A Review of the Year: Oceania and the Pacific in 2011

Contrary to popular belief, stuff happens in this part of the world and not just in Australia. With population change, climate change and regime change Oceania in 2011 moved just as fast as the rest of the world; so fast some of it even jumped over the international dateline.

Australia’s ‘Stop The Boats’ Campaign: Every country in the world has its problems with immigration. However, the conflict between the perceived threat the original inhabitants feel, the need of refugees escaping war or suffering and the realities of labour shortage is most keenly felt in Australia. The conservative opposition has ramped up popular pressure on Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard to end the acceptance of asylum seekers into Australia who are currently being detained on Christmas Island. Although they currently make up only 2 per cent of immigrants in Australia every year, there is a perception of these people as ‘freeloaders’ who are coming to Australia purely to live on more generous welfare provision. The anti-immigration lobby seemed to have won a major battle when an agreement was reached with Malaysia to keep asylum seekers in detention centres in Asia whilst their applications are reviewed. However a a High Court ruling in September overturned the decision as Malaysia hadn’t signed up to a crucial human rights declaration which Australia had pledged to honour in its dealings with other countries. Thus, the lobby were back to square one.

Samoa Jumps Over the Dateline: Samoa and Tokelau choose a very unconventional way of celebrating New Year’s Eve this year, they did it a day early. On 29th December they went straight to 31st and forgot all about the 30th. This is because Samoa lies along the international dateline that marks the very edge of the timezone map; an invisible line in the heart of the Pacific with Australia on one side and America on the other. Although they originally moved to be closer to America, in recent years as Australia and New Zealand became their main trading partners they have chosen to bring their business hours more in line with their neighbours. It is also a way of making travel for native Samoans living abroad, New Zealand in particular has a massive Samoan immigrant population, easier.

New Zealand Earthquake: New Zealand suffered its ‘deadliest disaster in 80 years’ this February as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck its second city, Christchurch in February killing at least 180 people. The earthquake struck at midday on a Monday when the city was at its busier, 120 people were rescued alive from the wreckage. The damage was supposed to be worse than the 7.1 earthquake that struck the same city in September 2010 that left no fatalities. Eyewitnesses said they saw people wandering around the city in shock and most of the deaths have attributed to two buses hit by falling debris. The Australian government, the UN and the European Union pledged financial support for New Zealand’s recovery and it was reported that NZ$12 billion, this was the third most costliest earthquake in human history. The tremors even caused the iconic spire of Canterbury Cathedral in Christchurch to be toppled. There was further devastation when Christchurch was struck for a third time in June by another earthquake that killed one more person.

Papua New Guinea’s Political Crisis: Papua New Guinea reached a political stalemate that not even Belgium, the land of no government, could have imagined; it was torn between two. Sir Michael Somare, who had run the country as Prime Minister since its independence from Australia in 1975, left the country to seek medical treatment in Singapore in August and Parliament sworn in Peter O’Neill as Prime Minister in his place. The Supreme Court then voted by three to two that O’Neil’s appointment was not legitimate but Parliament ignored this and continued to recognise O’Neil as Prime Minister despite Somare having not stood down. This has led to a bizarre political impasse where the country has two Prime Ministers, two police chiefs and two governor generals. There have been no reports of violence between rival groups yet but state police are out in force to warn against any protest groups taking to the streets. So far, the police force and the army insist they will remain neutral but tensions could spill over if they are forced to pick sides. If this were to happen, essential services would shut down over insecurity fears. On 15 December, 500 supporters of O’Neill and more than 150,000 union workers gave the rival leaders 48 hours to negotiate, threatening to shut down public services. rallied outside parliament.UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon has called for political reconciliation and for the leaders to ‘to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid an escalation of the situation’. Papua New Guinea is no stranger to bloodshed, in 2002 a disputed election was one of the bloodiest in recent memory.

Tuvalu Drought: The small island chain in the South Pacific, Tuvalu is suffering a severe drought after months of low rainfall. Although Tuvalu is a tiny group of eight islands that is not home to more than 10,000 people, it has failed to see substantial rainfall since November 2010 and is suffering the adverse effects of the La Nina weather pattern that sees a year of enhanced rainfall than a year of drought.The government has issued a state of emergency and said it is unlikely to see rainfall until January. There have also been concerns raised over whether this is to do with man-made climate change, the science of climate is mandatory in all primary school syllabus on the island. Tuvalu is only five feet above sea level and the rise in sea water is threatening their fresh water lagoons. Saufatu Sapo’aga, a former Tuvaluan prime minister, called climate change ‘no different to a slow and insidious form of terrorism’ against Tuvalu.

Fake Bomb Attack in Sydney: Finally, a teenage girl in a wealthy suburb of Sydney was given the fright of her life this August as a Balaclava wearing strangers burst into her home and strapped what she thought was a bomb to her. 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver was studying for her exams at home when the stranger burst in and was forced to hold the bomb to prevent it detonating for 10 hours before police determined it was a fake. The daughter of a wealthy businessman,reportedly one of the wealthiest in Sydney was said to have ‘interacted’ with the hoaxer and a 50-year-old man, Paul “Doug” Peters was later arrested in Kentucky over an alleged extortion attempt.

A Review of the Year: United States and Canada in 2011

United States and Canada
Much like Europe in 2011 there seemed to be a non-stop conveyor belt of news in North America this year as political forces of all shapes and sizes in both countries went head to head over the hearts and minds of their people. The Tea Party gathered momentum in America as the Republican primaries for their 2012 presidential candidate kicked off, the debate about gun crime reached a tragic new low and much like the rest of Europe, America’s economy was again almost brought to its knees by bickering politicians.

