Australia scales down its military, French Polynesia has a big day ahead, and New Zealanders jump ship.
The men of the Alik family have dominated politics here for the past three decades. Alee Alik, an MP in the 1980s, was succeeded by his cousin, brother and nephews, one of whom is Jurelang Zedkaia: president until 2012. He recently took over the chiefly duties of his mother.
Australia appears to be scaling back its military presence in the South Pacific. For the first time since 1999 it has no troops in Timor-Leste, while the Australia-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (ramsi), which has lasted 10 years, will start to withdraw in July. Is this the start of a change of tack? “There is no overarching plan to pull back,” says Alex Oliver, a research fellow at Sydney’s Lowy Institute for International Policy. “Successive governments have become increasingly aware of the need to engage with the region to ensure Australia’s prosperity and security.”
Oliver describes “generally warm bilateral relations” between Australia and its Pacific allies. That said, some issues are causing disquiet. Back in Timor-Leste, a dispute between its government and Perth’s Woodside Petroleum over the location of an offshore liquid natural gas site could lead to the redrawing of the Timor Sea boundary to Australia’s north. Another concern is Papua New Guinea’s plan to increase its army from 1,900 troops to 10,000. Oliver says the latter is “strategically questionable” but points to reports of Chinese military aid for png as a serious development.
Australia’s approach to its dealings with the Asia-Pacific region remains the defining factor. With a federal election in September, this could be a new source of tension, says Oliver: “There is a question mark over how a new Liberal government might manage these issues.”
Australia’s priorities in the Asia-Pacific region
Papua New Guinea A huge aid programme – AU$493m (€381m) for the past two years alone – needs management.
Fiji There is tension with the Bainimarama regime.
The Solomon Islands A watching brief as Ramsi begins its withdrawal will be crucial.
Julia Gillard’s controversial mining tax was expected to raise AU$2bn (€1.6bn) for the national coffers; the result was just AU$163m (€127m). The head of an Australian think-tank believes it’s the result of politics over policy.
Why did this tax yield so little?
It was designed by the mining industry with virtually no input from treasury and taxation experts.
Doesn’t higher mining taxation risk killing the golden goose?
I reject the premise that the mining industry props up the Australian economy; it employs just 2 per cent of Australians. If one miner wants to leave, another will happily continue.
What needs to happen next?
The tax we have today is only on coal and iron ore. Gold, uranium, and aluminum are also doing well and are exempt. If our mining tax doesn’t collect any revenue at today’s commodity prices it has no chance of collecting extra revenue when they fall back to their historic norms.
Date: 25 April (first round); 5 May (second round)
Candidates: To Tatou Aia, which occupies the most seats in the assembly, will trade as A Tia Porinetia after incorporating several smaller parties. Union For Democracy will again provide its most substantial opposition.
Issues: Corruption: four-time president Gaston Flosse received a suspended jail sentence in February. Independence is on the agenda, with president Oscar Temaru (right) leading the push.
Monocle comment: These elections will be held under the fourth system imposed by stability-seeking Paris in eight years.
New Zealanders love to travel. Seven hundred thousand of its 4.4 million citizens live abroad, making it one of the largest overseas diasporas per capita in the world. Most are drawn to higher wages in neighbouring Australia; last year, 53,700 Kiwis relocated next door, the most since 1978.
A sector that has suffered from this exodus is New Zealand’s navy: 168 mariners left in 2012, resulting in a scramble to recruit skilled seamen. To plug the shortfall prior to a planned mission to the Pacific, Australia is facilitating the solution by sending across 20 Aussie sailors. It is reportedly the highest ever number of Australians to be “cross-crewed” with New Zealand’s naval forces.