The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) brings together leaders of all Pacific nations to drive stronger regional cooperation and advance our collective security and prosperity.
At last year’s PIF in Pohnpei, I committed to ‘step up’ Australia’s engagement in the Pacific. Today, I am delivering on that promise. Australia is introducing a series of practical initiatives that will bolster regional cooperation on common security challenges and integrate Pacific Island economies more closely with our own.
This year’s PIF follows the successful conclusion in 2017 of the RAMSI operation in Solomon Islands. RAMSI demonstrated what can be achieved when Australia and our Pacific partners work together to manage common security challenges.
I was pleased that Pacific leaders agreed today to commence work on a new regional security declaration to strengthen cooperation between our countries. This will position the region better to address threats such as people smuggling, transnational organised crime, cyber attacks and major disease outbreaks.
The protection of the oceans and their resources is a vital national interest for all PIF countries. That’s why Australia will also fund a new aerial surveillance mission across the waters of PIF members to help detect and disrupt illegal fishing. This surveillance will be operationally controlled by the PIF’s Forum Fisheries Agency in Honiara. Flights are expected to commence before the end of the year and will also be able to assist in addressing issues such as transnational crime and people smuggling. This new program complements our existing support to regional security efforts through Patrol Boats. The first keel of the new Pacific Patrol Boats was recently laid down in Western Australia - the first of these will be delivered to Papua New Guinea in late 2018.
Australia will also expand its national security training and assistance in the Pacific to support the development of tailored responses to national security challenges.
Today, I signed new umbrella security arrangements with Tuvalu and Nauru which will provide a framework for new engagement on identity, border and health security.
I will also sign agreements with Nauru, Tuvalu and Tonga to bolster health security by providing support through the Therapeutic Goods Administration for medicine quality and safety testing of drugs in these three countries. This will reduce costs and increase assurances about the safety and efficacy of drugs.
A new Pacific Labour Scheme in 2018 will give Pacific Island citizens opportunities to work in rural and regional Australia for up to three years, and help plug labour shortages in our towns and on our farms. Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu will have first access to the scheme, with an initial intake of up to 2,000 workers. Australia will also establish a new Pacific Labour Facility to support the scheme – helping connect Australian employers with workers and monitoring its social and economic impacts.
This initiative builds on the very successful and longstanding Seasonal Worker Program, which itself will be streamlined to support Australian employers and Pacific Island workers to access the program more effectively. My Government is also working with the Australian financial sector, the International Monetary Fund and the New Zealand Government to reduce the cost of remittances so that workers can more easily send home a portion of their income to support their communities.
The PACER Plus trade agreement is central to achieving better integration of economies in the Pacific. Negotiations for the agreement were concluded in Brisbane this year. Economic prosperity and security in the Pacific is good for all Australians, so I was pleased that Vanuatu joined the agreement as its 11th signatory yesterday.
Closer governments and communities
My Government will continue to build strong relationships between governments, communities and businesses in the Pacific through a new $2 million, two-year Pacific Connect pilot program. This program will bring together Pacific and Australian leaders across the public and private sectors to learn from each other; the first year’s focus will be on ‘Bringing the Digital Revolution to the Pacific’.
All these initiatives reflect the deep commitment of Australia and its PIF partners to strengthen our practical partnerships, embrace opportunities and manage the shared challenges we face in a changing world.