Article published by Matthew Killoran from the Courier
Supporting a Pacific Islands NRL team and getting the region more closely associated with the 2032 Southeast Queensland Olympic Games should be part of a bid to deepen ties.
Supporting a Pacific Islands NRL team and getting the region more closely associated with the 2032 Southeast Queensland Olympic Games should be part of a “bat and ball diplomacy” bid to deepen ties with our nearest neighbours.
China continues to flex its muscles in the region and push its influence by building roads and rail in the Pacific through its Belt and Road Initiative.
But parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and trade chair Ted O’Brien said further developing Australia’s sporting relationship with the region could be one part of competing with Beijing in the region.
He said resolving “the China question” was a bigger issue for the nation than Covid-19 and sports was another way to reach out to the Pacific.
“Indeed, sports diplomacy is a major soft-power asset for Australia in the Pacific and we should make the most of it,” he said.
“It’s not like ‘bat and ball’ diplomacy is our answer to China’s ‘belt and road’ initiative, but it’s still an important piece of the puzzle.
“It may not be at the pointy end of international affairs, but you should never underestimate the importance of people to people relations which is a great strength of Australia’s relationship with Pacific island countries.”
A recent report from the joint standing committee on foreign affairs and trade made a series of recommendations including boosting the existing sports diplomacy efforts with the Pacific Islands.
It included maximising opportunities for Pacific island countries to be closely associated with and participate in the 2032 Olympics, creating a specific program with the Australian Institute of Sport to develop athletes from the region, as well as backing in a push to have a Pacific Islands team in the NRL.
Travel bubbles were also recommended for consideration, subject to health advice, Covid-safe travel and quarantine arrangements.
It also recommended Queensland take advantage as Australia’s “gateway” to the Pacific region, including undertaking a feasibility study into setting up a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade office in the state.
“The Australian and Queensland governments need to explore how to further develop this special role of the state to benefit both Australia and our Pacific neighbours,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Australia and Pacific island countries display an affinity for one another which goes well beyond our shared geography and common geostrategic and economic interests.”