In the latest episode of COVIDcast, Jonathan Pryke, Director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific islands Program, sat down with Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, to discuss how Covid-19 is affecting health, economics, local communities, climate change, regionalism and geopolitics in the Pacific region.
Dame Meg acknowledged the growing geopolitical tension in the Pacific region but said these dynamics are nothing new to a region that has been dealing with foreign influence for centuries. She made the point Pacific agency should not be underestimated.
The Secretary General praised the “tremendous” response by most Pacific governments to lock down quickly, which has left many Pacific countries Covid-19 free. But this response has come at a “devastating” cost to Pacific economies.
It’s not just the people (working in tourism), the hotels et cetera. It’s about any other business that has an influence to make sure that food is on the table. It’s agriculture, the taxi drivers, the retailers. All this is impacted.
She also discussed the role of traditional welfare systems in filing gaps in social welfare structures and underpinning Pacific resilience, and how these systems are reacting and being tested.
The discussion also covered the need to sharpen the focus on the real crisis that threatens the region – climate change.
Dame Meg endorsed the prospect of a “travel bubble” between Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, while noting it would need to be carefully established to protect vulnerable Pacific communities from coronavirus, and that Pacific leaders should be included in discussions around its establishment.
The discussion also covered the shortcomings of public health institutions, as well as the need to sharpen the focus on the real crisis that threatens the region – climate change.
COVIDcast is a weekly pop-up podcast hosted by Lowy Institute experts to discuss the implications of Covid-19 for Australia, the Asia-Pacific region, and the world. Previous episodes are available on the Lowy Institute website. You can also subscribe to COVIDcast on Apple Podcasts, listen on SoundCloud, Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.