Australia should follow New Zealand’s lead and offer Pacific Island Nations an economic safety net against catastrophic climate change.
This is the claim made by former Garnaut Review economist, AusAID Chief Economist and World Bank Lead Economist, Professor Stephen Howes from the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University.
UnitingWorld Associate Director Church Solidarity (Pacific) Mr Bruce Mullan said Professor Howes’ suggestion was a radical alternative to current options being made available for the low-lying nations under greatest threat, but is worth serious consideration.
“It would cost us little,” said Professor Howes who talked about relaxing immigration from Pacific nations in response to questions from UnitingWorld supporters concerned about the impact of climate change on Australia’s island neighbours.
While Professor Howes does not deny that countries like Kiribati and Tuvalu are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, he believes there are a range of factors to be taken into account, including their economic strength as nations.
“Often these countries are already not viable. They are simply too small and isolated, and would collapse without foreign aid.
“Greater migration opportunities would provide an opportunity to diversify and stabilise these economies. Like a lot of good policies, it’s one that should be adopted even if climate change wasn’t happening.”
Professor Howes referred to studies which have shown that the small economies which do best are those which are the most closely integrated with larger economies.
“It’s one of the reasons why Polynesia (such as Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands) does better economically than Melanesia (such as Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, PNG) or the micro states (such as Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru).
“New Zealand already has schemes which give a special migration quota to some of the Pacific Island states,” Professor Howes said. “Australia should adopt a similar scheme.”
The Uniting Church in Australia, who has the largest network of Pacific partners of any Australian Church, is currently working with partners in the Pacific to facilitate a range of exchange opportunities. From Tuvalu and Kiribati leaders in health, chaplaincy and IT will visit Australia through 2010 and 2011.
The exchange program increases their leadership capacity, passes on vital skills for living and working beyond their shores, and strengthens the relationship between their church and the Uniting Church in Australia.
“We recognise the difficulty our partners will face in the next few decades. By strengthening bonds with our friends in the Pacific, we are ensuring a supportive network will already exist when it comes to the crunch,” Mr Mullan said.
“Professor Howes’ radical suggestion seeks to helpfully support our Pacific neighbours, and it is worth serious consideration.”