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Australia's Foreign Policy White Paper: Pivoting to a Pacific Partnership

Key Points

  • At the end of 2017 Australia published its Foreign Policy White Paper which looked at Australia’s relationship with many Pacific Island Nations.

  • The White Paper outlined the challenges faced by economies in a modern world, including rapid change and national security.

  • Australia recommitted itself to the strong relationships it has with Pacific Island nations, with aims to continue and increase programs that have the proven outcome of invigorating local and the regional economy.


Rapid change is a reality we face as individuals in the modern world every day. Nation states and

their economies also face the battalions of change taking the charge against the ramparts of stability. Change in the modern world for individuals and countries come in the same form; technology, geography and terrorism. Nations have the opportunity to either make opportunities from the change, or becoming overwhelmed.

As such, every few years governments take time to consider and refocus their foreign policy goals and reconsider their place in the world. The Australian government has once again taken the time to look to its neighbours, and further afield, to consider the strategic implication a modern world has on its foreign policy. The two key themes present in the White Paper are geography and cooperation as tools to increase stability and economic growth across the Indo-Pacific.

Our current world

Rampant economic growth in Asia has been the underlying factor driving the pivot from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Alongside other difficult changes in Europe and the US, investor and general international interest (that is, optimistic interest, as opposed to the intrigue one has when watching a car crash) has really shifted to the Asia-Pacific. The changes are present in the fact that in 2016 China’s economy outstripped the EU and US, and by 2030 is set to be almost equal the US and EU’s GDP, combined.[1]

Meanwhile, 11 of the most influential economies around the Pacific rim have moved forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without the US, including: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam.[2] The TPP is set to be the biggest regional-economic partnership since the European Economic Community!

While, this means that governments and businesses have a lot of opportunity for growth and mobility in the Asia-Pacific, it also means who we are as consumers is changing. The most Instagram stories we see are from Jakarta, we now listen to K-pop from Korea, watch animation from Japan, and go to the cinemas to see Bollywood films (twice more than those of Hollywood).[3] There is a real shift in both economic and market trends creating real opportunities for businesses in the Asia-Pacific.

Recommitting to the Pacific

In light of these developments Australia has recommitted itself to its partners in the Pacific and outlined some ways it intends to improve its role in the region.

The Pacific Islands[4]

Over the past few years Australia, alongside New Zealand have recommitted themselves to the Pacific Islands, with the intention of being equal partners with the Island nations, to their shared economic goals.

The White Paper has highlighted that the main achievements of this economic relationship among South Pacific nations include the signing of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus. PACER Plus closes the geographic gaps between the economies, and creates transparency and mobility for business in the Pacific.

The White Paper goes further and states that Australia has committed itself to sharing institutions and systems with island nations. For example, Australia is giving access to Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu to pharmaceutical testing facilities. Alongside, other shared institutions this will create a boon for investors seeking stability and quality assurance in what have traditionally been deemed difficult markets.

Also, Australia is, alongside its Pacific partners, establishing the Pacific Security College to deliver security and law enforcement leadership training. The intent of the Pacific Security College is to feed into other programs such as the Pacific Maritime Security Program, by training leaders in law enforcement and national security, thereby improving stability and improving conditions for investment.

Australia is also working with other nations through the Australia-Pacific Technical College and universities to ensure that the region has the right skills to deal with the growing needs of the economy, especially in Asia.

Papua New Guinea[5]

The Australian White Paper, noted that PNG is Australia’s closest neighbour and therefore closest friend. The White Paper made it evident that due to the geographic closeness it is in both countries’ shared interest to work together to ensure stability in the Torres Strait, and around the region more generally.

As such, while Australia has committed to continue its $550 million development partnership, it does so recognising that PNG has plentiful natural endowments that can be effectively utilised if the comparatively youthful population is upskilled. With a young population and targeted training businesses would be able to gain access to an untapped market which also comes with bountiful resources. Due to the development partnership, there appears to be extra opportunities for entrepreneurs to seek assisted funding for their projects when working with Australians and local Fijians.

Solomon Islands

Australia has recommitted itself to the Solomon Islands after the conclusion of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) through a bilateral security agreement. The agreement ensures that the Solomon Islands has ongoing stability, and will continue to be a safe place for foreign investment.[6]

Australia’s foreign policy goals with Timor Leste are two-pronged. Firstly, Australia has recommitted to training and assisting Timor Leste’s police and national security forces which will continue to improve stability issues in the country.

Secondly, Australia continues to advance Timor Leste’s interest in joining ASEAN through facilitating a trilateral relationship with Indonesia. Opportunities between Australia, Timor Leste and ASEAN nations poses large opportunities for all those involved with major international economic growth being sparked from the region.[7]

Next Steps

The Asia-Pacific region is rapidly changing and growing, and is set to face many challenges and opportunities over the coming decades. Australia, has recommitted itself to not only major powerhouse economies such as China, Japan, Indonesia and Korea, but also seemingly smaller nations such as PNG, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands.

Under Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper, Australia has identified the goals that are shared amongst many Pacific nations, and many ways that the goals can be achieved. As Australia’s foreign relationships and internal laws and regulations are informed by this policy there remains many unknown opportunities for businesses in Australia and elsewhere that will make themselves apparent overtime. However, there are already many opportunities for businesses to take advantage of the laws and treaties that set up labour mobility arrangements and free trade between Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific Island nations.


For more information please contact:

Damian Kelly


T +61 424 067 184









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