There is a new publication worth reading from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute called Our near abroad: Australia and Pacific islands regionalism.
This report, authored by Richard Herr and Anthony Bergin, suggests that with rising Chinese influence in the region, the US appears to doubt that Australia can deliver on South Pacific issues. It points out that the Pacific Island members of the United Nations now meet under the rubric of the Pacific Small Islands Developing States that excludes Australia; the Melanesian Spearhead Group has backed fellow member Fiji against Australian sanctions; that Australia is losing influence over collective decision-making in the South Pacific; and that Australia should re-gather the threads of regional leadership.
The report makes recommendations to achieve this including: establishing a regional maritime coordination centre; encouraging Chinese participation in regional law enforcement; repairing our relationship with Fiji; providing funding to the MSG Secretariat; introducing a scheme for permanent migration from the smaller island states; assessing the practicality of a regional insurance scheme for natural disasters; including the fisheries sector in our Pacific seasonal worker pilot scheme; offering a program of scholarships to talented Islander children to attend boarding schools in Australia; introducing a Colombo Plan for the Pacific islands; creating an Office of Sport and Diplomacy within DFAT to bring together the people of the Pacific through sport; establishing a Pacific islands studies institute here; and ensuring that a Pacific islands posting is part of a complete Australian diplomatic career. It also proposes a refocus on PNG.
You can read the executive summary here View Executive Summary; view the report here View HTML or download a PDF copy here Download PDF. Chapter five is definitely worth a look Chapter 5 A more effective neighbourhood role for Australia