Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Biman Prasad, a key coalition partner for Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, addressed the audience in Canberra, urging Australia to ease visa requirements for Pacific Islanders.
He stressed the urgent need to address climate and development challenges, warning that the region’s stability could be jeopardized without swift action, VisaGuide.World reports.
Despite recent efforts by the federal government to strengthen ties with the Pacific, including initiatives such as the Pacific Engagement Visa and a landmark agreement with Tuvalu, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese remains steadfast in rejecting proposals for visa-free travel to Australia.
In this regard, last month, Australian authorities launched a novel visa initiative, offering residency to citizens of Tuvalu displaced by climate change. Under this new program, up to 280 Tuvaluans annually will be granted the opportunity to relocate to Australia, enabling them to live, work, and pursue education there.
In addition to facilitating migration, financial resources will be earmarked for land reclamation in Tuvalu, focusing on expanding the capital, Funafuti, by almost six percent.
Given Tuvalu’s vulnerability to rising sea levels and the impacts of climate change, this move aligns with ongoing efforts by Tuvaluan leaders to protect the territory. At the same time, Tuvalu introduced a plan last year to become the first power to digitize within the metaverse fully.
As local media reports addressing the Australasian International Aid and Development Conference at the Australian National University (ANU), Professor Prasad asserted that Australia’s Pacific Labor Mobility Schemes and the Pacific Engagement Visa, while helpful, are merely workarounds temporary.
He also added that Australia will gain economic benefits and strengthen its role as a key security partner in the Pacific by embracing visa-free travel.
Despite the significant aid Australia has directed to Pacific Island nations, with nearly $2 billion committed to Papua New Guinea since 2020 and a recent commitment of $68 million to Fiji, Professor Prasad noted that direct budget support currently accounts for only about ten percent of Australia’s total aid, emphasizing the need for further progress in this direction.
On our current pathway, where many Island states risk being unable to secure progress against the sustainable development goals (SDG), national and regional instability can no longer be ruled out.
Furthermore, he painted a bleak picture of the Pacific’s economic trajectory, citing a recent United Nations report highlighting the region’s failure to meet key development indicators despite its “boundless potential”paci