Menu

Cooling in the Pacific

Jul 31, 2019 • 14m50s

Climate change is now the defining issue for the Pacific. It is also one of the factors undermining Australia’s relationship with the region.

play

 

Cooling in the Pacific

47 • Jul 31, 2019

Cooling in the Pacific

[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

Climate change is now the defining issue for the Pacific. It is also one of the key factors undermining Australia’s relationship with the region. Katerina Teaiwa on what’s changed diplomatically and what could heal the rift.

[Theme ends]

Katerina, there are a number of places that we could start this story, I feel. But why not start in October of last year when Melissa Price, at the time Environment Minister, was introduced to the former president of Kiribati Anote Tong at I think it was the La Rustica restaurant in Canberra.

KATERINA:

Yes. Melissa Price was introduced to Anote Tong in a restaurant in Canberra. The dinner was hosted by Labor senator Pat Dodson.

ELIZABETH:

Katerina Teaiwa is an author and professor at Australian National University. She wrote on climate change in the Pacific for the new issue of Australian Foreign Affairs.

KATERINA:

Pat Dodson has been a friend to Kiribati in the past and what was reported is that upon that introduction, she said to him: “I know why you're here. It's for the cash. For the Pacific, it's always about the cash. I have my checkbook here. How much do you want?”

[Music starts]

Archival tape — Unidentified woman 1:

“A little bit of news out there this afternoon. Melissa Price apparently said something according to the labour Party along the lines of, ‘Oh great to see you, I’m sure you’re here because you want more money, let me get my checkbook out.’ She denies she said that and she denied today in the parliament…”

Archival tape — Unidentified woman 2:

“If you’re going to say that in a restaurant in front of people including journalists…"

Archival tape — Unidentified man 1:

“Including a labour front bencher!”

Archival tape — Unidentified woman 2:

“...including a labour front bencher, then stick to your guns.”

[Music ends]

KATERINA:

Because there have been a series of Australian leaders over the years who have said similar things, I think people weren't surprised that an Australian politician would say something like that to the former leader of a Pacific country. There's a history of a very patronising approach to the Pacific.

Peter Dutton's comment is quite famous. Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott in 2015 were standing next to a microphone and Tony Abbott said that islanders were not good at keeping to time. And Dutton said time doesn't mean anything when you're about to have water lapping at your door.

So that was another unfortunate comment which again reflects this sort of lack of respect, I think, is a good way to put it.

ELIZABETH:

And Katarina, how is Australia's relationship with the Pacific perceived by those in the Pacific?

KATERINA:

Historically, there has been a close relationship. Australia was primarily oriented to the Pacific, in terms of thinking about foreign affairs, trade security, its international relations. That relationship shifted the last 30 years when Australia started to re-orient itself towards Asia. And in a way the Pacific moved to the back burner in terms of Australia wanting to get more of a depth of understanding about the region.

ELIZABETH:

And how has the Pacific responded to those changes?

KATERINA:

One way of putting it is that friendliness towards Australia has dwindled. There used to be a lot of deep friendships between, not just Australian politicians and policy makers, but scholars and students and, you know, the general public. And as the Australian aid and development agenda kind of took over that relationship, it became more one of a hierarchical relationship. Another way to put it is a neocolonial type relationship rather than one of equality, equity and friendship.

ELIZABETH:

OK, and I'm interested from within the Pacific where those friendships are now being directed. I know there's been quite a lot of admiration for Jacinda Ardern for example...

KATERINA:

I think because New Zealand has a Maori population which essentially is part of the Pacific family. From a cultural perspective, there's a cultural basis for understanding between those two countries where there isn't in Australia. Plus, you know, her policies tend to be more socially progressive than many of those in Australia anyway. So when Jacinda visited Nauru last year they had already composed the beautiful song for her and the president of Nauru led the song...

Archival tape — Nauru singers:

[Singing “Jacinda, New Star in the Sky”]

KATERINA:

That's a huge demonstration of friendship compared with how Pacific politicians tend to approach Australia in far less culturally friendly ways.

Archival tape — Nauru singers:

[Finish singing]

[Applause]

ELIZABETH:

Katerina, at the same time Australia is at least publicly launching what it's calling this Pacific step up program under Scott Morrison's new government. Can you tell me a little bit about what that program looks like?

KATERINA:

Yeah so the Pacific step up; it’s an active, formal way for Australia to demonstrate to the region that it's important again.

[Music starts]

KATERINA:

A whole range of different programs were rolled out in support of this step up, a lot of them, you know, focused on the environment which is what the Pacific wants. But the Pacific also sees that as quite hypocritical because helping Pacific people with adaptation and mitigation for climate change doesn't make a lot of sense if Australia doesn't do its own work at home on the climate change front. So you've got all of these policies supporting climate change in the Pacific but not reflected at all in Australian energy or climate programs.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[Music ends]

[Advertisement]

ELIZABETH:

Katerina, we’re talking about Scott Morrison’s step up program, with its focus on climate change and responding to natural disasters. Climate change is, of course, the biggest issues facing the Pacific today. What does that actually mean for some of the Pacific nations?

