Submission to Inquiry into Australia’s Defence Relationships with Pacific Island Countries

Figure 3: Major aid donors to the Pacific, 2011-2017 Source: Lowy Institute Pacific Aid Map.

LOWLY INSTITUTE – 01 July 2020

In July, Jonathan Pryke presented a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Inquiry into Australia’s defence relationships with Pacific Islands.

Jonathan Pryke
Jonathan Pryke


I welcome the opportunity to make a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Defence Sub-Committee’s inquiry into Australia’s Defence relationships with Pacific Island nations.

Australia maintains robust and critical defence relationships with all Pacific nations that retain standing militaries. The Defence Cooperation Program, much-valued Pacific Patrol Boat Scheme, as well as work supporting the policing of illegal fishing and transnational crime, links Australia’s defence and security agencies with every Pacific nation.

These institutional links are often the strongest in the region. While these institutional links must be maintained and strengthened, it is critical that the Australian government not look at the Pacific islands purely or predominantly through a strategic lens even as geostrategic competition in the region continues to grow.

Australia can best achieve its security goals in the Pacific by helping the Pacific achieve their own, who view climate change, maritime security, food security and transnational crime as far greater threats to their livelihoods than that posed of China.

Australia aspires to be the partner of choice for the Pacific region. Considering the strength of the existing levels of investment combined with a renewed focus founded on principals of respect, equivalence and friendship I am confident Australia can achieve this ambition in our defence relationship with the region.


Australia’s anxiety of the security and stability of the Pacific Islands region pre-dates the Federation. While this anxiety has changed over time, most acutely felt during the second world war, the importance of the Pacific for Australia’s national security is no less important now than it was 120 years ago. The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper frames it succinctly:

“Stability in Papua New Guinea, the wider Pacific and Timor–Leste, for example, is vital to our ability to defend Australia’s northern approaches, secure our borders and protect our exclusive economic zone.”

In recognition of the unique strategic importance of the Pacific Islands region, the Australian government has invested significantly in its bilateral and regional security relationships for decades.

Australia rightly takes pride in being the first nation to be called on, and first to respond, in times of crisis in the region. The institutional defence relationships between Australia and the Pacific are amongst the most robust and consistent government-to-government partnerships in the region.

This position as the ‘partner of choice’ to much of the Pacific, especially Melanesia, has largely been untested for the better part of the last 60 years, with the Pacific remaining generally geopolitically benign. In the past three years this status quo has been upended as China’s growing influence has become a more direct and apparent challenge to Australia’s strategic interests in the Pacific.


Download full text here : APH.GOV.AU / Lowly Institute (PDF 543 KB)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here