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Pacific regionalism: tradition continuity renewal

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Speech Notes

Pacific regionalism: tradition, continuity, renewal
Speech to the Foreign Policy School,
Otago University, Dunedin
7pm, 25 June

The theme for this year’s Foreign Policy School is “Pacific Regionalism: Past, Present, Future”. I want to approach this subject of regionalism through the themes of tradition, continuity and renewal.

The first people came to our region 50,000 years ago, along the Indonesian archipelago, to the western part of Papua. From there they migrated to Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. People arrived in Fiji some 3500 years ago, navigated throughout Polynesia to Tonga, Samoa, French Polynesia, Hawaii, the Cook Islands to as far east as Rapanui and eventually New Zealand. The subsequent pattern is of travel back and forward across the region; of settlement, and the development of unique cultures.

New Zealand is strengthened by a variety of different Pacific communities: Maori communities – our tangata whenua – and those Pasifika peoples who have immigrated here more recently.

Alongside shared history and common cultural elements, there is also a great deal of diversity within the region. In Melanesia alone, with a population of six million, there are more than a thousand languages.

Most of you will be aware of the recent review of the Pacific islands Forum. An Eminent Person Group was convened, and prepared a report called Pacific Co-operation: Voices of the Region. In that report, the EPG stated that:

“our cultures link us with other Pacific peoples, and with our sea, land and ancestors. They stimulate national unity and self confidence and provide a constant renewed source of wealth”

And when Pacific leaders met in Auckland in April to consider the Review, the importance of cultural heritage was at the forefront of their minds. The Leaders affirmed that:

“the People of the Pacific are the custodians of the largest, most peaceful and abundant ocean, its many islands and its rich diversity of cultures”.

I see tomorrow there will be a session covering "Foundations for Creative Oceania". Leaders affirmed the value of seeing our region as ‘members of Oceania’ and they’d welcome, I’m sure, an exploration of culture and creativity in this context.

In our recent history too, we find both shared themes and diversity. Even the colonial experiences vary a great deal. The legacy of British, French, Dutch, German and American systems means our region has had a patchwork quilt of legal and governance structures superimposed upon it. But the decolonisation process and the search for sovereignty and national identity has not stopped us wanting to work together.

Unlike Africa or the Caribbean, we were not divided along cold war lines. We all were more or less aligned with the “Western bloc”. But the region also made clear that we could, and would, think independently. We would seek to determine our political and economic destinies. Successive forum communiqués articulated our collective stand on nuclear testing and against shipments of nuclear materials. We made a difference in international policies affecting our ocean: the Law of the Sea negotiations, driftnet fishing, whales, climate change, and tuna. We decided we could do better if we worked together.

The common bond between Pacific countries helped ensure friendly relations. We have had our tensions, but we don’t have a recent history of wars between our neighbours. In that sense at least our Pacific ocean has lived up to its “peaceful” name. This too, has nurtured cooperation.

The region has built a Pacific tradition of formal and informal dialogue. The South Pacific Commission, formed immediately after the war, was a specific expression of this. The intention was honourable – to work for health and education improvements for Pacific people. Walter Nash, then New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister, wanted even more. He wanted a “Pacific Confederation”. But others feared this assertiveness might upset the British. He was over-ruled by his Prime Minister. Peter Fraser told him not to mention the “confederation” word again.

The Commission – of colonial powers only – was not intended to discuss politics. But politics in our region has a way of turning up anyway. The South Pacific Conferences met annually in the 1950s and 1960s. They provided an opportunity for networking and advocacy and for Pacific voices to be heard.

By 1971 the Commission, as it had existed, no longer made sense for increasingly independent Pacific island nations. It was Ratu Mara who inspired a new kind of regional discussion among the independent states. From this, the South Pacific Forum was developed. It first met in Wellington, in August 1971, with just seven members. New Zealand has always played our part in the Forum, and we’re proud of our role in its formation.

