Tuvalu Abandoned by Australia

04 May 2003

The leader of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Prof. James Haire, today said the Australian government had to take seriously its responsibilities to rescue the tiny island nation of Tuvalu as it faced the prospect being swept into the Pacific Ocean due to climate change.

Recently returned from Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, Prof. Haire said: "Tuvalu is the world's smallest nation and it is at risk of literally being drowned by rising sea waters caused by global warming. Yet, Australia has insisted it will not make special provision for the acceptance of its residents should this happen.

"In fact through the Minister for Immigration, Mr Ruddock, Australia has said 'they will have to apply to come to Australia just like anyone else'.

"Australia can become an ark for the 11,000 Tuvaluans who desperately need to know they have a future. The best thing Australia could do is to help prevent their drowning by signing the Kyoto protocol; next we can assure them they can 'call Australia home' if the ocean does swamp their islands.

"Australia is by far the largest polluting nation in the South Pacific. We are therefore, a prime cause of this problem now being imposed on a host of small Pacific island states, and our response so far has been lacking in generosity, to put it mildly.

"The law of the sea demands that people left drowning must be rescued. The same principal must surely apply to our neighbours as their country slowly but surely sinks into the sea.

"Already one island in the Tuvalu group has disappeared off the face of the map.

"Australia has lolled around like a tourist on a li-lo in the Pacific on issues like the Kyoto protocol, and has all but ignored the pleas of the Tuvalu people whose homeland is drowning.

"It would help greatly if Australia would sign up to the Kyoto protocol, and therefore make a real contribution to secure the future existence of Tuvalu. But if the worse comes to worst we as the regional power must generously accept the people of Tuvalu into our nation."

Professor Haire has had three meetings with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Mr Saufatu Sopoanga, whilst on a tour of Pacific nations. The Uniting Church in Australia has long term historical relations with the Church of Tuvalu, (through its Congregational Church background) which makes up about 95 percent of the population.