CONTRARY TO SUGGESTIONS before Australia’s recent Federal election, a Pacific Island Affairs portfolio is not included in the new ministerial line-up announced this afternoon by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
The role of Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs - last occupied, and with distinction, by Duncan Kerr - was abolished without explanation in 2009 by the Rudd Government. The portfolio had been expected to be reinstated by Gillard.
Australia had been thought to have been ready to place renewed emphasis on regional relationships as a result of the growing volatility of neighbourhood politics: China’s creeping incursion into the south-west Pacific; the backing of the Melanesian states, including PNG, for renegade Fiji’s aggressive attitude to Australia and New Zealand; and the strategic uncertainties posed by a brittle and morally-challenged government in PNG.
Prior to the Federal election, PNG’s High Commissioner to Australia, the respected Charles Lepani, publicly praised Australia’s relationship with PNG under a Labor government and intimated that the ALP, if elected, would do better than the Coalition with its PNG relations.
Well, if the new Gillard ministry was a test of that hopeful attitude, we'd have to so far mark it a 'Fail'.
But there is a chance of redemption provided new Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd is willing to reprise the enthusiasm he showed for the Australia-PNG relationship when he became prime minister in 2007.
Like much of Rudd’s early promise, that initial effervescence was not sustained – as the demise of the Pacific Island Affairs portfolio showed.
While Elliot has no link with PNG, Richard Donald Marles, the member for Corio in Victoria [left], has first-hand experience.
The 43-year old, with degrees in Law and Science from Melbourne University, worked with PM Gillard’s old law firm Slater and Gordon for indigenous landowners on the successful Ok Tedi litigation against BHP's environmental despoliation.
Marles later became Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions before being elected to federal parliament in 2007.