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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

Australia’s role as host and Chair of the 40th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ meeting, held in Cairns in August 2009, highlighted our strong commitment to working with regional countries to address their economic, development and security challenges.

The department had a key role in preparing and hosting the meeting. During Australia’s year as Chair of the Forum, we led whole-of-government efforts to implement the meeting’s outcomes. A major priority was working with AusAID to implement the Cairns Compact on Strengthening Development Coordination in the Pacific. We also led Australia’s efforts to implement the Leaders’ decision to negotiate a new regional trade and economic agreement—the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus.

We strengthened Australia’s bilateral relationships in the region. We helped to deepen relations with New Zealand by supporting the implementation of economic integration and other initiatives. We increased Australia’s engagement with Papua New Guinea, in particular on the development of the major PNG Liquefied Natural Gas project. We led Australia’s support for Solomon Islands, bilaterally and through the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands. In the aftermath of the tsunami in August 2009, we coordinated Australia’s assistance to Tonga and Samoa. We continued to work with other regional countries and the international community to encourage a return to democracy in Fiji.

2009 Pacific Islands Forum

The department played a major role in Australia’s hosting of the 40th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ meeting, held in Cairns in August 2009. In addition to supporting the smooth organisation of the meeting, we worked closely with other government agencies to develop an ambitious policy agenda for the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, in his capacity as Chair, to take forward with other Leaders.

The outcomes of the meeting, including the Cairns Compact on Strengthening Development Coordination in the Pacific and the Climate Change Call to Action, were designed to build the capacity, deepen resilience and lift living standards of Forum island countries.

Pacific Engagement

Photo - See caption below for description
The then Prime Minister and Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Mr Rudd, and the Premier of Niue and outgoing Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Mr Toke Talagi, speaking at the media conference held with other Forum Leaders in Cairns in August 2009.
Photo: Auspic

During Australia’s year as Pacific Islands Forum Chair, the department contributed strongly to the whole-of-government efforts to implement the outcomes of the Cairns meeting. We coordinated the implementation of Australia’s enhanced regional engagement with the Pacific, including through our leadership of the high-level Pacific Engagement Strategy Steering Group. We worked closely with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and other regional organisations, and led Australia’s engagement with other Forum countries and post-Forum Dialogue partners.

We supported AusAID in making progress to achieve more effective coordination of development resources and improved development outcomes through the implementation of the Cairns Compact. We also worked with AusAID to reach agreement on Pacific Partnerships for Development with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In cooperation with other agencies, we worked to begin implementing the climate change adaptation and other initiatives agreed in August 2009.

At the Cairns meeting, Australia offered to develop bilateral Security Partnerships to enhance the capacity of the Forum island countries to respond to complex external security challenges. The department led the successful negotiation of the first of the Security Partnerships with Kiribati and Samoa.

We worked closely with other departments to implement the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme, including through support for negotiation of a memorandum of understanding with Papua New Guinea on its participation in the Scheme. We helped to manage, with participating countries, the reduced demand for workers under the Scheme as a result of the global economic crisis.

We played an active role in Australia’s hosting, in June 2010, of a Forum Energy Ministers’ Meeting, aimed at improving energy security in the Pacific. We were also strongly involved in preparations for a Joint Pacific Fisheries and Law Enforcement Ministers’ Meeting, hosted by Australia in July 2010, which agreed to recommend that Pacific Island Forum Leaders begin negotiations for a new treaty to enhance the protection of Pacific fisheries.

At the Cairns meeting, Pacific Leaders agreed to the negotiation of a new regional trade and economic agreement—the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus. These negotiations will enhance the long term capacity of Forum island countries to take greater advantage of trade and economic opportunities. The department undertook consultations with domestic stakeholders, and a summary of their views was tabled in Parliament by the then Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, in August 2009. We supported a Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting in Brisbane in October 2009, which agreed on a framework to guide the PACER Plus negotiations.

In close consultation with other agencies, we developed detailed Australian positions on the priority negotiating issues, and made progress on these at a PACER Plus officials’ session, held in mid-April 2010. We supported Mr Crean’s participation in the April 2010 Forum Trade Ministers’ Meeting, which advanced the PACER Plus negotiations.

New Zealand

The department contributed to a deepening of the trans-Tasman relationship by assisting with the implementation of a wide range of initiatives agreed by Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers at their March and August 2009 meetings.

