Feb 23, 2019 Last Updated 5:09 AM, Feb 20, 2019

BOTH government and opposition parties in Australia have outlined a renewed commitment to the Pacific, as voters prepare to go to the polls.

In recent months, the Coalition government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced more than $3 billion worth of infrastructure and security initiatives in the Pacific. However it’s unlikely that Morrison will get to spend this money. National elections must be held by May, and opinion polls suggest that the opposition Australian Labour Party (ALP) led by Bill Shorten will win a crushing victory.

Despite positive economic data, many workers have seen little wage growth during the period of Coalition government between 2013 and 2018. Relations between the governing Liberal and National parties are tense, as the government stumbles from scandal to scandal. Above all, there are unresolved tensions within the Liberal Party after the dumping of three prime ministers since 2013. Internal faction fighting saw Prime Minister Tony Abbott replaced by Malcolm Turnbull in 2015, who was then replaced in August 2018 by Scott Morrison, after a failed putsch by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton (with six changes of Prime Minister since 2007, Voreqe Bainimarama is pleased that Canberra has replaced Suva as the coup capital of Oceania).

In states like Queensland, small but significant numbers of voters have turned away from the major parties towards Pauline Hanson’s One Nation or other Right-wing forces. These groups call for cuts to overseas aid and restrictions on foreign workers coming to Australia, which sits uneasily with Canberra’s pledge of “stepping up” in the Pacific.

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A Forum in Limbo?

  • Feb 23, 2019
  • Published in January

Eleven days after the Nauru PIF Leaders’ Meeting last September, the Premier of Niue, Sir Toke Talagi, said on Radio New Zealand that “the Pacific Islands Forum is stuck in limbo and making little progress.” Considering Sir Toke’s standing in the region, having been in various leadership roles for his country and in the region since 2002 and the timing of the statement after the Forum’s premier annual gathering, it can be said that such an
utterance was made with much thought. As such, it should not be taken lightly. However, it can be subjected to close analysis to get to the nub of the issue; which can help to re-direct our compass to re-set Pacific regionalism; and to the realisation of our collective aspirations.

Purely from a pedantic linguistic perspective, Sir Toke’s statement is oxymoronic. To be ‘stuck in limbo’ implies that one or something is unable to move from one position to another. It follows therefore that one or something cannot make any progress when ‘stuck in limbo’. However, Sir Toke clarified that the Forum was making progress, albeit, little. He substantiated his comment by his lack of success in trying to increase funding for climate change activities and by his dissatisfaction with the fisheries license systems not doing enough to combat illegal fishing. He also implied the lack of capacity building in Niue and, as such, he is considering appointing youth ambassadors to be posted out to various Forum countries to learn about these issues.

It can be envisaged therefore that the situation depicted by the Premier is best characterised by the Forum being ‘in limbo’ rather than ‘stuck in limbo.’ Being ‘in limbo’ carries the meaning that whilst the Forum may depict conditions of neglect and oblivion - specifically or generally, these do not rule out moving from one position to another. This article assumes such an analytical lens to assess one aspect of Pacific regionalism, aimed ssentially at securing learnings to direct our way forward.

In 1971, the inaugural meeting of the then South Pacific Forum was a joint one that followed separate meetings of two caucuses – one for the founding five independent Pacific Island Countries and the other for Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). In a 2015 report to Fiji’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, I listed 14 issues identified by the 1971 Joint Communique (the only one to date) for regionalism. Those that were aimed at regional economic integration included ‘the possibility of establishing an economic union.’

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In a crucial referendum on self-determination, more than 141,000 New Caledonians went to the polls on 4 November to determine the political status of the French Pacific dependency. After twenty years transition under the 1998 Noumea Accord, the referendum
posed the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent?”

In an unprecedented turnout, 56.7 per cent of registered voters decided to remain within the French Republic, while 43.3 per cent voted Yes for independence.

These bald figures, with a clear majority opposing full sovereignty, suggest a setback for New Caledonia’s independence coalition, the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS). In reality, the size of the Yes vote put smiles on the faces of independence leaders and supporters.

Daniel Goa is President of the Union Calédonienne (UC) party and spokesperson for the FLNKS. After the referendum, Goa thanked supporters and pledged to continue to another vote in 2020: “We lost on the numbers, but for us it’s a victory.”

“For the Kanak people, the first people, this is a great victory, as we have loudly and clearly expressed our perspective without ambiguity and without recourse,” he said. “Who now will contest the justice of our struggle, who now will challenge our very existence?”

In the aftermath of the referendum, everyone realises that the Kanak independence movement has new wind in its sails. They lost on referendum day, but defied all pre-poll predictions and showed that there is still overwhelming support for independence amongst the indigenous Kanak people (symbolically, in the northern tribe of Tiendanite, home of assassinated FLNKS leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, 100 per cent of those voting said Yes).

“This large Yes vote reinforces our convictions,” Daniel Goa said. “We lacked just 9,000 votes to transform our dream into reality. Despite all the shackles we faced in getting our message out in the campaign, and the fear campaign launched by the other....

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What was supposed to be the summit that showcases Papua New Guinea to some of the world’s powerful economies ended up being the show ground for a US-China power struggle in the largest island in the South Pacific.

It was an APEC Summit of one drama after another, fuelled by the public tussle for influence in what has historically been the domain of influence of the US and its Pacific allies of Australia to a larger extent and New Zealand to some extent.

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin called the summit a “tragicomedy of errors,” putting the blame squarely not on the host, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill but on the “Chinese government.”

The Jakarta Post newspaper on the other hand called it a “botched Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.” Its editorial carried the headline, ‘Make APEC boring again.’

The war of words between the two economic giants in the APEC membership of China and the United States overshadowed the Port Moresby meeting. For the first time ever in the history of APEC, delegates could not agree on the adoption of the summit declaration.

APEC chair O’Neill reportedly exclaimed, “you know the two big giants in the room, what can I say?” Delegates said the US had wanted a much stronger language in the declaration against the World Trade Organisation while Beijing wanted no mention of fighting protectionism and unfair trade practices in the document. Such a mention could only be targeting at China, they protested. “APEC has got no charter over the World Trade Organisation,” O’Neill was quoted as saying. “That is a fact. Those matters can be raised at the World Trade Organisation.”

Blame game
Depending on who you talk to, the failure of the adoption of the APEC Summit declaration in Port Moresby was...

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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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