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Thursday, 25 February 2010
Page: 1181


Senator TROOD (11:29 AM) —I present the final report of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee on security challenges facing Papua New Guinea and the island states of the southwest Pacific.

Ordered that the report be printed.


Senator TROOD —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This report is the second volume of the committee’s inquiry into Australia’s relations with Papua New Guinea and the islands of the southwest Pacific. Volume 1 was tabled on 19 November 2009 and dealt with the economic challenges facing the Pacific. This volume focuses on the security challenges facing the region.

In its inquiry the committee found that there were many causes of instability, insecurity and sometimes conflict within the Pacific island states. Among the most important domestic contributing factors are interethnic tension, insecure land tenure, access to weapons, gender inequality, corruption and unemployment. And underlying many of these problems is the issue highlighted in the committee’s report: economic underdevelopment.

The persistence of these problems has bred various insecurities among island states—not least, political instability—in part, because governments, and often local politicians, enjoy only short-term, and sometimes truncated, terms of office. The committee found:

... such stability makes it difficult for governments to pursue a sustained policy agenda; it erodes public confidence in government and creates a culture of shorttermism which may encourage corrupt practices ...

And:

... this history of political instability has significant implications for Pacific security.

The list of security challenges now faced by the countries of the region is depressingly long. It includes: the breakdown of domestic law and order; transnational crime, including smuggling and money laundering; illegal fishing resulting in serious resource depletion; a high vulnerability to natural disasters and a potentially wide exposure to the dangers of climate change.

The committee found that the island states had a limited capacity to respond effectively to many of these challenges. Their law enforcement mechanisms are limited, their capacity for effective border control is overstretched, regulatory and administrative frameworks are underdeveloped, and their ability to respond to natural emergencies is limited by weak infrastructure and an absence of financial reserves. Transnational criminal activity offers a useful example of the challenges faced by island states. The committee found that most do not have the capacity to police their vast oceanic borders effectively. Nor do they have the sophisticated tracking, surveillance and policing capabilities required to address transnational criminal activity.

Australia, as the main source of aid to the Pacific, actively supports Pacific island states through an extensive range of security focused assistance programs. When taking evidence for the inquiry, the committee examined in detail the assistance provided by the Australian Federal Police, through the Pacific Police Development Program; the Department of Defence, through the Defence Cooperation Program; the Attorney-General’s Department, through its commitment to building legislative capacity; work undertaken by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre—AUSTRAC—and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service; and, as noted in the committee’s earlier report, the many Pacific programs administered through AusAID.

In spite of the assistance provided by Australia, many Pacific island states still struggle to deal adequately with the domestic and external threats to their security. The committee has therefore made a series of recommendations which focus on how Australia can better contribute to the security and stability of the region and of these states. These recommendations underscore the close connection between development and enhanced security for island states. Indeed, the committee is strongly of the view that were all of the recommendations in volume 1 of its report to be implemented it would greatly enhance their security and improve their capacity to meet security challenges that they will face in the future.

Beyond that, the committee’s recommendations focus on the need to develop security partnerships which, first, offer improved integration, collaboration, coordination and interoperability between Australia’s various security-related initiatives; second, focus on Pacific states’ needs, are appropriate to Pacific nations’ level of development and are commensurate with their technical and material capacity; and, third, complement the work of regional organisations’ aims to forge much closer cooperation and coordination with other donors to the region. As an example of the need for greater regional cooperation, the committee has adopted a recommendation that the Australian government explore with Pacific states the development of a regional maritime coordination centre as the foundation for improving the capacity of island states to protect, surveil and police their Exclusive Economic Zones and maritime territories.

In this volume, the committee underlined the findings in volume 1 which stressed the importance of building the self-sufficiency and resilience of Pacific island states so that they are able to take advantage of economic opportunities and deliver essential services. In that context it noted the potential for the Rudd government’s Pacific Partnership for Development programs to contribute to these objectives. In this report the committee notes that the government’s complementary policy of Pacific Partnerships for Security may in time offer some similar potential.

A key challenge for island states is the need to develop communities that are better able to withstand the adverse effects of natural disasters and climate change. At the moment these countries are under-prepared for these challenges. The challenges are not likely to diminish and accordingly will probably demand considerable attention of external partners such as Australia.

In conclusion, the island states of the Pacific face some very difficult security challenges. In many cases they lack the capacity to deal effectively with these challenges. The long-term solution is to promote prosperity and economic development throughout the region. As volume 1 of the committee’s report makes clear, Australia can make an important contribution to this objective. The committee is also strongly of the view that Australia—together with other external countries; not least, New Zealand—has an important contribution to make to the region’s security.

Question agreed to.