Why it matters
Case Study: Save the Children ‘I Am Digital’ campaign
An example of the development community partnering with technology companies is the Save the Children ‘I Am Digital’ campaign.
Save the Children has partnered with Meta (Facebook) to deliver a digital literacy and safety initiative in the Pacific, the ‘I am Digital’ campaign. The campaign has developed learning materials to help Pacific people stay safe on the internet. The tip sheets, jingles and videos are shared online, in person and via the radio. They help empower children and their parents to have safer, more positive experiences online and safeguard themselves against abuse, bullying and exploitation.
The campaign was first launched in February 2021, and has been implemented in Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, and featured educational materials in English, Bislama, Fijian iTaukei, Fiji Hindi, French, Kiribati, Samoan, Solomon Islands Pijin, Tok Pisin and Tongan.
This is an example of what can be built on in other areas.
Opportunities for Alignment
Australia and the Pacific have a shared interest in preventing and responding to cyber security challenges. Governments can form a strong partnership to build a regional cyber security shield.
Emerging digital technology has created capacity issues across the board for governments around the world, including Australia and the Pacific. There is an opportunity for Australia, if it is solving problems domestically, to then make this region-wide as a matter of common security.
There is an opportunity for the benefits of an Australian government partnership with the private sector, established to utilise the specialised skills and resources to upgrade cyber security and coordinate implementation domestically, to then be extended out into the region to address similar cyber security issues faced by Pacific island countries.
There is a shared interest in combating the spread of disinformation that can cause significant harm and poses significant risk to communities. All countries share concerns about foreign influence through the spread of disinformation online and the impact that may have on democracy and governance. Currently no country is successfully responding to this issue.
Australia and the Pacific have a shared interest in ensuring citizens stay safe and have a positive experience online, and governments must find a balance between protecting and constricting the digital media space. There is a shared interest in protecting good governance.
“Australia’s vision of an open, free and secure cyberspace and our ambitions across the broad spectrum of cyber affairs are impossible to achieve alone. All of our efforts, both globally and regionally, will be delivered in partnership... Harnessing the opportunities of the digital age and mitigating risks is a shared challenge and a shared responsibility.”
Ambassador for Cyber Affairs Dr Tobias Feakin
There is a capability gap across the Pacific, not only of digitally-equipped people, but of government capability and capacity to deal with digital technology. This includes the ability to coordinate and pursue opportunities, address threats and respond to how technology is shaping governance and policy. Local agency exists, however it is difficult to reach and connect to government policy and development cooperation.
Technology is emerging too fast for governments to regulate or understand how to effectively integrate into its diplomacy, development and defence toolkit. This requires connecting and partnering government decision-makers with the private sector expertise that is required.
New technology exacerbates government vulnerabilities. A lack of capacity and capability creates a dependence on outside assistance, opening up the possibility of outside actors taking advantage of governments. Pacific governments have already begun ceding important tasks such as disseminating information to private corporations. Australia is also challenged by this issue, with varying levels of success.
Limited donor coordination coupled with a dependency on international aid has led to the introduction of different types of digital technologies, platforms and applications. Multiple donors with overlapping programs increase the burden on Pacific island countries with limited capacity to engage, coordinate and manage programs. A cultural challenge in saying no to resources has also led to duplication of programs and reduced aid effectiveness.
Incompatible cyber and tech capability between countries hampers communication and cooperation on regional security efforts. For example, incompatible technology has caused significant issues in defence cooperation activities working to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
There are differences within and between Pacific island countries around societal structures, decision-making processes and levels of development and technological development. Engaging with this complex environment requires better coordination between defence, development and diplomacy to ensure engagement is culturally-appropriate and context-specific.
Perceptions of sovereignty are sensitive when cooperating on cyber security programs. There is a risk cyber security can intrude in direct ways on a country’s sovereignty and interfere with culture, communities and society. The solution lies in Australia supporting Pacific-led policies and programs, such as the implementation of Papua New Guinea’s National Cyber Security Policy.
