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Is a serious debate on our approach to regional security possible?

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Thursday, 14 April 2022

I hope that between now and election day the major political parties might take the people of Australia into their confidence when it comes to managing our relations with our South Pacific neighbours, and addressing the seemingly unrelenting growth of China's influence.

For too long it has suited the convenience of both major parties to adopt a "bi-partisan" approach to foreign policy overall, and more specifically policy directly relating to our immediate national interest, managing relations with our South Pacific neighbours, and addressing China's growing and increasingly oppressive influence in our immediate region in particular.

 Any differences have really been at the margins. The Opposition's bi-partisan approach suits the government. But does it really suit the Australian national interest?


We should not be afraid of a robust and wide-ranging debate on our regional development assistance policies and programs, on seasonal worker programs and on trade and investment.

Even though it is hard to be confident that we will see a genuine debate, I am going to offer a few suggestions that might be considered for inclusion.

The first relates to the "status" of our regional relations, currently managed through the Minister for the Pacific and Development Assistance.

I guess it has been 35 years since direct responsibility was transferred to the Minister for the Pacific. Inevitably, this has increasingly diminished the role of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

My own view is that the situation is so strategically important today that responsibility ought to revert to the Foreign Minister, who enjoys cabinet status.

Some may think this is a minor issue, but that is not the view of many South Pacific, and wider Pacific, leaders. Their view is that Australia devalues its relations with its neighbours. I agree.


The Foreign Minister ought to visit our most important regional neighbours three or four times a year, and invite Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers to visit Australia on a regular basis.

I have noticed that whenever China engages in dialogue with our regional neighbours it does so through via President Xi, or the Premier or Foreign Minister.

It is not hard to believe this attention does not go unnoticed in our region. It is powerful and effective.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu – Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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