Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, will not be attending the Pacific Islands Forum in Palau next week.
The visit would have been Abbott’s first chance to meet Pacific leaders since the election of his coalition government in September last year to discuss many regionally important issues.
However, with the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in the Ukraine and other pressing matters Abbott has decided the trip is not possible.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss will instead lead the Australian delegation and Parliamentary Secretary Brett Mason.
The Lowy Institute’s Vanuatu-based non-resident fellow, Dr Tess Newton Cain, told Pacific Beat it is a missed opportunity for the Australian Government.
“Prime Minister Abbott is dealing with a time of great national tragedy and trauma for Australia,” she said.
“I think that is something the leaders of the region would recognise.”
Dr Cain says although Pacific leaders will most likely use the occasion to offer their support to Abbott and Australia, it’s unfortunate that two years in a row the Australian prime minister will not be present at the forum.
“This just leads … to a sense that we’re not seeing Prime Minister Abbott being able to take the opportunity to really deliver on the promise of a new, deeper and more nuanced engagement with the region, which we were given to expect while his government was in opposition and indeed since it came to power,” she said.
Dr Cain says while Australia will be represented at the forum, Pacific leaders would have been looking for personal assurances from Abbott on a number of key issues and relationships.
The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ summit – which includes representatives of 15 other countries in the region – is due to take place in Palau from 29 July 29 to 01 August
CANBERRA, (RADIO AUSTRALIA)