Relations with our Pacific neighbours - Take note of answers

Wednesday 14 November

It's another moment, another week and another month when we, as Australians, feel embarrassment under the leadership of Prime Minister Morrison or, indeed, whoever is in the role of leadership in this country under this coalition government. It is another moment, thanks to this government, when we all feel the cringe and the embarrassment, as Australians, of knowing about the mutterings in the Pacific, in the region, of our nearest neighbours, that will filter throughout the diplomatic channels and elsewhere—mutterings about how arrogant we are as a nation when we hear of the thought bubbles that come out of this government and out of this Prime Minister's mouth. Whether it's junking longstanding bipartisan foreign policy, such as the thought-bubble decision of moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem, or whether it's the rude words of the now environment minister, who has been termed the L-plated environment minister, it leaves Australians in a diplomatic mess. It does not serve Australia's national interests in any way whatsoever.

It's very rare that I agree with Senator Fierravanti-Wells, the former Minister for International Development and the Pacific. But, having read her opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Heraldtoday, at least there is one senator on that side that does recognise the effects of climate change on the Pacific. She raises that in her opinion piece in some detail, but then she gets to the important point that it is 'regrettable' that the good work that has been done by this government in the Pacific has been damaged by this new, L-plates environment minister in, as we know, that very unfortunate incident with former President of Kiribati Anote Tong. In answers to questions asked by Senator Kitching on this very matter, we did not receive from Senator Cormann anything detailed in relation to that—or, indeed, how it has damaged our relationship with the Pacific. That has not been the only thing, of course, that has damaged our relationship with the Pacific. The decision by the government to not even have the Prime Minister attend the Pacific Islands Forum meeting on Nauru was another embarrassing and short-sighted decision. Former President Tong said in a recent interview, about Minister Price:

Obviously she needs to learn a great deal more about the world around her … If she came to Kiribati, I would be happy to show her what we do. Maybe she could begin to understand … and be less arrogant about it.

I think it shows very clearly how arrogant we are perceived to be by the region, and rightly so, after that minister's comments on the night in question.

Now, it doesn't just stop there, but it needs to stop. Whether it's in relation to the Pacific or whether it's in relation to Indonesia, it needs to stop. We need to stop, straightaway, this undiplomatic language and these stupid decisions—these thought-bubble decisions—that have damaged our relationship with our nearest neighbours. But, instead, what do we have? We have Senator Abetz going on Sky News today and undermining even further our relationship with Indonesia. Well, we have all had enough. We have all had enough of the embarrassment and the cringing we feel when we hear these former ministers, current ministers, ministers on L-plates, new prime ministers, former prime ministers or whatever revolving-door positions those on the other side are in today—

Senator Cameron: What muppet now?

Senator SINGH: Whatever muppet is popping up now—thanks, Senator Cameron. We've had enough of it. We've certainly had enough of it. We want to ensure that our relationships with our nearest neighbours are solid, concrete partnerships. That is why our leader, Bill Shorten, made that pledge at a recent speech outlining what Labor would do in government with our relationships in the Pacific—how it would be a partnership and not paternalism, and that we know, with the rising sea levels, we need to take action to support our neighbours now.