Foreign Minister Marise Payne has defended a decision to not travel to the Solomon Islands in a bid to stop a security deal with China.
Labor has accused the government of overseeing the “worst foreign policy failure since World War II” over the new pact.
The Morrison government said it was “deeply disappointing” the Pacific Island nation signed the framework agreement on security co-operation with China in defiance of warnings from Australia and the United States.
Australia has repeatedly raised concerns that it could be used by China to establish a military presence in the region.
Speaking with the ABC, Senator Payne said the deal had the potential to undermine stability in the region.
“This has not been agreed in an open and transparent way. (It’s) not been consulted, for example, across the region,” she said.
“These declarations and these engagements on security issues have been dealt with in a Pacific-wide manner.
“That is the traditional approach for these issues and it‘s why some Pacific partners have also raised concerns.”
But Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong slammed the government’s handling of the deal, labelling it the “worst foreign policy failure since World War II”.
“On Scott Morrison’s watch, our region has become less secure and the risks Australia faces have become much greater,” she told the ABC.
“This should have been something that Mr Morrison dealt with, but he went missing.”
However, Senator Payne rejected the “unfair characterisation” that she or Prime Minister Scott Morrison could have done more to stop the deal.
“I don‘t think it recognises the sovereign decisions that governments of course make for themselves, and it also doesn’t recognise the strength and the engagement that Australia has made through the Pacific Step Up,” she said.
Pacific Minister Zed Seselja was rushed to the region last week in an unsuccessful bid to stop the deal.
The US has also dispatched a delegation to Solomon Islands’ capital Honiara to discuss the prospects of China establishing a military presence in the country.