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Albanese turns focus to Pacific leaders' climate talks

Anthony Albanese has touched down in the Cook Islands, joining more than a dozen leaders for the Pacific Islands Forum summit.

The prime minister arrived in Rarotonga on Wednesday (AEDT) for three days of talks with leaders of a region he has described as family.

This year's leaders' meeting aims to put Pacific splintering in the past while tackling thorny issues of climate change, geopolitical challenges and nuclear issues.

"Working together, through the Pacific Islands Forum, is vital to securing a shared Pacific that is peaceful, safe and prosperous," Mr Albanese said.

Australia, with fellow regional heavyweight New Zealand, has put much stock in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in recent years, part of a renewed diplomatic focus on its home region.

Women in traditional costume wait for Anthony Albanese in Rarotonga
The PIF summit will tackle climate change, geopolitical challenges and nuclear issues.

Mr Albanese's first meeting was with Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano, who asked for help fighting and adapting to climate change.

"It's my duty as the leader of a country that is going to be under the water - that's the way it's going to be," Mr Natano told Mr Albanese.

The Polynesian leader emerged happy with the meeting, telling journalists he would support Australia's bid to host a Pacific-focused COP climate change conference in 2026.

"We know that Tuvalu is on the front line of climate change and the impact is certainly felt most acutely in island states such as Tuvalu," Mr Albanese said.

"My government was elected on a platform of taking action against climate change and I look forward to working with you in the interest of both of our respective countries but also in the interests of the globe."

Mr Albanese also met with Kiribati President Taneti Maamau and Cook Islands Prime Minister and PIF chair Mark Brown on Wednesday (AEDT).

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr said climate change would continue to be a large focus of the forum, along with the role Australia could play.

"Australia's climate policies have vastly shifted and we need to encourage Australia to continue in that direction and not go backwards," he told ABC Radio.

Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau and Anthony Albanese
Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau and Anthony Albanese held bilateral talks at the PIF summit.

In recent years, PIF has been hampered by threatened walkouts and no-shows which jeopardise the blue continent's biggest strength - unity.

Micronesian nations in 2022 voiced their unhappiness with power-sharing arrangements and Kiribati announced it intended to leave the regional body.

Last-gasp unity talks delivered the Suva Agreement which saved the organisation, but they might have also manufactured a crisis.

Under the agreement, Micronesia was granted the right to name the next PIF secretary general and picked Baron Waqa.

The former Nauru prime minister is a controversial choice with a record of sacking the country's judiciary, limiting press freedom and links to a corruption probe by Australia's federal police.

Both Australia and New Zealand support Mr Waqa's candidacy, citing the need for unity.

"There's certainly been nothing said or mentioned to me that would indicate that we are revisiting that decision," NZ representative Carmel Sepuloni said.

Locals wait to greet Anthony Albanese in the Cook Islands
Australia might find a more critical tone from Pacific leaders wanting action on climate change.

The centrepiece of the meeting is an overnight leaders' retreat for the heads of the 18 member nations on the stunning island of Aitutaki.

The following day, non-members - known as "dialogue partners" - will descend on the Cooks to lobby Pacific nations on a vast range of issues.

At last count, more than 20 nations are sending delegations, including the United Kingdom, Germany, China and the United States.

Showing the heightened US interest in the region, the Biden administration is sending cabinet official Linda Thomas-Greenfield, its Ambassador to the United Nations.

China's engagement has also deepened, most notably through security ties with the Solomon Islands.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare will be a notable absentee in the Cook Islands, with Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and New Zealand's leaders also not attending for differing reasons.