The Wire (Australia) Manning Reports On Pacific Forum Issues

Published: Thu 8 Sep 2011 10:08 AM
Scoop Report On The Wire (Australia) – Pacific Islands Forum – September 7 2011
Selwyn Manning and Catherine Zengerer report on the big issues facing Australia, New Zealand, and the wider Pacific region's leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum held this year in Auckland City.
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The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon is in Auckland attending the Pacific Islands Forum leaders' summit meetings.
Ban's arrival follows a whistle-stop tour to Canberra, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati.
It is the first time a UN secretary general has attended the annual summit where Pacific leaders of 14 Pacific states thrash out the big issues confronting the wider Pacific region.
Leaders of other nations, small island groups, and those aspiring to achieve independent statehood are also here, many with official observer status, others like delegates from West Papua are seeking the support of their Pacific neighbours to help them to achieve that goal.
With Ban Ki-moon here, perhaps the biggest news to emerge from the Pacific Forum will be how smaller Pacific Islands States have had their climate change challenge officially recognised.
After visiting Kiribati, Ban said: “Kiribati will strengthen my belief, my conviction that this climate change is a much more serious security issue."
The Secretary General also committed to taking Kiribati's and the Pacific's concerns “back to the world, to the United Nations General Assembly, to the climate change negotiations in Durban later this year and to the Rio20 Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.”
That kind of acknowledgement is what these smaller Pacific states have been seeking for a generation. Will it make a difference? Time will tell.
At previous forums, the voice of these leaders has often been lost when the demands of this region's big players dominate the headlines.
Now, the leaders' summit officially began this morning. And the big players now have the stage.
From here, the Pacific leaders will travel to Waiheke Island a short ferry trip from Auckland City's waterfront, to attend the summit meeting where all but the leaders and their delegates will be privy to discussions.
But we know the discussions this week will focus on:
For example, this morning, Australia' Prime Minister Julia Gillard and John Key jointly announced a programme will be established aiming to ensure 500,000 more children in the Pacific are enrolled in school and 75 per cent of all children in the region can read by age 10 - by the year 2021.
Almost one million school-aged children in the Pacific currently do not attend school.
New Zealand will provide NZ$145 million and Australia will provide AU$124.5 million in addition to existing funding over the next four years. New Zealand will also invest NZ$122 million for scholarships and training over the same period.
The forum agenda mentioned above knits neatly within the New Zealand National-led Government's aid-for-trade policy.
New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key, as host of the forum, indicated today that apart from heralding how the Rugby World Cup kicks off here in Auckland on Friday – the Pacific's leaders will be focusing on how to promote sustainable economic development in the region.
That theme has been in evidence since the Pacific Plan was passed by leaders in 2005.
The Military coup in Fiji in late 2006 - and the diplomatic estrangement that has occurred since then - has hampered the Pacific (particularly diplomatically), and has arguably arrested progress in the region.
The Pacific Islands Forum is a western leaning body. By focussing on business, trade, and assistance from entities not necessarily from inside the restraints of government – this focus does ensure Fiji, and of course China's diplomatic move that drives deep into the Pacific region, is off the agenda – at least officially.
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