Vanuatu Parliament sits for the last time before elections
The Vanuatu Parliament is sitting in Ordinary Session. It is the last session for this legislature. The main order of business is to pass the 2020 budget. The President will address Parliament during this session. The country will go to elections in March 2020. Prime Minister Charlot Salwai joins a small number of ni-Vanuatu prime ministers who have led a government for the duration of a full parliamentary term. This indicates the success of the Pele Agreement that was signed by leaders of the parties that formed government in 2016 after the last elections. This was an undertaking that whoever became Prime Minister would not be challenged from within the grouping. Although Parliament has yet to be dissolved, pre-campaigning is already underway and no doubt candidates will be making good use of the Christmas holiday period to pursue their political causes.
Anti-vaccination campaigner arrested in Samoa
An anti-vaccination campaigner has been arrested in Samoa. This occurred during a two-day shut down of the country to allow for a mass vaccination programme as the country continues to grapple with a measles epidemic. The arrest came after Edwin Tamasese described the vaccination programme as a ‘killing spree’ in a post to Facebook. Authorities are claiming that the vaccination campaign has been successful, with preliminary numbers showing that around 89% of the population has been reached. Meanwhile the death toll has climbed to 70, with the majority of victims being children under the age of four. The government of Samoa appears to be ambivalent as to how much responsibility it should bear for the crisis. The Prime Minister said he had not given any thought to the question of compensation when asked about it by the media.
Indonesia elevates relationships with Fiji and Solomon Islands
The Foreign Minister of Indonesia has met with her counterparts from Fiji and Solomon Islands. The meeting took place on the margins of the 12th Bali Democracy Forum and prompted announcements of new initiatives to deepen these bilateral relationships. Included in the talks was a proposal for a preferential trade agreement between Indonesia and Fiji. In relation to Solomon Islands, the focus was on economic development and infrastructure. Indonesia has pledged to construct a multipurpose arena for futsal ahead of the 2023 Pacific Games to be hosted by Solomon Islands. This is all part of the ‘Pacific Elevation’ policy adopted by Jakarta to increase its influence in the region. An increased Indonesian presence in the Pacific will be viewed unfavourably by some, who see it as a way of watering down support for self-determination for the people of West Papua.
COP 25 underway in Madrid
COP 25 is underway in Madrid. The global meeting is chaired by Chile although the location was changed further to serious civil unrest in that country earlier in the year. Leaders and delegations from Pacific island countries will play an important part in these negotiations as they have in previous years. However, two of the more well-known voices – Hilda Heine of Marshall Islands and Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu – are not taking part. Other leaders, including the Ulu of Tokelau, Kelihiano Kalolo have already made strong statements, levelling criticism against larger, more developed, countries for failing to do enough to address the climate crisis. Pacific delegations are looking for commitments to greater ambition when it comes to cutting emissions and improved access to climate finance as outcomes of this meeting. At the Moana Blue Pacific pavilion, a number of side events are being held, several with a pronounced youth focus.
Review of Australian aid launched in Canberra
A review of Australian aid has commenced in Canberra. The review is the first since 2013. Although the Morrision government has called for public submissions, they have to be submitted by January 31st 2020 and they are to be no more than five pages in length. The focus of the review will be on aid priorities, including particular areas of activity and where in the world international development assistance should be focused. This comes amid criticisms from some that focusing on the Pacific step-up should not come at the expense of supporting development in other places. The aid budget (of AU$4 billion per year) is not part of the review despite numerous calls for it to be increased. Since 2013 the budget has been cut by 27% in real terms and now makes up just 0.82% of Australian government spending.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.