Pacific leaders seek strong regional solidarity
Three triolets for Yahweh

Does the Pacific want Australia to lead?

Richard Marles
Richard Marles - the only Pacific-themed photo of him I could find. Slightly out of focus, which seemed appropriate


NOOSA – The book's title is a strained pun and the 2,000 word extract he allowed the Sydney Morning Herald gives the impression he’s struggling to kick an invisible ball at hidden goal posts.

And, if this chapter is any indication, 'Tides that Bind: Australia in the Pacific’, by Australia’s deputy opposition leader Richard Marles, is a strange piece of work.

A Herald sub-editor entitled the extract ‘Pacific in peril: Why our region needs us to step up and lead’, but the only answer seemed to be ‘climate change’ and Australia is not much of a performer on dealing with this.

Marles opens the extract by stating that “now more than ever, the Pacific needs a champion”.

And he would have us believe that “the Pacific desperately wants Australia to assume this role.” And so does the rest of the world.

The only obstacle to us leading, according to Marles, is that we do not expect to lead – and we should.

In March 2012 , as parliamentary secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Marles gave a speech in Port Moresby in which he said “raising the profile of PNG in Australia [is] a subject which is indeed very much close to my heart and one which I think is ‘core business’ for me [in my role]”.

He went on to regret that “many Australians – particularly those born post-PNG independence – don’t know as much about Papua New Guinea as they should. To put it simply, PNG does not play in Australia’s national discourse in the way that it deserves.”

And so Marles sets himself a task and emphasised its importance. He had a few ideas: a PNG academic symposium; the Today show taking on some PNG content; a PNG Independence Day Oration. But there was little that was new.

As I wrote at the time, there was “no mention of the role of the social media.  No mention of how the Australian press can be better engaged.  No mention of professional exchanges.  No mention of interchange at the level of rank and file politicians. 

“No mention of how the many civil organisations in Australia beavering quietly away to assist PNG could be better supported to tell the story in Australia.

“And, worst of all, no strategy, no objectives, no analysis and no plan.  And no metrics by which we may judge Mr Marles’ success at prosecuting his ‘core business’.”

Yeah, I know, I can be a tough judge. But now that Marles has been elevated to a distinguished position in politics, what does he have to convince us that “the Pacific desperately wants Australia” to be its champion.

In a word, nothing.

The nearest he gets to it is to write “we must lead in the Pacific by listening, learning and respecting. If we do this, we will start to change our relationship with the region for the better.”

Marles makes many saccharine references to the Pacific: it is “a place of wonder”, its people display “intimacy and uniqueness”, it has “a humanity the world should cherish” and there are many references to 2011, when he paid a visit that provided him with some anecdotes.

But there is no evidence, no support, for his assertion that the Pacific desperately wants Australia to be its champion.

It’s more like Australia desperately wants the Pacific to desperately want Australia to be its champion.

Marles does, however, offer a vague reason why the Pacific may not have uttered those words.

“While Australia clearly has committed substantial resources to the Pacific, something is lacking: intent…. What we are left with is policy drift. Whenever an Australian government representative provides a Pacific report card …. very rarely does it explain how a specific problem is being solved.”

And, of course, the Morrison government, which has “patently failed the Pacific on the question of climate change. And Australia’s development assistance has drifted away from supporting health outcomes. While the talk is strong, the walk is weak”.

Strong political rhetoric perhaps, but it takes us no closer to being a champion desperately required.

And, if Labor should best the Coalition in the national election due by next May, what is the Marles Plan for the Pacific.

Well, it looks something like this. “Providing access to our economy, and to our government’s service delivery, for example, offer much bigger opportunities for positive change than a simple focus on aid. But unlocking all forms of engagement in the Pacific requires one critical key: Australia must have a credible position around action on climate change.”


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Philip Fitzpatrick

On behalf of ordinary people in Australia I would like to extend a sincere apology to the nations and people of the South Pacific for the misguided, inadequate, cowardly and reckless actions of our federal government in failing to take the dire consequences of climate change seriously.

I would also like to make it clear why they are being so callous and stupid.