KATERINA:

Low lying atoll countries have been recognized as some of the most vulnerable in terms of the impacts of climate change. Kiribati is one of them. So all but one of the 33 islands in Kiribati are less than two meters above sea level. Large parts of the whole country are expected to be underwater by 2050. That's a scary prospect for I-Kiribati people.

Annual temperatures in South Tarawa, which is the capital of Kiribati, have increased by roughly 0.18 degrees Celsius per decade since 1950. So all of this warming, combined with ferocious tidal storms, coastal flooding, are absolutely destroying the island's ecosystems. There's also been a rise in waterborne diseases among other climate change induced illnesses including things like cholera and dengue fever.

But other dimensions of climate change such as the impacts on traditional knowledge, heritage, you know, indigenous approaches to living in an oceanic environment. All of that is under threat as well, because they can see that it's just not the material and environmental impacts, but the impacts on their very sense of identity and who they are in this world. So even though climate change is being experienced by everyone, it particularly affects Indigenous people in ways that I think are different from other communities and populations.

Pacific countries and Pacific leaders have been concerned about global warming, have been concerned about climate change for a long time now. In 1991 the Pacific Islands Forum released a communiqué after its meeting in Pompei and in it they called for significant and immediate reductions of greenhouse gases. And they pointed directly to industrial countries as having the responsibility to mitigate change in the climate. This communiqué said global warming and sea level rise are the most serious environmental threats to the Pacific region. The cultural, economic and physical survival of Pacific nations is at great risk.

So that was from 1991 and now, you know, we're in 2019 and things haven't improved. Things have actually got more alarming in terms of climate change. But Pacific leaders have consistently been calling for action on this front.

ELIZABETH:

Katerina, Australia's former prime minister Kevin Rudd has also weighed in on the issue of climate change as it affects the Pacific, earlier this year. Can you tell me about that?

KATERINA:

Yes. Kevin Rudd, bless his heart. He proposed in an essay I think he wrote in February called The Complacent Country, that Pacific Islanders swap their climate threaten lands for Australian citizenship and, in exchange, Australia could control Pacific maritime resources. Most people did not like that idea in any way shape or form. People might assume that there are lots of Pacific Islanders out there wanting to migrate to Australia and other countries. And that might be the case. But Pacific Islanders are also not at all willing to give up their relationship to their ancestral lands. There's a reason why most Pacific lands are in customary care and cannot be bought or sold. Those are laws that are in place protecting many, many indigenous lands across the Pacific.

So the prime minister of Tuvalu, in response to Rudd's proposal, called it a form of neocolonialism. And he said: “The days of that type of imperial thinking are over. The climate change cause is not only about small island countries, it's everybody's cause, everybody's safety and security of living on this planet. There is no Plan B.”

ELIZABETH:

And how do you think that Australia may be able to restart and more positive relationship with the Pacific?

KATERINA:

Look, if Australia actually transformed its own domestic energy policies and programs and moved into a more renewable and sustainable economy, I think that sort of leadership would make the Pacific so much more inclined to work more closely with Australia on so many other fronts.

[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

Katarina, would it be a stretch to say that climate policy both domestically in Australia and as it relates to the Pacific, is the key to all other kinds of geopolitical and security and policy outcomes with the Pacific?

KATERINA:

Yes, climate policy is the key to all manner of geo-strategic, economic, social and other policies in our region. Getting climate policy right domestically will open up a whole new landscape of positive relations in our region. Absolutely.

ELIZABETH:

Katertina, thank you so much for speaking with us.

KATERINA:

Thank you.

[Music ends]

[Advertisement]

[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

The government has referred allegations regarding Crown Casino to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, heading off a push for a parliamentary inquiry. The move comes as it was confirmed that Home Affairs had "stakeholder arrangements" in place to fast track short stay visas for Chinese gamblers. An investigation by the Nine newspapers also revealed that ministers had lobbied to make it easier for Chinese gamblers to arrive in Australia by private jet.

And Labor - through its human services spokesman, Bill Shorten - has called for the Robodebt program to be abolished. Shorten said that 100,000 mistakes should be cause to scrap the scheme, and pointed particularly to Centrelink's pursuit of debts from a man who had died. The minister responsible, Stuart Robert, apologised over the specific case but said he would not consider closing the program

This is 7am. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. See you Thursday.

[Theme ends]

Climate change is now the defining issue for the Pacific. It is also one of the factors undermining Australia’s relationship with the region. Katerina Teaiwa on what has changed diplomatically and what could heal the rift.

Guest: Associate professor in the school of culture, history and language at the Australian National University Katerina Teaiwa.

Background reading:

No distant future in Australian Foreign Affairs
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

Listen and subscribe in your favourite podcast app (it's free).

Apple podcasts Google podcasts Listen on Spotify

Share:

7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow with Michelle Macklem. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of envelopeaudio.com.au text: Envelope Audio).

Tags

pacific climate morrison foreignaffairs diplomacy




Subscribe to hear every episode in your favourite podcast app:
Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify

00:00
14:50
47: Cooling in the Pacific