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Australia’s Pacific engagement

Stepping-up Australia’s engagement with our Pacific family

Frank ans Scott shake hands in front of their national flags
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and former Prime Minister Scott Morrison made history with the signing of the Vuvale partnership between Fiji and Australia on 16 September 2019. Photo: @ScottMorrisonMP Twitter

The Pacific Step-up is one of Australia's highest foreign policy priorities, highlighted in Australia's 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper and 2016 Defence White Paper as of fundamental importance to Australia. The Step-up was first announced at the Pacific Island Forum Leaders' Meeting in September 2016 as a 'step-change' in the way we would engage the region. On 8 November 2018, Prime Minister Morrison announced Australia would take our engagement to a new level, launching a "new chapter in relations with our Pacific family".

Group of women
Former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne, meets with community leaders working to improve the lives of women throughout Papua New Guinea. Photo: @MarisePayne Twitter

The Step-up builds on over half a century of sustained engagement, responding to the region's priorities by further enhancing our commitments. Our future is deeply intertwined with that of our Pacific family, and we have an abiding interest in the sovereignty, stability, security and prosperity of our region.

Speaking at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Innovation Exchange on 22 July 2019, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and former Minister for Women Marise Payne said "Australia has long been the Pacific's largest development partner, security partner and friend in time of need. This is a solid foundation, but our conversations in the Pacific over the past several years have made it clear that we can and should all do more together to rise to the challenge and opportunities of our new Blue Pacific Continent".

Minister Hawke shaking hands with people
Former Minister for International Development and the Pacific and Assistant Minister for Defence Alex Hawke attends the launch of the PNGAusPartnership Secondary Schools initiative on 26 August 2019. Photo: @AlexHawkeMP Twitter

The Step-up responds to and recognises the broad-ranging challenges of our region, identified by Pacific leaders and communities themselves, including: strengthening climate and disaster resilience; sustained economic growth; and support to promote healthy, educated, inclusive populations. As the region's largest development assistance partner, we have committed a record $1.44 billion in development assistance to the Pacific in 2020-21, to help our partner nations address their greatest concerns and embrace their greatest opportunities.

In 2020, we have also stepped up to address COVID-19 in the Pacific.

As former Prime Minister Morrison told the United Nations General Assembly on 26 September 2020, “In Australia, we have also been mindful of our wonderful Pacific family during this pandemic, our wantoks, our vuvale, our whanau, particularly the island nations of the South West Pacific. Australia is the single largest development partner for these nations. So, we’ve provided personal protective equipment, testing equipment, medical expertise, and we’re maintaining an essential services and humanitarian corridor so experts and supplies can get in and out.”

How we engage is just as important as what we do, so the Office of the Pacific  is working to better coordinate Australia's engagement with the region across government, and to support our deepening engagement both regionally and bilaterally.

Speaking as the first Australian Minister to attend the Pacific Water and Wastewater Conference in Vanuatu, on 6 August 2019 former Minister for International Development and the Pacific and Assistant Minister for Defence Alex Hawke said: "The Australian Government is here to listen."

Building on our sustained regional and bilateral engagement with the Pacific, Australia is helping to assist with COVID-19 recovery, and promote economic prosperity in the Pacific through ambitious initiatives such as:

We are committed to supporting the priorities agreed by the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders for "Securing Our Future in the Pacific", including through:

We are working more closely than ever with the Pacific on issues of greatest concern to them, including climate change. Pacific island countries reaffirmed the strategic and economic threat climate change poses to our region through the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now. This is the strongest collective statement Forum Leaders have issued on climate change.

We are enhancing Defence engagement to bolster capacity, resilience and interoperability across the Pacific, including through significant infrastructure developments and joint training activities. The Australian Federal Police has also established a Pacific Faculty at the Australian Institute for Police Management.

The strength of our engagement is built on deep personal, historical and cultural ties. Our PacificAus Sports initiative, together with church partnerships, education programs and media and cultural heritage programs, strengthen and celebrate these personal connections.

The Pacific-Australia Card initiative, to streamline travel to Australia by Pacific leaders, was introduced in September 2019.  This initiative is now on hold and will be reactivated when international travel resumes between Australia and the Pacific.

PACMAS Stay Strong Pacific/Change-Makers

In 2019, DFAT and ABC International Development launched Change-Makers, a digital story-telling pilot project funded under the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS) program.

Change-Makers partnered with Pacific media to celebrate the people-to-people connections between Australia and the Pacific, and includes technical training for Pacific media. Stage one focused on Solomon Islands, producing a series of 10 engaging videos on young Solomon Islander ‘Change-Makers’, many of whom have links to Australia.

Change-Makers responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 by changing its name to Stay Strong Pacific for stage two, with a new regional theme supporting health and resilience across the Pacific.  Stay Strong Pacific co-produced 10 videos with inspiring Pacific individuals and groups from across the region, and members of the Pacific diaspora in Australia and New Zealand.

PACMAS The Memory Project Fiji

The Memory Project Fiji is a series of short films reflecting on Fijian customs, practices and key historical moments, which aims to preserve Pacific culture and heritage audio-visually for future generations.  The series launch is planned to coincide with Fiji’s 50th anniversary of Independence on Fiji Day, 10 October 2020.

Film-makers from Australia and Fiji worked together to produce eleven stories for The Memory Project, which is funded by Australian development assistance under the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS), and was developed in partnership with the National Archives of Fiji, the National Film and Sound Archive and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Video: Pacific Sports Partnerships Program

Video: Solomon Islands Pacific ChangeMakers

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