TODAY |

Australia's Deputy PM slammed for saying Pacific Islanders can overcome climate change by picking fruit in Australia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists his government still has a deep commitment to its regional neighbours after a tetchy week at the Pacific Island Forum which tried to turn the heat on Australia over climate change.

But Labor's climate change spokesman Mark Butler says the long-standing relationship with Pacific countries has been damaged by Mr Morrison's heavy handedness.

"It just adds insult to injury to have the deputy prime minister of the country then say if you lose your home through sea level rise you'll be fine because you'll be able to access some job opportunities in Australia."

Pacific island leaders used the forum to urge Australia to lift its game on climate change to protect low-lying countries like Tuvalu by curbing fossil fuel emissions.

Nationals Leader Michael McCormack, who was acting prime minister while Mr Morrison was attending the forum in Tuvalu this week, said on Friday he gets annoyed when Pacific countries point their finger at Australia and say it should be shutting down its resources sector.

"They'll continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit, pick our fruit grown with hard Australian enterprise and endeavour and we welcome them and we always will," Mr McCormack is reported as saying.

Labor frontbencher Jason Clare also had a crack at Mr McCormack over the remarks, saying it's hard to have credibility in this debate when emissions are going up and members of the government are cracking jokes that if you go under water "that you can come and pick fruit in Australia".

"Yes, we export coal. You need coal to make steel, always have and there's no alternative to that," Mr Clare told ABC television on Saturday.

"But if you want to have real credibility in a debate with our neighbours ... if you want to have the support of the region, then you need to demonstrate that you are taking climate change seriously."

Back on home soil in Adelaide on Saturday, Mr Morrison avoided commenting on his deputy's remarks, but said Australia has the deepest engagement and biggest commitment in the world to the Pacific,

"We're there for the difficult conversations, we're there for every type of conversation with our Pacific family, just like any family that comes around the table," he told reporters after addressing a South Australian Liberals conference.

"We will always be there and regardless of whatever issues we have to work through at the time."

Even so, Pacific island leaders are taking their call for action on climate change to the United Nations at a climate meeting in New York in September.

This week's forum ended with a statement calling on major economies to "rapidly implement their commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies".

Many of the forum members wanted to single out coal-fired power for its impact on the climate, but the language was rejected in the final document.

Mr Morrison insists Australia's reliance on coal is falling as the economy transitions to lower emissions.

Your playlist will load after this ad

Michael McCormack is under fire for the comments he made at a business function while Prime Minister Scott Morrison was at the Pacific Islands forum in Tuvalu. Source: 1 NEWS