Restaurant row revives debate on Pacific nations' demands

October 17, 2018

The Conservative Party's assertion that less developed nations are constantly putting their hand out for money from Western nations has been brought to the forefront of federal politics this afternoon as federal politicians debate remarks attributed to Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price.

The Age reports Minister Price has been accused of offending a key Pacific leader by declaring the region was "always” seeking cash from Australia, sparking a political dispute over her remarks at a Canberra restaurant on Tuesday night.

Ms Price is said to have told former Kiribati president Anote Tong (pictured), a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, that she had her “chequebook” ready to deal with his demands for cash.

The minister’s office has declared the account to be "completely untrue" but the contested exchange has triggered a war of words over the treatment of an Australian ally in the Pacific.

Mr Tong, who led Kiribati from 2003 to 2016, was dining with Labor senator Pat Dodson and others at La Rustica restaurant in the Canberra suburb of Kingston and was introduced to Ms Price, who was dining with staff close by.

Reports claim that Ms Price asked Mr Tong why he was in Canberra and was told by Senator Dodson that the former Kiribati leader was in Australia to talk about climate change and was hoping to have a meeting with her.

"Is it about the cash?" Ms Price allegedly replied, according to the witness, "It’s always about the cash. I’ve got my chequebook over there. How much do you want?"

A spokesman for Ms Price denied this account and said the minister told Mr Anote that Australia cared very deeply about the Pacific, before suggesting they set up a meeting at some point.

Those at the dinner with Mr Tong included human rights advocate and Edmund Rice Centre director Phil Glendenning, and Oxfam climate change expert Simon Bradshaw.

Fairfax Media was told that Mr Anote responded to Ms Price by saying it was "nice to meet you" but he later described the exchange as unfortunate.

Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi has told Paul Murray Live on Sky News the evidence keeps growing in support of the case for Australia to pull out of the UN Paris Climate pact, especially in light of demands made by least developed countries and the latest IPCC report on global warming. 

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