Former defence chief Peter Cosgrove has proposed Australia enter an economic union with Pacific countries, saying this would promote stability in the region.
General Cosgrove said that while this perhaps this did not need to be as comprehensive or as close as the European Union, “I would start with the objects in and the operations of the EU in mind.”
Australia had to look more holistically at the region and our relationship with it, he said, delivering the Sir Paul Hasluck Oration in Melbourne.
“In an economic sense, at present we are the major supermarket and also in some areas the wholesale distribution warehouse.”
The people of the Pacific Islands to a large degree had to shop with us, “either by visiting the regional supermarket or by accepting material from us as a distribution warehouse through travelling salesmen.”
This made for a supplicant or take-it-or-leave-it relationship. Instead, “we should contemplate some kind of closer of interdependent economic relationship with the countries of the Pacific Forum,” he said.
Australia could not make a greater real contribution to the strong and peaceful development and viability of the region than such an initiative. “It would not only flow into commercial arrangements but into labour markets, and thus into social and cultural issues.”
As things stood, there were not opportunities for the domestic economies of the Pacific Islands to withstand challenges and to flourish. “I think for them in an economic sense to simply stagnate, is to invite a plethora of vexing social and cultural issues which might come home to roost in future Australian generations.
"If we do embark in something positive, significant and transformational with our friends in our closer neighbourhood, then we really will have contributed greatly to peace and security in the region”