The department worked in concert with other agencies to deepen economic and trade integration, including by finalising amendments to the rules of origin of the Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement and making good progress on negotiations for a high quality bilateral investment protocol. The department also contributed to a review of the Australia–New Zealand Joint Food Standards Treaty, which resulted in amendments to the Treaty that will promote consistency of food standards between Australia and New Zealand.

The department led Australia’s commitment to strengthen engagement with New Zealand on key bilateral, regional and global issues by coordinating high-level ministerial exchanges, including two CER ministerial meetings (attended by three ministers from each country) and a Foreign Ministers’ meeting. The department also facilitated deeper trans-Tasman integration by supporting the business-led Australia–New Zealand Leadership Forum in August 2009.

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.
Based on DFAT STARS database and ABS catalogue 5368.0.55.004.

Papua New Guinea

The department worked with other agencies to strengthen Australia’s engagement with Papua New Guinea, including implementation of the outcomes of the June 2009 Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum.

We took the lead role in shaping and implementing Australia’s support for the development of the PNG Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project, in particular the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation’s offer of a loan of up to US$500 million to support Australian participation in the project. We led the negotiation of the Joint Understanding between Papua New Guinea and Australia on further cooperation on the LNG Project. Under the Joint Understanding, Australia will help Papua New Guinea develop sovereign wealth funds to manage project revenues effectively and transparently, and provide other technical and skills-development assistance.

We contributed to the reviews of the PNG–Australia Development Cooperation Treaty and the PNG University System. The department led a multi-agency effort on the Strongim Gavman Program, which helps bolster governance and accountability by placing Australian officials in key PNG departments to provide mentoring and strategic advice, and help build capacity.

The Australian Government, with the department taking the lead, continued to support the peace process and post-conflict reconstruction on Bougainville. We coordinated a team of eight election observers for the peaceful Bougainville Autonomous Region General Elections, held in May 2010.

We supported the visit of the then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Kerr, to Papua New Guinea in late September and early October 2009 to examine and propose measures to enhance Australia’s program of provincial and sub-national level engagement.

As the lead department responsible for overseeing the Torres Strait Treaty, we worked with other agencies and indigenous community representatives to ensure effective whole-of-government management of Torres Strait border issues. This included arranging visits for, and contributing to, two Parliamentary inquiries into matters relating to the Torres Strait region.

Solomon Islands

Photo - See caption below for description
Special Coordinator of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, Mr Graeme Wilson, presenting an award to Ms Florence Taro on International Women’s Day in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

The department continued to work closely with other agencies in coordinating Australia’s leadership of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), to achieve a stable and more prosperous future for Solomon Islands.

We coordinated a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Standing Committee on RAMSI in April 2010, chaired by the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Mr McMullan. The meeting advanced the implementation by RAMSI, and the Solomon Islands Government, of their Partnership Framework, which sets out objectives and plans for RAMSI’s future work. This Partnership Framework was endorsed by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in August 2009. We worked successfully to maintain regional commitment to RAMSI, with all Pacific Islands Forum countries continuing their participation in the mission.

We took the lead in advocating Australian views to a review of RAMSI undertaken by the Solomon Islands Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee. The Committee’s report, tabled in November 2009 and adopted by the parliament in April 2010, made a positive assessment of RAMSI and outlined constructive recommendations for its future work.

The department also focused on deepening the bilateral relationship with Solomon Islands. We supported high-level engagement, including visits to Solomon Islands by the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Garrett, and the Minister for Defence, Senator Faulkner, and visits to Australia by Solomon Islands Governor-General, Sir Frank Kabui, Prime Minister, Dr Derek Sikua, Foreign Minister, Mr William Haomae and Central Bank Governor, Mr Denton Rarawa.

Fiji

The department took the lead in Australia’s efforts to work with other Pacific Islands Forum members and the international community to encourage Fiji’s return to democracy and the rule of law.

In the lead-up to the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ meeting in August 2009, we worked with regional countries to produce a firm Forum response to the deteriorating situation in Fiji. Leaders confirmed their earlier decision to suspend Fiji from the Forum and condemned actions by Fiji’s interim government that had led to a severe deterioration in basic liberties and democratic institutions. Leaders also called for genuine and inclusive political dialogue in Fiji, and reiterated a commitment to engage Fiji on an early return to democracy, including through the Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) and the Forum–Fiji Joint Working Group in Suva.

