PM’s dramatic Pacific foray

SCOTT Morrison today will upgrade Australia’s foreign policy aims in the “Pacific family” in a commitment to be cemented by barbecue diplomacy.

The move will see $2 billion allocated to a new Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific which would also benefit Timor Leste.

The Prime Minister also wants a further $1 billion and greater flexibility for the Australia’s export financing agency to operate in the region.

“This is our patch. This is where we have special responsibilities,” the Prime says in a speech prepared for Lavarack Barracks in Townsville today.

“Always have, always will. We have their back, they have ours. We are more than partners by choice. We are connected as members of a Pacific family.”

Mr Morrison will next week underline the move with a barbecue for Pacific leaders attending the APEC summit in spur-New Guinea.

The renewed focus is a bid to promote security, economic and political stability on our doorstep and to acknowledge responsibilities as the regions biggest country.

The Prime Minister has given no indication the re-focus is a response to China’s increasing interest in the area.

Instead, he has portrayed our Pacific role as that of an internal participant rather than an outsider, and that the prevention of failed states merging would be to our benefit.

“Australia has an abiding interest in a Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically,” he says in the speech.

“This is not just our region, or our neighbourhood. It’s our home.

It’s where Australia can make the biggest difference in world affairs.”

He says: “A strong, stable region keeps all of us more secure and enables our economies to grow.

“While we have natural advantages in terms of history, proximity and shared values, Australia cannot take its influence in the Southwest Pacific for granted. And too often we have.”

The strengthened contacts won’t all be heavyweight economic measures.

“Following the success of this year’s Prime Ministers Men’s and Women’s XIII games against their PNG counterparts – the Kumuls and the Orchids – a new sports program will strengthen sporting pathways between the Pacific and Australia,” Mr Morrison says.

“I’ve been speaking to Free-TV Australia and the commercial TV networks about how we get more of our Australian content into the region. Our Pacific family switching on to the same stories, news dramas and sports we are watching at home.”

The new commitment will involve a significant military role:

* Giving the Australian Defence “an even greater role, working with our partners on training, on capacity building, on exercises, on building interoperability to respond together to the security challenges we face”;

* Establishing a rotational ADF Pacific Mobile Training Team, which will be based in Australia, and will travel into the Pacific when invited;

Greater ADF involvement in areas such as humanitarian and disaster response, peacekeeping, infantry skills, engineering and logistics and planning;

Increasing Navy deployments for training and exercises with our neighbours.

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