Foreign Minister Marise Payne says Pacific leaders aren’t being snubbed despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison skipping a major regional meeting.
Mr Morrison will not go to the September 3-5 Pacific Islands Forum on Nauru, despite concerns about the rising influence of China in the region.
“I am attending this meeting and participating in it fully with my counterparts and colleagues from across the region,” Senator Payne told ABC radio on Monday.
“We have absolutely reinforced the Pacific is a key priority of Australia’s foreign policy.”
Pacific leaders are also concerned about climate change, which has once again torn apart the Liberal Party as it seeks a new energy policy.
Senator Payne said she was not surprised by the attitudes of Pacific leaders, because climate change had been raised in previous Pacific Island Forum declarations.
“We absolutely recognise it’s in our national interest to take action on climate change,” she said.
“It is absolutely a top priority for the region and a top priority for Australia.”
Former international development minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells accused China of building “roads to nowhere” in the Pacific, causing tension with the Asian nation, but Senator Payne refused to repeat the claim.
“I’m certainly not going to comment on or adopt those views,” Senator Payne said.
She said leaders are expected to adopt a new regional security declaration to deepen co-operation, after growing concerns about emerging security threats.
Other major issues on the forum leaders’ agenda include climate change, sustainable development, fisheries management and health.