Australia’s credibility would be boosted on the world stage if the yes vote wins the looming Indigenous voice referendum, a senior Pacific leader says.

Henry Puna, the head of the Pacific Islands Forum, said on Wednesday that while he respected the country’s right to make its own democratic decision it would be “wonderful to see Australia vote yes”.

The Pacific Islands Forum, founded more than 50 years ago, is a key regional body that coordinates political and economic policy among its 18 members including Australia, New Zealand and Pacific island countries.

Puna was asked during a media conference in Fiji to describe the consequences for Australia’s relationships with the Pacific in the event of either a yes or a no victory in the referendum.

“That’s a very difficult question to be asked, the fact being that, you know, we have no right to interfere with your domestic policies, and whatever happens domestically in your country,” the secretary general said.

“And yet … it would be wonderful to see Australia vote yes, because I think it’ll elevate Australia’s position, and maybe even credibility, on the international stage.”

Puna noted that it was “a democratic choice that has to be made by Australian citizens and we respect that – all the way”.

He said he would “wait and see what the Australian people will come up with on the referendum”.

Puna’s comments, made during a regular briefing for media across the region, shine a spotlight on the potential impact of the voice referendum on Australia’s international relationships.

Australians will decide whether to alter the constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an advisory body to be known as the voice.

Earlier this week, Vanuatu’s former foreign minister Ralph Regenvanu said a no vote on 14 October would be a blow to Australia’s relationships with the region.

The former Liberal foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said in August that a no win would send a “very negative message” to the world about the openness and empathy of Australian society.

But Warren Mundine, a leading no campaigner, has said the impact of the referendum on Australia’s international reputation has been exaggerated.

Mundine told the press club last week: “Whether it’s a yes vote or whether it’s a no vote, I’m sorry to tell everyone in Australia, the Americans, the Europeans don’t get out of bed and think about ‘Oh, gee, what’s Australia doing today?’ They don’t, they couldn’t give a crap, I can tell you that now.”

Mundine said he sat on the boards of international mining companies and when they sought to raise capital “no one has ever mentioned the voice to us”.

“They don’t really care about Australia. [On] this idea that we’re going to be this pariah: mate look at some of the countries in the world that we do business with and how they treat their own citizens,” said Mundine.