Australia has promised millions of dollars in support for Pacific island nations to address the “existential threat” of climate change, as well as funds for Australia’s police deployment in the Solomon Islands, regional aerial surveillance, and an Australian Border Force network.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong, speaking at the Pacific Way Conference in French Polynesia, said Australia would increase its total budget for overseas development assistance by 1.4bn Australian dollars (around $878.3m) over the next four years. Some 900 million Australian dollars (almost $565m) will go to the Pacific region.
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“This additional assistance will directly support action in the region to strengthen climate resilience, including on climate science and renewable energy,” Wong said in a speech on Friday.
Grateful for the opportunity to discuss Pacific institutions and our shared priorities in the region with French High Commissioner Spitz in French Polynesia.
We are committed to working closely together, including in regional disaster response alongside NZ. pic.twitter.com/DVXzASNTaM
— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) October 21, 2022
Australia will update its federal budget next week and 46 million Australian dollars (some $29m) will be set aside to fund the country’s police deployments in the Solomon Islands, where officers are helping to provide security since last year’s riots in the capital Honiara.
Wong described the assistance as a way of supporting regional partners to “provide their own security so they have less need to call on others”.
“Without these investments, others will continue to fill the vacuum,” Wong was reported to have said, according to Reuters, and she pointed to previous Australian governments for losing ground in the Pacific where “we have a lot of catching up to do”.
Wong said the budget commitments would be a “major step towards the goal of making Australia stronger and more influential in the world”, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.
According to the ABC, an extra 30 million Australian dollars (almost $19m) will be spent on boosting aerial surveillance in the Pacific region, and some 19 million Australian (almost $12m) will be allocated to establishing “a network of Australian Border Force officers across the Pacific”.
The ABC will also receive 32 million Australian dollars ($20m) to expand the transmission of content across the region, the national broadcaster reported.
China in the Pacific region
Australia, the United States and New Zealand have all expressed growing concern that China has made solid economic, political and security advances in the Pacific islands region, including a security pact with the Solomons they feared would allow Beijing to establish a military outpost on their doorstep.
During an official visit to Canberra earlier this month, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that foreign military installations will never be allowed to establish in his country and he affirmed the Solomon Islands would not “undermine” regional security in the Pacific.
Stating that her trip to French Polynesia was the twelfth Pacific Island country or territory she had visited since the election of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in May, Wong said her engagement underlined “the priority that the new Australian Government attaches to this region”.
The official opening on Friday of an Australian Consulate-General in Papeete — the capital of French Polynesia — also marked Australia as now the only country in the world with a diplomatic presence in every country or territory of the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Wong said.
“Our region faces many challenges. PIF leaders have described the triple challenges of climate change, recovery from COVID-19, and strategic contest. The most pressing of these is the existential threat of climate change,” she said.
Noting that climate change was “the single greatest threat” to lives, livelihoods and security in the Pacific, Wong said: “You have called on us to act. We have heard you. And we have responded”.
Wong also addressed the effect of COVID-19 on economic development in a region that relies heavily on tourism, and Russia’s “illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine” which had caused global volatility in economies, food security and energy supplies.
The foreign minister also noted Australia’s commitment to establish an Australia-Pacific Defence School and to address illegal and unregulated fishing through a doubling of the aerial surveillance component of the Pacific Maritime Security Program.