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Pacific happenings « Previous | |Next »
October 25, 2006

Canberra now has a muscular foreign policy in the Pacific. It is one of intervening in trouble spots, helping to maintain law and order in troubled and impoverished nations (eg., Solomon Islands) and driving reform across a region composed of tiny Pacific nation-states. In its first six months RAMSI successfully cleaned up the outlawed armed gangs that were terrorising some parts of the islands. With basic law and order re-established, what was then required was nation-building.

Bruce Petty

This reform process in the region will not be easy. This is not just because of the sensitivity in the Pacific towards Australia or regional concerns that the Howard Government has overplayed its hand in the region with Australia's regional assistance mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

As Scott Burchill points out in The Age the accusations of Canberra's "arrogance", "bullying", and "sovereignty violations" only mask a series of long-term and seemingly insoluble problems:

In economic terms, many states in the south-west Pacific are either marginally viable or technically insolvent. They retain extremely narrow economic bases and are aid dependent. They were inadequately prepared for independence and have few if any prospects for a more affluent future. They remain underdeveloped and are largely excluded from the winds of change that have blown economic globalisation into other parts of the world. Accordingly they are susceptible to organised crime and groups that practise politically motivated violence. If sea levels in the Pacific continue to rise, some states in Micronesia and Polynesia may disappear entirely in the not-too-distant future.

Burchill ends by saying that it is in the interests of both the large players - Australia and New Zealand - and the islands of the South Pacific to make the region stable and viable. True, but the overall trend in the Pacific Islands is low/negative economic growth, low/negative investment flows, limited access to communication and external trade and aid dependence coupled with increasing population growth and pressure on resources.

How is that going to be addressed through regionalism?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:44 AM | | Comments (6)


Colour me sceptical here.

See the thing is, the bigger the South Pacific nation, the worse it seems to be governed. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji certainly are large enough to be economically and politically viable.

Australia should not be interfering with those states at all. If they make a mess of things, well, it is their mess. And I'm not at all sure that we should continue to be sending them aid- over the long term, those four nations need to learn to stand on their own feet.

The smaller nations, like Nauru, well, that will require some creative thinking. But I still think it notable that the 'big four' in the region get all the attention.

I think the reason for the military intervention was that failed states on Austrlia's doorstep become a locale for terrorists.

That's the rationale... but how likely is your average terrorist going to be able to survive in an environment like the South Pacific? Those places are, if anything, militantly Christian- Islamic terrorists won't get a warm welcome there.

agreed. The 10 year strategy of the Pacifiic Plan is about development and governance as well as security. It does appear to be a top-down intereventionist approach.

One way Australia can help is through a guest workers scheme for Pacific Islanders. NZ has it. Australia refuses. So much for living in a global world.

The problem the Pacific Islands face is that trading amongst themselves won't yield much in terms of economic growth because the market of 7.5 million people is too small to yeld economies of scale for the diversified manufactures that the islands import.

With out economic growth rising employment and incomes and improved social conditions the Pacific Islands are in danger of becoming more unstable and an increased locus for international crime and drugs and arms trafficking.

The ASPI report "our failing neighbour" hit political fashion at just the right time. I am not opposed to it, our hands off policy to the south pacific had not worked much either, so helping out with civil stabilisation might have some long term benefits. Our policy, in East Timor and Solomons, was to get the parent nation to ask us to come in and help first, rather than invade. So it has more merit than what is going on Iraq.

The EU has shown the way to make small nation-states more viable, simply because the smaller states can offload foreign relations, currency, trade, labor flows, etc to the larger bureacratic organisation in the EU. Australia probably should try something similar and set up some kind of South Pacific Confederation like the EU with Au and NZ at the core and the ultimate goal bringing in Indonesia in the same way that France and Germany worked together to unify Europe.

At the least it will cheapen the cost of nationhood for the smaller pacific nations and make more of them viable in the present globalised environment.

Apart from Dateline on SBS the media commentary in Australia has been focused on Julian Moti as the centerpiece of the Solomons-Australia dispute. It's all about the rule of law period.

Beyond that we have largely a negative interpretation of the way that Manesseh Sogavare (PM of Solomon Islands) and Michael Somare (PM of Papua New Guinea) tried to undermine RAMSI and how Howard won the anti-corruption fight. Sogavare’s push to significantly reduce Australia’s role in RAMSI has not been successful etc etc..

The assumption of this commentary is that though Pacific leaders, resisted Sogavare/Somare push, they showed little interest in improving corruption-free governance apart from a bit of lip service.

Another assumption is the Pacific Islanders are too willing to remain aid-dependent and avoid sustained action of good governance.

It's a DFAT script that does not really address the issues of co-operative regionalism, strong economic momentum, or creating economic opportunity for Pacific citizens through increased regional market integration. What sort of economic opportunity is Australia offering in terms of mobility of workforce?

Though the Pacific Plan argues that the temporary movement of both skilled and unskilled labor from FICs to ANZ would yield very large total welfare to the Pacific Island economies Australia's door remains firmly closed.

As an editorial in the Fiji Sun read:

Let’s not forget that it’s not so long ago that Australia wanted to dump its unwanted refugees on us. The message is clear: we’re prepared to use you as a human dumping ground but we’re not willing to help your poor and unskilled, even at no real cost to ourselves.

It adds that it cannot be beyond the collective wit of the three nations (Australia, NZ, Fiji) to construct a strict but acceptable monitoring system so that all three can be convinced that temporary entrants will return to their homes at the expiry of their visas.