Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 16:04 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 16:04 | SYDNEY

Bankrolling an island forever?


Fergus Hanson


18 August 2008 13:58

In the lead up to the 39th Pacific Islands Forum which kicks off tomorrow in Niue, I wanted to go back to a recent aid announcement by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith that, naturally enough, didn't attract much attention: $29 million for Nauru in 2008-09. Now $29 million doesn't sound like much, but Nauru has just 10,131 inhabitants, so that's a staggering $2,862 per Nauruan in aid over a single year. If you put that figure alongside international GNI per capita league tables, Australian aid alone puts Nauruans well ahead of a big chunk of the world. In 2007, for example, the average person in East Timor earned only $US1,510 and $US2,360 in China.

Nauru presents something of a mini-nightmare: a country soon to be devoid of its only real natural resource, with a tiny population in the middle of nowhere with nothing much to do. As the former joint colonial power (with the UK and New Zealand) Australia has some colonial baggage. In 1993 it settled its international legal dispute with the island with a large out of court settlement, but, given Nauru's few prospects it would seem a long-term strategy is needed, rather than an endless cycle of aid giving. Despite claims to the contrary, the idea that aid will one day make Nauru self sufficient seems a long shot. A better idea might be to develop a long-term plan to allow Nauruans (if they choose) to settle in Australia. That would surely involve bringing Nauruans health and education standards to a level that would allow easy integration. Letting every Nauruan child study for free in Australia and giving them the option to stay if they complete their studies might be a more effective way to spend our aid?