New President in Palau
Palau has a new leader. The new President is Surangel Whipps. His opponent in the run-off, Ray Oilouch conceded late last week.
Mr Whipps has a background in business. He is the brother-in-law of outgoing President, Tommy Remengesau Jr. There is a strong expectation that he will maintain Remengesau’s line on key foreign policy concerns such as the alliance with Taiwan.
It will be interesting to see how he progresses other issues that Remengesau has focused on at the end of his tenure. These include the threat to leave the Pacific Islands Forum if a Micronesian Secretary-General is not appointed and the invitation to the USA to establish a military base in Palau.
In the race for Vice-President, Frank Kyota as defeated by Sen. Uuduch Sengebau Senior. She becomes the first woman to hold the office of Vice-President in 19 years.
New Zealand looks to open a travel bubble with Cook Islands
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand has announced that a team of officials will travel to Cook Islands to progress a travel bubble between the two countries.
The economy of Cook Islands is highly dependent on tourism, with New Zealand as its primary market. There has been a constant push from within the private sector for New Zealand to allow quarantine-free travel for a number of months.
Meanwhile, the horticulture industry in New Zealand is pushing for a labour bubble to allow workers from countries such as Vanuatu, Tonga, and Samoa to enter in order to fill critical labour shortages.
In Australia, the re-opening of Pacific labour schemes is continuing with groups deploying from Vanuatu, Tonga, and Solomon Islands. In Queensland, the workers are able to complete their mandatory 14-day quarantine on farms. This means they are able to commence work on arrival.
Australia-Pacific Sports Hub launched in Samoa
The government of Australia has announced that it will fund a sports hub for the Pacific islands region. The PacificAus Sports Regional Hub will be housed in Samoa.
The facility will be used by PacificAus Sports to provide training and support to athletes, coaches and administrators from 2020 to 2023. This will no doubt be welcomed by countries looking to do well at the forthcoming Pacific games to be held in Solomon Islands in 2023.
The Foreign Minister of Australia, Marise Payne, made particular mention of the contribution this facility can make to developing sporting opportunities for female athletes in the Pacific islands region.
The PacificAus Sports program is a DFAT initiative that is scheduled to run from 2019 to 2023 and to which AU$52 million has been allocated. It is not clear if the funding for the Regional Hub is in addition to this amount.
Pacific leaders respond to US election results
As the long-awaited results of the US elections became clear, reactions were received from around the region.
Fiji’s Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, was the first government leader in the world to use Twitter to congratulate the Biden/Harris camp. His tweet dropped even before Joe Biden had made his speech to claim victory for the Democrats.
Newly installed Prime Minister of Cook Islands, Mark Brown, was also keen to offer his congratulations at an early stage. Speaking to the Cook Islands News, PM Brown praised Mr Biden for his unifying speech and for the ‘aspirational choice’ of Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate.
On Monday PM Bainimarama used Twitter to follow up on his congratulations with an invitation to President-elect Biden to attend the meeting of leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum to be held in Fiji during 2021.
Natasha Stott-Despoja joins global committee on women’s empowerment
Natasha Stott-Despoja has been elected to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). She is one of 23 committee members and is the only one from the Oceania region. It is the first time in 28 years that an Australian has served on this committee.
Ms Stott-Despoja is a former Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls. While she held that position, she took a strong interest in issues of gender equality in the Pacific islands region. This included visiting several Pacific island countries during her tenure.
The former Australian senator from South Australia has a strong track record of work in the field of gender equity and empowerment of women. She is currently the chair of Our Watch, which is an organisation that is focused on preventing violence against women and their children.