On the eve of opening ceremony of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Greens Senator and spokesperson for overseas aid Lee Rhiannon called on the Australian government to heed the calls of Pacific Island countries to honour commitments to fund the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor (OCTA) without strings attached.
At the Pacific Islands Forum in 2009, Pacific Island countries made funding for OCTA a condition of them entering negotiations with Australia in the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER-Plus).
“It would be an important sign of good will for the Australian government to end months of backtracking and come to the Pacific Island Forum with a funding agreement in hand for the OCTA that respects the concerns of Pacific Island governments,” Senator Rhiannon said.
“In 2009, the Australian government promised to fund the OCTA to the tune of $500,000 per year for three years but they are now stalling and pushing to limit the scope of OCTA.
“This issue is becoming an ongoing embarrassment for the Australian government.
“The New Zealand government have been able to offer a funding agreement that respects the concerns of Pacific Island governments.
“Now it is the Australian government’s turn to put strong arm tactics aside and put forward a funding agreement that does not undermine OCTA’s independence.
“The Pacific’s Chief Trade Advisor Chris Noonan has said that the draft funding agreement put forward by Australia last week continues to place unacceptable conditions on funding for OCTA, including conditions that OCTA only provides advice for PACER Plus negotiations.
“The Australian government have overstepped the mark and the Pacific Islands Forum is a good opportunity for the Australian government to show it is a good neighbour and fund an independent trade body in the Pacific,” said Senator Rhiannon.