Readers may recall a year ago I set out the case for the DFAT Office of the Pacific to be moved from Canberra to Far North Queensland.
Unsurprisingly, it was met with deafening silence in the federal government and the federal opposition. I suspect that as far as the DFAT bureaucracy was concerned they just hoped I would go away!
But events in the last year, and more recently in the last month, simply add to the case for the move, to be undertaken as a major policy shift that is necessary to address the real and growing challenges in our region.
When Australia initially responded to the destructive volcano in Tonga, the only possible criticism of the response could be the "time to get there" factor. HMAS Adelaide had to sail from Sydney to Brisbane to load supplies and then set sail for Tonga, a five or six day trip.
While it is true that our Air Force response was much faster, the fact remains that when major regional disasters occur – and they are occurring more regularly having the best naval vessel based in Sydney means significant delays.
The Australian Government has for some years been upgrading the navy's presence in Cairns, while the Laverack Army Base in Townsville is the key facility when it comes to swiftly moving defence force personnel to the region, as occurred in the recent missions to the Solomon Islands.
It surely makes sense for the co-ordinating agency when it comes to disaster and other regional assistance - The DFAT Office of the Pacific – should be located close to both the naval and the army bases in North Queensland.
Successive Australian Governments have essentially given up on the "decentralisation" of government services. It is not a policy priority for either side of politics, and even the National Party appears to not regard real decentralisation of government agencies as a priority.
The focus is now on taxpayer funded "programs" for the regions with limited on going implementation resources to back them up.
When it comes to the Office of the Pacific it is no doubt comfortable with being located in Canberra. But it no longer makes strategic sense, given the growing focus of the South Pacific to Australia's national strategic interest.
And it is not just China's growing presence and influence which is a factor, important though it is.
Australia must engage more directly with our immediate region at the political, business, and community levels, especially sport.
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