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Despite re-engagement, Australia is out of step with Pacific

Edouard Fritch and Marise Payne
French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch, and Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, leave their handprints at the signing of the Boe Declaration (AFP)

NEWSROOM | Radio New Zealand

AUCKLAND - An academic in security studies and Pacific geopolitics says it is disturbing Australia is driving a strong security agenda while undermining the importance of climate change action by Pacific leaders.

Anna Powles from Massey University's Centre for Defence and Security said Australia is demonstrating its lack of regard for Pacific issues.

Pacific Island leaders at the recent forum in Nauru called on the United States to return to the Paris agreement on climate change.

Tuvalu prime minister Enele Sopoaga said Pacific leaders would not tone down their message to the US, implying Australia had wanted a more diluted signal.

"I think it shows that Australia is out of step with the Pacific and Pacific countries and leadership, despite their step up in terms of re-engagement with the Pacific,” Dr Powles said.

“The number one tension point is obviously on climate change and allegations that they've tried to water down, sought to water down the communiqué, are deeply disturbing.”

She said Australia's intention to set up the Pacific Fusion Centre to boost security of maritime areas and transnational crime was positive but she hopes it is not just a one way arrangement and efforts are made to build Pacific security capabilities as well.

"For New Zealand's credibility's sake and for our legitimacy within the region and for the success of the reset, and indeed for the success of the claim that we are part of the region, not separate to the Pacific islands region, we're going to have to be very mindful of how we negotiate some of the more contradictory areas of Australian policy within the Pacific," Powles said.

She said it was interesting the US representative at the forum, Ryan Zinke, did not mention climate change in his post-forum statement, despite pledging assistance to the Pacific and asking for its support with sanctions on North Korea.

"There has to be some quid pro quo here. We cannot expect Pacific countries to support initiatives that do not directly impact Pacific countries, whereas climate change is the existential threat to the Pacific."

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