THE rise and rise of Australia’s new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has revived relations with the Pacific Islands. While there is continuity with many of the core policies promoted by former conservative leader Tony Abbott, the Turnbull government is seeking to change the tone of Australia’s international engagement.
The appointment of Queenslander Steven Ciobo as Minister for International Development and the Pacific is an important re-affirmation of Australia’s commitment to the islands. Despite this, many of the institutions that support Australian engagement with the region – from volunteer programmes to Radio Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology – have suffered structural damage over recent years.
Declining budget revenues, with falling prices for iron ore and other mineral exports, will constrain Australia’s engagement with the islands region. There are a number of looming headaches for the Turnbull government, at a time when the regional architecture of the Pacific is rapidly changing.