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  • 2023 Global Voices fellow

Sovereign Ties- First Nations and The Pacific

Alex Blackborough - Griffith University

Executive Summary 

The Australian Government prioritises building strong ties in the Pacific, setting aside $1.9b for expenditure in the region in the 2023-24 Budget. Additionally, Australian foreign policy seeks to incorporate First Nations perspectives and is currently enacting policy to achieve these aims, partly in recognition of cultural affinity with Pacific Islander people. 

However, the existing suite of policies do not currently provide explicit mechanisms for Pacific Islander feedback or relationship building regarding foreign policy.

This paper recommends the development of an Australia Pacific Foreign Policy Council to act as a direct means for First Nations representatives to engage with and advise foreign policy development conducted by the Office of the Pacific. The Council will consist of elected Aboriginal members from current advisory bodies existing in Queensland, the ACT, NSW and SA. The Council’s purpose will be to produce a bi-annual report providing advice on current Australian policy, incorporating First Nations perspectives. 

This paper also recommends First Nations specific roles to be implemented at each overseas diplomatic station in the Pacific for consultative purposes on current Pacific-facing Australian foreign policy. 

Problem Identification

Australia views itself as an integrated and active member of the Pacific region and seeks to support a strong and unified Pacific family (Wong, 2022b).  The existing policy suite does not, however, deliver explicit mechanisms designed to foster relationship building and a cross-cultural understanding between Australia, First Australians, and the ‘Pacific family’.


Members of the Pacific do not feel heard or understood in Australia’s current foreign policy landscape (Cain, Cox, & Presterudstuen, 2020). This reinforcement of Australia’s paternalistic status has been identified as harming policy effectiveness and masking a lack of alignment between Pacific priorities and domestic policy (Moore, 2024).  Australia’s current approach in the region focuses on enacting programs without the Pacific’s active participation (Cain et al., 2020). These include those established with allies, including the US-led ‘Partners in the Blue Pacific', characterised by some in the Pacific as “riding roughshod over our institutions and arrangements” and, “without our consultation” (Taylor, 2023). AUKUS, a trilateral security partnership for regional security, is also perceived by some members of the Pacific community to pay little heed to the “Pacific’s long-standing opposition to militarisation” (Taylor, 2023). This feedback demands value-driven approaches to Australia’s foreign policy in the Pacific. 


In addition to a lack of consultation, a cultural relationship between many Pacific Islanders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was found to exist, alongside a desire to increase direct engagement between them (Cain et al., 2020). The treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders by Australian policy is seen as emblematic of how Australia operates in the region (Cain et al., 2020). Pacific leaders have characterised the outcome of the recent referendum as reflective of an ‘us and them’ binary approach to policy, which may have repercussions for the effectiveness of ongoing work in the region (Ravulo, 2023). 



Policy Recommendation



The views and opinions expressed by Global Voices Fellows do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation or its staff.

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