Macron faces difficult issues in French Polynesia

President Emmanuel Macron of France faces some difficult issues ahead of his visit to French Polynesia in April. The Supreme Court of France recently ruled that a number of compensation claims relating to nuclear testing in the territory should be reinstated. They had previously been thrown out further to a change in the law requiring proof of a minimum level of exposure to nuclear contamination. The Supreme Court has ruled that this change in the law can only be applied to new claims. A leader of a veterans group has said that he will raise this issue with Macron when he visits. Meanwhile a member of the Opposition in the French Polynesian Assembly has renewed calls for France to clean up the contamination of Morurua atoll. Moetai Brotherson says he has written to Macron to request the removal of the remnants of nuclear testing.

Melanesian Spearhead Group meets in Fiji

Senior officials and foreign ministers of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) have met this week in Fiji. Given that PNG is the current chair of the group, the choice of location is noteworthy. The secretariat has advised it is to tie in with the meeting of Pacific Islands Forum Trade Ministers, which is also being held in Suva. The Fiji Times reports that the meeting will be attended by all of the full members (Fiji, the Front de Libération Kanak et Nationaliste (FLNKS) of New Caledonia, PNG, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu) plus Indonesia as associate member. The United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) also attended as observer to the group. The main purpose of the meeting is to agree on a budget and work plan for the coming year. The group also needs to decide when the next Leaders’ meeting will be held, at which Vanuatu will become chair.

Indonesian President visits Australia

The Indonesian President has visited Australia. President Jokowi Widodo’s visit to Canberra drew protests from groups who support independence for the people of West Papua. Prominent human rights lawyer Veronica Koman joined with Amnesty International to call on the government of Australia to raise concerns about human rights abuses in West Papua with the Indonesian President during the visit. At last year’s meeting of Pacific Islands Forum Leaders there was a call for Indonesia to facilitate a promised visit to West Papua by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Leaders have said that they want to have her report before them to consider at this year’s meeting in August. President Widodo has said that Australia and Indonesia should be the ‘anchors’ for development in the Pacific. This comes further to announcements of greater Pacific engagement on the part of Jakarta last year.

UN calls on Fiji to guarantee freedom of expression

The United Nations has called on Fiji to do more to guarantee freedom of expression. The recommendations came as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Fiji has been urged to repeal laws which place restrictions on freedom of expression. They also affect the freedom of the media in that country. Some of these laws are left over from the period between 2006 to 2014, which Fiji was under the rule of a military regime. A further matter of concern for the UPR working group is the effects of the Media Industry Development Decree. Journalists and publishers in Fiji have expressed concern over the operation of this legislation for a number of years. The report of the UN’s UPR working group was delivered at the end of last year. Fiji has until February 24th to respond to the recommendations.

Australia signals a shift on climate policy

Australia has signalled a possible shift on climate policy. There have been a number of statements and comments from leading politicians that indicate that Australia may be looking to change key aspects of its domestic policy. This includes reports that Australia will take a new emissions target to the next meeting of the Conference of Parties in Glasgow at the end of the year. However, as a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, Australia is committed to developing a strategy that commits to net zero emissions by 2050. A draft of this strategy will go to Forum leaders for consideration at their meeting in August. Pacific leaders will no doubt welcome these moves. However, tensions will persist around use of Kyoto carryover credits and pursuing new coal mines, both of which have caused concern to Pacific leaders in recent times.


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