6 Jan 2006

Rising sea levels could put region at risk - Australian party

10:24 am on 6 January 2006

The Labour party in Australia is warning the Howard government that Pacific refugees forced from their homes by rising sea levels could put at risk the security of the region.

The climate spokesman, Bob Sercombe, says John Howard is trying to ignore the issue.

Mr Sercombe says Australia should help countries move their residents to higher ground as well as accept some refugees.

He says if Australia does not act, it could become a matter of national security.

"Where you have whole populations being threatened with displacement, where you have food supplies becoming unviable because of increasing salt levels, this ultimately, if it's not addressed properly, will lead to a deterioration in the security environment. This is important for Australia as well as for the Pacific. It's both a humanitarian requirement but it's also a requirement based on our own national interest."

Internal resettlement programmes have recently begun in Vanuatu and the Carteret Atolls in Papua New Guinea.

Mr Sercombe says Australia needs to play it's part along with it's pacific neighbours.

If the worst happens and there is a requirement to resettle limited numbers of people and we're talking here about very small countries, we're not talking about huge populations, if the worst occurs and there needs to be resettlement, well, Australia needs to do it's bit.