In Episode 11 of COVIDcastJonathan Pryke, Director of the Pacific Islands Program, sat down with Dave Sharma, Liberal member for Wentworth’s federal seat, to discuss tighter relations between Australia and the Pacific, and the potential “bubble” of Australia-Pacific travel. Sharma has a special interest in the Pacific region, having served as a diplomat in Papua New Guinea, and is co-organizer of the newly formed Friends of the Pacific Parliament.
Sharma began by outlining his proposal that the “trans-Tasman bubble” – opening trade, trade and tourism relations between Australia and New Zealand – was extended to the Pacific countries. Sharma said Covid-19 was well controlled in the region with a low number of cases, and he focused on the fact that tourism and trade with Australia and New Zealand were “economic lifelines” for the Pacific neighbors. He noted the number of casualties caused by the virus on the region’s economy, citing Fiji as an example:
About 40% of GDP comes from tourism and basically it became zero through this crisis. In Australia we see economic contraction somewhere in the high single number, but Fiji sees a range of 20-30%.
Regarding the question of the global impact of the virus, Sharma said, “It is far more feasible to see normal trade, trade and tourism relations of this kind rebuilding themselves between Australia and New Zealand and the Pacific compared to other parts of the world”, although he warned that the bubble Pacific trips will not exist before the end of 2020. He also noted that relaxed travel restrictions will occur sequentially: “First domestic trips, Australia and New Zealand subsequent trips, and then more broadly to the Pacific.”
Pryke raised the debate about Australia’s migration program and how the proposed changes could affect Pacific countries. Sharma highlighted the importance of the Pacific Labor Mobility Scheme, describing it as a “win-win” for the countries involved, in sharing skills, facilitating remittances, and overcoming the shortage of workers in certain sectors.
Pryke and Sharma also discussed what might happen next for the Bougainville Autonomous Region in Papua New Guinea, what else Australia should and must do to respond to Covid-19 in the Pacific, and how Australia’s relations with the region could be further strengthened.
COVIDcast is a weekly pop-up podcast organized by Lowy Institute experts to discuss the implications of Covid-19 for Australia, the Asia-Pacific region and the world. Previous episodes are available at the Lowy Institute website. You can also subscribe COVIDcast in Apple Podcast, Listen up SoundCloud, Spotify, Google podcast, or wherever you get the podcast.
to request modification Contact us at Here or [email protected]