Climate Change Is 'No Laughing Matter', Fiji's PM Frank Bainimarama Tells Australia During Scott Morrison's Pacific Trip

ABCStephen Dziedzic | Erin Handley

Frank Bainimarama said climate change could not be written off as a difference of opinion. (Reuters: Wolfgang Rattay, file photo)
Climate change is "no laughing matter" and poses an "enormous" threat to Fijians and Pacific Islanders, Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has warned Australia.
In a speech during his counterpart Scott Morrison's Pacific visit, Mr Bainimarama called on Australia to put the welfare of Pacific peoples before the interests of any single industry.
"Here in Fiji, climate change is no laughing matter," he said.
"From where we are sitting, we cannot imagine how the interests of any single industry can be placed above the welfare of Pacific peoples — vulnerable people in the world over."
It is the first time a political leader has publicly confronted Mr Morrison on the question of climate change during his Pacific tour.

Key points:
  • In the same speech, Frank Bainimarama lavished praise on Mr Morrison for his "Pacific step-up"
  • Scott Morrison has promised Australia will not neglect the Pacific
  • Fiji and Australia have committed to a "family partnership" in a sign of warming ties

In 2015, then-immigration minister Peter Dutton quipped about the fate of the Pacific Islands in the face of climate change, prompting laughter from then-prime minister Tony Abbott.
"Time doesn't mean anything when you're about to be … you know, have water lapping at your door," Mr Dutton said.
Mr Morrison, then the social services minister, pointed out to both men that a microphone was above them.
In his speech on Thursday, Mr Bainimarama said Fiji and Australia should be "good neighbours" and highlighted the searing temperatures dominating Australian cities this week.
"Prime Minister, I urged your predecessor repeatedly to honour his commitment to clean energy future, the only future that guarantees the survival of your neighbours in the Pacific," he said.

Peter Dutton quips about Pacific leaders facing climate change during chat with Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott

Mr Morrison declared that Australia would make sure it did not neglect the Pacific. (ABC News: Jed Cooper, file photo)
Mr Morrison's predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, abandoned the emissions reduction target in a bid to stave off a leadership challenge last year.A vocal proponent of climate change policy who led the UN's Climate Change Conference in 2017, Mr Bainimarama said the issue "cannot be written off as a difference of opinion".
"Consensus from the scientific community is clear, and existential threat posed to Pacific Island countries, a certainty."
Australia will not neglect the region: PM
But Mr Bainimarama also lavished praise on Mr Morrison for his so-called "Pacific step-up", and said he had "transformed" the Australia-Fiji relationship by visiting Suva.
"While it was a short flight to Suva, your presence has already taken our relationship a very long way indeed," he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, then the treasurer, used a lump of coal to make a point in Parliament in 2017. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)
Mr Morrison's engagement with the Pacific set a "new precedent" and was "absolutely a step in the right direction", he added.
"When our nation and our people have been left devastated in the aftermath of ever-worsening cyclones, Australia has always proven to be a friend we can count on," Mr Bainimarama said.
No Australian prime minister has come to Fiji since 2006, and Mr Morrison's trip is aimed at shoring up Australia's influence in the nation, which has been courting Chinese investment.

Lowy Institute Pacific Aid Map
Aid is an important resource for the Pacific Islands region, but public information is often lacking. The Lowy Institute Pacific Aid Map is designed to enhance aid effectiveness.

Fiji and Australia yesterday agreed to a host of new initiatives and committed to a "Vuvale Partnership" (or "family partnership") in a sign of warming ties.
Both countries have agreed to more regular ministerial meetings, while Australia has promised to send Border Force officials to Fiji to offer local guards training.
Australia has also pledged $84 million for a new partnership with Fiji's University of the South Pacific, and $17 million to provide 1,000 hours of Australian television content each year to Pacific broadcasters.
Mr Morrison declared that Australia would make sure it did not neglect the region.
"One of the risks of close relationships is sometimes they can be taken for granted, and there are periods in our past where that has been the case," he said.
"Not now. And not in the future if there's anything my government has to do with it."
Some Australian diplomats were anxious that the stoush over Islamic State extremist Neil Prakash would overshadow the visit.
Fijian officials were angered when Australia stripped Prakash of his citizenship, arguing he was instead entitled to Fijian citizenship through his father.
But Fiji insists Prakash and his family were never registered as citizens, and have made it clear Prakash would not be welcome.
When questioned, Mr Morrison said Mr Bainimarama had not raised the issue at all in Thursday's talks — indicating the two men had smoothed over the issue before sitting down in Suva.


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