Federal parliament's defence sub-committee has issued a bipartisan call for more Pacific cooperation with "like-minded" countries.
Further opportunities for defence cooperation in the Pacific alongside New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Japan, France and the United Kingdom should be investigated, the committee recommended in a report tabled on Wednesday.
COVID-19 will continue to intensify requirements for governments and defence to cooperate with Pacific island states, and the foreign affairs department warned of more social disruption and inequality.
The report cites China's growing posture and influence in the Pacific as generating concern in the west, and reiterates government advice that China's power and influence are matching and sometimes exceeding the US.
The committee heard reliable and high-quality intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance is vital, but currently inadequate, for maintaining the rules-based global order, including in the South China Sea.
"At present, Pacific maritime security agencies lack the equipment, maintenance and operational funds to develop an effective approach to long-term maritime security for their country, with air and maritime surveillance particularly inadequate," PAL Aerospace and Air Affairs Australia said.
Defence gave evidence on the long-standing reach into the region through the Defence Cooperation Program, Pacific Maritime Security Program, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The Pacific Patrol Boat Program and its replacement the Pacific Maritime Security Program are arguably the most important aspect of the DCP, as Pacific island states have extensive maritime territories that are vulnerable to illegal fishing, unregulated seabed mining and transnational crime.
But it could be improved with more Pacific islands representation and leadership, the inquiry found.
The report also accepted the Northern Territory government's call for state and territory partners to be able to collaborate further with Pacific neighbours.
The Australian government should also offer to assist with increased intelligence gathering and sharing with Pacific island countries to support a broader range of security objectives, including maritime domain awareness and maritime security operations.
The Philippine embassy highlighted its government's desire to enhance intelligence ties, including forecasting emerging threats in the southeast Asian region.
The Indo-Pacific is one of the most natural disaster-prone regions in the world.
The report acknowledges climate change will likely intensify requirements for government and defence support.
Australian Associated Press
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