Labor pledges to restore Pacific relations

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The prime minister has accused Labor of "playing politics in the Pacific" after the party unveiled a plan to tackle China's growing influence.

Australia's standing as a partner of choice in the region would be restored by a Labor government, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese promised.

But Scott Morrison said Labor's plan was no different from his government's Pacific engagement policy, with the exception of funding for the ABC to expand content to the region.

Mr Albanese said Labor would combine Australia's defence, strategic, diplomatic and economic power to reassure the region it could rely on Australia.

Yet Mr Morrison labelled the idea "absurd" and said it showed the opposition did not understand the extent of the challenges in the Pacific.

"I sent in the AFP. The Labor Party wants to send in the ABC when it comes to their Pacific solution," he told reporters in Townsville on Tuesday, referencing Australia's assistance in the Solomons' capital Honiara during a period of civil unrest in November 2021.

"They are playing politics with the Pacific and the only ones who are benefiting from Labor's attacks on our government is the Chinese government and, it would seem, the ABC."

Labor promised to boost official development assistance to the Pacific countries and Timor-Leste by $525 million over four years if elected.

They would establish an Australia-Pacific Defence School, reinstate regular bipartisan parliamentary visits, reform the Pacific mobility scheme and create a new engagement visa to encourage more migration.

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said diplomatic and soft-power initiatives, as well as defence partnerships, were the key to Australia's relationship with the Pacific.

"We will leverage Australian strengths. We understand we are in a time of competition so you have to look to your competitive advantage," she told reporters in Darwin.

"The power of Australia's voice, power of our proximity, the power of our people-to-people relationships and the power of economic relationships. This is how you work to secure the region."

Under Labor's Pacific broadcasting and publishing initiative, content will promote "Australian identity, values, and interests" while partnerships and training with Pacific journalists will be strengthened.

Funding for aerial surveillance under the Pacific Maritime Security Program would be bolstered by $12 million a year to help Pacific nations guard against illegal fishing and drug smuggling.

The election promise is Labor's response to what they describe as the Liberal-National coalition "dropping the ball" in the Pacific after a security pact was signed between the Solomon Islands and China.

Security experts fear the deal could lead to a Chinese military base, although both nations have denied this, with a Beijing spokesman saying overnight such speculation was "fake news".

Meanwhile, two opinion polls show Labor holding an election-winning lead over the coalition with less than four weeks to polling day.

The latest Ipsos poll shows Labor leading in primary vote terms by 34 points to the coalition's 32.

On a two-party preferred basis, 50 per cent would vote Labor and 42 per cent the coalition, while eight per cent of respondents were undecided.

Mr Morrison moved ahead of Mr Albanese as preferred prime minister 46-37 per cent in the latest Newspoll.

Labor leads the coalition 53-47 on a two-party preferred basis, enough to secure majority government.

The prime minister started the day in Townsville, campaigning in the Liberal-National Party seat of Herbert which the party holds by a margin of 8.4 per cent.

Senior Labor figures campaigned in Darwin as Mr Albanese remained in isolation with COVID at his Sydney home.

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