KATE LYONS | Guardian Australia | Extract
FUNAFUTI - Scott Morrison has been accused of causing an extraordinary rift between Australia and Pacific countries by the prime minister of Fiji, who said the Australian prime minister’s insulting behaviour while at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu would push nations closer to China.
In an exclusive interview with Guardian Australia after the conclusion of the forum, Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji and a political heavyweight in the region, said Morrison’s approach during the leaders’ retreat on Thursday was “very insulting and condescending”.
“Yesterday was probably one of the most frustrating days I have ever had,” he said of the leaders’ retreat, which lasted for nearly 12 hours and almost broke down over Australia’s red lines on the climate crisis.
“After yesterday’s meeting I gathered [Morrison] was here only to make sure that the Australian policies were upheld by the Pacific island nations,” said Bainimarama.
“I thought Morrison was a good friend of mine; apparently not.
“The prime minister at one stage, because he was apparently [backed] into a corner by the leaders, came up with how much money Australia have been giving to the Pacific. He said: ‘I want that stated. I want that on the record.’ Very insulting.”
Bainimarama said the interaction with Morrison had made him so angry that when he watched rugby union’s Bledisloe Cup match on Saturday, he would be cheering for the All Blacks, despite being “a Wallabies fan from a long way back”.
Asked if Morrison’s approach might cause some Pacific leaders to look to China, which is locked in a battle for influence in the region with Australia, Bainimarama said: “After what we went through with Morrison, nothing can be worse than him.
“China never insults the Pacific. You say it as if there’s a competition between Australia and China. There’s no competition, except to say the Chinese don’t insult us.
“They don’t go down and tell the world that we’ve given this much money to the Pacific islands. They don’t do that. They’re good people, definitely better than Morrison, I can tell you that.
“The prime minister was very insulting, very condescending, not good for the relationship… They [Australians] keep saying the Chinese are going to take over. Guess why?” said Bainimarama, laughing. “You don’t have to be a high-school graduate to know that.”
Bainimarama said Morrison’s approach to negotiating was heavy-handed, with the Australian prime minister trying to force all the other leaders to sign on to Australia’s views.