Some Pacific leaders have said Australia’s credibility and place at the Pacific Islands Forum table hinges how it responds.
Their challenge to Australia is to heed Pacific concerns and match ambitious targets proposed for the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December.
“Theirs is a matter of survival and we all have a collective obligation to act on their behalf,” Papua New Guinea’s prime minister Peter O’Neill told the opening ceremony.
Mr Abbott arrived in PNG tonight.
He has already missed several days of preliminary talks. His representative amongst the 14 presidents and prime ministers at the official opening of the Forum was parliamentary secretary Christian Potter.
While the Pacific leaders stand together on the need for action on climate change, one leader has warned Australia should leave the Forum if it does not back its neighbours.
“I think it would be incumbent on them because how relevant would their prescence be,” said Kiribati’s president Anote Tong.
“We expect them as our bigger brothers, not our badder brothers, to support us on this one.”
Forum hosts have talk down speculation of a looming showdown when Mr Abbott finally arrives.
“I think he’ll be welcome. We’re very pleased to have an Australian prime minister here with us,” said Forum secretary-general Dame Meg Taylor.
Fiji’s prime minister Voreqe Bainimara is boycotting the Forum because of Australia’s involvement and has instead sent his foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.
“I regret that I am unable to attend myself because of the refusal of Australia and New Zealand to step back and allow the Pacific Island nations to determine their own futures free from outside interference,” said Mr Bainimarama in a statement.
“We have significant differences with Australia over its policies on climate change in particular that are clearly not in the interests of the Pacific Small Island Developing States.”
Tomorrow Abbott will play football with locals and pose for the obligatory funny shirts photo, before a full day of meetings.
Pacific leaders hope Australia’s domestic interests don’t overshadow the climate change focus of Forum leaders’ talks.
Relations between Australia and its biggest foreign aid recipient PNG have been strained by the Manus Island detention centre, resettlement of refugees and return of expat workers accuse of raping a local woman.
“They must face up to the allegations and see if they can be tried under the normal rule of law in Papua New Guinea and that’s what we’ll ask,” said Mr O’Neill.