THE flawed decision by Tony Abbott not to attend next week’s Pacific Islands Forum shouldn’t be taken as a slight by regional leaders so much as an expression by Australia’s prime minister that he doesn’t see there’s anything in it for him.
After all, with Papua New Guinea and Nauru now providing concentration camp like arrangements for asylum seekers, there’s not much more to glean is there?
And Palau (population 21,000; islands 250) – where the Forum will be held this year – may be a republic in free association with the United States but, well, it’s not the United States.
Australia’s Coalition governments in recent times have never felt entirely comfortable with the Pacific and, apart from favouring it as a refugee dumping ground, this one doesn’t really know what to do with it.
Abbott has previously met PNG’s Peter O’Neill but this would have been a first opportunity to connect with all regional leaders.
Instead my local member (Wide Bay), deputy prime minister Warren Truss, not hitherto known for his Pacific connections or his diplomatic clout, will lead Australia’s delegation.
Abbott has been excused by one commentator on the grounds that he “is dealing with a time of great national tragedy and trauma for Australia."
A bit of a pander which I don’t buy. Prime ministers have many responsibilities and burdens which they live with every hour of the day while getting on with the job.
And, in any event, foreign minister Julie Bishop is carrying the load of the fallout from the Malaysian Airlines disaster.
Their true views of the region will be well hidden behind a condolence motion, but the Pacific leaders will know that this is Australia treating its neighbours just as it always does.