By Associated Press
Foreign Minister Marise Payne had proposed in November doubling Australian aid to the Pacific to 2.88 billion Australian dollars ($2 billion) a year to counter China’s rising influence, The Australian newspaper reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources. But she was refused by her Cabinet’s national security committee colleagues.
Morrison declined to confirm or deny the newspaper report because of the secrecy surrounding the committee’s deliberations.
Morrison rejected the premise of a question when a reporter asked if he would consider doubling Pacific aid to counter Beijing’s moves.
“You’re suggesting that if you just double funding in the Pacific then somehow the Chinese government doesn’t have any influence or won’t be successful in seeking to coerce or exert its influence in the southwest Pacific,” he said. “That’s your assumption and that assumption doesn’t hold.”
Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that there will be no Chinese naval base in his country and China has denied seeking a military foothold in the islands.
Senior government lawmakers have said the timing of the China-Solomons agreement during an election campaign is evidence that Beijing was attempting to undermine the ruling coalition’s prospects for reelection.
The government maintains that Beijing wants a change of leadership because a Labor administration would be less likely to stand up against Chinese economic coercion.
As well as campaigning against Labor, Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party is fighting off a new challenge from so-called “teal” independent candidates to key government lawmakers’ reelection in party strongholds.
The teal independents are marketed as a greener shade than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue color and want stronger government action on reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions than either the government or Labor are proposing.
The government aims to reduce Australia’s emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has promised a 43% reduction.
Recent opinion polls have put Labor narrowly ahead of the coalition. But the pollsters’ credibility has yet to recover since their spectacular failure in the 2019 election.
The split of votes between the government and Labor in 2019 was 51.5% to 48.5% — the mirror opposite of the result that Australia’s five most prominent polls predicted.