Hawke summed it up in this one unfortunate sentence: “If New Zealand is thinking ahead and well into the future, that’s a matter for them.”
Hawke uttered those words either not caring or not knowing quite how awful they sound as a general proposition in defence of his own government, and he ploughed on regardless.
It came in response to the question from audience member Peni Hausia Havea: “We in the Pacific are facing the prospect of forced evacuation of villages and homes and even becoming refugees. New Zealand already has a plan for this. My question is to Australia – how is the Australian government planning to help the people of the Pacific in this situation?”
New Zealand, you see, has announced plans for a special humanitarian visa to help people displaced by climate change, which on current projections is going to upend our own backyard first.
Tuvalu, for instance, might disappear altogether this century.
What to do about the ensuing crisis of displaced people?
Alex Hawke: “Obviously in the future that would be a matter for future Australian governments to look at … there will have to be a genuine regional solution put together involving all countries. I’d anticipate Australia would be part of something well into the future of that nature. But we would deal with it as it arose.”
In other words: we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Left unsaid: it will need to be a very big bridge.
Pressed, Hawke insisted on highlighting the differences between Australia and New Zealand, including the besides-the-point point that “we do a lot of work. At any one time we have about 666,000 New Zealanders in Australia at any one time”.
The relevance of that was not clear.
What was clear from this special edition of Q&A was that while Australia ponders crossing big bridges well down the track, it is busy burning bridges in the region right now.
Host Tony Jones quizzed former Tuvalu PM Enele Sopoaga about the recent Pacific forum hosted by his beleaguered country. The picture he painted of Australian commitment to the crisis was not pretty.
Jones: “You got quite angry. The Prime Minister of Tonga was in tears over the failure to get up the declaration you were trying to.”
Sopoaga: “I was hoping hosting it in Tuvalu would bring the magnitude of appreciation of the unique vulnerability of atoll nations like Tuvalu. And therefore more appreciation from leaders, particularly leaders of our big neighbouring countries, to appreciate better.”
Alas, no, he said.
“Prime Minister Pohiva shed tears after seeing the island for himself but particularly after hearing the voices of the young people of Tuvalu, saying and worrying about their future.
“And here is one prime minister – unfortunately Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia – expressing views that completely denies there is climate change happening already in the Pacific. As chairman I was taken a little bit aback.”
Jones: “Are you saying the Prime Minister expressed doubt about climate change causing problems in the Pacific, at the forum or are you talking about previous remarks?
Sopoaga: “Previous remarks as well as in the forum. There was quite strong resistance on the call by Pacific island leaders for more complete works to reduce greenhouse gases but particularly to cut down and stop opening up new coal mines in Australia. That was one of the main concerns of the leaders.
“But in the end I think we came to compromise language. If you look at the communique, to saying just transition away from fossil fuels. I thought that was the best we could in order to save the communique and have a language declaration on climate change.”
In other words, it became about Australia saving face – not Australia saving lives.
No wonder we’ve got Kiwi envy.
- Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Labor leader Anthony Albanese will be among guests on the last episode of Q&A hosted by Tony Jones and the program’s final edition of 2019 next Monday.