Ambitious new sports diplomacy initiative aimed at deepening relations with Pacific island countries


An ambitious proposal for a new sports diplomacy mission dubbed ‘Team AusPac’ was tabled in the Australian Federal Parliament last Wednesday, aimed at deepening ties between Australia and Pacific island countries.

Chair of the Australian Parliament’s Trade Sub-Committee, MP Ted O’Brien, announced the proposal which forms part of a Parliamentary Inquiry report entitled ‘One Region, One Family, One Future’.

“Australia and Pacific island countries display an affinity for one another which goes well beyond our shared geography and common geostrategic and economic interests,” said O’Brien.

“It may not be at the pointy end of international affairs, but you should never underestimate the importance of people to people relations which is a great strength of Australia’s relationship with Pacific island countries,” he said.

‘And sport is one of the key ingredients.’

Team AusPac would be an initiative spearheaded by the Australian Government, in partnership with relevant sporting organisations, and include the creation a special programme for Pacific island athletes as part of the Australian Institute of Sport; an expansion of the number of sports to receive special focus under the PacificAus Sports programme beyond netball, football and rugby union and league; a capacity building programme for sporting coaches and trainers, and; support for a team from a Pacific island country to enter the National Rugby League (NRL) competition.

‘Team AusPac would also maximise opportunities for Pacific island countries to be closely associated with, and actively participate in, the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Australia,’ saidO’Brien who was Prime Minister Morrison’s personal representative on the bid team that recently secured the rights for Brisbane to host the 2032 Games.

In all, the Inquiry’s report made five recommendations proposing that the Australian Government:

*prioritises its support for the Pacific region to recover from COVID-19 by increasing development assistance, providing vaccine coverage, assisting in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks and assessing opportunities to restore international trade and travel

*prioritises activation of greater trade and investment by considering measures and reforms to the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, making it easier for Pacific islanders to access the Australian market, supporting further research into trade and investment, supporting the establishment of National Standard Bodies, supporting the Pacific Quality Infrastructure Initiative, promoting pilot investor tours to Pacific island countries and expanding Australia’s kava commercial importation pilot

*improves travel and mobility between Australia and countries of the Pacific region by establishing a Pacific travel bubble subject to health advice and processes, investigates potential for improving infrastructure, introduces a Pacific Business Travel Card, and improves labour mobility arrangements

*works towards deepening people-to-people ties between Australia and countries of the Pacific region through sport, churches and media – for example, through a new programmme called ‘Team AusPac’

* maximises opportunities for Pacific island countries to be closely associated with, and actively participate in, the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Australia

*recognises the important role played by Australian states and territories in our relationship with Pacific island countries – in particular, the state of Queensland – and analyses the outcomes of this report within a Queensland context, undertakes a feasibility study on expanding the services of a Pacific-focused office of Department of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in Queensland, and engages the Queensland Government and relevant local government authorities to work collaboratively on aspects of this report.

“After 56 submissions and eight public hearing and roundtables with the diplomatic representatives of the Pacific island nations, I am confident that this report helps answer our questions and that our five recommendations are worthy of adoption by the Government,” said O’Brien.