Lessons to learn

This item was first published in the Vanuatu Daily Post on May 12th, 2017.

In the days leading up to the arrival of Cyclone Donna in Vanuatu, I tweeted that anyone who was expecting to assist the government of Vanuatu with a response effort should do some pre-reading.

The recommended reading was a report that was released in February 2017 by the Office of Development Effectiveness (ODE). It is called ‘Humanitarian Assistance in the Pacific: An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Australia’s Response to Cyclone Pam’.

By its nature, this report is quite limited because it looks only at the humanitarian response by Australia. However, it covers all the aspects of this response: the work done by and through the Australian High Commission, military contributions and responses by NGOs.

I was one of the people consulted by the authors of this report when they visited Vanuatu during 2016. Overall, I feel the report does a good job of identifying how disaster response can and should be improved in the future. Although the focus of the report is response by Australia, many of the points that are identified can and should inform future responses by other partners.

The ODE is an independent unit within of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the agency who is responsible for delivery of Australian’s aid programme. The ODE has a reputation for providing robust assessments, including identification of areas where things have gone wrong or not gone as well as they could have done.

The report is available online and the executive summary contains five recommendations for future activities in this area. Notably, in its ‘management response’ DFAT expresses agreement with all of the recommendations.

Some of the suggested improvements intended to progress the recommendations are ones that I have advocated previously. I have certainly observed steps that have been taken to put some of them into practice. But there is more to be done on all sides of the equation.

Recommendation 1 reads:

DFAT SHOULD CONTINUE TO PROGRESS WORK TO SUPPORT NATIONALLY-LED RESPONSES AND LOCALISATION BY

• defining what is meant by localisation and unifying implementing partners around a common understanding of localisation

• identifying in advance of a crisis local, national and regional partners, including private sector and civil society actors, that could contribute effectively to a humanitarian response, as well as mechanisms that could be used to support them in the event of a crisis

• exploring possible options for Pacific crisis response teams.

The first aspect of this recommendation neatly summarises an ongoing issue in this area. It is how to achieve effective coordination within and between sectors. Whether DFAT is able to do the required ‘unifying’ or is the best agency to even attempt such a thing is open to question.

Moving on to the second aspect of this recommendation, this is something that needs to be at the heart of improved disaster responses in Vanuatu and elsewhere in our region. The support mechanisms should include facilitating the participation of appropriate actors, including those from within the private sector, in response activities. This will provide access to a wider range of local knowledge than might otherwise be the case.

Since the passage of Cyclone Pam, DFAT has established a pilot project with the Australian Red Cross. This initiative is working to develop systems and to facilitate more and better contribution by the local private sector to humanitarian responses. I look forward to learning more about how this pilot develops and how the knowledge learned can be shared with other Pacific island countries.

The third aspect of this recommendation echoes some of what was contained in a submission I co-authored with Anna Powles and Jose Sousa-Santos.

The submission was made last year through the public policy process under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

Our submission recommended the establishment of a Pacific Disaster Response and Coordination Unit (PDRCU). One of the anticipated functions of this unit was to maintain a database of professionals and organisations that are located within the region whose skills and expertise can be mobilised on an intra-regional basis. This would include contributors from numerous sectors including public servants, the private sector and civil society (including traditional leaders and the churches).

A mechanism of this type would form the basis of Pacific response teams as referenced in the ODE report. This, in turn, allows for the ‘lessons learned’ about preparing for and responding to disasters to remain in our region and contribute to increased local skills and expertise.

As acknowledged in the ODE report, responding to natural disasters is the responsibility of national governments. National leadership needs to be recognised and accepted by all partners. It must be exercised appropriately and responsibly. There are many lessons to learn.

 

Australia’s missteps with Pacific media – it’s more than just bad manners

This item was first published in the Vanuatu Daily Post on April 14th, 2017

So this week the prime minister of Australia visited Papua New Guinea. It was a very short visit (he was on his way to India).

The relationship between Australia and PNG is a complex and complicated one. Recently, it has not been an easy one so this visit could and should have been a great opportunity.

It seems hard to believe that one very short visit could generate so much controversy. But it did.

Before Prime Minister Turnbull arrived, there were concerns that it was too close to the forthcoming elections in PNG.

While he was there, he and his immigration minister (who was not in PNG) gave out mixed messages about what the long-term future of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus island might be.

In amongst all this, the apparent treatment of members of the PNG media corps is something that merits particular scrutiny.

A senior journalist reported that the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby told her that a press conference at Bomana cemetery was for Australian journalists only and she was turned away from another subsequently.

At a very basic level, this is plain bad manners. It is also a fail at Public Diplomacy 101. But the implications of this go deeper and are much more significant.

First of all, the Australian foreign service has form in this regard. Late last year, when the Australian foreign minister visited Vanuatu members of the local media were given the run around and were not able to be at the official press event.

It sparked an editorial in this newspaper. But it does not appear to have sparked a meaningful discussion about why this is a bad thing and how to make sure it does not happen again.

Australian officials who organise these press events need to think about the context in which they operate. In this country, in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere in our region, the role of the media in the development and maintenance of democratic culture is not assured.

I looked recently at the disturbing comments of the prime minister of Tonga about what he thinks the media should or should not do. In PNG, we continue to see reports of journalists being vilified by politicians, threatened and attacked both verbally and physically.

