President Anote Tong has questioned the moral values of Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and his colleague Prime Minister Tony Abbott over the joke made by Dutton about Pacific Island countries and their struggle with the rising sea levels.
Tong criticized the two Australian politicians over their insensitive joke about Pacific Islanders having no sense of time because “water is lapping at their door”. The remark made by Dutton was enjoyed by Abbott recklessly laughing unaware that a camera with a boom microphone was rolling above their heads.
“It shows a sense of moral irresponsibility quite unbecoming of leadership in any capacity,” President Tong said in an interview with ABC just minutes after touching down in Fiji, on his way back home from Papua New Guinea.
More saddened than outraged, Tong added “this is the issue we were talking about yesterday,” referring to the recently concluded talks in Port Moresby where climate change was effectively watered down by Australia (and New Zealand).
“I find that extremely sad, extremely disappointing that we are making jokes about a very serious issue,” he said.
The video of Minister Dutton making the joke with Prime Minister Abbott laughing along had gone viral over the web and has created an outrage by many including several Pacific Island leaders.
Marshall Island’s Foreign Minister, Tony de Brum voiced his dismay over Twitter about the Australian Ministers joking about sea level rise in the Pacific: “Next time waves are battering my home and my grandkids are scared, I’ll ask Peter Dutton to come over, and we’ll see if he is still laughing.”
Also on Twitter, the Governor of Papua New Guinea province of Oro expressed his disappointment at Prime Minister Abbott laughing along to the joke: “ABBOTT MUST APOLOGIZE FOR INSENSITIVITY TOWARDS ALL FOR LAUGHING AT CLIMATE CHANGE. Remove him next elections Australia, you deserve better.”
Meanwhile, climate group 350.org had written a letter to Prime Minister Abbott expressing their disappointment to the way Australia is treating an issue which concerns the life of Pacific islanders. They also demanded that Immigration Minister Dutton step down from office after the disgraceful joke he made on Friday morning.
Pacific Island Countries mainly the Small Island Developing States such as Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu have been struggling for more than a decade to cope with the impacts of sea-level rise caused by climate change. The impacts include inundation of villages, sea-water intrusion to their source of drinking water and the inability to grow food crops to name but a few.