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.