Australia has pledged $68 million (US$43 million) to Fiji in budget support and has agreed to sell the Pacific nation 14 bushmaster armoured vehicles for its peacekeepers as the two nations sign an “elevated” new partnership agreement in Canberra.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka in Canberra on Wednesday as he continues a state visit to Australia.

The federal government has also promised to streamline visa services for Fiji nationals and intensify efforts to help it deal with escalating cyber security threats.

Rabuka has used the visit to champion his concept of establishing the Pacific as a “Zone of Peace” — although the prime minister freely admits the idea is still embryonic.

“I know that it is naive to believe that can happen, but that’s the way we must conduct our domestic affairs so that we do not appear to be aggressive in our relationship with our neighbours and also with our friends that we have had cordial international bilateral relationships with,” he said.

Albanese heaped praise on Rabuka, who has moved to limit Fiji’s policing cooperation with China, declaring that he wants to focus on security ties with “traditional” friends like Australia and New Zealand.

“Both of us agree that Pacific unity is central to the relationship in our region. And Fiji plays a critical leadership role,” Albanese said.

He said the $68 million (US$43 million) payment to Fiji would “help economic recovery and to boost growth” in Fiji, which is still grappling with the economic fallout from COVID-19 lockdowns which devastated its tourism industry.