Australia needs to become a good Pacific neighbour

May 6, 2022
A submerged island in Duke of York Islands in East New Britain province in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Jonathan Mesulam

Socialist Alliance Victorian Senate candidate Felix Dance believes that defence minister Peter Dutton's “prepare for war” speech on ANZAC Day, during a federal election campaign, is a sign the Coalition is worried about its re-election bid.

But he doesn’t think the Coalition’s effort to stir up some “nationalist fervour” by identifying “a threat” people can rally behind will work, as “society is very different now compared to a few decades ago. The Iraq War showed the anti-war sentiment still exists".

Dutton would love an excuse to engineer a repressive state, the way democratic governments used the Cold War to justify cracking down on unions and left-wing movements, Dance said.

“War is a racket. It allows money to be funnelled to anyone who knows how to pick it up — weapons’ manufacturers and industry lobbyists," he said. “This is why we have to resist the talk of war, even if it doesn’t lead to war.”

As for Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s claim that the Solomon Islands-China pact might mean Australia could have a “little Cuba” on our doorstep, Dance said the claim was laughable.

“The fact that Joyce described the Solomon Islands as comparable to Cuba shows a certain paranoia. Cuba was no threat to America then,and the Solomon Islands pact with China is not a threat to Australia now.

“The only threat, perhaps, is the fact that the Solomon Islands are deciding on an independent foreign policy, something Australia has not done in years.”

Australia has not been a good Pacific neighbour, he said, and this is not generally talked about. “Some think Australia is a US lapdog, that we’re kicked around, but actually we’re a little bully ourselves.”

Australia has played a bad role supporting Papua New Guinea crush the independence movement in Bougainville to defend a gigantic open-cut mine run by Rio Tinto, Dance said.

“Canberra supported Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and West Papua, it has supported coups in Fiji, and it’s ignored Kiribati and other Pacific Islands’ calls to take real action on the climate.”

Australia has meddled in the Solomon Islands for more than a decade. “A police and military operation in 2003, RAMSI, basically replaced the Solomon Islands security forces,”  Dance said. It brought in an entire bureaucracy to reshape the Solomon Islands’ government to ensure it managed its resources in a way Australia favoured, he explained.

“Australia’s police repressed local activists and movements fighting for sustainable logging and fishing. Given that Canberra has treated the Solomons as a colonial power would treat a colony, it doesn’t surprise me the Manasseh Sogavare government has decided that, actually, it is not benefitting much from Australia’s ‘support’ and it needs to look elsewhere. The fact the Morrison government was caught by surprise really shows how little it understands about the Solomon Islands.”

Dance said the federal government should be “thinking about how we can actually help the Pacific Island nations rather than spending huge amounts of money on the military budget”. Australia has completely ignored Pacific Island pleas to take climate change seriously. “A fraction of the money going to develop weapons would be better helping them deal with climate change and mitigation.”

Dance said Australia should support national liberation movements in the Pacific, and pointed to Bougainville’s recent independence referendum.

“We should redirect resources towards helping Bougainville become an independent state. West Papua also needs to have a real referendum for independence, but Australia has consistently supported Indonesia’s ongoing and brutal occupation, including training its elite special forces officers.

“We would have a safer, more prosperous and more sustainable world if we got along with our Asia Pacific neighbours, rather than being relentlessly obsessed with picking a fight with China.”

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