To this end I would like to quote the 32nd president of the United States of America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 1938 in a message to Congress he warned that: “The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself.

“That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

This is precisely why our federal governments, both past and present, have not acted on climate change, despite all the warnings they have been given by knowledgeable scientists over many decades.

Our federal government, along with other leaders in the developed world, have allowed themselves to be taken over by vested interests, particularly from the fossil fuel industries.

These industries extract coal, gas and petroleum from the land to burn in factories producing electricity, chemicals, computers, pharmaceuticals, cars, trucks, trains, ships, aeroplanes, machinery, weapons, fertilizers, pesticides, and countless other “consumer” products for the ultimate purpose of profit.

In their pursuit of greed they have largely forged the kind of world in which we all now live. They employ millions of people to support and propagate these dependent industries, including within the media, academia and in government.

They are the fascists that Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned about and which governments like our own find too difficult to challenge, regulate or abolish.

In this cut throat, dog-eat-dog, world there is considerable collateral damage and I’m afraid that the future of many Pacific nations fit into this category.

Despite all the sympathetic rhetoric emanating for our federal leaders, including those in opposition like Richard Marles, it is all hollow.

For your own sakes, whatever they say and however they dress it up in flattering and fancy words, don’t believe them.

This is a crucial point to understand. When they think they are being unobserved some of these politicians, like our current Minister of Defence, Peter Dutton, actually make jokes about what will happen to you and your nations as climate change rapidly hastens.

This is why I am offering this apology on behalf of the Australian people and not its leaders and politicians.

A majority of the Australian people are as equally appalled by the attitude of our federal government and find their acquiescence to the interests of the corporate fascists who control them deeply embarrassing and distressing.

If it is any consolation I would offer the morbid fact that it is not only your beautiful part of the world that these moronic individuals are in the process of irretrievably damaging but our very own majestic land so beloved of its original inhabitants.

Lindsay F Bond

A capability most probably existed, of which in my youth I heard said an “urban legend has it that when American troops were stationed in Townsville during World War II, they offered to demolish the hill and construct a causeway to Magnetic Island.” Quote is from a page, currently off-line, see

The ‘hill’, still in majestic elevation, is named Castle Hill with a rock face that has stood as a substrate of art and (undergraduate?) youthful endeavour, and most likely will endure above (forecaste) rise of the Pacific Ocean. Speed climbing at Olympic level is not yet a practice at Castle Hill, but my grand daughter is into indoor rock climbing.

My first summer in Townsville saw flooding of nearby Ross River, in 1948, mainly because so much of the city is on an alluvial plain. For over a decade my father cycled to work via either a tidal short cut or longer route. Professional leaders of my industry in 1964 alerted us to the prospect of three metre high water inundation from possible cyclones impacting at Townsville. Currently I am on an island of Queensland, at ten metres elevation above tide, and I am blessed with having visited so many islands of Queensland, Magnetic having been my first and which is as attractive as its name might notionally indulge.

For contrast, I can let it be known my earliest years and later visits have been of Melbourne (Go Pies). In trawling for forebears’ connections, Geelong is one location along with a half dozen gold mining locations with names beginning with the letter B.

Folk somewhat distant from me in lineage and experience have held strong ties with a renown educational establishment near Corio Bay. Bellarine Times reports that of a projected “0.8m sea level rise by 2100”, “1,725 properties around the City’s coast would be affected, including 1,241 residential properties”. For “Land Subject to Inundation Overlay around the Bellarine Peninsula and Corio Bay”, see:

When a lad name Marles was schooled near Corio Bay, perhaps not too much was in the curriculum about actual effect of sea level metrics, even if more than I was provided at Townsville State High School at its then city campus. That educational establishment has since relocated downhill to the plain.

For Queensland the Government information includes “Sea level is projected to rise by 0.8m above present day levels by 2100.” See:

To ward off encroaching tides, a solution exists in provision of ‘sea walls’. Yet changing intensity in weather events and limits to human capacity of endurance of heat and humidity, brings awareness of complexity measurably more than a vertical metric.

