Australia's deputy prime minister was captured on film on Friday claiming the Pacific Islands would survive climate change because their workers come here to "pick our fruit".
Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has threatened to pull labour from Australia's Seasonal Worker Program after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack claimed the Pacific Islands would survive climate change because their workers come here to "pick our fruit".
Speaking to Radio New Zealand (RNZ) on Sunday, Mr Sopoaga said he would have "no hesitation in pulling back the Tuvaluan people as from tomorrow" and would encourage other Pacific nations to do the same.
"I thought the Australian labour scheme was determined on mutual respect, that Australia was also benefiting," Mr Sopoaga told RNZ.
"We are not crawling below that. If that's the view of the government, then I would have no hesitation in pulling back the Tuvaluan people as from tomorrow."
On Friday, footage published by The Guardian showed the deputy prime minister telling a crowd in Wagga Wagga, NSW, he "gets a little bit annoyed when people in those sorts of countries who point the finger in Australia who say we should be shutting down our resources so they can continue to survive", referencing calls from Pacific nations for Australia to do more on climate change during last week's Pacific Island Forum in Tuvalu.
On Thursday, the region's leaders - including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison - met on the small island to discuss the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and coal power stations and draft a regional communique to submit to the UN's international climate talks.
“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 continued.
Mr Sopoaga described Mr McCormack's statements as "very abusive and offensive language".
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has also slammed the comments, describing them as a "big step backwards" on Friday.
"If this is the Australian Government’s idea of a 'step up' in its relations with the Pacific, it’s certainly not a step forward," he said on Twitter.
The Seasonal Worker Program allows citizens from Timor-Leste, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu to come to Australia on a temporary visa of up to nine months to work as a seasonal labourer in industries experiencing labour shortages.
Mr McCormack and the Department of Foreign Affairs have been contacted for comment.