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News from the islands

Island hopping - Oceania [NEWS ROUNDUP]

The defection of a senior military official is proving a headache for Fiji’s interim government as he tours the Pacific drumming up ­opposition to the regime. Once the head of the infantry, Tevita Mara was charged with sedition earlier this year, before being mysteriously spirited onto a Tongan navy vessel and taking up residence in the neighbouring kingdom. Subsequent campaigning visits to Australia, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands have caused diplomatic stirs, and debate over what sort of reception should greet “the runaway colonel”, who faces allegations of torture in his homeland.

Papua New Guinea’s new prime minister Peter O’Neill has reached an agreement to re-open the Manus Island detention centre for asylum seekers headed for Australia. The country operated the centre from 2001 to 2004 as part of the “Pacific Solution”, in which asylum seekers were relocated to Pacific islands while their claims for refugee status were assessed, resulting in a sharp drop in unauthorised boats landing in Australia.

In the Solomon Islands, the exhumation of the bodies of civil war victims has begun, as part of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is to heal wounds left by ethnic tensions that killed 100 people a decade ago. And in Tonga, the second-in-line to the throne is to marry his second cousin. It’s forbidden for royals to marry commoners, but in recent years the pool of eligible nobles has dwindled to nine women and seven men. Hopes that Tonga’s young blue-bloods might strike a love-match with their peers in Samoa or Fiji have so far been disappointed.

Paying the price

Australasia [FOOD]

Following the devastation wrought on Queensland’s banana plantations by Hurricane Yasi in February, the price of the fruit has risen by 470 per cent this year. The state accounts for 90 per cent of Australia’s production; with fewer and smaller bananas being produced in the recent harvest, customers who have been paying up to AU$15 (€11) per kilo will have to wait until the end of the year to get back to the usual price of AU$2. (The fruity inflation prompted one store to post a sign on its door at night: “No bananas kept on the premises.”)

It’s not like help can be called in from overseas, either. “Australia does not import bananas due to quarantine restrictions,” says Jonathan Eccles, CEO of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council. Still, there’s hope: “We are planning a ‘banana bounce back’ campaign to announce its return,” he adds.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, there is also anger. Kiwis aren’t yet rioting in the streets, but they are outraged at the cost of milk. Now, after months of prevarication,the national government – wary of upsetting its heartland rural constituency – has ordered a parliamentary inquiry into the domestic price of the country’s biggest export. New Zealand milk drinkers often pay more than consumers in other countries in real terms: many blame the price on Fonterra – one of the world’s largest dairy companies, which dominates the market. Fonterra in turn blames surging international dairy prices – and farmers are running all the way to the bank.

Losing track

Australia [HIGH-SPEED TRAINS]

Hopes of a new high-speed rail line linking Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane have once again been raised with the launch of a new government study. But at a cost of AU$100bn (€72bn) and with a due date of 2036, is this a case of all talk no action?

“After years of outsourcing and over-engineering of transport projects, many Australian governments have lost the skills needed to bring quality projects in at costs in keeping with other parts of the industrialised world,” says Michelle Zeibots, a researcher at Sydney’s University of Technology. Don’t count on it, then.

Monopolies

  • 90% - The proportion of Australia’s major daily newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp or Fairfax Media.

  • Newscorp - Owns 8 titles

  • Fairfax Media - Owns 4 titles

New build

New Zealand [RECONSTRUCTION]

Close to a year after Christchurch awoke to its first earthquake and seven months after the catastrophic quake that flattened buildings and killed 182, the city has released a bold NZ$2bn (€1.1bn) rebuilding blueprint.

Tall buildings in the CBD will be banned and there are plans to create a network of inner-city parks and greenways for cyclists. It calls for eco-friendly new buildings, as well as offering incentives for returning residents and investors.

­­­Off road

New Zealand

Police in a town who used Segways for beat patrols have been forced to abandon them after they were deemed illegal on Kiwi roads.

×Culture with Robert Bound

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