TESS NEWTON CAIN |
Labor makes Pacific announcements during the elections campaign
In something of a departure for Australian elections, the campaign has taken a marked Pacific turn. As the Coalition has sought to fend off accusations that it has failed on foreign policy because of the security agreement between Solomon Islands and China, the Labor party has made a significant announcement of how it would seek to improve relations between Australia and the Pacific islands region.
The proposals include an increase to the Pacific/Timor Leste aid budget of AU$525,000 over the forward estimates. There is also a commitment to providing additional funding to the ABC to increase its broadcasting to the region and this may include the reinstatement of shortwave radio.
Labor also envisages some significant modifications to labour mobility schemes and a Pacific defence college to provide training for non-commissioned officers in Pacific militaries.
Ongoing responses to Solomon Islands – China agreement
The security agreement recently signed by Solomon Islands and China continues to be the focus of attention and debate in Solomon Islands, in the region, and further afield.
During a recent online debate, Peter Kenilorea Jr, a member of the Opposition in Solomon Islands, called for the agreement to be made public and deposited with the treaties section of the United Nations. In the same event, Danny Phillip, a government backbencher, claimed that a senior member of the Australian High Commission had said that Australian forces would not be deployed to protect Chinese-funded infrastructure projects. This has been denied (again) by Australian officials.
A high-level delegation from the United States met with Prime Minister Sogavare further to meetings with leaders in both Fiji and Papua New Guinea. There are reports that Japan will despatch a vice foreign minister to Honiara to convey Tokyo’s concerns about the implications of the agreement.
Changes to restrictions in COVID-hit Samoa and Vanuatu
As Covid infections continue to ebb and flow across the Pacific, significant changes in how to manage the impacts have been made in both Samoa and Vanuatu.
In Samoa, community transmission has now spread to one of the smaller islands in the country, which had previously been COVID-free. The government has announced an extension of the State of Emergency to midnight on May 3rd. There have also been changes to trading hours and the use of curfews and the ban on alcohol sales has been lifted.
In Vanuatu, the government has announced the restoration of some inter-island travel, which will allow for the movement of both people and cargo. They have also announced that for passengers coming from Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia and New Zealand, quarantine will be reduced to three days provided a negative RAT is returned on the third day.
Fijiana Drua sweep to success
Fijiana Drua have capped off a stellar season in the Super W by taking out the championship. They beat the New South Wales Waratahs 32–26. They are unbeaten for the season and are, not surprisingly, a huge sensation in their home country.
Their success will do much to shift the prevailing narrative around rugby in Fiji and elsewhere in the region. In general, the attention paid to women’s rugby has been much less compared to the intensity with which the men’s game is followed and scrutinised. Not only that, the team’s talent, culture and spirit have endeared the Fijiana Drua to Australian rugby followers.
The team has achieved great things with much fewer resources than the other teams in the competition. Hopefully, one of the results of this success will be increased sponsorship and funding to support the team to future success.