In Vanuatu we can point to numerous instances of politicians treating the media with contempt and seeking to undermine their ability and willingness to ask hard questions or criticise failures of leadership.

Australia is the biggest democracy in our region. We might expect or hope that those who represent this democracy would provide leadership by example. But in this particular area, we have been sorely disappointed.

When Australian political leaders and officials treat our media badly it sends a signal to our politicians that it is OK for them to do so. The remarks of Justin Tkatchenko, the PNG Minister for Sports are telling in this regard.

At the close of Prime Minister Turnbull’s visit he made a reference to the local media having had a ‘rough time’ and then glossed over it with an airy assurance that all can learn from this for next time.

It may be that this is window dressing and behind closed doors Minister Tkatchenko will express his concern about the treatment of Papua New Guinean journalists in strong, possibly undiplomatic terms. Then again it may not be.

Australia is in the process of seeking regional and global support for it to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council. In 2015, Julie Bishop said:

Should we be elected, our focus would be on empowering women and girls, strengthening governance and democratic institutions, promoting freedom, freedom of expression, and advancing human rights for all.

As we all know, actions speak louder than words. And the actions of Australian politicians and diplomats when they visit our region are of particular import.

The role of the media is crucial in the establishment and maintenance of democratic culture.

Our neighbour’s leaders and representatives should use opportunities such as to encourage media professionals to develop their practice. This includes asking difficult questions and holding decision-makers to account. That is the public service they are mandated to perform.

Since the very shabby treatment of Papua New Guinean journalists came to light, the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby has issued an apology. It relates to a ‘misunderstanding’ although, as RNZI notes, it is not clear what the nature of this misunderstanding is.

All well and good but an after the fact apology is too little and too late.

 

We need a white paper not a white wash

This item was first published in the Vanuatu Daily Post on January 27th, 2017

In my recent ‘Pacific Predictions’ I noted that in 2017, the Government of Australia will prepare and release a white paper on foreign policy.

A white paper is something similar to our Vanuatu 2030 — it sets out the framework for a particular policy area that will guide the state machinery in the medium to longer term.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is currently accepting submissions from anyone who cares to make one. We are also expecting the release of a new ‘Pacific Strategy’. (Which begs the question, should Pacific island countries have an ‘Australia Strategy’?)

 The Foreign Policy White Paper is something of a big deal. There hasn’t been one since 2003 and, as DFAT tell us, ‘the international environment has changed profoundly over the past 13 years’. Julie Bishop is generally recognised as one of the better Australian foreign ministers of recent times so it is not surprising that she should be prosecuting an exercise of this type. Having said that, foreign affairs do not figure very highly in Australian political discussions, with little attention if any given to them during election campaigns. And within the small amount of bandwidth accorded to foreign affairs, Pacific issues rate very low on the scale.

Even so, the policy processes referred to above present an important opportunity for Australian policy makers to think about how their country can regain and maintain its status in our region. Admittedly, global events of 2016 have created some conundrums that will test Canberra’s creativity. But that must not detract from the importance of Australia’s relationships with its nearest neighbours.

I will be preparing a submission in relation to the white paper and I’m not going to give away the punch line here. But I will raise one aspect that I’ve been thinking about for a while that I don’t believe gets enough attention. In Vanuatu, our primary experience of Australia’s government is by way of our interactions with DFAT. But our bilateral relationship with Australia is affected by numerous other government departments and agencies that we don’t necessarily deal with directly. Part of DFAT’s role is to liaise with the rest of the Australian government machinery to try and ensure that what they are doing is in line with and supportive of foreign policy objectives. This is an area where we need to see more and better activity and it needs to be examined closely in this year’s policy development activities in Canberra.

Let me give you a couple of examples to consider. The government of Australia has made significant investments of aid money in restoring and further developing our tourism sector. This is part of their economic diplomacy platform, which is based around a belief that small countries such as Vanuatu need opportunities to grow their economies, create jobs and improve livelihoods more than they need aid. As we are realising, Vanuatu is an attractive destination for Chinese tourists, as that market matures and we see a rise in independent, well-funded travellers. In the 12 months to November 30, 2016 the number of Chinese tourists to visit Australia was just over one million. If 2% of those visitors to Australia included a side-trip to Vanuatu as part of their itinerary, the number of air arrivals would increase by 50,000. There are several reasons why this might be difficult to achieve but perhaps the most significant one is the refusal by the Australian government (via the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) to provide multi-entry visas to visitors from China. So it is not possible for Chinese tourists to add a ‘side trip’ to Vanuatu into their itinerary because once they leave Australia they have to apply for another visa to re-enter.

And then there are our agricultural exports to Australia, such as they are. Here we face a double whammy. Australian domestic policy is the reason for the ban on commercial importation of kava, which means that our producers have to seek more distant (and more expensive) markets. In relation to other products such as root crops, nuts and spices a very serious (but insufficiently discussed) impediment is getting products approved by Australian quarantine and biosecurity agencies. This is a hurdle faced by other Pacific island countries as well. You might think that the problem is that Pacific agricultural products are poor quality and do not pass the tests for biosecurity. And you would be largely wrong. As Wes Morgan has educated me the issue is not that the products are not good enough, it is that the Australian processes take so long that producers have to go elsewhere to find a value chain that works. So an agreement like PACER Plus that (we are told) will make it easier for our country to trade with Australia will struggle to deliver on that promise if the relevant bits of government machinery don’t get the memo.

