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Fora confusion may dilute message

Tuesday 8 September 2015 | Published in Regional


CANBERRA – Australia says it regards the Pacific Islands Forum as the premier organisation in the Pacific but it welcomes any contribution the Pacific Islands Development Forum can make to the region.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was responding to remarks made by Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama who accused Australia of meddling in the Development Forum which was set up by Fiji three years ago.

The PIDF has just completed holding its third annual summit in Suva.

Bainimarama told the grouping it was time for the Australian government to stop undermining it by actively lobbying regional governments and regional leaders not to attend.

In a statement, DFAT says Australia welcomes any contribution the PIDF can make to the prosperity and inclusive development of the region.

It says other countries will themselves decide whether or not to join the PIDF.

Australia is an observer to the PIDF and its High Commissioner Margaret Twomey is attending the Suva meeting

Australia says it is looking forward to a successful meeting of Pacific Island Forum leaders in Port Moresby next week and says it encourages Bainimarama to attend.

He has refused to attend the summit despite Fiji’s post coup suspension being lifted.

An Australian academic says a declaration coming out of the Pacific Islands Development Forum may create difficulties for next week’s larger regional meeting in Port Moresby.

Fiji’s Bainimarama said the PIDF has never been stronger with member countries having a common position on climate change which will be taken to crucial UN climate change talks in Paris in November.

The Suva Declaration was signed at the end of the Pacific Islands Development Forum in Fiji on Friday.

The leaders from Nauru, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tokelau and Tuvalu attended, along with the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands.

Jenny Hayward-Jones from the Lowy Institute said if the Pacific Islands Forum was to try to do a similar declaration, there could be confusion about which one reflected the collective view of the region.

Hayward-Jones says the timing of the PIDF move, a few days out from the PIF’s Port Moresby meeting, made a strong political statement.

“It’s the regional forum which has produced a declaration that reflects the concerns of small island countries.

“Of course next week Australia and New Zealand will be in the mix so it will be considerably more difficult to reach an agreement that satisfies everyone.

“We have seen here, Fiji’s Prime Minister Bainimarama try and get out in front and develop a strong voice from the small island states that isn’t confused by Australia and New Zealand’s position.”

However, the United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change, Mary Robinson, said the Suva Declaration will help create a sense of urgency for the upcoming climate talks in Paris.

She attended the PIDF meeting in Fiji and said the statement will have an impact on industrialised nations.

“I think they probably will get a good sense that this is a strong statement of urgency and that the Pacific islands are unhappy with the lack of progress in the world and that this is hurting them. That may well help create a greater sense of urgency.”

The statement includes a demand on limiting global temperature to 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels.

In the declaration, the leaders say they are gravely distressed at the threat climate change poses to their countries’ existence, and express their concern that not enough is being done, despite overwhelming scientific evidence. - PNC