Campaign for a Pacific Islands Community
Directors: Pera Wells and Chris Hamer
There is an ongoing trend around the world towards regional integration, following the example of the European Union (EU). We see this as a step on the way towards global integration, and a trend to be welcomed and encouraged. In our region, the future of the Pacific Islands Forum which comprises 18 Pacific Island states including Australia and New Zealand, has been under ongoing discussion – see documents referred to below. The possibility of forming a Pacific Islands Community or common market has been raised, and even a South Pacific Union, or political community, following broadly the track marked out by the EU. The idea of a Pacific Union was raised by Sir Peter Cosgrove, our former Governor-General. We support these ideas whole-heartedly, and we made a submission to the Framework for Pacific Regionalism advocating a Pacific Islands Community as the next step in regional integration. We will continue to support new initiatives along these lines whenever we can, as a major focus of the Association. This is a more local issue where we can perhaps have more impact and see more immediate outcomes than on more global issues.
The recent fears about rising Chinese influence in the Pacific, and the consequent ‘step up’ in Australia’ relations with the Forum, seemed to offer a new opportunity to promote this concept, and we sent letters to political leaders on both sides of politics about it. Consequently, we received an invitation from the Prime Minister’s office to meet with DFAT officials to discuss our ideas.
As a result, Pera Wells and I had a meeting on 28th February with three DFAT officers from the new Office of the Pacific, headed by John Williams, Assistant Secretary, Pacific Strategy Division.
We were delighted to learn that our previous submissions had been noted, and some of our ideas may be slowly filtering through the system – at least they haven’t vanished into the void without trace!. A new ‘Blue Pacific’ strategy is under development within the Forum over the next two years, and we plan to follow up where we can.
The parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has been calling for submissions to inquiries they are holding on aspects of the ‘step up’ program. Pera and I have made new submissions to two of these inquiries, the first one on ‘Australia's Defence relationships with Pacific Island nations’, and the second on ‘Strengthening Australia’s relationships with countries in the Pacific region’ .
July 2021. The final report of the Defence inquiry appeared in April 2021, and may be found here, while the DFAT inquiry is not yet finalized.
Our main arguments in the Defence submission were for a Pacific Islands Maritime Patrol, and a Pacific Islands Regiment, as components of a new regional organization, a Pacific Islands Community. Our submission may be viewed here. A highly compressed summary of relevant items in the Final Report may be found here.
April 2022. The DFAT report appeared at the end of March 2022. The report was published on the Committee's website and is now available to view or print at https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Foreign_Affairs_Defence_and_Trade/PacificRelationships/Report
The recent decision by the Solomon Islands government to agree to a security agreement with China, which may well lead to a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands, is a serious matter for Australia and the region. The institution of a Pacific Islands Community, with its enhanced regional cooperation on matters of common security, might well have prevented this development
Address ‘The Future of Regionalism in the Pacific‘, by Tuila’epa Sailele, Prime Minister of Samoa, chairman of the Forum (2004-5)
‘A Pacific engaged: Australia’s relations with Papua New Guinea and the island states of the southwest Pacific’, Report by the Australian Senate Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee (12 August 2003) recommending a ‘Pacific economic and cultural community’
Our Submission to the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.
The 'Blue Pacific' strategy
Our submission on ‘Australia's Defence relationships with Pacific Island nations’
Our submission on 'Strengthening Australia’s relationships with countries in the Pacific region’
An article by Chris Hamer and Pera Wells in Australian Outlook, 9 December 2021, "It’s Time for a “Step-Up” to a Pacific Islands Community"
Peter Cosgrove wants Australia to foster an EU style approach in the Pacific. AAP/Alan Porritt
April 11, 2013. Delivering the Sir Paul Hasluck Oration in Melbourne, Former defence chief Peter Cosgrove has proposed Australia enter an economic union with Pacific countries, saying this would promote stability in the region.
General Cosgrove said that while this perhaps this did not need to be as comprehensive or as close as the European Union, ‘’I would start with the objects in and the operations of the EU in mind.” “In an economic sense, at present we are the major supermarket and also in some areas the wholesale distribution warehouse.” This made for a supplicant or take-it-or-leave-it relationship. Instead, “we should contemplate some kind of closer of interdependent economic relationship with the countries of the Pacific Forum,” he said. Australia could not make a greater real contribution to the strong and peaceful development and viability of the region than such an initiative. “It would not only flow into commercial arrangements but into labour markets, and thus into social and cultural issues.” “If we do embark in something positive, significant and transformational with our friends in our closer neighbourhood, then we really will have contributed greatly to peace and security in the region”.
From Alan Porritt
Note: Our World Citizens Association supports greater integration in the Pacific region, perhaps in the form of a Pacific Community rather than a Union at this stage. Peter Cosgrove was formerly Australia’s Governor-General.
The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, attended the annual meeting of Forum leaders in Tuvalu in August. Aiming to counter the increasing influence of China in the Pacific, he has announced a ‘step-up’ in relations with the island members of the Forum. Our development assistance to the region has reached record levels of $1.4 billion, apparently, despite a decreasing overall aid budget, and we will spend $500 million on ‘climate change’ in the Pacific region
Since then, the Prime Minister has made a second visit to Fiji, and relations between Australia and Fiji seem to have improved from their somewhat frosty state of recent years. Subsequently, the Fijian Defence Minister, Inia Seruiratu, has suggested that Australia should revisit the idea of setting up a Pacific Island Regiment consisting of Pacific Islanders.
All this suggests fertile territory for pushing again the WCAA idea of a Pacific Islands Community, to provide a “step-up” in political and security cooperation between the members of the Forum. We have sent this document to parliamentary leaders on both sides of politics, hoping for a response. Watch this space!