Australia to take South Pacific leaders to UK royal funeral

Sep 13, 2022, 11:42 AM | Updated: Sep 14, 2022, 12:41 am

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, second left, interacts with members of the public as he...

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, second left, interacts with members of the public as he walks in central Sydney after a press briefing, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. Albanese announced a square in honor of the late queen and that he will be taking to London the leaders of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu with him along with 10 ordinary people from each country to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tuvalu have accepted Australia’s help to fly representatives to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral and other British Commonwealth island leaders could take up the offer, Australia’s prime minister said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said all 10 former British colonies in the Pacific region had been offered help.

One of those, New Zealand, sent a delegation to London on Wednesday headed by Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern and including Maori King Kiingi Tuheitia without Australian help.

Albanese has said he did not want leaders from remote island nations in the Australian region to miss out on the London state funeral on Monday because of logistical problems.

“We offered passage to senior representatives from all 10 Pacific countries which are Commonwealth members,” Albanese told reporters. “Final lists are being settled. To date, four countries have accepted.”

Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Vanuatu could yet take up Australia’s offer.

Albanese plans to leave Australia on Thursday with an eclectic delegation including racehorse trainer Chris Waller and wheelchair tennis star Dylan Alcott. They are among 10 “everyday citizens” who have contributed to local communities that Buckingham Palace had invited.

A controversial inclusion in the delegation is Australia’s most decorated living veteran and alleged Afghan war criminal Ben Roberts-Smith.

The former Special Air Service Regiment corporal is suing three newspapers in the Federal Court for defamation over articles he alleges depicted him as a criminal who broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement in Afghanistan.

Asked whether Roberts-Smith attending the funeral was appropriate when the court’s verdict was still months away, Albanese replied that the Palace had invited all winners of the Victoria Cross, the highest military honor in the Commonwealth.

“These are decisions that were made objectively. The Palace has invited all Victoria Cross recipients and that’s the basis of the invitation,” Albanese said.

The Solomons’ acceptance of an Australian lift to London comes after months of strain in bilateral relations.

But Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare will not be attending the funeral. His government will be represented by Governor-General David Vunagi, the British monarch’s representative in the country, The Australian Financial Review newspaper reported.

Sogavare’s office did not immediately respond to The Associated Press’ request for comment.

Sogavare in May accused the previous Australian government of threatening invasion after he signed a security pact with China that has raised fears of a Chinese naval base being established in the South Pacific.

Last week, Sogavare accused Albanese’s government of interfering in Solomons’ politics by offering to pay for elections that were due next year. Sogavare had argued that his government couldn’t afford to hold an election next year and persuaded Parliament to amend the constitution to postpone the poll until 2024, a move that opponents condemned as a power grab.

Albanese’s center-left Labor Party government wants an Australian president to replace the British monarch as head of state. But most advocates for and against a republic are avoiding saying anything that might be seen as seeking advantage from the death of a widely respected monarch.

A survey on Monday by Melbourne-based market researcher Roy Morgan found that 60% of respondents said Australia should remain a monarchy rather than become a republic with an elected president.

The Australia-wide SMS survey polled a cross-section of 1,012 people and has a 3 percentage point margin of error.

Roy Morgan manager Julian McCrann said political turmoil in the United States played a part in turning poll respondents off the idea of an Australian president.

“They don’t want to go to a republic because they don’t want to end up like America. They don’t trust the politicians and ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ — that sort of attitude is very strong,” McCrann said.

Roy Morgan surveys found consistent majority support for a republic from 1994 until 2008, despite a 1999 referendum rejecting a proposed Australian head of state.

The Australian Republic Movement, an organization that campaigns for a republic and is unaffiliated with any political party, has put the survey result down to a wave of public grief and the current media focus on the royal family.

Tributes to the late queen included an announcement that a public space being developed in downtown Sydney will be named Queen Elizabeth II Place.

The main opposition party in Queensland state, named after Queen Victoria who died in 1901, has started a petition to have a multi-billion dollar rail bridge project in the capital Brisbane renamed the Elizabeth Line after the late monarch.

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Australia to take South Pacific leaders to UK royal funeral