This year’s Poll sought to understand Australian attitudes about our neighbourhood, the Pacific Islands, and asked Australians about the government’s recent Pacific step-up.
The Australian government announced plans to step up engagement in the Pacific in late 2017. One of the reasons for increased political interest in the Pacific is China’s growing presence in the region.
In 2018, the government established the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, which was reported by media as a response to growing Chinese influence in the Pacific. Consistent with increasing wariness towards China that has been recorded across the 2019 Poll, seven in ten Australians (73%) agree that ‘Australia should try to prevent China from increasing its influence in the Pacific’. More than half of Australians (55%) believe that China opening a military base in the Pacific would be a critical threat to Australia’s interests. A majority (54%) also agree that ‘Australia should partner with Papua New Guinea and the United States in redeveloping a joint military base on Manus Island’.
The Pacific Islands are the largest recipient of Australian aid, receiving $1.3 billion in aid in 2018–19. A sizeable majority of Australians (77%) agree that ‘Australia has a moral obligation to help the Pacific’. However, their views on the role of aid in the Pacific are complicated: most Australians (60%) disagree with the statement that ‘Australian aid to the Pacific has little impact on life in the Pacific’. But they are evenly split about the broader Pacific step-up, with 49% agreeing and 48% disagreeing that ‘Australia should spend more than it currently does on helping the Pacific’.
Now a question about the Pacific. Please indicate whether you personally agree or disagree with each of the following statements:
2018: Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is the largest recipient of Australian aid, receiving $546m in the 2017-18 financial year.
Australians are divided, however, on the effectiveness of that aid: in 2018, 37% agreed that ‘Australian aid to Papua New Guinea has little impact on life in Papua New Guinea’, while 45% disagreed. That does not mean that Australians believed they had no responsibilities towards Papua New Guinea. Three quarters (76%) said that ‘stability in Papua New Guinea is important to Australia’s national interest’, and a similar proportion (77%) said ‘Australia has a moral obligation to help Papua New Guinea’.
The Manus Island detention centre has been a contentious political issue and a frequent topic of debate in Australia. A majority of Australians (59%) in 2018 said ‘Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea has been damaged because of the Manus Island detention centre’.
They were uncertain about Papua New Guinea’s economic future in 2018, with 34% agreeing and 46% disagreeing that it had ‘strong economic prospects’.
Now a question about Papua New Guinea. Please say whether you personally agree or disagree with each of the following statements: