Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 19:42 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 19:42 | SYDNEY

Pacific Islands: ASPI gets it right


Jenny Hayward-Jones


18 March 2008 13:19

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s report of an Independent Task Force’s recommendations for improving Australia’s relationship with the Pacific Islands is essential reading for policy makers. The report’s strategy and recommendations are practical and sensible. In brief, the report argues that the key to Australia’s engagement with the Pacific lies in regional integration between Australia and Pacific Island states. It recommends a greater interchange of people, improving education, health, transport, power and communications, protecting fisheries and encouraging investment. The report’s emphasis on building human capital is particularly welcome and should be the focus of governments.

The report says Australia should be more modest about its capacity to improve governance and should reduce public rhetoric about corruption. There is no suggestion that good governance is not important, but a quieter, more subtle approach is recommended. Given the primacy of the good governance agenda in Australia’s aid program, the Government may have limited capacity to implement this recommendation, especially if it is tested by any serious corruption allegations in the Pacific.

Prime Minister Rudd’s announcement of Pacific Development Partnerships in Port Moresby was an endorsement of the report’s recommended mechanism for achieving the strategy it outlined. But rhetoric is only the beginning of the solution. Implementing the recommendations themselves will require a significant financial commitment to the region; greater than the Government may be ready to allocate in the current economic environment.

Although I cannot agree with Greg Sheridan that there is 'scant prospect of Australian success in Melanesia….because of the sheer, bloody intractability of the problems', his opinion is a reminder that making progress in Melanesia is difficult, regardless of how well-intentioned the approach from Canberra.