Walking the talk: Is Australia's engagement with the Pacific a 'step up' or a stumble?
By Tess Newton-Cain
The release of Australia's Foreign Policy White Paper late last year had been much anticipated, not least because it was the first such paper in over a decade. Notable was that the Pacific island region (including Timor-Leste) had been accorded a chapter of its own. Responses to this chapter have been mixed. Here, I present my analysis. However, I have extended the lens beyond the 'Pacific chapter' to a consideration of some of the material that appears in other parts of this document. Given that the White Paper is now approaching its first birthday, I have also been able to examine the nature of Australia's engagement with our region since its publication to see what its impact may have been so far. There are two primary aspects to this analysis. The first is that an entrenched approach of Pacific exceptionalism leads to engagement that is of a secondary and, often, inferior nature. Secondly, I identify two assumptions that appear to underpin the 'Pacific chapter' of the White Paper, which may prove to be flawed. If this proves to be the case, they may be a cause for more missteps for Australia, in a region where political and diplomatic performance are already often lacking.