Australian Greens MP and spokesperson for overseas aid Lee Rhiannon today called on Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to cease strong-arm tactics against Pacific Islands and honour commitments to fund the Officer of the Chief Trade Advisor ('Pacific islands accuse Australia's aid agency of coercion', The Age, 29/8/11).
In 2009 as part of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER-Plus) negotiations, the Australian government promised $500,000 per year for three years to fund the establishment of the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor (OCTA). Pacific Forum Island countries (FICs) requested this funding as a condition of entering negotiations with Australia and NZ but the Australian government are now stalling.
“Rather than being a good neighbour in the Pacific, it appears the Australian government are using strong arm tactics to backtrack on commitments to fund the OCTA and impose conditions to undermine OCTA’s independence”, said Senator Rhiannon.
“Leaked documents show that Australia is attempting to limit the scope of OCTA to PACER-Plus negotiations only and require that OCTA undergo quarterly reviews where funding could be terminated.
“The OCTA is important to level the playing field and give our Pacific Island neighbours a fair go in negotiating with the Australian government.
“Last month the NZ government came through with funding and entered a 2 year arrangement for NZ$1.3 million for OCTA that meets the concerns of Pacific Island countries.
“It is disappointing that the Australian government prefers to horse-trading to push its own interests and water down OCTA’s mandate, while the New Zealand government have been able to come to the table.
“The Greens call on Minister Rudd to step up to our responsibilities to be a good neighbour and not wriggle out of Australia’s commitment to fund an independent trade body in the Pacific”, said Senator Rhiannon.