PNG budget handed down
The budget for 2020 (the Marape government’s first) has been handed down in Papua New Guinea. The budget reveals more about serious fiscal problems that face the PNG government. Managing debt is a priority and significant reforms are anticipated. The controversial ‘tuition fee free’ education policy is to be abolished. There will be a concerted effort to promote participation in the Seasonal Workers’ Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme. The budget papers show that the 1 billion kina (AU$440 million) concessional loan to be provided by the government of Australia is instead of a proposed loan from the Development Bank of China. This contradicts previous claims by the Australian government that the budget support arrangement was nothing to do with countering Chinese influence in the region. Details of this loan are being kept secret by the Australian government. This has prompted serious concerns in relation to transparency.
Major floods in Majuro, Marshall Islands
Major floods have affected Majuro atoll in Marshall Islands. The flooding event was caused by a large swell coming from an unexpected direction that coincided with a (not abnormal) high tide. The worst of the flooding caused the road to the international airport to be cut off for a period of time. More than 200 people had to be evacuated from their homes and relocated to emergency shelters set up by the Red Cross. There does not appear to have been any structural damage caused to homes and other buildings. However, many people in the capital have been faced with cleaning up debris washed into their properties by the flooding. Majuro atoll has an estimated elevation of 3 metres above sea level. Flooding is a major concern, especially during the king tide season which normally runs from January to March each year.
Tonga by-election in Pohiva’s constituency
Tonga has conducted a by-election for the seat held by the late ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who was the previous Prime Minister. The seat was won by the late PM’s son, Sioasi Pohiva. Mr Pohiva is new to politics, if not to the affairs of government. He defeated Netatua Pelesikoti Taufatofua by only 16 votes, in an election that saw only 53% of the eligible voters take place. Mr Pohiva has said that he sees the need to continue to reform the political system in Tonga. Whilst he does not want to see the nobles’ seats in Parliament removed, he feels that the amount of power they continue to hold should be reduced. The win brings the number of PTOA members to eight. They form the opposition in the Tongan parliament. The government is made up of nine independent MPs who govern in coalition with the nobles.
Parties differ when it comes to the next independence referendum in New Caledonia
Parties in New Caledonia have different viewpoints on the next referendum on independence. The people of New Caledonia will go to the polls in 2020 for a second time to determine if they wish to remain a part of France or become independent. The Labour Party boycotted the vote in 2018 describing it as ‘a farce’. Now they have stated they will wait until after municipal elections in March of next year to determine how they will participate in the next referendum if at all. Their main concern is with the position of the larger Front de Libération Nationaliste Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS). The Labour Party feels that the FLNKS has abandoned its founding principles of achieving independence. There are also divisions on the loyalist side of politics in New Caledonia.
Q and A goes to Suva
The ABC’s flagship current affairs programme, Q&A, was broadcast from Suva this week. A panel made up mainly of Pacific island speakers addressed questions from a large audience. The show was filmed at the University of the South Pacific’s Laucala campus. Climate change featured as a major topic of discussion. A question on providing migration pathways for people who may be forced to leave their homes as a result of the impacts of climate change revealed some stark contrasts between the approaches of the governments of New Zealand and Australia. Other topics that were considered included regulation of fisheries in Pacific waters and how to combat high levels of gender-based violence in the region. One topic that did not come up was the prevalence of threats to media freedom in the region, which was highlighted in Media Watch, also on the ABC.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.