We supported Foreign Minister Smith’s participation in an MCG meeting in Auckland on 31 May 2010. The MCG discussed the serious challenges facing Fiji and expressed concern about the lack of progress towards returning Fiji to democracy and the rule of law. The MCG reported to Forum Leaders in advance of their meeting in Port Vila in August 2010.

We led Australia’s participation in the Commonwealth’s consideration of Fiji. On 1 September 2009, the Commonwealth fully suspended Fiji because of the failure of the interim government to commit to a genuine political dialogue process leading promptly to credible elections.

We also raised, with a range of countries and international organisations, Australia’s concerns about Fiji’s deteriorating economy, human rights abuses and censorship of the media. Australia made a strong statement on Fiji’s human rights record in the Human Rights Council in Geneva, during Fiji’s appearance at the Universal Periodic Review on 11 February 2010.

With the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, we continued to implement travel sanctions against members and leading supporters of Fiji’s military regime, the military and senior government appointees. We also coordinated Australia’s response to the expulsion of Australia’s High Commissioner by the Fiji interim government in November 2009. The expulsion was condemned by regional and other countries.

Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and Nauru

Photo - See caption below for description
The Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Mr McMullan, discussing the findings of the Pacific Economic Survey with Mr Ruben Markward Bakeo, Director of Agriculture, Vanuatu, at the survey launch in Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
Photo: Elizabeth James / AusAID

The department continued to promote stronger bilateral links with Vanuatu. This included contributing to the negotiation of a Taxation Information Exchange Agreement, which was signed in April 2010. In March 2010, we hosted a visit by Mr Charlot Salwai, Vanuatu’s Minister of Education, which supported his education reform plans. We also continued to support Project Wickenby investigations by the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Federal Police.

The department worked with the Australian Electoral Commission and AusAID to support Tonga’s constitutional and electoral reform process, as Tonga prepared to move to a more democratic system of government at elections in November 2010. Following the sinking of the Princess Ashika in August 2009, with the tragic loss of 74 lives, the department supported Australian and New Zealand defence-led teams which located the sunken ferry.

We coordinated Australia’s response to the tsunami that hit Samoa and Tonga in September 2009. This included support for Mr McMullan’s visit to Samoa and Tonga to assess the damage and the effectiveness of Australia’s response.

We upgraded the status of Australia’s mission in Nauru from a consulate-general to a high commission in August 2009, and supported a visit to Nauru by Mr Kerr in July 2009. We continued to coordinate Australia’s efforts to support economic, governance and other reforms in Nauru.

Other Pacific island countries

Photo - See caption below for description
The then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Kerr SC, meeting a village elder prior to the traditional welcoming ceremony in Tarawa, Kiribati.

The department supported bilateral visits by Mr Kerr in July 2009 to Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Tuvalu and New Caledonia. We assisted the Australian Taxation Office’s negotiation of a Taxation Information Exchange Agreement with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which was signed in May 2010.

We promoted a deepening of bilateral relations with New Caledonia during the visit to Australia in March 2010 of a delegation comprising all the key New Caledonian political leaders. This visit resulted in an agreement to resume bilateral senior officials’ talks after a five-year hiatus, as well as outcomes on marine management in the Coral Sea, air services, museum exchange and emergency management coordination.

Outlook

Together with other Pacific Islands Forum members, the Forum Secretariat and other Australian government agencies, the department will work to advance governance, security, economic and development interests in the region. Specific regional priorities include developing the Pacific maritime security program and a legal framework to strengthen fisheries protection, as well as advancing the PACER Plus negotiations. Enhanced engagement on climate change issues with Pacific island countries and development partners will also be important.

We will drive Australia’s efforts to strengthen bilateral relationships in the region. We will continue to coordinate whole-of-government efforts to assist PNG develop the LNG project and establish funds to maximise economic and development benefits. We will lead Australia’s support for peaceful and credible elections in Solomon Islands and Tonga and the establishment of constructive relations with the newly-elected governments. Fiji’s return to democracy will continue to be a priority. We will continue to coordinate Australia’s leading role in RAMSI’s efforts to secure a sustainable future for Solomon Islands.

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