Jun 16, 2019 Last Updated 10:14 PM, Jun 14, 2019

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Tuvalu, and Foreign Minister Marise Payne says she is keen to get to Papua New Guinea soon “to  visit our new friends in government.”

Minister Payne made the comments in a speech before media and diplomats at a Press Club lunch in Suva today.

The Minister was in Fiji  just a week after being sworn in as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, following the Liberal/National coalition’s win in Australia’s recent federal election. This week Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also been in Solomon Islands, meeting with the new government of Manasseh Sogavare.

Minister Payne says both visits show the importance of the Pacific islands to Australia.

She revealed that Australia has begun work on a joint trade and economic scoping study to look at creating more opportunity for Australia and Fijian businesses.

“That work began literally last week and is going to be finalised by the end of July. I very much look forward to the findings of the independent team that will shortly be in Fiji to engage with government and the business community.”

Australia’s record on climate change and the lack of ambition in its targets to cut emissions has been widely criticised by Pacific leaders. However today Payne said: “For Australia’s part, we are on track to meet – indeed to exceed – our commitments to the year 2020 under the Paris Agreement, and making progress towards our 2030 target,” while also commending Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama for his leadership in climate change negotiations.

Minister Payne’s program also involved visits to the Blackrock Camp in Nadi, breakfast with female MPs, and a meeting with advocates against gender based violence at the House of Sarah.

Details of a possible visit to meet with PNG’s new Prime Minister, James Marape and his cabinet, will be announced at a later date.

Canberra, Australia - Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull revealed a new cabinet line-up on the eve of 2018 by announcing a reshuffle that saw five new cabinet members and the axing of infrastructure minister, Darren Chester. Former Social Services minister Christian Porter has become the country’s new Attorney General after George Brandis resignation.

Peter Dutton will lead Home Affairs, which will take responsibility for Australia’s intelligence agencies, national security and immigration.

There will be two more junior ministers beneath Dutton. Angus Taylor will be Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security, while Alan Tudge will become Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. Michaelia Cash, already Employment Minister, has been promoted to the new title of Minister for Jobs and Innovation.

She will surrender her title as Minister for Women, which has now gone to Kelly O’Dwyer. Bridget McKenzie, who recently replaced Fiona Nash as deputy leader of the Nationals, has also joined the Turnbull cabinet.

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New voices for Pacific broadcasters

THE Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is once again making changes that will affect broadcasting into the Pacific. From 22 January, ABC’s Radio Australia (RA) will introduce a new Pacific Mornings programme, between 6am to 10am. In a significant change, the programme will be hosted by two women of Pacific island heritage, Seini Taumoepeau and Tahlea Auliitia.

RA’s flagship news and current affairs programme Pacific Beat will be reduced to 25 minutes, with the morning show hosted by Catherine Graue and the afternoon slot maintained by long time broadcaster Bruce Hill. The changes to RA’s broadcasts come after ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie introduced a major restructure of the national broadcaster.

These changes have seen the break-up of domestic radio and TV services, with key staff reallocated to three new divisions:

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Cuts to undermine Australia’s reach

IN September 2016, New Caledonia and French Polynesia joined the Pacific Islands Forum, further linking the francophone Pacific territories with their anglophone neighbours. In February 2017, Radio Australia (RA) will end its French language service for the Pacific. Great timing! At the same time, ABC International – the overseas service of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) – will end its shortwave radio broadcasting to the Pacific.

The closure of shortwave will also affect remote indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. These decisions, taken at a time of tightening budgets for Australia’s national broadcaster, are yet another sign of the lack of commitment to Pacific neighbours by the largest member of the Forum.

In his remarks to the 2016 Forum leaders meeting in Pohnpei, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged: “My Government recognises that Australia’s interests in the region and the complexity of the challenges we face demands more engagement at every level, more integrated policy and fresh ideas. We are committed to a step-change in our engagement, to be guided by a new Pacific strategy.” 

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Jittery race

Turnbull holds on

THE count hadn’t been completed yet in Australia’s triennial federal election and questions were already being raised about party leadership. How long would Malcolm Turnbull be able to hold on as head of the Liberal Party? Would Bill Shorten step aside as leader of Labor? Turnbull’s position was looking shaky because he had called the double dissolution election and exhorted Australians to vote for the kind of stable government that he said only his coalition could provide.

He was also anticipating a massive win. He won but it wasn’t the decisive victory he’d been hoping for. His partnership with the Nationals staggered over the line in a protracted count, taking 76 seats in the 150-seat lower House of Representatives. Not only had Turnbull not received the mandate he was looking for, he was facing a Senate that was even more hostile than before.

There were misgivings too about his ability as leader because his party had come out of the election with less seats than it had when it went in. Labor, on the other hand, has a policy of declaring its party leadership vacant in the event of a federal election defeat. The result meant its leadership itself was up for a vote.

The party rallied around Shorten. Anthony Albanese, the man who was expected to mount a challenge, didn’t. What he also did not do was rule out a contest further down the road. What this points to is a future of instability at the federal level in two of Australia’s main political parties. More importantly for the country, it means Turnbull will be a distracted Prime Minister. 

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