P.M. Tuilaepa weighs into Forum tension

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, has downplayed the tension between Australia and other Pacific leaders during last week’s Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting saying it “is to be expected.”

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, came under fire from other Pacific leaders over Australia’s commitment to climate change.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama accused Mr. Morrison of insulting and alienating other Pacific leaders.

In an interview released by his Office yesterday, Prime Minister Tuilaepa said the differences in opinion were healthy.

“That is what to be expected in a retreat of leaders only, where officials and the media are not allowed,” Tuilaepa said.

“The whole purpose of the leaders Retreat is to encourage frank exchanges of ideas to resolve difficult issues confronting the region in an atmosphere of genuine interest to find viable solutions that are accessible and affordable to all our people.

“In this context, we focus on the bigger picture; openness, flexibility of attitude and willingness to give and take become the order of the day.”

Tuilaepa said part of the tension was the manner and language used by Australia in driving their perspectives home.

“When Australia persistently reminded leaders of what it has provided for the Pacific – the inference was indeed unpleasant for the simple reason, the process was one of consultation towards an acceptable consensus.”

Tuilaepa stands by the opinion that Australia should pay attention to the issue of climate change for its own benefit.

“Climate change is a global catastrophe,” Tuilaepa said.

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“There is no such thing as a free lunch any more! Australia’s prolonged drought, forest fires, cyclones, flash flooding, increased acidification of the Great Barrier Reef and the consequential threat to their marine resources are well known to all Australians except those who have eyes but failed to see.  

“To engage in climate change adaptation and mitigation projects in the islands is therefore an extension of Australia’s own security consideration similar to the goals of its own domestic climate change policies.”

The exchanges in Tuvalu also attracted the attention of Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, who was drawn to the issue back in Australia.

“I also get a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia and say we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that, you know, they will continue to survive," he was quoted as saying.

“They will continue to survive, there’s no question they’ll continue to survive and they’ll continue to survive on large aid assistance from Australia.

“They’ll continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit, pick our fruit grown with hard Australian enterprise and endeavour and we welcome them and we always will.”

Mr. McCormack has been heavily criticised by Pacific Islanders for his comment.

But Prime Minister Tuilaepa was diplomatic in his response.

“Our Pacific Island Workers on the other hand, provide labour for the locally needed services by their entrepreneurs and industries in general.Samoa is deeply appreciative of the foresight of the Australian Government to establish these workers’ programme for the Pacific workers,” he said.

Getting back to the strong opinions expressed in Tuvalu, especially on the issue of climate change, the Prime Minister said they clearly reflected the importance of the issues.

“In the case of climate change, the threat is existential for the Pacific and the world, and time is running out. What is important therefore is the consensus reflected in the Communiqués from these meetings.  How we arrived at these Conclusions are supposed to be privy to the leaders only – There are therefore no losers.  Only winners!”



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