Foreign Minister Penny Wong is set to continue Australia’s Pacific blitz with a visit to New Caledonia and Tuvalu.
The visit to the two nations this week means Senator Wong will have visited all members of the Pacific Islands Forum.
“Our work had to start in the Pacific because the Pacific is family,” she told the National Press Club in reference to her having taken up the mantle of foreign minister after winning the federal election.
Senator Wong said Pacific island nations had been subject to great powers inserting themselves in the region, with regional voices sidelined and ignored.
She said Australia needed to work together with Pacific nations to ensure regional security was maintained.
“We want Australia to be a partner of choice for the countries of our region. Partners, not patriarchs,” she said.
“Our view and the view of the Pacific Islands Forum is that the Pacific family is responsible for Pacific security.”
Senator Wong said Australia needed to continue to invest in Pacific island nations, including through infrastructure and maritime security, in order to help them become more economically resilient.
“Without these investments, others will continue to fill the vacuum,” she said.
The foreign minister also lauded the part Indigenous Australians would play in fostering relationships in the region.
She said Australia hadn’t drawn on the experience of Aboriginal people as the nation’s first traders and diplomats.
“Whenever I go to a Pacific island country, I always … have engagement with traditional leaders,” she said.
“The power of our First Nations people, particularly in the Pacific, gives us a way in which we can engage and connect that we haven’t previously utilised.
“We are drawing on heritage of some antiquity but we are trying to apply it today. This doesn’t get a lot of headlines but I think it matters,” Wong said.