Minister opens State of the Pacific Conference

18 June 2014

Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop, has outlined the government's policy approach to the South Pacific, calling for fresh thinking and a stronger role for private investment to drive economic growth in the region.

Ms Bishop used her opening address to the University's 2014 State of the Pacific Conference to outline her strong support for the South Pacific, and said the region was central to the government's foreign policy.

"Australia's overriding national interest and that of Pacific nations, is for the Pacific to be stable and secure, peaceful and prosperous," Ms Bishop said.

"I believe that because it is our neighbourhood, I believe Australia has a primary responsibility to help drive economic development, reduce poverty, and lift standards of living in the Pacific.

"I believe we need a fresh thinking and different approaches to the Pacific."

Ms Bishop said it was crucial for Pacific countries to stamp out corruption, ensure stability and attract private investment to drive economic growth.

"Economic growth, as the key driver of development, will be central to Australia's new aid policy," she said.

Ms Bishop also said more needed to be done to build the status of women in the Pacific.

"Women's empowerment is critical to the economic and political success of the Pacific," she said.

"Empowering women is not just the right thing to do - it makes economic sense."

The State of the Pacific Conference brings together leading experts on the region to discuss regional challenges, including Australia's changing role in the Pacific, China's rising influence, and Fiji's planned return to democracy with elections set for September this year.

"There are a range of new actors in the region - all with varying ability to influence development and politics in the region," said Dr Sinclair Dinnen, from the State Society and Governance in Melanesia Project.

"Alongside China, new donors have emerged, and large mining and resource extraction corporations hold considerable positions of influence.

"This presents new opportunities for Pacific Islands, as well as some risks. It also impacts on Australia's influence and role as a regional leader."