$800m plan to give Aus major police oversight in Pacific

By Barbara Dreaver of 1news.co.nz and is republished with permission

Australia is set to launch a plan worth more than $800 million which will give it major oversight of policing in the Pacific region.

It follows China’s Pacific security push and while welcomed by some, others are raising red flags.

As Fiji struggles with a meth epidemic threatening societal collapse, Australian officials are in the capital, Suva, working on the Australian Federal Police (AFP) Pacific Policing Initiative.

There are three pillars to the project — pillar 1 is launching a dedicated unit of Australian and Pacific Islands officers — giving them up to a year’s specialised training for rapid deployment to any regional emergency.

Pillar 2 is setting up centres of excellence across the Pacific and boosting them with cash and support.

Chairman of the Pacific Chiefs of Police and Tonga’s Police Commissioner, Shane McLennan, told 1News the jurisdictions selected will get “extra resources”.

“It will be an infrastructure, staffing and so forth to then allow them to really build upon what they’ve already got — but then deliver that capability across the Pacific.”

The third pillar will be a coordination hub in Brisbane which will include seconded Pacific Islands police officers.

McLennan said while it “is a lot of money”, the initiative is an important one.

“From an Australian perspective, they would obviously see the value in ensuring there is peace and stability across the region,” he said.

But the scheme is raising some red flags.

Canterbury University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor Pacific Steven Ratuva said the geopolitical context is whether it is a reaction to China’s influence in some parts of the region.

“Is it an attempt by Australia to use the police as a means of deepening hegemonic control of security in the region? Is it a response to that or is it a response to a genuine desire to stabilise security in the Pacific? So these are some of the questions we need to ask and Australia needs to come clean on those,” Ratuva said.

Transnational Crime Specialist Jose Sousa-Santos said what’s most needed is a regional narcotics bureau to strengthen what’s already in place for law enforcement in the region.

“New Zealand and Australia have for many years seen the Pacific as a buffer — intelligence is received before the Pacific so why is this seizure [of drugs] not being made before the drugs get to the Pacific and before we see the overflow damage and the damage to society and law enforcement?” he said.

The Australians are hoping to get the deployment team operational shortly — ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa and the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Tonga later this year.

Officials have already visited Tonga.

McLennan said there’s already some proposed legislation for the Tongan government which will allow a deployable force to come into the country and, while having the usual and required protections, it will be under the control of the local jurisdiction.

“A deployable force coming here would do so under the control and command of the Tonga police,” he said.

1News understands decisions will need to be made over where the “Centres of Excellence” will be based.

Fiji’s Police Commissioner Juki Fong Chew said he supports the initiative in theory.

Fiji meth crisis: Police compromised in battle against addictive drug

“Currently it’s in discussion — yet to be decided — which part of the Pacific region it will be located in but we would be glad if Fiji could be one of those places to have an excellence centre,” he said.

He said Fiji cannot tackle transnational crime alone and working together is necessary.

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