Judging what constitutes misinformation is inherently political, challenging the balance between governments’ role in protecting citizens and protecting democratic norms and values. The recent example of the Solomons Islands Government national ban on Meta (Facebook) demonstrates the potential for the perception of misinformation to be used to prevent the sharing of information and opposing political views.
The cost of technology is a significant barrier for the Pacific and it goes well beyond initial investment and includes maintenance costs and the need for skilled people to utilise the technology. There are many examples of programs funding high-tech digital equipment, such as cameras or computers, requiring high levels of maintenance which means they are unusable when there is no additional or local support available, so the utility of the intervention is lost. Ongoing costs must be built in from the beginning of development cooperation programs. Small Pacific markets are a barrier for industry in terms of profitability.
The vision in practice
Australia will enhance cooperation with regional networks to strengthen regional responses to cyber incidents. Australia, as a member of the Pacific Cyber Security Operational Network (PaCSON), can work to encourage Pacific island countries which are not yet members but are looking to build a national response capability to join and expand the network across the Pacific. Additional support to build capacity could come from encouraging and supporting government, private sector and civil society stakeholders to engage in the global Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams (FIRST).
The Australian Government should further its partnership with the Pacific Islands Law Officers Network (PILON) to strengthen regional responses to cybercrime, including the implementation of best practice legislation in line with the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime (the Budapest Convention). The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Attorney-General’s Department should ensure PILON has the resources and capabilities it needs to strengthen regional efforts.
CASE STUDY: The Cyber Safety Pasifika program
Led by Australian Federal Police, Cyber Safety Pasifika is an example of a program already in place working to improve cyber safety in the Pacific.
Cyber Safety Pasifika is aimed at increasing cyber safety awareness and education of vulnerable communities. The program is managed through the Pacific Police Development Program – Regional (PPDP-R). The program delivers activities in three key areas: cyber safety awareness and education; development of cybercrime legislation and policy; and upskilling of Pacific police in cybercrime investigations.
Cyber Safety Pasifika has been delivered in 18 Pacific island countries through local Pacific police officers, and is an important part of regional efforts to counter cybercrime and to help keep communities safe.
Australia and the Pacific should promote mutual learning by encouraging knowledge exchange. There are opportunities for a comparative analysis in digital technology issues between small island developing states. Australia can look to the role of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in developing regional cyber security capability and capacity in the Caribbean.
CASE STUDY: CERT VU Radio Song Vanuatu
In support of the Vanuatu National Cyber Security Strategy 2030, the Computer Emergency Response Team Vanuatu (CERT VU) is encouraging cyber security awareness through music. Lyrics written in the national language of Vanuatu, Bislama, are promoting critical cyber security messages to Vanuatu’s citizens, businesses and everyday internet users. The songs have been composed to help keep citizens safe online and have each been performed by well-renowned Vanuatu musicians.
The program is part of the regional Pacific Get Safe Online initiative, which has developed bi-lingual online resources and supported local train-the-trainer approaches to embed skills and ensure awareness activities are sustainable.
This is an example of a fun and innovative cyber security program from the Pacific that could be successful in Australia.
The Australian Government should have a clear role in financing the physical infrastructure required to build Pacific connectivity. The Coral Sea cable network is a good example of Australia connecting Pacific island countries such as the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea to global information flows. Australia is working collaboratively with other actors in this area. Through the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP), Australia is partnering with Japan and the United States on financing an undersea cable to the Republic of Palau, and is partnering with New Zealand, Japan and the United States on a Papua New Guinea Electrification Partnership. Australia also has a trilateral partnership with the US and Japan for infrastructure investment in the Indo-Pacific. However there are still opportunities for Australia to connect further, such as in USAID’s Digital Connectivity and Cyber Security Partnership (DCCP) activity in the Pacific.
