09 September 2020
Today marks four years since the Coalition Government announced its Pacific Step Up policy - an announcement that has failed to deliver anything but cuts and mismanagement.
Since 2014 the Coalition has cut aid to Papua New Guinea for education by 10.4 per cent, assistance to Fiji for healthcare by 22.2 per cent and programs to improve governance in the Solomon Islands by 51.3 per cent.
Even former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop now admits that the cuts to foreign aid have damaged Australia’s national interests.
On top of this, the Morrison Government has announced plans to cut two positions from Australia’s High Commission in Papua New Guinea at a time when we should be signalling our commitment to regional relationships and investing in diplomatic resources.
Arguably the biggest failure of the Pacific Step Up is the Morrison Government’s inaction on climate change.
A series of public rebukes shows just how important this issue is to the region – and just how strained the relationship has become with this ‘family’ as Scott Morrison has called it:
“Lest we forget, climate change - not COVID-19, not even China - is the biggest threat to our security”.
“Climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific. Australia has officially acknowledged this time and again, yet it has refused to take the necessary steps to reduce its emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, in line with the goal of the Paris Agreement.”
"What a missed opportunity to really 'step up'. 'Family' has been exploited for domestic Australian politics. Pacific islanders were hoping for sincerity when we hear 'we're family'. We were mistaken."
We’ve also seen several cases where workers in Australia under the Morrison Government’s Pacific Labour Scheme and the Seasonal Workers Program have been seriously exploited or mistreated.
At the same time as the Government has failed to deliver on their promised Pacific step up, they have presided over a massive step down in Australia’s engagement in Southeast Asia.
This includes an 80 percent cut in health support for our biggest neighbour, Indonesia - obviously a short-sighted decision given the pandemic.
And the Government still hasn’t delivered a comprehensive plan to support our region’s pandemic recovery.
Together, this has diminished Australia’s standing in the Indo-Pacific and undermined our interests in a stable, secure and prosperous region – leaving a vacuum for others to fill.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.