The South Pacific Forum’s membership expanded, as did its scope and coverage. With the inclusion of the north-of-the-equator members, it was fitting that the name became the Pacific Islands Forum. It has built up a history of discussion on economic development, environment, disarmament and many more issues. Even rugby. The networks fostered under the modern Forum umbrella are remarkably comprehensive. We’ve a tradition of listening, a tradition of consultation between leaders. It’s been an informal process, smoothed over the years with kava, cameradie, and humour.

And then there are all the other networks that link us. These are extensive. Despite the vast distances in oceans between us, our region is one of the most networked, interconnected, regions in the world. There are networks of families, and of those who have studied together. Of government officials, law enforcement officials, defence personnel, churches, women’s groups, health and education specialists, lawyers, businesses, sports groups, peace activists. In fact, the whole breadth of governance and civil society.

Academic linkages are also important, and academics have played a key role each year on our Pacific trips networking with their colleagues in the region. It’s good to see a strong turnout of people interested in the Pacific here tonight, and making presentations over the next three days. I would like to offer a special welcome to those academics who have come from overseas: from the ANU, University of New Caledonia, University of Hamburg, University of London and of course, to those from the University of the South Pacific.

Continuity: building on networks and experience of the past:

Security issues are an area where regionalism’s achievements are especially pertinent.

In 1992 the Forum agreed to enhanced cooperation on law enforcement through the Honiara Declaration. This was consolidated over the 1980s and 1990s at the political level, and through networks of law enforcement and defence personnel. By 2000 we had reached a new and defining moment, with agreement on the Biketawa Declaration.

Forum leaders recognised the need in time of crisis or in response to members’ request for assistance, for action to be taken on the basis of all members of the Forum being part of the Pacific Islands extended family.

I was recently in the Solomon Islands. I saw first hand how in the nine months since I was last there, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands – RAMSI – has transformed the situation. Law and order has been restored. Solomon Islanders can now go about their business without living in fear. RAMSI is a good news story, made possible through determined regionalism.

I believe the regional nature of RAMSI, just as the regional nature of the peace monitoring group on Bougainville was in the 1990s, has been a key to its success. Police and defence personnel from Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, New Zealand, PNG, Samoa and Vanuatu have worked alongside Solomon Islanders. While clearly Australia and to a lesser degree New Zealand have played leading roles, RAMSI has been a great example of the Pacific working together in a way which has been much more effective than action by New Zealand and Australia alone would have been.

It's far too soon to declare success. There is a big job ahead working with Solomon Islanders to help with the reform effort. The real success of RAMSI will depend on the sustainability of what it has put in place when the Mission formally comes to an end.

The second area for continuity is regional economic cooperation. The 1971 Forum envisaged an eventual Economic Union. We’re a long way off that, but the Eminent Persons Group noted, following its wide consultations, that it remains “a relevant objective”.

We are making progress towards closer economic relations. We took a first step with SPARTECA – the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement – more than 20 years ago. SPARTECA continues to give products from Pacific island countries duty free access into the Australian and New Zealand markets, without requiring reciprocity.

The Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations – PACER – entered into force in 2002. The Agreement states that its Parties:

“wish to establish a framework for the gradual trade and economic integration of economies of Forum members in a way that is fully supportive of sustainable development of Forum Islands Countries and to contribute to their gradual and progressive integration into the international economy."

PACER combines the Pacific themes of dialogue, information sharing and cooperation on technical matters. The aim is to share expertise on Customs, quarantine and standards, to ensure Pacific economies get a fair go as they compete with the world. The first major stepping stone in the process is the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) – a process of trade liberalisation and economic integration among the island nations of the Pacific. PICTA entered into force in April 2003, and work has begun on gradually establishing a free trade area among the Pacific states.

I’ve mentioned before the Pacific’s collective voice on oceans policy. It’s hardly surprising that this is a focus, given our region is defined by ocean. A recent success is the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention, which entered into force last week. It’s recognised as a state of the art fisheries convention and one of best examples in the world of collective engagement to protect an economic and natural resource. But like RAMSI, the job is not complete. We need collective action, to make the Convention work. We have to resist those who would try to cheat the rules.