Australia’s foreign policy white paper and, perhaps more so, its Pacific strategy need to demonstrate that these issues (and others) have been well thought out and factored into the blueprints for our future relationship.

Photo Credit: Dan McGarry

 

Pacific Predictions: what will 2017 hold for the Pacific?

This item was first published on Devpolicy on January 11th, 2017

Pacific politics will continue to be a source of fascination and concern in 2017. There will be general elections in Papua New Guinea (polling will take place between June 24th and July 8th). In addition to the ever-present concerns about money politics, logistics, cost and security, the economic crisis that country is currently experiencing will also contribute to the prevailing environment. It is always a matter of concern if governments cannot pay their bills and these concerns are exacerbated in election years. Jitteriness was increased recently, when the O’Neill government ‘delayed’ release of the IMF Article IV assessment, which has yet to appear. Another potential flashpoint is the failure (in both Waigani and Canberra) to appropriately resolve the situation in relation to the closure of the Manus refugee-processing centre. Recent violence should be seen as a serious warning as should the increasing frustration (seen most evidently on Twitter: @pontuna2run) of Ron Knight, the current MP for Manus province.

Fiji is scheduled to hold elections during 2018 but the pre-positioning that took place last year will continue during 2017. The major opposition party SODELPA has a ‘back to the future’ leader in former coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka and he has called for opposition parties to work together in coalition to unseat the Fiji First government. The electoral system in Fiji militates against independents and, in an attempt to counter this, Roshika Deo (who contested unsuccessfully in 2014) is expected to form a new party to contest.

Further afield, there will be presidential elections in France. The results may have a ripple effect in our region in relation to the finalisation of the Noumea Accords process in New Caledonia and the participation of France in the Pacific Islands Forum, the details of which are yet to become clear.

Constitutional reform is a hot topic in several Pacific island countries. Vanuatu’s attempts to progress a whole raft of measures (largely designed to engender greater political stability) faltered in late 2016. This was because the Salwai government failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed to progress legislation further to constitutional reform committee process. Whilst there are certainly elements within the government who will want to progress this if the opportunity arises, it is possible that other issues will become and remain more pressing. Chief among them is Vanuatu’s impending relegation to the Financial Action Task Force’s ‘black list’. The referendum on constitutional reform scheduled to take place concurrently with provincial elections in March is on indefinite hold.

To our north, the Republic of the Marshall Islands will hold its first Constitutional Convention once the 45-person membership has been established. The most significant item for consideration is a proposal to move from a parliamentary to a presidential system of government. Meanwhile, in Samoa, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi is seeking to have the Constitution amended to make the Samoan state Christian, a proposal that has caused concern within the wider society.

During 2016, I suggested that the new logo for the Melanesian Spearhead Group should be the Gordian knot. As we enter a new year, the internal tussles are becoming ever more entrenched. There are several strands to this knot with the issue of membership being the one that is proving the most stubborn to shift. Despite the fact that there was no leaders’ meeting in December, the foreign ministers met in Port Vila to consider the text of membership regulations and guidelines prepared by the group’s Subcommittee on Legal and Institutional Issues. In town at the same time was a large delegation of West Papuans including Benny Wenda and other key members of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua leadership. The MSG leaders’ meeting is now pencilled in for January, to be held in Port Moresby, prompting declarations of disappointment from within the ULMWP. It is hard to see the disappointment lifting any time soon given the proposal to hold the meeting in Papua New Guinea (the ULMWP would prefer that the meeting be held in Port Vila, where they have the most support from government and civil society) and the continuing non-appearance of Fiji’s prime minister at these gatherings – last month in Port Vila he was represented by Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, the former Foreign Minister and current Minister for Defence.

There are some indications that the current chair (Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of Solomon Islands) is looking to use the current impasse over membership as an opportunity to expand the grouping. In relation to activism around the West Papua issue, this is likely to be taken forward at global levels by the Pacific Coalition on West Papua, with Sogavare as its head. Australia has had two indications recently that its ‘nothing to do with us’ stance is wearing thin in Jakarta: the ‘request’ made to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne to caution the leadership of Pacific island countries to stop interference in relation to the West Papua issue and, more recently, the rupture in defence relationships.

More generally, Australia will prepare and publish its first white paper on foreign policy in 14 years, which will complement a new ‘Pacific strategy’ promised by the Prime Minister. We hope to see a detailed and nuanced approach to relationships with the Pacific island region feature prominently in this document. It presents an important opportunity to rectify previous missteps, build on what is working well and send important messages about where our region features in Australian policy thinking on diplomacy, trade, development assistance and, critically for the Pacific, labour mobility.

Tess’s past annual predictions can be found here: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 & 2016.

Photo credit: Flickr/GreensMPs

 

May 2016

Welcome to the round-up for the month of May.

Across the Coral Sea, Australia is having an election. It is a longer campaign period than is usually the case and so I am doing my best to get more coverage of Pacific island issues into the mainstream media coverage. This is not an easy task, and so far there have been mixed results. The video here is of a question that I formulated with Matthew Dornan at the Development Policy Centre in the hope of it being aired on QandA May 31st. We were unsuccessful (this time) but will continue to look for other opportunities to raise the importance of the new Australian government engaging more (and better) with this part of the world, regardless of which party wins power.

