On Wednesday I provided a preliminary report (Pacific Island Forum, China & Australia's future migration) on the Pacific Island Forum. This has now wrapped up. Most of the leaders are staying on for the first match in the Rugby World Cup, although Australian PM Gillard is flying home.
On 7 September, the Pacific Island Leaders issued a joint statement with the UN Secretary General. This was followed on 6 September by the formal communiqué. The joint statement is attached to the communiqué.
As with all these things, there is something a little eye glazing about the English. However, some key points follow.
There was again a major focus on climate change, a continuing concern to small, low lying island states. The presence of the UN Secretary General and the President of the European Union added force here.
As we have seen, international actions on any topic can proceed at glacial pace. Still, I was struck by the disconnect between Australian domestic political discussion on this topic as compared to the Forum discussions and the remarks in Australia of the UN Secretary General and EU President.
I have commented before about the problems that can flow from disconnects between Australian political discourse and broader regional and international considerations.
If, as many Australians now assume, a Coalition Government comes to power at the next elections, it will be interesting to see just it manages the climate change issue internationally. I would have thought that it might face some difficulties.
There were many words about sustainable development set in the context of plans and agreements that few Australians would have heard of. It's interesting how "sustainable development" has become such buzz words at so many levels.
From a practical perspective, the immediate key economic areas are tourism, agriculture and fisheries. Continued growth in population in Australia and New Zealand does provide an increasing base load for tourism.
Fisheries involves particular issues with Island countries lacking the effective power to limit fishing in their zones. Both Australia and New Zealand have been providing increasing support here. While this area is largely of the Australian public radar, it is a potential future flash point.
As you might expect, there was a considerable focus on education. As mentioned in the previous post, Australia and New Zealand announced that they would work to ensure 500,000 more children in the Pacific are enrolled in school and that 75 percent of children can read by the age of 10 by 2021 (joint press release here). Australia will also continue to support the Australia Pacific Technical College.
In a practical sense, this type of support also benefits Australia and New Zealand, given present and prospective levels of emigration to those two countries.
Trade and Labour Mobility
In the communiqué:
Leaders noted the high priority placed by the region on the successful conclusion to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations in 2012. Leaders agreed that negotiations on the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) Trade in Services and the Temporary Movement of Natural Persons and PACER Plus would also be progressed as matters of priority, and that they continue to be kept informed of progress. Leaders urged those countries yet to complete arrangements to trade under PICTA to do so forthwith.
These various negotiations have dragged on.
Australia and New Zealand are natural sources of work for those from Pacific Island nations. New Zealand has a Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme while Australia has a Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme. Under the pilot scheme, Pacific workers come to Australia for four to six months to work for horticultural enterprises who demonstrate that they cannot find enough local labour to meet their seasonal harvest needs.
The Australian Government has now announced that workers from Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu will have the opportunity to join those from Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Vanuatu already participating in the pilot scheme.
I wrote on this scheme when it was first announced. It benefits both the horticulture industry and Pacific Island countries. I had wondered how it was going. Numbers still seem to me to be quite small with something over 560 workers recruited so far.
Fiji remains suspended from the Forum, although attitudes appear to be softening a little. Fiji is another of the Pacific flash point areas from an Australian perspective since no one can really forecast what might happen there. A not inconsiderable proportion of Australia's Indian population are in fact Fijian Indians who have previously fled to country.
Should trouble break out in Fiji or elsewhere in the Pacific, Australia would be in a degree of trouble given that poor maintenance and consequent forced Navy ship withdrawals has decimated the country's Naval lift capacity.
Papua New Guinea
In my August regional media round up (Media round up on Australia's rim) I commented on my own lack of knowledge about some regional issues and linkages.
Have a look at this story in the Sydney Morning Herald by Jo Chandler, Dying on Australia's doorstep. The child is not from Somalia, but is a six year old TB patient not very far from Australia's boundaries.
Of all the Pacific Forum countries, PNG poses the greatest potential problem for Australia. It's not just the threat of political instability, but that of disease.
I know I probably get boring on this one, but it really is a case of out of sight, out of mind.
My Armidale Express column this week, it will come up later on my New England blog, was in part a plea to stop our obsessive focus in Australian political discourse on a limited range of issues. Leave aside the disease issues, if PNG goes really sour then Australia could end up with a boat people problem measured in the hundreds of thousands or even millions.
Useful article on the Forum by Nic Maclellan in New Matilda, Island Leaders Drowned Out At Forum.