Pacific Islanders can survive climate change by picking Aussie fruit, Deputy PM Michael McCormack says

The Australian Deputy Prime Minister is under fire for saying Pacific people will "continue to survive" despite climate change by picking Australian fruit. 

Michael McCormack was at a business function in Wagga Wagga, a town in rural New South Wales, when he was caught on tape making the remarks.

"I also get a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia and say we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that, you know, they will continue to survive," he said on the tape, according to the Guardian.

"They will continue to survive, there's no question they'll continue to survive and they'll continue to survive on large aid assistance from Australia.

"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."

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama called McCormack's comments a "big step backwards" in relations between Australia and the Pacific, which are already strained thanks to Australia's unwillingness to curb its use of fossil fuels to the extent island nations would like.

"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. It's a big step backwards," he tweeted.

Pacific Island leaders were frustrated by Australia's demands at the recent Pacific Islands Forum, which ended in a watered-down declaration on climate change with no reference to reducing the use of coal after Australia objected.

"You're concerned about saving your economies, I'm concerned about saving my people," Tuvalu's leader Enele Sopaga, whose nation hosted this year's event, said.

"The fact is we're not going to be hijacked into doing something that will shut down an industry that provides tens of thousands of jobs, that provides two-thirds of our energy needs," McCormack could be heard saying on the tape. "And I'm only talking coal, let alone all of our other resources."

Michael McCormack
Michael McCormack. Photo credit: AAP

Pacific nations are at threat from climate change, thanks to rising sea levels and the growing number of intense storms. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Australia "has to answer to the Pacific", prompting scorn from conservative media pundit Alan Jones, who suggested Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison "shove a sock" down her throat.

He later apologised after companies pulled their advertising from his radio show and his employer threatened to sack him.

McCormack is yet to comment on the tape.