Forum Foreign Ministers focus on COVID-19 recovery

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Foreign Ministers met during last week in an online format. This meeting key to what is discussed by PIF leaders.

Front of mind was the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on the region. They reviewed the operation of the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 and the work of taskforces focused on economic recovery and socio-economic impacts. The ministers stressed the importance of vaccinations in taking the region’s recovery forward.

Ahead of the Leaders’ meeting the Foreign Ministers endorsed a Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of Climate Change-related Sea Level Rise. This reflects longstanding concerns that have been the focus of a great deal of work by Pacific officials in recent years.

Ministers also reviewed progress on the development of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and endorsed the future workplan for that activity.

Political tensions in Samoa persist

Despite Samoa now having a government and Prime Minister in place, tensions and some confusion persist.

Having initially said that Parliament should convene as soon as possible, PM Fiame Naomi Mata’afa has now said that it is more likely that this will happen in September. It is still not clear what will happen in relation to the HRPP (now in opposition) MPs who have yet to be sworn in.

Meanwhile HRPP supporters have marched in Apia to protest the actions of the courts and judiciary in declaring the FAST party to be the lawful government of the country. The leader of the HRPP, and former PM, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi described the actions of the courts as a desecration of the country’s Constitution.

The Chief Justice had expressed concerns for the safety of the judiciary and judicial staff, but the new Police Minister gave his blessing for the protest to go ahead.

Apologies to Pacific communities in Australia and New Zealand

In the last week we have seen two apologies to Pacific communities for past wrongdoings.

The mayor of Bundaberg became the first Australian official to apologise for blackbirding. The practice of sourcing Pacific labour, often by way of kidnapping or trickery, was a key contributor to fortunes that were made in Queensland and elsewhere in Australia.

The apology came as Vanuatu marked its 41st anniversary of independence. Many Australian South Sea Islanders are descended from people who were blackbirded from Vanuatu.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, PM Jacinda Ardern has made a formal apology for the ‘Dawn Raids’ of the 1970s. The crackdown on illegal workers and overstayers by New Zealand authorities saw Pasifika communities targeted in questioning, being detained on the streets and, in some cases, deported.

New Zealand looks to open travel corridors for seasonal workers

The Prime Minister of New Zealand has announced a streamlined process for seasonal workers from three Pacific countries.

Participants in the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme from Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu will soon be able to enter New Zealand without having to undergo two weeks in managed quarantine in arrival.

This is a significant step that recognises the significant role that workers from the Pacific play in the New Zealand economy, particularly in the agriculture sector. None of the countries that are involved have recorded any ‘in community’ cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

More work is required to address how workers can safely return to their home countries. Leaders have been extremely cautious about reopening borders even for repatriation purposes. Whilst vaccination rollouts are underway in all of these countries, there is a long way to go before 80% coverage is achieved.


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