PictureMay 10th line-up for Coffee & Controversy: Dan McGarry, Tess Newton Cain, Glen Craig & Hon. Jotham Napat, Minister of Infrastructure & Public Utilities

Coffee and Controversy is gaining quite a following here in Vanuatu and of course if you are somewhere else, you don’t need to miss out because the podcasts are available to download from Soundcloud. This month, I took part in discussions on combatting corruption, statutory bodies and infrastructure plans, and taxation.

Lots of media work during May, mostly focused on foreign policy and sub-regional tensions. A press release from the office of the prime minister of Solomon Islands caused a lot of discussion among those of us who are keen MSG watchers. I discussed what it might mean with Pacific Beat

Later in the month, Vanuatu’s statement of support of China’s position on the South China Sea caused some to raise their eyebrows. However, as I discussed with both Pacific Beat and Radio New Zealand International, this should not really have come as a surprise.

During May, it was lovely to attend the re-opening of Iririki Island Resort, which had been closed since Cyclone Pam last March. The Hon Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabismasmas gave a very important speech during the opening . He congratulated the owners on their achievement and thanked them for their confidence in the destination, he assured them of the support of the government and he challenged them (and the rest of the industry) to work to make tourism in Vanuatu more inclusive, with particular focus on the tourism industry being a market for our primary producers. This item from last year examines why this is important.

That’s all for now – please do share this with your networks to spread the word about TNC Pacific Consulting.


 

The Post Moresby Forum: a reframed Pacific regionalism

 

This item was first published by Matthew Dornan & Tess Newton Cain on Devpolicy on September 30th, 2015

The political machinations of the recent meeting of Pacific Islands Forum Leaders dominated the media headlines over the last two weeks, with tensions around climate change and West Papua, as well as the future of Australia and New Zealand in the Forum, receiving considerable coverage.

A number of other important developments were sidelined in the media commentary as a result, including leaders’ decisions on three other agenda items: cervical cancer treatment, fisheries management, and ICT development. Importantly, the impact of the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism [pdf] on proceedings prior to and at the meeting has received scant attention, as has the Hiri Declaration. These are the focus of this post.
It surprised many the extent to which the Framework for Pacific Regionalism (the framework) flew under the radar at the leaders’ meeting in Port Moresby: the first time the framework has been in place. Although the framework itself did not receive much attention, it was its operation that created the agenda for what was discussed in Port Moresby.

The framework was developed as a result of the Review of the Pacific Plan in 2013, and aims to better focus PIF Leaders’ meetings by reducing the number of issues placed on the agenda for discussion. Its establishment, socialisation and implementation has been the paradigm for the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat under the new leadership of its Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, and it is an agenda that she and her team have pursued with vigour. It is worth discussing the framework in some detail, given its implications for the outcomes of both the recent and future leaders’ meetings.

Three key objectives provide the underpinning of the framework:

  • to broaden the conversation on regionalism beyond that of CROP agencies, which were (often correctly) perceived to dominate priorities under the Pacific Plan.
  • to ensure regional initiatives had a sound rationale, something sometimes lacking in the past.
  • to ‘bring back’ the political dimension of regionalism, which many argued had been lost under the technocratic Pacific Plan.

This last point was emphasised in the opening remarks of Dame Meg Taylor to the Forum Officials Committee meeting, which preceded the leaders’ meeting. In her statement, Dame Meg Taylor stated:

“I reiterate the responsibility of this Committee, as articulated in the Framework and approved by Leaders, to ensure that ‘politically sensitive and major regional issues and initiatives are the focus of the Leaders’ meeting’.”

The operation of the framework has been both devised and rolled out since Dame Meg Taylor took over as Secretary-General. One of the most significant planks of its implementation is to provide an opportunity for a wider range of voices (whether individual or institutional) to contribute to determining how the regionalism project should be taken forward. Under the framework, the Forum Secretariat issued a call for public submissions of proposed regional initiatives in the lead up to the leaders’ meeting.
These were assessed by a newly appointed Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism (SSCR), and five were selected for the consideration of leaders, on the basis of a series of tests. These tests ensure that proposals considered by leaders are requiring of a regional approach, generate net benefits, and do not impinge on sovereignty, the market, or duplicate existing activities. The SSCR process is key to the new framework, and is important to meeting all three underpinning objectives identified above.

What was its impact in preparation for the leaders’ meeting and in Port Moresby?

The SSCR process has been successful in broadening the conversation on regionalism this year. The process has generated considerable public interest, more than was expected, with a total of 68 submissions received from NGOs, regional bodies, universities, CROP agencies, and Forum member country governments. The SSCR referred a number of these to appropriate ministerial meetings for decisions as envisaged by the framework, again as a way of ensuring that the leaders’ discussions were focused on only those issues that would be in line with the underpinning objectives. (These were a joint position on climate change, West Papua, a regional response to cervical cancer, better fisheries management, and ICT development).

Assessment of these proposals against the various tests was designed to ensure that proposals had a clear rationale. It is hard to judge the impact of these tests as the basis for the SSCR’s decision on the five proposals presented to leaders were not made public (although the Secretariat has published the template [pdf] that was used to review submissions prior to their consideration by the SSCR). Indeed, very little detail was provided about what was actually placed on the agenda of leaders. This has detracted from achievement of the first aim, and is discussed more below.

