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Penny Wong takes political foes on Pacific trip

Fulfilling an election commitment, Senator Wong has restored joint government and opposition visits to the Pacific after they fell into abeyance under her predecessor, Marise Payne.

Senator Wong and Mr Conroy will be accompanied by opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham and Pacific spokesman Michael McCormack, with the bipartisan delegation visiting Vanuatu, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau from Monday to Thursday.

The delegation will meet Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau, FSM President David Panuelo and Palau President Surangel Whipps jr for talks on development, the “existential threat” of climate change and regional security.

In Vanuatu, the delegation will participate in a handover ceremony for the newly constructed Mala Base Wharf, funded by Australia as part of its promise to provide patrol boats to Pacific nations.

They will also visit a primary school in FSM funded by Australia’s aid program and a solar farm in Palau supported by the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.

While in opposition, Senator Wong committed to restoring bipartisan visits, arguing they were an important show of support and unity for the Pacific and way to gain an understanding of the region’s needs.

Senator Wong criticised the former government for blundering in the Pacific after Solomon Islands signed a security agreement with China earlier this year.

When Beijing attempted to strike a regional security and economic deal with Pacific nations, Mr Panuelo was a key figure in hindering those efforts.

“I am pleased we are delivering on the Albanese government’s promise to reinstate bipartisan parliamentary delegation visits, demonstrating Australia’s enduring commitment to strengthening our Pacific partnerships and addressing regional challenges,” Senator Wong said.

Senator Birmingham said: “This is a welcome opportunity to again demonstrate that Australia’s engagement with our Pacific neighbours is of the highest priority and transcends domestic politics.”