Australia, NZ ministers visiting Pacific neighbours this week

Penny Wong

It has been another big week for high level visits from Australia and New Zealand into the region, with PNG, Nauru, Marshall Islands and Cook Islands all receiving ministerial-level visits.

Australia’s deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles spent two days in Papua New Guinea, his first visit since assuming office.

He met with Prime Minister James Marape, his deputy John Rosso, Foreign Affairs Minister Justin Tkatchenko and Defence Minister Win Daki to discuss national security, infrastructure, agriculture, and economic co-operation.

Reuters reports that Australia wants to strike an “ambitious” security treaty with PNG  that would see navy, airforce and army personnel from each nation working alongside each other more often.

Speaking to reporters alongside Marape yesterday, Marles said Australia wanted to elevate its security cooperation with Papua New Guinea to the status of a bilateral treaty as soon as possible.

“The defence relationship is one of the strengths of the bilateral relationship, but this is really playing to that strength,” he said, adding most officers of the Papua New Guinea defence force already undertake some training in Australia.

A treaty would seek to make defence cooperation “even closer, where we are having defence personnel working alongside each other more” across maritime, aviation and army,” he said.

The bilateral defence talks had a “very ambitious agenda”, he said.

Wong to Marshall Islands, Nauru

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited Marshall Islands this week to mark the 35th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

“I am so pleased she will be here in person to celebrate our 35th anniversary in diplomatic relations,” said Australia Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Brek Batley Wednesday. “She will learn more about the wonderful ‘iokwe’ spirit and build even closer friendships.”

Wong officially opened the embassy during the visit, although it has been operating since last year.

She has also met President David Kabua, Foreign Minister Kitlang Kabua, and other leaders “to discuss climate action and enhance our security, environmental, cultural and economic partnerships.”

Today Wong was in Nauru, where Australia has announced education funding of at least $20 million (US$12.6 million) over five years focusing on “long term change”.

She was scheduled to meet new President Russ Kun and Cabinet during the one day stop.

NZ Foreign Minister’s marae visit will ‘strengthen ties’ with Cook Islands

Meanwhile in Cook Islands, a special service at the Atupare Marae will be held today to honour the arrival of New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

House of Ariki clerk Puna Rakanui said the event had been several months in the planning.

“It’s great she’s finally coming here, we had been planning for her to arrive earlier this year,” Rakanui said.

Mahuta is also Māori Development Minister, which Rakanui said was important in terms of also strengthening indigenous ties between the Pacific Islands and New Zealand.

The Minister’s schedule includes a visit to Rarotonga Hospital, a bilateral visit with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown which includes the signing of the statement of partnership between New Zealand and the Cook Islands, a visit to the Te Mato Vai project and to the Te Mana o te Vaka Project at the Tavioni Gallery.

She is scheduled to visit Manihiki on Friday.