The Guardian • Issue #2080

Anti-colonial resistance in the Pacific

Lilisiana village, Solomon Islands. Photo: Wade Fairley / WorldFish (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Resistance to the plans of successive Australian governments to create an Australian colonial empire in the Pacific has taken many forms over time. In 2006, for example,  in Papua New Guinea it took the form of street protests and a judicial ruling. PNG’s Supreme Court found that the Enhanced Cooperation Program, under which Australian police and government officials went into PNG and Bougainville, was unconstitutional. More than 150 Australian police were stood down and sent home.

The program, which was forced on PNG after bullying by the Howard government, gave Australian police immunity from prosecution under PNG law and gave Australian officials substantial powers in the PNG public service. The Supreme Court ruled that the authority of the country’s police commissioner and public prosecutor, and the rights of citizens to seek redress, had been undermined by the immunity given to Australian personnel. The position of the Australian bureaucrats was severely downgraded.

Increasingly there is growing anger in Pacific Island nations at Australia’s neo-colonial ambitions, as servant to the big power USA.

The Solomons are a prime example.

The 2000-island archipelago is rich in undeveloped mineral resources, including lead, zinc, nickel, gold, bauxite, and phosphate, as well as a lot of timber. Wherever the Australian military goes in the Pacific it will be followed by the rapacious corporations; in the case of the Solomons, mining and timber transnationals.

Though colonial diktat by Australia in the Pacific is certainly not new (in 1994 the then Keating Labor government was demanding Pacific nations implement “public sector reform and private sector development”), the current developments reflect a changed international situation, in which the US and other imperialist powers are experiencing greater resistance to their plans.

At the time of Australia’s 2003 invasion of the Solomons, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer stated, “Outcomes are more important than blind faith in principles of non-intervention, sovereignty and multilateralism. Sovereignty in our view is not absolute.”

At the Pacific Island Forum this month, PM Anthony Albanese brushed aside calls by Pacific Island leaders for Australia to cut gas and coal exports as climate change threatens the very existence of their island homes. Albanese also opposed efforts by Pacific leaders to recognise the anti-nuclear Raratonga Treaty that declares the Pacific Nations to be nuclear-free zones.

Instead, our PM announced a deal stitched together with the government of Tuvalu to resettle some of the island’s citizens. Tuvalu is classified by the UN as being at risk of being entirely depopulated because of rising sea levels caused by climate change.

The deal allows Australia to strike down any agreements Tuvalu makes with other countries. It is a knife-at-the-throat deal – cede sovereignty or drown .

Albanese described it as a “milestone” and model for other Pacific Island nations to follow. He will wait in vain.

Former Tuvalu prime minister Enele Sopoaga put it this way: “Australia’s responsibility to Tuvalu is to recognise that its excessive greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere is sinking Tuvalu and other Pacific Island nations into the chaos of climate change.”

The occupation of Pacific island states, whether by force or in some cases through the acquiescence of compliant governments, is also part of the policing role Australia plays as US deputy sheriff in the region. The nations are intended to be used as military bases with a focus towards Asia, and in particular socialist China, which is the ultimate target of US imperialism in the region, with AUKUS now its centrepiece.

Resistance movements in the Pacific island states against bullying and colonial occupation by Australia will continue to grow.

As former Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare warned Solomon Islands parliament in 2003 when it debated whether to allow in Australian forces: “This honourable house is deliberately used as a puppet for overseas agendas. It will be nothing short of re-colonising this country.”

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