There are other continuities:

- Work on environmental issues, for example through the South Pacific Regional Environment programme, and work on disaster preparedness and response.
- Work to address the “non-communicable” diseases such as diabetes and the potentially shattering impact of HIV/AIDS.
- Work on regional transport policy, currently being led by Australia, which builds on success of initiatives such as the Pacific Forum Line, and looks for new action, including in the challenging area of aviation.
- Law enforcement cooperation, especially on trans-national crime. The recent drugs bust in Fiji – the largest amphetamine lab in the southern hemisphere – underlines the need for vigilance more than ever.
- An effective Pacific presence at the UN and in other multilateral fora. The Pacific Group in the UN is now a significant voting bloc. It collectively advocates small islands interests, and Pacific interests, in the world’s decision-making bodies.

Renewal

While there have been achievements, painting a picture of a thriving and progressive Pacific region ignores important realities.

The region has under-performed economically. Aid has not had the impact on human development that was hoped for. There has been increasing instability, particularly within Melanesia with ethnic conflict. Poor management, bad governance and corruption have been and continue to be real problems.

When New Zealand assumed the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum last year, it was clear that it was time to take stock. Leaders agreed with this. The resulting process was the most comprehensive Review since the Forum was founded. It was consultative and inclusive. An Eminent Persons Group, comprising senior people from across the region, consulted widely. It shared its ideas with a Reflection Group, further refined them, then offered them to Forum Leaders at a Special Leaders Retreat in Auckland in April.

The Leaders’ Decisions and the Auckland Declaration set out a vision for the Forum.

Leaders believe the Pacific can, should, and will be a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so all its people can lead free and worthwhile lives. We treasure the diversity of the Pacific and seek a future in which its cultures, traditions and religious beliefs are valued, honoured and developed. We seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values, and for its defence and promotion of human rights. We seek partnerships with our neighbours and beyond to develop our knowledge, to improve our communications and to ensure a sustainable economic existence for all.

This vision captures the four key goals of the Forum: security, governance, economic growth, and sustainable development. The next step is to draw up a comprehensive Pacific Plan. This job has been given to the Secretary-General of the Forum who will present leaders with an outline at the Forum in Apia in six weeks time.

The Plan will need to set out the institutional architecture and processes that are needed to achieve the next steps in the Forum's development of an integrated programme for tackling the challenges faced by the region. This will include plans for refocusing the work of the Secretariat.

Leaders heard clearly in April that the Forum must serve better the smallest of our small island states. This is a key role for all our regional institutions.

I hope we will also see better engagement between the Forum and civil society, starting this year in Apia. The people of the region need to know more about their pre-eminent regional institution and how cooperation within it can impact on and improve their lives.

The Forum needs to work closely and inclusively with other friends and partners such as Japan, France, China, the European Union and the United States. We need more donor harmonisation. We want better links with the territories that are not independent states: New Caledonia, French Polynesia and American Samoa. Speakers this weekend will touch on all these topics.

There’s scope for better coordination and harmonisation between the various Pacific regional institutions. We want these to focus on ways they can help strengthen local institutions and meet the needs of members.

But there are broader issues of renewal, which we need to consider also.

Let me talk for a moment about leadership. It’s a key part of the new regional vision. We have seen an older generation of Pacific leaders move on. All of the founding leaders of the first Forum are now gone – Ratu Mara was the last of them. A new generation has taken over.

Forum members need to build up and be able to draw upon a wide pool of new leaders. Our region needs to work harder to make more opportunities for women to move into leadership and decision making roles. Mentoring and developing promising leaders is a major challenge for the region.

But we also have to look at the very basic issues. We need to lift educational standards and literacy across the region. How can countries move forward if so many of their families, especially in the poorer Pacific nations, cannot even afford to provide their kids with a primary school education? Pacific governments and aid donors have to address this. It is, for example, why our key focus in increased development assistance for the Solomon Islands is in basic education. We also need to look at developing leadership within the institutions for administration.

