Australian Deputy Prime Minister visits PNG

Last week saw Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Richard Marles, visit Papua New Guinea. A key focus of the visit and his meeting with Prime Minister Marape was to discuss a security treaty between the two countries. Marape was at pains to stress the importance of the relationship between the two countries he described as bonded “at the hip”

However, in what looks like a misstep, Marles provoked a serious backlash from President Ishmael Toarama of Bougainville after the Minister said that Australia would support Papua New Guinea when it came to the question of independence for Bougainville. Toarama described Marles’ comments as “veiled threats”.

A spokesperson for Marles has subsequently clarified that Australia has not changed its policy position when it comes to Bougainville and that its role is to “support the peace process around future arrangements which the parties have to negotiate”.

Defence ministers to meet in Tonga

This week Tonga will host a meeting of the South Pacific Defence Ministers. The participating countries are: Australia, Chile, Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga. At last year’s virtual meeting it was agreed that Japan would be given observer status at the 2022 meeting.

The Defence Ministers of Australia and New Zealand will meet ahead of this meeting to reaffirm their defence relationship and their cooperation in this sector when it comes to working with Pacific island countries. This comes as both countries are undertaking strategic defence reviews.

The increasing geopolitical tension that is focused on the region provides a backdrop to this meeting. However, Pacific island countries need to ensure that their focus on disaster response, and the implementation of the Boe Declaration and the 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent are given sufficient attention by partners.

Preliminary results from Vanuatu elections

Despite some minor glitches, it appears that last week’s elections in Vanuatu proceeded relatively smoothly.

Results are expected to be finalised in the second half of this week. It is a logistical challenge to get ballot boxes returned from rural and remote areas in order for votes to be counted. However, discussions are already underway as to the formation of a coalition government.

Preliminary results indicate that around half of the MPs who were in the last Parliament will be returned to sit in this one. It would appear that the snap election has given added benefit to incumbency than might otherwise be the case.

There are high hopes that the “woman drought” in Vanuatu national politics will be broken. Gloria Julia King of the Union of Moderate Parties (UMP) looks to have secured one of the five seats in the Efate Rural constituency.

COP27 in view

The 27th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) will be held in November. It will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

The COPs are important opportunities for Pacific negotiators and activists to progress their climate agenda on the global stage.

A significant issue for Pacific participants at this year’s COP will be making headway on the issue of loss and damage. This has been a long-time sticking point. Pacific countries have argued that they should be compensated by large emitting countries for damage and losses they have already sustained as a result of climate change impacts.

Civil society activists in the Pacific have welcomed the inclusion of this issue in the COP27 agenda. They will be lobbying for the establishment of a loss and damage finance facility to support climate justice for grassroots communities in the region.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.