As I wrote last week, I'm not expecting the federal budget to outline radical change to our aid program in the region. That will take time.
But what we can do is use the budget to modestly strengthen our regional influence.
There is no doubt in my mind that China is focussing on debt-trap funding....loans.....for infrastructure projects in the region. The latest is a highway in Samoa. It is also funding by way of a massive loan the Ramu Two Power Project In PNG.
The one area China really struggles with is funding sport. It has built grandstands for the Pacific Games but it struggles with people to people sport engagement.
Fortunately, Australia has a readymade people engagement when it comes to sport in our region.
Modest budget funding can really make a difference. The key is to ensure funding goes to grass root sport development for elite teams and players.
There is a temptation to fund elite programs. It is easier to administer....but it won't really achieve the best outcomes.
We need to fund women's sport and youth sport as well as men's sport.
A budget outlay of just $10 million would make a real difference.
And even though PNG will be the largest recipient sport funding can make a real difference in smaller island nations such as Samoa, Fiji and Tonga.
As I have written, over half the NRL's first grade players have an Islander, Polynesian or indigenous history. In many junior teams it is even greater.
But there are a whole range of sports we can encourage.
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