solomon Islands, including our leadership role in RAMSI. The department supported RAMSI’s enhanced outreach activities at all levels throughout Solomon Islands, which has helped maintain strong public support for RAMSI among Solomon Islanders. A recent survey in Solomon Islands found that 90 per cent of all respondents supported RAMSI’s presence in Solomon Islands.

The department worked closely with AusAID to coordinate a whole of government response to the devastating tsunami that struck Solomon Islands on 2 April 2007. Significant resources despatched by Australian Government agencies and RAMSI provided valuable immediate short-term relief. We also assisted with coordination of longer-term reconstruction and rehabilitation assistance to help those in affected areas to recover.

PERSONAL PROFILE: Estelle Parker, Policy Adviser, Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI)

Photo - See caption below for description
Ms Estelle Parker (centre), a departmental officer working for the Office of the Special Coordinator, and members of RAMSI undertaking a community outreach in Solomon Islands, April 2007. Photo courtesy of RAMSI
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

Estelle Parker has worked as a policy adviser to the Special Coordinator of RAMSI since September 2006. ‘The whole of government aspect of the work is particularly enjoyable’, Estelle says. ‘RAMSI involves personnel from a number of Australian federal and state government departments including Treasury, Finance, Customs and police, all working to develop the skills of Solomon Islanders in their respective areas. DFAT and AusAID work closely with these agencies on the ground.’ Estelle chairs a working group of RAMSI and Solomon Islands Government personnel that is tasked with measuring RAMSI’s performance across all areas.

RAMSI arrived in Solomon Islands in July 2003 following years of civil unrest. The mission is led by Australia and made up of hundreds of police, military and civilian advisers from 15 Pacific island countries. Its key focus is developing the capacity of the Solomon Islands Government in the areas of law and justice, economic governance and machinery of government.

The past year has also seen greater involvement in RAMSI by the Pacific Islands Forum, which promises a constructive way ahead through close regional partnership. Estelle notes that ‘another very rewarding part of this job is working with RAMSI’s Pacific personnel’. RAMSI includes civilian advisers from countries such as Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and PNG, who are working with Solomon Islands institutions including the courts and Auditor General’s Office.

Estelle regularly travels to provincial areas to discuss RAMSI’s work directly with communities. ‘It is rewarding to receive the overwhelmingly positive feedback from Solomon Islanders about the tangible improvements RAMSI is making to their lives. The challenge will be to ensure these achievements are sustainable in the long term.’

Estelle joined DFAT as a Graduate Trainee in 2001 and has since worked in the Victoria State Office, European Union Section and as a Civilian Peace Monitor in Bougainville, PNG.


Papua New Guinea

Photo - See caption below for description
High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, Mr Chris Moraitis, meets local stallholders at the opening on 12 September 2006 of the new 7.5 million PNG Kina Mount Hagen markets funded by the Australian Government.
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), the department continued to coordinate the Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP) under which Australian officials are helping improve governance and build capacity in PNG Government agencies. Around 45 officials from a range of Australian Government agencies assisted PNG in economic and financial management, measures against corruption, law and justice, and border management and transport security. The officials made significant contributions on a number of issues, particularly budget planning and financial controls.

The department made preparations for the involvement of a number of Australian ministers in the annual Australia–PNG Ministerial Forum, scheduled for November 2006 in PNG. This event was cancelled by Australia following the escape from PNG of an Australian citizen who was the subject of a formal extradition request for serious alleged offences. The department coordinated the implementation of measures that reflected strong Australian Government concern at this occurrence.


The department played a central role in coordinating Australia’s response to riots in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, on 16 November 2006, which destroyed most of the central business district and resulted in a number of deaths. At the request of the Government of Tonga, we helped manage the joint deployment by Australia and New Zealand of approximately 150 defence and police personnel, who made a major contribution to the rapid restoration of law and order in the Tongan capital. The whole of government response coordinated by the department included development assistance that has contributed to business recovery and reconstruction. We helped coordinate the work of AusAID and the Australian Federal Police following the riots in assessing the needs of the Tongan police force and developing an appropriate package of assistance to enhance the ability of the police force to respond to civil unrest.


