Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed yesterday that Australian Prime Minister (PM), Scott Morrison will be visiting Vanuatu on Wednesday and Thursday next week, January 16-17.

Government representatives told the Daily Post that to their knowledge this was the first visit for an Australian PM to Vanuatu.

Others were quick to remind the newspaper that Bob Hawke visited Vanuatu in 1990 for a Pacific Island Forum meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel. He stayed on to witness the country’s 10th anniversary Independence celebrations.

Mr Morrison will be holding meetings with the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers.

He will also preside over the official completion of the Port Vila Urban Development Project.

Laye yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister’s office issued a statement announcing the visit. The invitation, it explains, “follows a personal invitation by Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, in November 2018, which was delivered at the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.”

The statement continues: “In addition to holding bilateral discussions with his counterpart in Port Vila, PM Morrison is also expected to pay a courtesy call on President Obed Moses Tallis.

“PM Morrison is also expected to handover newly refurbished premises of the Police College, as part of Australia’s ongoing support to Vanuatu’s national law, justice, and security requirements.”

Following his visit here, the Australian Prime Minister will travel on to Fiji, where he is scheduled to stay for three days. He will deliver a speech on Friday 18 January at Laucala campus of the University of the South Pacific. The general expectation is that he will be making significant remarks concerning Australia’s strategic engagement with the Pacific islands in light of China’s recent rise in prominence in the region.

Announcement of the Fiji leg of the visit came unexpectedly early, when the Fiji Sun newspaper—presumably tipped of by Fiji Government sources—announced it. Media organisations receiving the news from Canberra were required to agree to an embargo—that is, to hold the information until an agreed time. This is common practice during high-level visits.

But when the Sun let the cat out of the bag, this became an untenable situation. Ultimately, Vanuatu’s foreign ministry was able to break the logjam and confirm.

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