Australian development cooperation should support infrastructure that addresses the different levels of development across the region. For example, Fiji aspires to become a cyber hub, while Papua New Guinea is focused on providing its population’s basic electricity needs. The provision of digital connectivity goes beyond just providing technology, requires affordability of access. Australia can provide practical assistance at the local level, for example simple solar technology to enable charging of phones.
Online Safety and Digital and Media Literacy
Australia’s eSafety Commissioner should work collaboratively with Pacific governments to reduce online harm and protect the safety of citizens across the Pacific. Education for digital and media literacy needs to be part of governments’ response to online safety concerns. As more people go online and the opportunity for misinformation to spread grows, governments need to partner together to support each other in countering this serious issue for the region. Australia can support Pacific countries to establish their own eSafety commissioner roles to support a regional approach to cyber safety for citizens.
Case study: Australia and Fiji eSafety Commissioner Partnership
In February 2021, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner formed a new online safety partnership with Fiji Online Safety Commission to work together to tackle online harms. The partnership is a world-first online safety regulator partnership.
Supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through its Cyber Cooperation Program, the project utilises best practice to deliver resources and tools to build online safety capabilities. Their collective work involves fostering more positive online experiences, focusing on supporting diverse and remote communities and reaching the most at-risk people.
This partnership is an example of what can be achieved when Australia and Pacific Governments are focused on regulating for a range of online harms and take care to preserve an open and free digital environment. The partnership shows online harms are not bound by national borders and these issues require governments and industry to work together towards a shared vision.
Australia can work with Pacific governments to strengthen their own capabilities and capacity to manage misinformation through understanding and mapping the threat landscape and supporting government agencies to design contextualised approaches to monitoring and responding to these threats. Part of this effort could be to support National Cyber Security Strategy development and revision, ensuring countries have strategies that reflect the current risk environment and national priorities.
Australia can explore opportunities provided by digital technology and integrate them into development programs in education, health, climate and economic development. In the education sector where there is significant scope to expand and improve online learning and teaching. Australia could partner with the University of the South Pacific on ongoing information and communication technology (ICT) investment in campuses, extending this across the region. Investing in the younger generation can build trust and respect between Australia and the Pacific (AP4D Pacific Voices Roundtable Consultations, 21 & 26 April 2022).
Case Study – Catalpa: Pacific eLearning Program
Development organisation Catalpa is using technology to deliver Pacific e-learning programs to improve science learning outcomes for students and professional development opportunities for teachers.
The program uses engaging science content relevant to the Pacific context and delivers interactive online teacher professional development. The program also enables flexible offline learning. The co-designed learning content is delivered via a custom e-learning platform and is designed for scaling across the region.
The program is currently being implemented in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa and Cook Islands and is an example of the opportunities digital technology provides in improving the delivery, reach and effectiveness of education programs in the Pacific.
Governance and Regulation
Australia should take an active role in regional forums and seek platforms for Pacific island countries in global and regional forums including the Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT), Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE) and the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF).
Australia can strengthen engagement with regional forums, including the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Community and the Pacific Fusion Centre, to encourage Pacific-led dialogue on governance and the use of technologies in public policy. Australia can leverage existing partnerships to promote discussion on regional governance as a policy priority for the region, connecting it to economic development, regional integration and geopolitical challenges.
Working through established regional organisations will lessen the burden faced by Pacific islands countries with limited human resources to contribute to multiple different consultation processes. Australia should look to encourage meetings in the margins of other major meetings, rather than separate events, to make it easier for the Pacific to engage.
Case study: Know Your Customer Program
The South Pacific Central Banks, including the Reserve Bank of Australia, are working together to collectively bring down the cost of remittances through the regional ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) facility.
The program aims improves customer due diligence processes and compliance with anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism compliance, lower legal compliance risks and support the provision of banking services to the region. The program aims to reduce the cost of remittances by reducing the regulation and complexities of sending money digitally from Australia and New Zealand to the Pacific. This is significant for the Pacific given that remittances are a key source of income and have a significant impact on individuals and communities across the region.
This is an example of Australia working with regional forums to strengthen efforts on digital technology issues to help drive financial inclusion in the region.