In looking to the future, I come back to security issues. It’s not enough to think of security responses. We have to address the root causes of conflict: poverty, land issues, economic stagnation, inequality, the feeling of being left out of political processes. We must address the issue of corruption, which is endemic in parts of our region. The Biketawa Declaration says the region must address these issues collectively. We can do more preventative diplomacy, rather than simply responding to crises. In this respect, I’m pleased that we’re working to keep our aid programmes focused on preventing conflict and building peace. I’m pleased too with our New Zealand Police efforts in Solomon Islands, in Bougainville, and across the region in partnership with Australia, and with Pacific counterparts.

We still need to look at our security responses to the “sharp end” threats. These threats often involve non-state actors and non-traditional methods. They might be terrorism, or crime, or illegal fishing. Our region needs to work harder to prepare ourselves. Leaders devised the Nasonini Declaration in 2002 but we need to ensure its principles are put into practice.

We need consistent, effective legislation on drugs, trans-national crime, money laundering and the illicit trade in weapons. We need more work on extradition and mutual legal assistance. We have to help each other comply with the new wave of international counter terrorism standards, covering ports, airports, and banking. We need improved maritime surveillance and border patrols. We need practical efforts like a terrorism contingency exercise.

Such efforts draw in Police and Customs, Defence Forces, immigration officials and finance experts. Efforts on trans-national crime will also be our best protection against terrorism.

The region needs enhanced cooperation on judicial matters, as a corner stone of good governance. There is scope for pooling resources. The Forum Review mentions a panel of judges. Given the size of our states, a Pacific Court of Appeal would make sense. Better transparency and accountability could be achieved through shared resources on oversight institutions like ombudsmen, and auditors.

Pacific regionalism is not just a Government idea: people want to respond to globalisation by reasserting and strengthening local cultures. The Festival of Pacific Arts being held this year in Palau is a way of bringing the Pacific together and celebrating its rich and diverse cultures.

More can be done to build up people to people links, perhaps through a Pacific volunteers programme and greater teacher exchanges. We should give full encouragement to Pacific professional associations, and media organisations.

To maintain this momentum, we come back to the issue of governance. In many Pacific countries, there is a mismatch between ‘Western’ forms of governance and traditional systems. Our region has to find the best possible systems, combining elements from international and traditional models. The way in which we are working with the Tokelau Islands, keeping the focus on traditional village councils but having them delegate 'national' functions to the General Fono or parliament, has been an effective model.

What about future governance in the Pacific? Will we ever get to that elusive “Pacific Union"? Or close to Walter Nash’s imagined “Pacific Confederation”? Will sub-regional governance be the next step? The Forum review called us to

“consider options for future economic and political integration – possibly to develop a model that is unique for the Pacific”.

In the 1980s, my old friend Mike Moore mooted a Pacific Parliament. As he would say, it's wrong to be right too soon. This may not be such an unreachable model, having regard to the fact that the European Parliament now functions as a trans-national institution encompassing 25 diverse countries.

Future

The Forum has set out its vision for the future. It’s a future where small countries work together, share resources and expertise, start to achieve steady progress on economic and social indicators, develop economies based on market niches, manage their development sustainably, and where the region has effective regional institutions.

The Auckland Declaration doesn’t focus on what might happen if we don’t work for stronger and deeper regional integration. That’s because it’s an optimistic, forward-looking vision. But we have to consider whether doing nothing in the region is in fact an option in a globalised world. This may result in the Pacific region becoming a stagnant backwater, characterised by instability and poverty.

I don’t want to see a future where the rhetoric of self-reliance and sovereignty is used to disguise the self-interest of elites; where human development moves backward; where social tensions and instability increase, and where crime and corruption become entrenched. Where international criminals and local thugs call the shots. I don’t want to see economic marginalisation and ever-greater aid dependency.

Pacific Leaders have committed to working together to make sure it doesn’t turn out like that, and that regional cooperation works for the benefit of all the people of the Pacific. The next step is to turn this commitment and vision into a practical reality for ordinary people by taking practical steps, nationally and at regional level.

I look forward to this weekend's Otago Foreign Policy School providing insight and making a contribution towards achieving this goal.

ENDS

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