The program is costly, and it is time consuming. But it worked very well thirty years ago and it can work well again!
Engaging business in strengthening links with our region
There are hundreds of businesses, and individual entrepreneurs in Australia who would readily look at developing business partnerships in PNG, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga and Samoa, and even more distant countries including Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia.
There are hundreds of businesses engaging with our region already - many have done so for years with considerable success.
The Australian Government needs to bring together the business councils that have extensive links with the region already - and offer to provide them with funding to assist develop links and grow existing links with the business councils and other relevant groups in our neighbours.
Our business links with our region have unquestionably declined in recent years. In some industries China has aggressively pushed us aside - such as fisheries and forestry as well as construction.
We need government agencies and resources to lead a fight back. The business councils are well placed to help deliver it.
Engaging with the mainstream churches
In all our regional neighbours Christianity is not just the majority religion, it is the dominant one - upwards of 90 per cent.
We need to harness the resources, and people, of our mainstream churches, to partner with Pacific counterparts to help deliver vital community services such as primary school education and basic health care,
There are also some excellent church-aligned NGOs and charitable groups doing good work in our region - but who could do more with additional government funding.
My own pro-bono NGO of choice is the Townsville based YWAM - Youth with a Mission. It is based on Christian values and ethics but is non-denominational. Since its arrival in PNG just over a decade ago YWAM has helped hundreds of thousands of Papua New Guinea, principally along coastal communities which its ships and volunteer crews can access.
We should be doing more to fund church aligned groups like YWAM - but also non-church NGOs such as Rotary which have a long history of support for our neighbours.
We have tragically allowed people-to-people links with our closest neighbour PNG to decline alarmingly. But our links with Fiji and Vanuatu in particular also need attention.
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