Australia should ensure human rights discussions are part of engaging with Pacific counterparts on cyber and digital policy and legislative development. Working to support freedom of expression and other key democratic principles only promotes Australian values, but also protect the rights of Pacific people.
The Australian Government should partner with platforms that support cultural and economic connectivity for communities to increase their reach. The Australian Government has a role in bringing these programs onto the national and regional agenda for Pacific countries, for example, working with chambers of commerce to adopt digital marketplace platforms.
Australia could contribute through funding research on markets for digital content and digital products, for example how to monetise digital media with a focus on the diaspora communities who are better placed financially. There could be greater support for Pacific-focused content on Australian media platforms streaming into the Pacific.
Case study: Solomon Islands Influen-shell Social Media Campaign
‘Influen-shell’ is a social media campaign promoting local businesses developed in partnership between Meta (Facebook) and the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The campaign ran for five weeks in 2021 and aimed to promote local businesses in the Solomon Islands through sharing of stories of growth, resilience and connectedness, particularly with their use of digital technology. It celebrated Solomon Islands local enterprises and their employees, and showcased their diversity, adaptability and innovation, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is an example of the potential social and economic benefit from access to social media services.
The Australian Government should support fast-tracking more digitally skilled Pacific people to support a safe and secure digital transformation. Australia can implement a dual approach that addresses the short-term tactical workforce development needs for technical cyber skills with programs such as cyber career conversion, targeted talent campaigns, training of trainers and sharing course materials, along with the development of longer-term workforce development pathways. Australia could undertake a regional cyber security training needs analysis to understand which skill sets are required to build a strong cyber security workforce, as was recently done in the Caribbean.
Australian development cooperation should focus on strengthening skills and knowledge within the region, and support Pacific countries and governments to retain professionals by providing long-term commitments to mentoring, training and upskilling to keep pace with the rapidly evolving digital technology.
Case study: With You With Me (WYWM)
The Australian based media company With You With Me (WYWM) is an organisation that provides training for veterans to start a digital career.
WYWM builds talent where there are skills shortages in the technology sector through established training, education and recruiting systems. The program assists veterans to discover their civilian skills and the right digital career pathway, and provides training as well as continuous learning through establishing a career plan for each candidate.
The program is currently operating in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji and is an example that could be built on in other countries to support more digitally skilled Pacific workers.
The Australian Government should invest resources in coordination of cyber security activities to maximise the benefits for all. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should be significantly better resourced to coordinate a whole-of-government effort in the Pacific. Through a greater investment in DFAT, Australia can provide the resources to support coordination not only between key development partners, but assist countries within the region with their own coordination efforts.
Australia should also be open to learning and collaborating with key partners such as New Zealand. Australia could provide support to the Pacific Data Hub (PDH), a platform led by the Pacific Community and supported by the New Zealand Government, that serves as a gateway to a comprehensive collection of data and information about the Pacific across key areas.
The Australian Government should take the lead and proactively bring together different actors to encourage collaboration in the digital space. DFAT should play a convening role for government, academics and tech companies – including Meta (Facebook), TikTok and Google – to work creatively to find ways to partner together. With Telstra’s acquisition of Digicel, there is an opportunity to do more to connect and encourage dialogue between government and industry to find ways to work together and harness the most technology has to offer.
ASPI International Cyber Policy Centre
ASPI International Cyber Policy Centre
Global Forum on Cyber Expertise
Oceania Cyber Security Centre
Lowy Institute, Aus-PNG Network
Melissa Conley Tyler
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license. You can reprint or republish with attribution.
You can cite this paper as: Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue, What does it look like for Australia to be a partner on digital resilience and transformation in the Pacific (Canberra 2022): www.asiapacific4d.com
Photo on this page: Arlene Bax/Oxfam
This paper is the product of the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue’s inaugural program, ‘Shaping a shared future — deepening Australia’s influence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific’, funded by the Australian Civil-Military Centre.