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Stronger Pacific in everyone's interests: Australia

After months of relentless diplomacy, Australia believes the Pacific will be stronger with a unified Pacific Islands Forum.

The return of Kiribati to the Pacific Islands Forum was sealed on Friday at a special leaders retreat in Nadi, Fiji.

While many have contributed to mending wounds, particularly new Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, its unlikely any worked harder than Australia Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

The pair looked over at each other and shared a joke during the summit's family photo.

Senator Wong has made nine visits to the Pacific in as many months, coming good on an election promise to re-engage in the region, taking in 16 Pacific nations.

On her travels, Australia pledged aid, signed deals and argued for Pacific unity, which supports Australia's strategic goal of sheltering the region from outsized Chinese influence.

"A strong and united Pacific Islands Forum is in all of our interests," she said in Nadi.

On her ninth trip this week, Australia signed an MoU with Kiribati that included the rebuild of a wharf, a patrol boat and policing support.

Senator Wong then headed to the retreat with Mr Maamau, announcing $10 million in new funding for Fijian schools damaged in recent cyclones.

That was followed by an even bigger pledge of $620 million to fund health-care programs in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

The programs will fund children's immunisations, access to maternity care and fighting diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

"We do better in a world where we are more secure, we do better in a region that is more stable and more secure - and part of that is health," Senator Wong said.

The South Australian ripped through a whirlwind schedule of bilateral meetings on Thursday with leaders from Tuvalu, Samoa and the Cook Islands and various Fijian ministers, before the retreat on Friday.

Australia and New Zealand are set to pay more for PIF's ongoing costs following the unity pact.

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni said the pair had "a commitment of upfront funding for the first three years".

Following that, Ms Sepuloni said a return to a 51-49 funding split was likely, with Australia and New Zealand contribuing 51 per cent, and other PIF members paying the rest.

Under Australia's reoriented foreign policy, with a heavy focus on solidifying the Pacific, the government has decided the cost is worth it.

Senator Wong told the ABC the Labor government, which won office last year an election where Chinese engagement in the Pacific was a major issue, was more committed to the region than its predecessor.

"We've been out in the region. We've engaged more. We've listened more," Senator Wong said on Friday.

"We've obviously got a much more sensible and ambitious position on climate, which is the central issue, the most important national security and economic issue facing Pacific Islands.

"We've engaged and it's fantastic to be here."


May 2022 - Fiji

June 2022 - Samoa and Tonga; then New Zealand and Solomon Islands

July 2022 - Fiji (Pacific Islands Forum)

August 2022 - Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste

October 2022 - Marshall Islands and Nauru; then Cook Islands, Niue and French Polynesia

December 2022 - Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau

February 2023 - Kiribati, Fiji (Pacific Islands Forum)