We land in Tuvalu for our Flight Path series, report on dwindling natural resources in Papua New Guinea, and find out why Aussie rules football is going to China.
Airline: Air Pacific
Route: Nadi to Funafuti
Plane: ATR-42 (40-52 seats)
Frequency: Twice a week
Landing in Tuvalu certainly takes blind faith. The endless South Pacific doesn’t so much recede as take what seems to be a short and arbitrary break. One minute you’re soaring over endless topaz; the next you’re angling to touch down on a spit of land so narrow that it offers little more hope than a spectre.
Tuvalu, a tiny chain of coral atolls about halfway between Australia and Hawaii, is one of the most isolated countries on Earth. The twice-weekly run by Fiji’s national carrier, Air Pacific, from Nadi to Tuvalu’s main atoll, Funafuti, is its only air-bridge to the world.
Unlike most other nations within the South Pacific, Tuvalu has never had a major falling out with Fiji. It’s just as well because the tiny island state relies on Fiji for more than its air link: most countries use their Fijian embassies to cover Tuvalu – and Fiji is even home to Tuvalu’s only embassy.
Tuvalu is most famous as the canary in the climate-change coalmine: many believe it will be the first nation to disappear beneath the rising seas. Not many among its populaion of fewer than 12,000 people have much need to hop on the French and Italian-made ATR-42s but they get their share of aid workers flying in and officials jetting out, bound for numerous international conferences.
With flights only happening on Tuesdays and Thursdays you won’t be leaving in a hurry; even those scarce runs are cancelled routinely. If you get anxious, head to the runway and wait for the buzz of propellers. With the only two hotels just metres from the runway you won’t miss your ride.
Type: Presidential and parliamentary
Date: 6 November
Candidates: Incumbent president Johnson Toribiong, former president Tommy Remengesau Jr and former vice-president Sandra Pierantozzi. Sixteen representative and 13 Senate seats will also be decided.
Issues: Wage hikes for top government officials while the minimum wage remains static have been controversial. Efforts to ban foreign media ownership are also a live discussion.
Monocle comment: Democracy on this tiny island is an intimate affair: President Toribiong won in 2008 with 4,770 votes.
The Australian Medical Association has agreed to a government plan to ultimately transfer all patients’ records from paper to digital files. Long term it is intended to benefit both doctors and patients; short term it means more work for the former and added costs for the latter.
Australian Rules Football is just that: a code unique to Australia. The game’s promoters, however, are keen to take the game global. The Australian Football League (AFL) has opened its first training academy in Guangzhou in a bid to popularise the game in Asia and identify potential talent.“It’s the first stage of what will be a long journey,” says Tony Woods, the league’s international development manager. “The Australian market is becoming more competitive for talent. We need to open up new pathways into the football code.” Next up on the AFL’s hitlist: neighbours New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji – and then South Africa.
The death of a New Zealand police officer in Tonga is threatening to provoke a diplomatic dispute between the two countries, with Australia set to intervene. Kali Fungavaka had been in Tonga for his grandfather’s funeral and was arrested in a bar in August. While in custody he was fatally injured and died six days later. Five Tongan police officers – including the senior officer (left, in striped shirt) at the station where Fungavaka was held – and one detainee have been arrested and charged with manslaughter. Due to the delicate nature of the incident an investigator from the Australian Federal Police was dispatched to Tonga in October to help with the enquiry.
Though US-Australia relations have not been a dominant theme, Australia will still take an interest in the result: the US is its largest foreign investor.
America’s gathering interest in the Asia-Pacific region focuses on Australia but the latter has to consider its relationship with China. In August, Australia rejected a proposal to expand the HMAS Stirling naval base near Perth.
Australians are likely to prefer Obama to Romney: Australian approval of American leadership jumped from 25 to 69 per cent in the first two years of the post-Bush era.