Tucson, Arizona: Way back at the start of 2011, on 8th January when Southern Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot along with 18 others by a lone gunman outside a supermarket where she was meeting her constituents. Despite being shot in the head, Giffords survived the attack and after five months recuperation has made a limited return to the public eye however six others died including a nine-year old girl. The gunman, Jared Lee Loughner is said to have had ‘increasingly erratic’ behaviour over the few months leading up to the attack and had previously expressed misogynistic views about women in power and was apparently unsatisfied by her response to his attempts to contact her in 2007. However, in the days, weeks and months that followed the focus was once again to shifted to gun totting madwoman in chief, Sarah Palin as Giffords had already criticised her for having a map with gun crosses over her office and the offices of other Democrats prompting another debate about gun control.

Republican Party Primaries: The race for the Republican presidential nomination got into full swing this year with all candidates doing their level best to one up each other during the live debates before each being picked of by increasingly lurid scandals. First, was Michelle Bachmann, the Tea Party’s favourite when Palin isn’t available, who was ousted from the debate when tapes emerged of her husband operating a clinic offering ‘cures’ for homosexuality. She is still limping behind frontrunner Mitt Romney who it is said will ‘crush’ competition at the New Hampshire primary. Then there was Hermain Cain, a peculiar figure who was riding surprisingly high despite being a relative unknown, who was accused of sexually assaulting two women whilst head of the National Restaurant Association and mounted an even more peculiar defence. The race continues with a still rather eccentric cast of characters.

Canada Leaves The Kyoto Protocol: Canada is often seen as America’s calmer, saner and more rational cousin. Living on top it is seen as the hand on the shoulder of America that is sometimes needed to go ‘dude, just chill’. However all this changed in December when Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol during the climate change conference in Durban after they said the updated agreement would no longer be in Canada’s interests. Although Canada signed up to the agreement in 1997 under a liberal government, it has done little since then to act on it and after the Conservative government has come to power they seem reluctant to do anything at all. Canadian environment minister, Peter Kent, ‘The Kyoto protocol does not cover the world’s largest two emitters, the United States and China, and therefore cannot work. It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment.’ Canada is highly at risk from climate change due to deforestation and the polar ice caps melting and the North of the country’s wildlife is under threat by the ongoing exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands. This is one of several measures the Conservative government, which won its first majority in 2011 after running as a minority government since 2006, have enacted this year which has led to one Guardian commentator asking if Canada was being run by the Daily Mail including the abolition of the gun registry and banning full face veils.

DSK: The case of the hotel maid that accused former IMF leader, Dominique Strauss Kahn of attempted rape in New York this summer soon showed the ongoing gulf between the ‘accuser’ and the ‘accused’ when it comes to the rich and powerful. Nafissatou Diallo’s suit against Mr Kahn, who has been accused previously inappropriate behaviour with his female staff, was dropped due to a ‘lack of credibility’. The forensic evidence aside, this was yet another example of the accuser being forced to prove their innocence rather than prove the accused’s guilt. As she had lied on her visa application about being raped she was assumed to be attempting to extort money from Kahn and denied her day in court. Therefore DSK may not have been proven guilty but he hasn’t been proven innocent either.

Casey Murder Trial: What Time magazine called the ‘social media trial’ of the century was oddly forgotten by the British media this summer as it was embroiled in crucifying the likes of Rupert Murdoch and hundreds of young rioters in its court of public opinion to notice arguably the most hated woman in America stand trial for the alleged murder of her two-year old child. And be found not guilty. Casey Anthony was accused of murdering her two-year old child, Caylee in 2008 after the child’s body was found taped up and decaying near her grandparents’ house six months after going missing. It was later revealed that Casey’s mother, Cindy reported the child missing four days after she disappeared whilst Casey was spotted out partying with friends. She has been described by her own defence lawyers as an exceptional liar and it was almost certain that she had some involvement in the child’s death. She first tried to accuse her nanny of stealing the child, then claimed that the child had drowned in the grandparents’ pool and she had been sexually molested by her own father since the age of eight. Because of her callous reaction and her status as a single mother the case went from a local child death story to a nationwide tabloid sensation the trial of a so-called monster. The prosecution accused Anthony, of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter and sought the death penalty. However she was eventually found not guilty and instead convicted of misdemeanours such as lying to police officers. With credit for time already served, she was released the following week.

The Debt Ceiling Fiasco: There is a lot of two and froing and ‘will they, won’t they’ in American politics but this year it almost brought America, and arguably the world, to its knees as another fiscal crisis lead to a seemingly endless debate between Democrats and Republicans to raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans weren’t willing to back down easily and Obama was not going to give into their demands to end some of the welfare spending so it looked for a while like America was about to default on its loans. At the eleventh hour an agreement was reached on 31st July and was ratified by Congress on 1st August, dramatically Gabrielle Giffords’, in her first return to Congress since the assassination attempt, signature on the bill was one of the few that tipped it in the majority and allowed to be passed on 2nd August.

Apple Loses Its Core: The tech industry suffered a massive blow this year as Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, died of pancreatic cancer aged 56 in October. He was primarily known for overseeing Apple’s explosion in popularity over the past fifteen years and the creation of Ipod, Iphone and Ipad ranges which have revolutionised modern technology. He had stepped down as CEO in August 2011 prompting questions over whether the Apple brand could survive without its leader and the share price did drop on news of his death but has since recovered.