The third objective, to ‘bring back’ the political dimension of regionalism, was certainly achieved at the recent Forum Leaders’ meeting. This was in part due to the SSCR process, which both selected topical issues and limited leaders’ discussion to five agenda items, thereby facilitating discussion (To put this in perspective, the communiqué [pdf] from last year’s meeting reflects a much more unwieldy agenda). However, the context within which the meeting took place, in the lead up to the UNFCCC negotiations, was no doubt also a factor.

So, what should we make of the meeting? And what was the impact of the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism?

There can be no doubt that the leaders’ meeting focused on matters of political importance. (In turn, the Hiri Declaration replaces the 2004 Auckland Declaration as the basis for political support for the regional project, and includes specific mention of the Pacific Islands Forum and the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.)

Somewhat ironically, it was the very success of the framework in ‘bringing back’ politics that highlighted differences between Forum member states on key issues. This was most evident in the rift between Australia/New Zealand and Forum island countries on climate change. But it was also evident on West Papua, with countries like PNG opposed to the more assertive recommendations of countries like Solomon Islands. (It is worth noting that some other potential subjects for discussion that are equally controversial were not included in the agenda, such as the worrying political developments in Nauru).

The other agenda items discussed by leaders were less controversial. One suspects that some, such as the cervical cancer initiative, were selected at least in part due to their potential for implementation. But agreement on specific actions in these areas was required for these initiatives to be considered a positive outcome at Port Moresby. The only area where this occurred was fisheries management.

On the issues of both ICT and cervical cancer the Forum Leaders’ communiqué was vague. The reasons for this are difficult to establish, given that the background material provided to leaders is not publicly available. It is possible that not enough effort was made in preparing detailed proposals for leaders. The fisheries proposal was different in this respect, as a plan had already been developed by fisheries agencies and required only approval by leaders. An alternative explanation is that a conscious decision was made to keep the subject matter general, in order to first gain leadership approval to develop proposals. In either case, it was a mistake not to develop detailed proposals for the initiatives, given longstanding criticisms of regionalism as not sufficiently action-oriented.

The framework worked well in other areas. Observers at the meeting have told us that the discussion was more substantive than in previous years, in which the agenda had been too crowded. The framework also attracted the interest of the public, reflecting a continuation of the high level of public engagement observed during the review of the Pacific Plan in 2013. This will help to addresses past concerns about ‘capture’ of regionalism by CROP agencies. The first ever meeting of civil society organisations with the Troika (the current PIF chair, outgoing PIF chair and incoming PIF chair) also addressed such concerns. Previous claims that the Forum excludes civil society (unlike the Fiji-sponsored Pacific Islands Development Forum) are now hard to justify as a result.

There is room for improvement in this area, however. Despite the public submission process, there was a lack of transparency with respect to what was discussed. Civil society organisations that attended the meeting were provided with a list of broad themes for discussion, but not the actual proposals considered by leaders. It remains unclear on what basis the SSCR made its decision to select the five agenda items for leaders (no documentation has been released). The process could therefore be improved, and hopefully will be in the future.

In our view, therefore, the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism went some way in achieving its objectives, notwithstanding the weak communiqué and political tensions surrounding the Forum Leaders’ meeting. The framework has made conversations about regionalism more inclusive, although there is room for improvement. It may have improved the process for consideration of regional proposals, although the lack of transparency highlighted above makes this difficult to judge. Again, there is considerable room for improvement in this space.

Most significantly, the framework recognises the reality that regionalism is inherently political. This is a positive, given the problems associated with the technocratic Pacific Plan. A more political approach will help to ensure that future strengthening of the regional architecture has a more solid foundation. However, this does not mean that strengthening regionalism will be any easier. The tensions observed at Port Moresby were a stark reminder of this.

Photo credit: Flickr/Raymond June

 

A tale of two forums

This item was first published by Tess Newton Cain & Matthew Dornan on Devpolicy on September 11th, 2015

‘Forum fortnight’ has ended with the release of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ communiqué this afternoon. It has been an important fortnight for Pacific regionalism. The Forum Leaders’ meeting was preceded by the Fiji-sponsored Pacific Islands Development Forum last week, and by the first ever pre-Forum meeting of leaders from the seven Smaller Island States on Tuesday.

The 46th meeting of Pacific Island Forum Leaders was special for a number of reasons. It was the first to be held where priority issues for consideration by Leaders were identified using the new processes available under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, which replaces the old Pacific Plan (and will be discussed in a separate blog post). This year also sees the first time in three years that an Australian prime minister has attended the PIF meeting.

Significantly, this year’s meeting was held in the lead up to the UNFCCC climate change negotiations in Paris, and in an environment of considerable frustration among island states at Australia and New Zealand’s limited action on climate change. This frustration has served to bolster Fijian calls for the two ‘big brothers’ to be excluded from future meetings (see discussion of this herehere and here). Fiji’s Prime Minister refused to attend as a result, instead sending his Foreign Minister.

But criticism of Australia and New Zealand went beyond that of Fiji. The President of Kiribati, in the lead-up to the meeting, stated bluntly:

“Those of us who feel that our interests have been compromised — should we stay in or should we walk out? … Or should we ask those that have a problem with (what is) our bottom line to dissociate themselves?”

