Nov 14, 2018 Last Updated 6:33 PM, Nov 14, 2018

A month before New Caledonia’s referendum on self-determination, local mayors from around the country gathered on 4 October at the French High Commission in the capital Noumea. 

Hosted by French High Commissioner Thierry Lataste, the meeting discussed preparations for the looming referendum on the French Pacific dependency’s political status. On Sunday 4 November, New Caledonians will vote on the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent?” As the French State’s official representative in New Caledonia, High Commissioner Lataste highlighted the importance of working with local officials to cover the whole territory.

“As with all elections, the mayors France prepares for New Caledonia referendum are indispensable participants,” he said. “The vote will take place in each municipality, in each town hall, so they play a crucial role.”

It’s a major exercise, with 283 polling stations across the country, from the mountain valleys of mainland Grande Terre to outlying atolls in the Loyalty Islands, Belep and the Isle of Pines.

The vote is the culmination of a twenty year transition under the Noumea Accord, signed in May 1998 between the French State, the Kanak independence movement Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) and the antiindependence party RPCR. After violent clashes between supporters and opponents of independence during the 1980s, the Noumea Accord created new political institutions and a multi-party government, initiated economic reforms and began the transfer of powers from Paris to Noumea.
The 1998 Accord deferred a referendum on self-determination for twenty years, but time has moved on. Voters will turn

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The acquisition of land on a large scale by ‘new’ Chinese in the Pacific region could potentially be a trigger for instability in the future, a new report has suggested.

Authored by Dr. Stewart Firth, a Research Fellow at the Australia National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs, College of Asia and the Pacific, the report is titled: ‘Instability in the Pacific Islands: A Status Report’ and was released in June by Lowly Institute, a Sydney-based independent policy think tank.

Apart from providing a general overview on the current socio-economic and political status in Pacific Island countries, the report dwelled specifically on six key areas said to have the potency for instability in the future.

One of these key areas is immigration, which singularly focused on the new wave of Chinese influx into the region and why this trend could be a ticking time bomb for social instability in this part of the world.

“For the most part, the Pacific Islands are countries of emigration rather than immigration. Chinese migrants are the exception, making China the only development partner whose citizens migrate to the Pacific Islands region,” the report noted.

Making the distinction between ‘old Chinese’ in the region – these are Chinese descendant Pacific Islanders whose ancestors arrived a century or more ago – and ‘new Chinese,’ who are “‘sojourners’ with no intention of staying or becoming citizens,” the report said these ‘new Chinese’ typically use Pacific Islands as a foothold for entry into the more developed countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Among this new group are the socalled ‘new entrepreneurial migrants’ who “typically arrive on tourist visas, pay bribes to immigration officials, or walk off fishing boats at Pacific ports.” 

“Most are poorly educated, have no professional or trade qualifications, and could not legally enter Pacific Island countries. They start small trading concerns, investing in bakeries, low-end restaurants and clothing stores – trading activities usually reserved for Pacific Islanders.

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As New Caledonia moves closer to a referendum on self-determination on 4 November, Kanak leader Daniel Goa has been touring the Pacific, seeking regional support to monitor the decolonisation process.

At the end of a week-long visit to Australia in July, Goa told Islands Business: “We look to Australia, New Zealand, our Melanesian brothers who have always supported us, but also the Micronesian countries and the Polynesian countries to support us at this crucial time.”

The referendum on self-determination comes at the end of a twenty-year transition established by the Noumea Accord, signed in May 1998 by the French State, New Caledonia’s independence movement Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste  (FLNKS) and leaders of political parties opposed to independence.

Since 2012, Daniel Goa has served as president of Union Calédonienne, the largest party in the four-member FLNKS coalition.

At the FLNKS Congress last February, he was chosen as official spokesperson for the independence movement in the lead up to November’s referendum.

During his visit to Australia, Goa met with Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and DFAT officials.

He also met High Commissioners of the four independent Melanesian nations, to discuss the role of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) in the lead up to the referendum.

The delegation also met a range of trade union, university and community representatives, with the FLNKS spokesperson presenting a keynote speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

“The message was the same at all of our meetings,” Goa told Islands Business.

“After 20 years of the Noumea Accord, we have made much progress with economic re-balancing, the creation of new political institutions and addressing the rights of the Kanak people. But we are at a crucial time, with the referendum in November.

“We are looking to our neighbours to support us as we take the next step, to vote Yes or No on the transfer of the sovereign powers that would make us an independent nation. For the FLNKS, we are hoping for a Yes, so we can be an independent state to play our role in the concert of independent nations of the Pacific, at a time of major change in our region.”

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Nauru’s legal wrangle

A huge legal battle looms in Nauru over the trial of 19 people some of whom former opposition parliamentarians with the Baron Waqa Government opting to appeal its Supreme Court ruling that the republic should foot the legal bill of the defendants.

In his landmark judgement on 21 June this year, Supreme Court Judge Geoff Muecke of Australia ordered the Waqa Government to pay AU$224,021 (USD165,880) towards the expenses of the four Australian-based lawyers of the 19 defendants. This money was to be paid to the Supreme Court of Nauru by 5pm on Friday, 29 June.

Nothing was paid by deadline however with the government of Nauru exercising its right to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision. This means that the appeal would have to be heard by the Court of Appeal of Nauru, a court that currently does not exist.

In a surprise move earlier in the year, and following a secret pact with the government of Australia, the Nauru Government had announced that it would no longer uses the Supreme Court of Australia as its Appeals Court. It would establish its own, Nauru added.

A closer reading of Judge Muecke’s ruling reveals that the jurist had anticipated the non-payment of the legal fees. Order number 3 in his ruling reads:

“I order that the Republic of Nauru pay into the Supreme Court of Nauru the sum of $224,021.90, or such other sum as may be agreed between the DPP and the defendants’ Australian legal team, by 5pm Friday 29 June 2018, for and on behalf of the legal fees and disbursements of the defendants’ Australian legal team for the trial in this matter, and for some fees and disbursements already incurred.

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DOCTOR Manu Tupou-Roosen, Director General-designate of the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency plans to bring to the role a strong commitment to empower the Pacific people through greater cooperation.

And this she believes is only possible through effective communication and collaboration between the FFA Secretariat based in Honiara, Solomon Islands with members and stakeholders of the regional body mandated with assisting member nations manage their offshore fisheries better.

“Our mission is clear - to maximise the economic and social benefits of our Pacific people through the sustainable use of our offshore fisheries resources,” Dr Tupou-Roosen wrote in an interview conducted via electronic mail.

“Our platform to deliver on that mission is also clear - cooperation. This is the cornerstone of our success as a region. It is our Pacific Way and it is the only way that we can ensure a safe, stable and prosperous region for our people. My priorities will be empowerment of our people, effective communication and effective collaboration between the FFA Secretariat, members and all stakeholders. These tools are critical to successful cooperation in order for our Pacific people to prosper.

“Using our skills and resources to continue strengthening our tools to combat IUU [Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated] fishing as well as to enhance social benefits will also be top of mind for me in this role.

“I will be actively reaching out to all members and all stakeholders. I am committed to listening. I am committed to working closely with the Deputy DirectorGeneral Matt Hooper, our staff and our members, and all of our partners such as the PNA Office, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and SPC-FAME Division, to embrace a wide range of views, to ensure that the FFA is as effective as possible in delivering on its mission.”

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