Australia-Pacific engagement: a step up or a step back?
UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe has responded to the Prime Minister’s recent pledge of $3 billion towards infrastructure investments in the Pacific.
“We welcome calls to strengthen Australia’s partnership with the Pacific but we are cautious about the motives and the means,” said Dr Goringe.
“Ramping up investment to out-bid China for influence in the region should not take priority over sustainable community development.”
UnitingWorld echoes the words of ACFID CEO Marc Purcell, who notes the large number of existing lenders to the Pacific and many Pacific nations already suffering debt distress.
We recall the Christian-led Jubilee 2000 movement in the 1990’s to cancel crippling dept that kept states in poverty for more than a decade.
“If a step-up means an overburden of debt in the Pacific, it would be a huge step back. Especially considering the disaster-prone volatility of the Pacific region and the increasing impacts of climate change,” said Dr Goringe.
There are also concerns about lack of consultation with Pacific leaders and omission of climate change in the initiatives outlined by the PM.
The government’s own Foreign Policy White Paper in 2017 committed Australia to work in partnership with governments in the Pacific to respond to climate change, bolster resilience, strengthen emergency responses and improve governance, education, health and gender outcomes.
“True partnership is mutual and multilateral – more basically, it listens to the concerns of other parties before acting,” said Dr Goringe.
“We hope the Prime Minister’s ‘Pacific family’ rhetoric plans to meet the road at some point.”
UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia.