We must support the democracies in our own region

More than two million people have fled the war in Ukraine. Lives have been destroyed and families torn apart.

It is a war China has conspicuously failed to condemn.

Now is not the time for complacency when it comes to our own security.

China has its own unresolved territorial disputes, a growing military power, and a deepening partnership with Russia.

It would be naïve for us now to assume the war in Ukraine, whilst almost 15,000km away, does not have serious implications for our own security.

As we stand by the people of Ukraine through this illegal and unjust war, Australia cannot afford to take our eyes off the increasingly complex strategic environment evolving in our own backyard, or create opportunity for those who seek to destabilise our region to do so.

It has never been more important to support the sovereignty of democracies in our region, and strengthen our relationships with our Pacific family.

Since the 1960s, our defence cooperation program has seen us strengthen strategic relationships across our region. It supports the sovereignty, human rights, and the rule of law of our Pacific family.

For many years one of our key partnerships has been with Fiji.

Fiji’s military has come to our aid in times of need.

They helped our communities recover from the bushfires of 2019, and now 43 Fijian military personnel have landed in Australia to work side-by-side with our defence force in responding to the Queensland and New South Wales floods.

Likewise, the ADF was at the ready to assist Fiji when Tropical Cyclones Yasa and Ana hit in late 2020 and early 2021.

We’re working side by side to restore and maintain order in the Solomon Islands. And earlier this year Fijian and Australian teams came together to help our family in Tonga in the aftermath of the devastating volcanic eruption.

So, it was appropriate that we took a key step in our partnership and in bolstering the security of our region in 2019 when the redevelopment of the Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Camp in Nadi began.

This project has been a significant partnership between the Australian Defence Force and Republic of Fiji Military Forces. 

This state of the art facility is a symbol of the shared values we hold dear, of courage, endurance, mateship, and sacrifice, and that as a Pacific family, we are truly stronger together.

None of us wish to see the regional order undermined or destabilised.

But we are not sitting back and waiting for this to happen. Through strengthening our close ties and cooperation in our region, and strengthening our own forces, we are taking steps to safeguard our national security.

Last week we committed to increasing our defence force personnel by thirty percent – bolstering our numbers to 101,000 personnel by 2040.

This is just the beginning.

The Blackrock redevelopment complements our existing key security programs, such as the Pacific Maritime Security Program, where Australia’s $2 billion investment is delivering a package of capability, infrastructure, sustainment, training, and coordination designed to increase regional maritime security for Pacific Island nations, including 21 Guardian-class patrol boats.

Australia is committed to working in partnership with Fiji – and our broader Pacific family – to develop high quality security infrastructure.

The upgrade of the Republic of Fiji Navy’s Stanley Brown Wharf, which houses Fiji’s two Guardian-class patrol boats, is nearly complete.

A Maritime Essential Services Centre is to be built in Suva, which will enhance Fiji’s maritime security, and natural disaster assistance and rescue capabilities.

Now more than ever, our security relies on the strength of our ties with our Pacific family. 

Zed Seselja is the Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

 

First Published in The Australian on the 14th March 6:33pm.