Strong statements on climate change emanating from regional fora that exclude Australia, such as the Polynesian Leaders Group Taputapuatea Declaration on Climate Change [pdf], and the Pacific Islands Development Forum’s Suva Declaration on Climate Change, have helped solidify such positions. Indeed, Greg Fry argued last week that a weak Forum statement on climate change risked creating the perception:

“that a Pacific Islands Forum with Australia and New Zealand as members is hampering the ability of the Pacific island states to defend their interests, and in the case of climate policy, their very survival.”

But this was not just an important fortnight for the Pacific Islands Forum.

The 3rd meeting of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), which took as its theme ‘Building Climate Resilient Green-Blue Pacific Economies’, was described by one insider as evidence that PIDF is here to stay. Indeed, specific mention of the PIDF’s Suva Declaration on Climate Change in the Forum Leaders’ communiqué suggests that the PIDF has graduated from a potential organisation to an organisation with potential.

There are also other changes that point to PIDF’s consolidation as an organisation. A new Secretary-General was appointed. Francois Martel is a Samoan-Canadian who comes with an established background in conservation, bio-diversity and natural resource management; a profile that fits well with the avowed focus of PIDF on ‘green growth’ and the ‘blue-green economy’. The PIDF charter [pdf] was also approved.

All of these developments were eclipsed (in terms of media coverage and commentary) by the promulgation of the PIDF Suva Declaration on Climate Change [pdf]. The Declaration calls for a joint Pacific position prior to the Paris talks at the end of the year; a position that demands a global commitment to keeping warming ‘well below’ 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

These developments have helped to bolster PIDF as a regional forum, in the face of a widespread view that it is an organisation dominated by Fiji. They have also enabled Fiji’s Prime Minister to highlight again (and again) that the region’s most significant development partners – Australia and New Zealand – are not only not on the same page when it comes to climate change, they are in fact singing from a different songbook altogether. This was expressed in characteristically blunt language back in May:

“Rather than side with us, Australia in particular is siding with what I call the coalition of the selfish, those industrialised nations which are putting the welfare of their carbon-polluting industries and their workers before our welfare and survival as Pacific islanders.”

The PIDF meeting last week therefore set the scene for a tense 46th meeting of Pacific Island Forum Leaders on Thursday.

Of the five priorities discussed by Leaders (and identified through the new processes established by the Framework for Pacific Regionalism [pdf]), two came to dominate the media coverage and commentary. Both of these issues were ones where the leaders of small island states were not necessarily looking for technical assistance or even financing from the larger metropolitan members; rather they were looking for political solidarity. They were 1) a unified position on a call for a global warming target of no more than 1.5 degrees be adopted at the Paris talks, and 2) a regional response to ongoing allegations of human rights abuses in West Papua.

The momentum generated at PIDF on climate change by virtue of the Suva Declaration was maintained at the closed session of the Smaller Island States and subsequently via some trenchant comments from President Anote Tong of Kiribati. Once again, the question of whether Australia and New Zealand’s membership of the PIF could be maintained in the absence of their commitment to ‘stand with the Pacific’ was raised.

The issue of a regional response to the West Papua issue figured highly in the pre-Forum civil society dialogue, which included a breakfast with the troika (past, current and incoming Forum chairs) and was taken up forcefully by the delegation of Solomon Islands, including that government’s Special Envoy, Matthew Wale.

The PIF communiqué reflects what was evidently a long and possibly challenging day at the Leaders’ retreat, and will be a source of disappointment to many. The commitments to better regional management of fisheries resources are the strongest, reflecting what we learned about the factors that promote success to pooled service delivery (see our full paper on this here). Elsewhere, there are painful reminders of longstanding criticisms that the Forum is insufficiently action-focused and does not engender sufficient accountability on the part of Leaders or CROP agencies. One such example is the Leaders’ communiqué on ICT:

“Leaders tasked the Forum Secretariat and USP to consider the merit of a regional ICT Advisory Council. The Council should not overlap with existing mechanisms and must deliver real deliverables.”

The two most contentious issues are where the bulk of the disappointment will arise. And certainly, if we focus on the product rather than the process, there is plenty for Pacific islanders to feel underwhelmed by. The Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ Declaration on Climate Change Action was clearly a compromise, and was not as forceful as the PIDF’s Suva Declaration or the Port Moresby Declaration of Smaller Island States. It did highlight the harm to small Pacific island states associated with warming of over 1.5 degrees, but its call for action referenced the UN target of 2 degrees.

The level of commitment to progressing the cause of the people of West Papua is less inspiring, with Leaders tasking the Forum Chair (PNG) to convey their concerns about alleged human rights abuses to the government of Indonesia and to consult with them on a fact finding mission. This is far from what was hoped for by the many civil society groups throughout the region who had lobbied their leaders on this issue. Papua New Guinea’s ban on West Papuan attendance at the Forum Leader’s meeting was further evidence of its unwillingness to challenge Indonesia on the issue (the West Papuan leader, Octovanius Mote, was also ‘quietly’ asked to leave the PIDF meeting the previous week).

There are reasons to be positive. One is that the Forum Leaders’ meeting actually addressed issues such as climate change and the West Papua, issues that have long been neglected. Furthermore, the compromise arrived at in relation to climate change allows for those leaders (such as President Tong of Kiribati) who want to be more vocal and activist in the lead up to the Paris talks to be so without appearing to contradict themselves.

