Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 19:26 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 19:26 | SYDNEY

Solomons needs more ideas, not more money


Fergus Hanson


12 November 2007 16:32

The Solomon Islands floundered into another crisis yesterday with the resignation of nine ministers and three backbenchers. Prime Minister Sogavare now looks in trouble; Attorney General Julian Moti could soon find himself on a plane to Australia after escaping justice last year when he was whisked from PNG to Solomon Islands in a PNG Defence Force plane. With Solomon Islands wracked by a fresh wave of instability we have yet another opportunity to turn our attention to our neighbourhood.

Only two weeks out from Australa's federal election, and the Pacific hasn’t got much play. In a way this is odd given the focus of our aid and military spending. At the moment, we have almost 1,000 ADF personnel operating in our immediate region and by far the largest chunk of our foreign aid is directed towards the Pacific. The projected cost of the RAMSI operation in Solomon Islands is expected to reach around $1 billion – in election season that’s a lot of hospital beds, laptops and solar heaters.

But then again, maybe that’s a good reason not to talk too much about the Pacific. In the world’s most aid dependent region, where Australia happens to be the largest aid donor, we don’t have much to show for our efforts. That’s not to assign blame. Under the Howard Government we have had a healthy return towards engagement in the Pacific, and during a talk at the Lowy Institute in July, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd committed Labor to doing even more.

But with large sums of aid already reaching the region, the problem seems to be less about money or troops and more to do with ideas. There is still no viable overarching strategy for the Pacific. We can rebuild the Solomon Islands time and time again, but until there is an institutional framework that encourages good governance and stable democracy, even successful Pacific islands states like Fiji will find it too easy to slip backwards.

 Australia’s engagement in the Pacific has stopped much bloodshed, but new thinking is needed if we are ever going to escape the current cycle of aid dependency and setbacks. A Pacific Union is one possibility we might flesh out here at The Interpreter in the coming days: we welcome other ideas from our readers on the green email button below.