Australian National University staff will visit the 14 Pacific Forum nations between now and Christmas to draw up a plan to train security officials and police across the Pacific.
The ANU has won a contract with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to set up a new Pacific Security College, an announcement that comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison prepares for the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu on Wednesday.
The college aims to set up much closer links between the Australian security apparatus and police and security officials across the Pacific, as Australia steps up its links with the region. It will be answerable to Foreign Affairs.
The contract is worth $17.5 million for the first three years with a possible extension for another four years, worth $20 million. The college will answer to Foreign Affairs, which will appoint the board.
The dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific, Michael Wesley, said climate change was among major concerns of Pacific Island nations, but there was also "a great deal of anxiety about transnational security threats, foreign interference, transnational crime, the illegal exportation of natural resources".
The ANU would begin visiting nations within weeks to draw up training plans, with training to begin next year.
"We need to work with Pacific Island countries to work out what their needs are," Prof Wesley said. "The basic idea of this is not that Australia is imposing its own ideas and its own security agendas."
He expected about 100 Pacific Islanders to complete courses in the first three years, when the contract would be reviewed.
A director had been appointed to the new school, along with two deputy directors. Their names have not been disclosed but are to be made public within days, according to the ANU.
The college, based at the Crawford School and including the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, would have fewer than 10 full-time staff, with courses delivered by existing academics at the university and by academics at the University of the South Pacific.
The new college comes amid alarm in Australia at the extent to which China had established itself in the Pacific, under its "belt and road" project, including through loans, infrastructure and hotel building.
At the Pacific Islands Forum last year, the Pacific nations, which include countries as big as Papua New Guinea and as small as Tuvalu, signed a declaration agreeing to work together on security issues.
The so-called Boe Declaration recognised "an increasingly complex regional security environment" and "a dynamic geopolitical environment leading to an increasingly crowded and complex region". It said climate change was the biggest threat.
The security college was recommended in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper which identified the stability of the Pacific as fundamental to Australia's interests, and one of Australia's top 5 foreign policy priorities.
It set out a plan to "step up" Australia's engagement with the Pacific, including through much closer ties with security agencies and police in the region.
The paper said many Pacific countries had limited capacity to deal with transnational crime, natural disasters, climate change, infectious disease outbreaks, drug trafficking, cyber threats and other security issues.
Australia also promised its Pacific neighbours maritime patrol boats and money for aerial surveillance, as well as information sharing on fishing, and smuggling of people, wildlife and drugs.
Background material on the college says the college will avoid "partner government politics", minimising risks in times of political instability or changes of government, and maintain good relations with Pacific nations and minimising any sense of interfering or threatening the sovereignty of Pacific nations. It says the college's staff must have security clearance to "negative vetting level 2", which allows access top secret classified information.
Prof Wesley said the college built on already close links between Australia and New Zealand and the Pacific, and with the ANU.
"I don't think any of the Pacific Island countries would be unfamiliar with Australia and our officials and neither would they be unfamiliar with ANU academics," he said. "In any given week, there would probably be half a dozen ANU academics in the Pacific doing research. So we are not unknown quantities here and we are looking forward to forging even deeper links into the region."