Importantly, the Declaration references other key agreements such as the Suva Declaration discussed above. This indicates a growing recognition and acceptance of the ‘patchwork’ of regional and sub-regional groupings that exists in the Pacific; a positive step, that reflects the reality of this diverse region. (This will be discussed in another blog post focused on the Hiri Declaration and how the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism fared at the Leaders’ meeting.)

The 46th meeting of Pacific Island Forum Leaders in Port Moresby is unlikely to be remembered as the turning point for a resurgent Pacific Islands Forum. The outcome will underwhelm many observers in the region. But there are some positives to be taken from the meeting. Forum advocates, while not celebrating, are likely to be breathing a sigh of relief. The outcome could have been worse given the division among PIF members on climate change.

 

Another review of the Pacific regional architecture is neither warranted nor appropriate

This item was first published by Matthew Dornan & Tess Newton Cainon on Devpolicy on November 11th, 2014

The joint announcement by Fiji and Australia that the Pacific regional architecture should be reviewed has taken both the Pacific islands region and Australian foreign affairs establishment by surprise.

We can only speculate about the origins and underlying purpose of the announced review. Very little detail has yet to be made available, save that Australia will host a meeting of regional leaders (the exact composition of that group yet to be determined) in Sydney in February 2015. But whatever the trigger for this announcement, it raises some important questions about the future of regionalism and, more particularly, the respective roles of Australia and Fiji within it.

Is there either the need or appetite for such a review, given the recent completion of a series of reviews with focus on and implications for the regional architecture?

There is much that remains unclear but what is evident is that the ‘review’ (as described in the Fiji media) or ‘discussion’ (as described on the Australian Foreign Minister’s website) has arisen amidst efforts by Australia to normalise relations with Fiji. The exchange of high commissioners has been announced, and Fiji will be offered 100 places within Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program. Fiji will also be incorporated into the New Colombo Plan, meaning that Australian students will soon study at the University of the South Pacific. Defence ties are also being re-established.

Fiji’s involvement in the regional architecture meanwhile remains unclear. Its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum (the region’s premier political body) in 2009 was lifted recently following elections in which the former head of the Fiji military (and 2006 coup leader) won office. But Fiji has refused to rejoin the Forum, stating that it will only consider doing so if Australia and New Zealand leave the body that they helped to establish. The announced review of the regional architecture is most likely a bid by Australia to appease the Fiji Government – although it is not at all clear that Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola will back down from their opposition to rejoining a Forum that includes Australia and New Zealand as members.

Any review of the regional architecture, of course, brings with it opportunities. The Pacific Institute of Public Policy has welcomed the initiative as a means to “effect the necessary reforms” that will “reforge the regional vision and establish the relevant architecture to secure it”. Such a position reflects a widespread view that regionalism has done little to improve the lot of Pacific island populations (a view that to a great extent is true, although not universally so). The Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Brett Mason, recently reiterated that point when he said about Pacific regionalism that “things can’t remain as they are.” If the review does generate a broad-based political mandate for enhancing regionalism, it would certainly be a win for all.

But we are sceptical that the review that has been announced will fulfil this purpose, for a number of reasons.

First, there is the issue of timing. In the last 10 years, there have been myriad reviews of regional organisations and plans/processes. These include the 2013 Independent Review of the Pacific Plan for Regional Integration and Cooperation (the ‘Pacific Plan); the 2012 reviews of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (discussed here); the 2007 Regional Integration Framework [pdf] (RIF) review, which led to the merger of a number of major regional agencies; and the 2005 review of the regional architecture commissioned by Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). Surely this is overkill? The purpose of regionalism cannot primarily be to review regionalism.

Of these review activities, the most recent and most significant was the 2013 Review of the Pacific Plan, undertaken by Sir Mekere Morauta and his team and captured in a report [pdf] released less than 12 months ago. That review included detailed analysis of what the regionalism project has been and could be in the future (including work we did assessing pooled service delivery in the region). Its key product, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism[pdf], was endorsed by leaders at the Palau meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum.

The PIFS is currently implementing key activities arising from the 2013 Review of the Pacific Plan, including the rationalisation of regional meetings (a specific request from Pacific island leaders). Regional organisations such as the University of the South Pacific, SPC and the PIFS have only recently implemented recommendations from their comprehensive reviews, and in some cases, this process is ongoing. It comes as a surprise then that another review of the regional architecture should be announced.
It is unclear whether there is much appetite for another review in the region, with the implications of past reviews still being worked through and implemented by regional bodies and the Forum. Alf Simpson, former Director of the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC – now subsumed within the SPC), has said in response to the announcement that:

Time after time they keep asking the same questions hoping for a different response. Even worse the focus on the organisations only results in minor efficiency gains and the question of effectiveness is never addressed.

Transform Aqorau, the CEO of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement office, has labelled another review of the regional architecture as “ill advised, untimely and an overreaction.”
It is certainly significant that the announcement has been met with silence by most regional organisations (regional organisations, after all, would be unlikely to directly criticise the foreign ministers of Australia and Fiji). The one exception is the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, which has welcomed the initiative, although on the proviso that “the discussion comes up with some useful way forward”. Importantly, there has been no request for a review by the countries that have the greatest stake in regionalism: the smaller island states of the Pacific (a group that does not include the larger countries of Fiji and PNG, nor the developed economies of Australia and New Zealand).

