Foreign affairs minister Marise Payne has come out swinging in defence of the federal government’s outreach in the Pacific region following the release of the Pacific Islands policy by the Australian Labor Party.
Payne told a press conference held in Parramatta yesterday that the federal government has continued to build relationships with and maintain assistance to countries such as the Solomon Islands, which has signed an agreement with the Chinese government.
The ALP has characterised the government’s inability to get the Solomon Islands to not sign an agreement with China as a major foreign policy failure.
Payne said the federal government has been deepening relationships and ties across the region in full knowledge of the fact that authoritarian powers such as Russia and China are asserting themselves, and she has characterised a multi-pronged policy released by senator Penny Wong, her opposition counterpart in the foreign affairs portfolio, as “an announcement that lacks substance, that seems to be a list of continuations, carbon copies and of cosmetic changes”.
“We’ve seen this in the travesty that is Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine in the past months. We see it in the way that China also challenges the international system of rules. And we’ve seen coercion and intimidation in that context, including in our own region,” Payne said.
“We have been deepening and strengthening our relationships across our region, with our Pacific family, with our Quad partners, with our friends in southeast Asia, the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with ASEAN, with India, with our AUKUS partners, and we continue to do that.”
The foreign minister said the federal government had provided for $1.85 billion over the coming year in development assistance as well as $2.7 billion in this financial year for defence, policing, economic, and health security assistance.
Payne said that government proactivity in the region can also be observed in the establishment of six diplomatic postings in the region since 2018, in Tuvalu, Palau, the Cook Islands, Niue, French Polynesia, and the Marshall Islands.
“It’s why we’ve supported our partners’ COVID-19 responses, their vaccine responses, the health security responses in the Pacific with millions of vaccines. We have delivered over half a million vaccines to the Solomon Islands alone,” Payne said.