As can be seen today of ‘walls’ at Torres Strait islands sea frontages, “a causeway to Magnetic Island” in 1942 likely would have amounted to a recurring fiscal insufficiency.

This is of the territorial imperative of terrains and tides within Australia, at Pacific edge. Will the saying become “Queensland, beautiful one day, [perplex] the next?

Victorian right faction Ms O'Neil said Mr Marles " a very good human being, smart". See:

But along with “deep engagement”, is the territorial aspect of Pacific islands a higher bar than a ‘causeway’ for risk and Rick?

Chris Overland

In reference to Phil's comment, Mr Marles is a graduate of Geelong Grammar and the University of Melbourne. While qualified as a lawyer, he spent the bulk of his pre Parliamentary career as a union official in the Transport Workers Union and the ACTU.

He is an exemplar of the educated, aspirational, upper middle class in Australia. Also, his career trajectory almost exactly reflects the typical pathway to becoming an ALP member of Parliament.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this except that he is not necessarily well connected to the 'working class' people who once constituted the solid base of the ALP.

His notions of what life is like for such people will have probably been formed through relatively brief contacts over the years rather than through having been an intrinsic part of that class.

I expect that Mr Marles is an intelligent, articulate and empathetic person, presumably with progressive social views, which is no bad thing in a member of Parliament.

However, his lived experience of the neo-liberal capitalist society in which he grew up is almost entirely removed from that of a person who grew up in Western Sydney or outer suburban Melbourne, let alone rural or regional Australia.

He is thus poorly equipped to understand, at a visceral level, the lived experience of those who John Howard and now Scott Morrison delight in calling 'ordinary Australians'.

As for his insights into the lived experience of the people of the Pacific he is, like virtually all modern Australians, almost entirely bereft of knowledge.

As a consequence, it is little wonder that he is obliged to resort to platitudes when discussing what Australia's policy responses should be to our 'Pacific family'.

Also, because the conservative side of politics delights in attacking any even faintly progressive let alone radical policy idea emanating from the ALP, he cannot even tentatively canvas ideas such as extending the working visa scheme to encompass many more Pacific islander people.

The ALP has elected to be a 'small target' in the forthcoming election. Thus any idea that is imaginative or confronting to Australia's most privileged classes, such as desperately overdue tax and labour market reforms, must not be discussed.

Sadly, the one party that has ever really introduced any meaningful reform to Australian society has assumed a political foetal position, eschewing the promotion of new ideas and thinking in favour of becoming just the 'neo-liberal lite' party whom all but reactionaries can safely vote for, secure in the knowledge that nothing much will change.

The same philosophy applies to relations with our 'Pacific family'. Noble sentiments are expressed, firm handshakes are offered but nothing actually changes.

Alas, this is what we have become: a self satisfied, complacent but existentially fearful mob living in splendid isolation on our huge island, always reliant upon our 'Great and Powerful Friend' across the Pacific to protect us.

The likelihood of us extending a version of 'Pax Australis' across the Pacific is nil.

Paul Oates

Lumping 'The Pacific' into one ethnic basket' surely illustrates Marles' lack of understanding of our near neighbours.

That is such a surprise, given his lack of any deep engagement when he was responsible for the region. Perhaps his staff helped write his book?

If 'The Pacific' wants anything from Australia, it isn't prescriptive leadership.

The varied people across many nations need understanding and fellowship rather than dominance.

This concept is not one readily understood in the hallowed halls of Canberra, given it doesn't fit into a career bolstering framework, most diplomats favour.

Perhaps the only aspect that Mr Marles highlights is the deficit in the current government's own inability to understand our neighbours and convey that understanding to the Australian populace.

New Zealand always seems to be one step ahead in that diplomatic two step. No doubt it's the Maori and Cook Islands input?

Philip Fitzpatrick

How this very mediocre politician got to be deputy leader of the Labor opposition is amazing when there are so many other talented people available, notably women. Ah, I forgot, factions, it's not how good you are but which faction you represent.

If we want to engage with the Pacific we need to open up our borders. Simple as that.

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