TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Welcome to the Pacific Outlook Bulletin. For 2023, we have a fresh look and a new publishing schedule – the Bulletin will be coming to you every second Wednesday commencing today.
Albanese visit to Papua New Guinea
Prime Minister Albanese of Australia got the year off to a flying start with a state visit to Papua New Guinea. This was a carryover from 2022, when the scheduled trip was postponed after Albanese came down with COVID. The visit included an historic address to the Parliament of Papua New Guinea (becoming the first foreign leader to receive this honour), a trip to Wewak in East Sepik province, and a leadership dialogue co-hosted with Prime Minister James Marape.
In terms of outcomes, it was something of a mixed bag. Albanese secured an agreement to agree to a security treaty with the expectation that this can be finalised before the middle of the year. After some mixed messages, it seems that establishing centre in Port Moresby to process Australian visa applications (they are currently processed via Fiji) is not yet on the cards.
New Fiji government gets to work
A new Fiji government was installed on Christmas Eve last year and has lost no time in getting to work. Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, his three Deputy Prime Ministers, and the other members of the three-party coalition government have been meeting officials, addressing the media and generally settling in.
Whilst the expectation was that Rabuka would be focused solely on domestic issues in the immediate term, there have been a couple of surprises on the foreign policy front. One is the recall of all diplomatic staff to Suva. Some significant changes to the line-up are anticipated. The other is the announcement that Rabuka will lead a delegation to Kiribati in an attempt to persuade President Taneti Maamau to rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). Rabuka is chair of the PIF until the next Leaders’ meeting when he will hand over to Prime Minister Mark Brown of Cook Islands.
Other Pacific News:
In Tonga, the community is marking one year since the twin disaster of the eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai and the tsunami that followed. Recovery is still ongoing. Numerous families are adjusting to life on a different island, which is very challenging.
In Vanuatu, the national airline is facing numerous difficulties, including a lack of pilots and serious financial issues. The previous board has been sacked and the government has turned to former CEO, Joseph Laloyer to try to get things back on track.
The USA has announced a further US$1 million towards clean-up of unexploded ordinance in Solomon Islands. Local experts say that whilst this is welcome, it will not be sufficient to address the full extent of the problem.
Palau has signed an agreement with the US to progress the negotiation of compact funding with the current agreement scheduled to end in 2024. Marshall Islands is expected to follow suit, with their Compact funding arrangement expiring at the end of this year.
The Pacific Islands Forum is maintaining its pressure on Japan to reconsider its proposal to begin discharging nuclear-contaminated water into the Pacific ocean. Secretary-General Henry Puna has said it is contrary to what is expected of a Forum Dialogue Partner.
Tess Newton Cain is a Senior Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead for the Griffith Pacific Hub.