Australia and Indonesia play the bullies at Pacific Islands Forum

Photo from The Audtralian: Scott Morrison in Tuvalu for the Pacific Islands Forum

Contributed from Victoria

As the Pacific Islands Forum takes place this week, two important issues come to the fore.

Representing Australia, prime minister Scott Morrison goes there, after having taken climate change off the agenda, and Indonesia has complained that leaders of the West Papua independence movement have been invited to attend.

Both are important to the small Pacific nations, and the reaction of two regional powers to dictate what can be talked about is bullying. This does not go unnoticed.

Everyone knows about Scott Morrison’s love affair with coal. Maybe they haven’t caught up yet, with Tuesday’s news that Australia is attempting to water down commitments to the Paris agreement on cutting own carbon emissions, and that he is pushing aside dialogue on this, to focus on countering Chinese influence.

Tuvalu, where the Forum is taking place, is typical of the Pacific Islands, in finding that it is being destroyed by the rising sea level. Climate denier and minister for International Development in the Pacific Alex Hawke, was sent there ahead of time, to prepare the ground, by trying to buy support through putting strings on aid money.

Tuvalu’s prime minister has hit back: “No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse to not do the right thing that is cutting down on your emissions, including not opening up your gold mines,” Enele Sopoaga told reporters.

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern gave Morrison her own serve, and pledged her country to do its part on supporting the call for action on the climate threat.

This not only takes Australia out of step with the wishes of Pacific Nations. It flies in the face of rising global opinion, which is recognising that effort must now be stepped up.

The irony is that this is more likely to reduce the reputation of Australia within the region, which in addition to the climate induced rising sea level, is fighting off the legacy and damage of Western colonialism.

Indonesia has similarly been flexing its muscle, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry has said in a statement that it has lodged a formal protest to the Forum’s secretariat, and referred to the allowing of Vanuatu supported, participation of West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda and others.

The Forum is accused of not showing neutrality. It said that Indonesia had no desire to talk with unfriendly countries, adding an implied threat over economic development cooperation. The fear of Indonesia’s leadership is that the Pacific Nations will come to openly support the independence of West Papua.

On this issue Australia is expected to stand with Indonesia, given a history of recognition to and material support for the occupation of West Papua.

It is on the cards that neither regional power will get its way.

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