Pacific countries dealing with COVID-19

Pacific island countries are continuing to deal with the impacts of COVID-19. Revised travel restrictions have been issued by several countries. In several places the number of countries from which travellers will not be admitted directly now includes Italy and Iran. The impacts of the crisis have already been felt in relation to regional gatherings. The organisers of the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FESTPAC) announced that the event, which was scheduled for June in Hawai’i, has been postponed. New dates have yet to be announced. In some countries there are concerns about how the COVID-19 emergency will affect economic development, particularly in relation to tourism. In Vanuatu, the national taskforce has announced that there is no need to change the schedule for cruise ship calls. However, ships cannot be diverted to the country if they are unable to visit elsewhere.

Samoan PM criticises media again

The Prime Minister of Samoa has launched another attack on the media in his country. PM Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has complained about the reporting of sexual offences by local media outlets. His concern seems to be that reporting of this type presents a poor image of Samoa. His stance has been strongly criticised by the editorial board of the Samoa Observer. It has also been denounced by Rudy Bartlett, president of the Journalists’ Association in Samoa. He has reminded the Prime Minister of the role of the media in reporting on matters of public interest. The Prime Minister has criticised the Samoa Observer previously, claiming that the newspaper puts too much focus on stories that paint Samoa in a negative light. He has described journalists who work for the newspaper as ‘kids’ who are ‘poking their noses’ into matters that do not concern them.

Fiji veterans take legal action against UK government

A number of Fiji veterans are taking legal action against the UK government. Eight Fijians who have served in the British army have found themselves in immigration limbo. They claim they were not properly advised by the Ministry of Defence prior to being discharged. They qualify for a right to remain in the UK, having served for a minimum period of four years. However, they claim that they were not told that they needed to make an immediate application for the relevant visa when they left the armed services. They say they now face difficulties in securing employment in the UK and are fearful of being deported. In 2017 there were just short of 1500 Fijians serving in the British armed forces. That number was expected to rise to around 2000 further to a recruitment drive in 2019.

Supreme Court to rule on use of French flag in New Caledonia referendum campaign

The Supreme Court in France has been asked to rule on whether anti-independence groups in New Caledonia can use the French flag when campaigning ahead of this year’s referendum. It is against the law for political parties to use the tricolore during election campaigns. The anti-independence groups argued in the New Caledonia Congress that they should be allowed to use the flag on the basis that the vote to be held on September 6th is a referendum not an election. The motion was passed by the Congress by a narrow margin (27 to 25 with 3 abstentions). However, a ruling from the Supreme Court in France is now awaited. The referendum in September is the second of a possible three to be held under the Noumea accords. In 2018, the territory voted to remain part of France by a margin of 57% to 43%.

Cairns makes a bid to be Australia’s Pacific hub

The mayor of Cairns has made a bid for his city to become a Pacific hub for Australia. In a submission to an ongoing inquiry into how to activate trade with the Pacific, Mayor Bob Manning has called for the federal government to establish a ‘Pacific Step-Up’ office in Cairns. He cites his city’s already close links with Papua New Guinea as a basis for this pitch. Cairns has a sister city relationship with Lae, which is PNG’s second city and an industrial hub. Whilst the proposal has been welcomed by the Lae Chamber of Commerce, reference has already been made to the need to make travel to Australia easier for Papua New Guineans. The opportunities for Queensland to deepen its ties with Pacific island countries have been raised elsewhere. However, there has not been much forthcoming about how this could look either from the state government or Canberra.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.