Some Australian politicians, journalists and commentators believe that they are superior to the peoples of the Pacific region. You can read it in the condescending way they talk and write. There is too often a complete lack of respect and regard for Pacific sovereignty, but nothing exposes this elitism more than comments by Australia’s opposition Labor Party about the recent security pact between the Solomon Islands and China.
Make no mistake. The Pacific Advocate believes this pact is bad for the region. It exposes us to future military conflict and it is a slap in the face to those nations – including Australia – that have supported the Solomon Islands over many years.
Prime Minister Sogavare’s government has a checkered past. Accusations of bribes and corruption connected with China have been loud, and as this publication has reported, Chinese companies have been prioritised over local business owners to complete significant infrastructure work, and have done a shoddy job.
Australia and Pacific neighbours have poured finances and resources into the country to help deal with problems its own government created or didn’t deal with effectively, most recently through the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which the Sogavare Government often treated with contempt.
Yet despite this, neither Australia or any other nation can dictate to the Solomon Islands what it can or cannot do. When Australia’s Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and his party’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Penny Wong blame Australia’s current government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison (calling it a foreign policy failure) for a sovereign decision made by the Solomons, it reeks of colonialism, and the Pacific is very sensitive to this.
The message the Labor party is sending to the Pacific is that Australia should be controlling governments across the Pacific, and if regional nations don’t do what Australia demands, it’s a failure. There is no other way to read this. This is a message that does not sit well in this region.
The Morrison Government has by all accounts been a good friend of the Pacific. Mr Morrison made a mistake by not attending the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru just after he was elected. It sent the wrong message. Yet since that time Australia has dealt well with our region and showed respectful and strong leadership, notwithstanding the criticism from regional leaders about Australia’s lack of commitment to climate change.
The comments from Mr Albanese and his senior colleagues are as offensive as they are ignorant. Australia can – and did – use diplomatic means to try and convince the Solomons to change course. The US is doing the same and even New Zealand’s leader – who has herself been accused of cosying up to China for economic reasons – has urged Mr Sogavare to scrap the deal.
Yet in the end, the Government of the Solomon Islands is answerable to its people. The opposition politicians in that country will have the opportunity to state their case at the next election and the people of the Solomons will be the ones to decide the nation’s future – not Australia.
If the Australian Labor Party truly believes that it controls other nations because they are smaller, less resourced and less financial, this is the definition of bullying and it will find it tough going in this region should it be elected Australia’s next government.