Voting commences in the Bougainville referendum
Voting in the Bougainville referendum commenced on November 23rd. The voting period will run for two weeks, with the results expected in the middle of December. This is the first referendum to have been held in Papua New Guinea. There has been a lot of work on making sure people understand how the process operates and what the options are on the ballot paper. Votes can be cast on Bougainville, throughout PNG, and in Solomon Islands and Australia. There are over 300 observers in Bougainville to oversee the referendum. They include teams from the Pacific Islands Forum, the Commonwealth, and a group of Australian parliamentarians. The commencement of voting marks the final milestone under the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement. The result is non-binding and requires ratification by the Parliament of Papua New Guinea. The expectation is that the result will be resoundingly in favour of independence.
Australia reinstates budget support to PNG
Australia will reinstate budget support to Papua New Guinea. Australia has previously refused calls from PNG leaders to bring back direct budget support since 2000. The Minister for the Pacific and International Development, Alex Hawke, announced a concessional loan of US$300 million to be provided by Export Finance Australia. It is intended to help fill a fiscal gap, caused in part by a drop in revenues from oil and gas extraction. It is provided to support the PNG government in maintaining critical service delivery. It comes at the same time that talks around the expansion of LNG projects in the country appear to have stalled. The new Minister for Petroleum and Energy, Kerenga Kua, is pushing Exxon and their partners for a better deal for landowners and the state than has been the case previously. This is causing some resistance.
Tuvalu maintains ties with Taiwan
Tuvalu has restated its commitment to maintaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The Foreign Minister, Simon Kofe, announced that his country had refused an offer from China to build artificial islands as a climate change adaptation initiative. He also said that he wanted to form an alliance with Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru to counter the influence of China in the region. These are the other Pacific island countries that have diplomatic ties with Taiwan. In Marshall Islands, the results of the elections are still being determined. Hilda Heine looks to have secured her seat in the Nitijela. However, it is not clear if she will be able to continue as President, assuming she wishes to do so. Some commentators have said that a change in leadership may lead to Marshall Islands switching from Taiwan to China as has happened recently in Solomon Islands and Kiribati.
Malaita premier announced US led development of deep water port
The premier of Malaita has announced that the US and allies are to build a deep water port in his province. The project was announced by Daniel Suidani, who is the premier of Malaita province. Previously, the leaders of Malaita have said that they do not accept the recent switch by the national government of Solomon Islands from Taiwan to China. They have told the Sogavare government that they will not allow any Chinese funded projects to go ahead in their province. The proposed project includes development of a port and supporting infrastructure at Bina Harbour, which is on the western side of the island. The premier has said that he wants the US, Australia and other allies to contribute to ‘Malaita’s security’. His particular concerns appear to be around unauthorised development and illegal fishing.
Measles epidemic worsens in Samoa
The measles epidemic in Samoa continues to worsen. The number of deaths is in excess of 30. The majority of the deceased are children under the age of four. The government of Samoa has declared a state of emergency. Schools have been closed and children have been banned from attending public events to try and prevent the disease from spreading further. A mass vaccination campaign is underway. Additional medical supplies and personnel have been deployed by Australia and New Zealand to assist in country. The outbreak appears to have started as a result of people travelling to Samoa from New Zealand, where measles had taken hold in South Auckland. Tonga and Fiji are also dealing with outbreaks of measles. The situation is not as serious in those countries as it is in Samoa.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.