The department coordinated a coherent whole of government approach to assistance to Nauru, under our bilateral memorandum of understanding (MOU), which led to improvements in economic management, transparency and accountability. We led successful negotiations to conclude a fifth MOU, scheduled to come into force in January 2008, committing the Government of Nauru to continued reform in exchange for Australian assistance.

Other Pacific island countries

The department maintained and deepened our bilateral relationships with a number of other Pacific island countries, leading to strong cooperation from many on important regional issues such as the coup in Fiji. We facilitated successful visits to Australia by the Prime Ministers of Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga (on two occasions) and a number of high-level visits to the region, including by the Australian Governor-General to Samoa for the funeral of the Samoan Head of State. These visits reaffirmed the value both sides attach to these relationships.

Pacific Islands Forum

Australia actively engages the Pacific region’s institutions, which are central to our efforts to promote regional stability and prosperity. The department continued to work closely with Australia’s Pacific neighbours to support Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and Forum Foreign Ministers’ action to agree on firm steps to tackle governance challenges in Solomon Islands and Fiji. In particular, the department played a leading role in shaping the October 2006 Forum Leaders’ Meeting statement of support for RAMSI and in developing a unified Forum position against the coup in Fiji, which called for a return to democracy and the rule of law.

The department’s work ensured that the April 2007 Pacific Energy Ministers’ Meeting agreed on an action plan to implement regional bulk fuel arrangements, a key Pacific Plan deliverable for island states critically affected by rising fuel prices. (The Plan was adopted by PIF Leaders at their meeting in October 2005 and revised in October 2006.) In collaboration with other agencies, the department launched important regional consultations on more robust arrangements for fisheries enforcement and sharing of law enforcement information. We contributed significantly to successful finalisation of a practical framework for regional cooperation in counter-terrorism assistance at the 2007 Forum Regional Security Committee meeting.

Close collaboration with AusAID ensured timely establishment of the Australia–Pacific Technical College, with student intakes commencing from mid-2007. The department has also advanced Australia’s interests in liberalised regional trade by initiating discussions with Forum Island Countries (FICs) on the negotiation of a comprehensive ‘PACER Plus’ free trade agreement with Pacific island countries and New Zealand (‘PACER’ is the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations). Our strong support for Forum efforts to rationalise institutional arrangements helped enhance understanding and acceptance of the initiative.


In the coming year, the department will support a further deepening of Australia–New Zealand economic integration, including through continued progress on the single economic market agenda and negotiations on an investment protocol to ANZCERTA.

The situation in Fiji will remain a significant challenge. Persistent and effective advocacy of Australia’s position and cooperation with other countries within the region and beyond will be needed to ensure pressure is maintained for an early return to democracy and the rule of law.

The department will continue to work with Forum countries, the Solomon Islands Government and partner agencies to respond to the challenges faced by RAMSI. In line with Australia’s long-term commitment to the future of Solomon Islands, we will seek to ensure our efforts benefit the security and livelihood of Solomon Islanders.

The department will maintain coordination of Australian Government relations with Papua New Guinea, including advancing Australia’s interests with the incoming PNG government and coordinating the involvement of Australian agencies in the Enhanced Cooperation Program.

The department will continue to encourage the Government of Tonga to pursue political reform to avoid a resurgence of civil unrest. We will work with all Pacific island countries to encourage good governance and increased transparency.

The department will seek to bolster Forum mechanisms to strengthen regional governance, including in the areas of regional fisheries enforcement, exchange of information on law enforcement and transnational crime, and counter-terrorism cooperation.

Consistent with the Pacific Plan’s recognition of the regional benefits of trade liberalisation, the department will advance ‘PACER Plus’ FTA negotiations to protect Australian trade interests and promote improved FIC access to Australian, New Zealand and global markets.


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