This is cause for further concern. It is absurd that Australia and Fiji should bilaterally announce a review of the regional architecture with no consideration for the views of other Pacific island countries. After all, Fiji refuses to be a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, while Australia is not a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group or the Pacific Islands Development Forum. How can either country seek to review regional arrangements to which they are not party? The meeting in February will presumably include other Pacific island heads of government, but the fact remains that the need to hold a discussion was announced by Fiji and Australia without the involvement of other leaders.

The announcement may help to re-establish the bilateral relationship between Australia and Fiji, although there is no guarantee that it will succeed in bringing Fiji back into the Forum’s fold. But it is disappointing in terms of Australia’s engagement with the broader region. Whilst in opposition, Julie Bishop promised a better engagement with the region should her party come into government. What we have seen since last October is a selective approach to developing some bilateral relationships (most notably with PNG and Fiji) and a disregard for progressing regional relationships. Australia has been noticeable by its perceived absence in key forums where issues that matter to Pacific island countries (especially the smaller states) have been discussed. The continued inertia of the PACER Plus negotiations has arisen, at least in part, from the apparent inability of Australian (and New Zealand) officials to take the concerns of Pacific negotiators on board. And the Seasonal Workers’ Program remains a source of disappointment to many.

There are plenty of challenges ahead for the future of Pacific regionalism and visionary leadership is required if they are to be successfully navigated. A review of the regional architecture, announced by two countries less than 12 months after the completion of another review, is far from visionary.

Photo credit: Fiji Ministry of Information

 

Another review of the Pacific regional architecture is neither warranted nor appropriate

This item was first published Matthew Dornan & Tess Newton Cain on Devpolicy on November 11th, 2014

The joint announcement by Fiji and Australia that the Pacific regional architecture should be reviewed has taken both the Pacific islands region and Australian foreign affairs establishment by surprise.

We can only speculate about the origins and underlying purpose of the announced review. Very little detail has yet to be made available, save that Australia will host a meeting of regional leaders (the exact composition of that group yet to be determined) in Sydney in February 2015. But whatever the trigger for this announcement, it raises some important questions about the future of regionalism and, more particularly, the respective roles of Australia and Fiji within it.

Is there either the need or appetite for such a review, given the recent completion of a series of reviews with focus on and implications for the regional architecture?

There is much that remains unclear but what is evident is that the ‘review’ (as described in the Fiji media) or ‘discussion’ (as described on the Australian Foreign Minister’s website) has arisen amidst efforts by Australia to normalise relations with Fiji. The exchange of high commissioners has been announced, and Fiji will be offered 100 places within Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program. Fiji will also be incorporated into the New Colombo Plan, meaning that Australian students will soon study at the University of the South Pacific. Defence ties are also being re-established.

Fiji’s involvement in the regional architecture meanwhile remains unclear. Its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum (the region’s premier political body) in 2009 was lifted recentlyfollowing elections in which the former head of the Fiji military (and 2006 coup leader) won office. But Fiji has refused to rejoin the Forum, stating that it will only consider doing so if Australia and New Zealand leave the body that they helped to establish. The announced review of the regional architecture is most likely a bid by Australia to appease the Fiji Government – although it is not at all clear that Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola will back down from their opposition to rejoining a Forum that includes Australia and New Zealand as members.

Any review of the regional architecture, of course, brings with it opportunities. The Pacific Institute of Public Policy has welcomed the initiative as a means to “effect the necessary reforms” that will “reforge the regional vision and establish the relevant architecture to secure it”. Such a position reflects a widespread view that regionalism has done little to improve the lot of Pacific island populations (a view that to a great extent is true, although not universally so). The Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Brett Mason, recently reiterated that point when he said about Pacific regionalism that “things can’t remain as they are.” If the review does generate a broad-based political mandate for enhancing regionalism, it would certainly be a win for all.

But we are sceptical that the review that has been announced will fulfil this purpose, for a number of reasons.

First, there is the issue of timing. In the last 10 years, there have been myriad reviews of regional organisations and plans/processes. These include the 2013 Independent Review of the Pacific Plan for Regional Integration and Cooperation (the ‘Pacific Plan); the 2012 reviews of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (discussedhere); the 2007 Regional Integration Framework [pdf] (RIF) review, which led to the merger of a number of major regional agencies; and the 2005 review of the regional architecture commissioned by Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). Surely this is overkill? The purpose of regionalism cannot primarily be to review regionalism.

Of these review activities, the most recent and most significant was the 2013 Review of the Pacific Plan, undertaken by Sir Mekere Morauta and his team and captured in a report [pdf] released less than 12 months ago. That review included detailed analysis of what the regionalism project has been and could be in the future (including work we did assessingpooled service delivery in the region). Its key product, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism[pdf], was endorsed by leaders at the Palau meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum.

The PIFS is currently implementing key activities arising from the 2013 Review of the Pacific Plan, including the rationalisation of regional meetings (a specific request from Pacific island leaders). Regional organisations such as the University of the South Pacific, SPC and the PIFS have only recently implemented recommendations from their comprehensive reviews, and in some cases, this process is ongoing. It comes as a surprise then that another review of the regional architecture should be announced.
It is unclear whether there is much appetite for another review in the region, with the implications of past reviews still being worked through and implemented by regional bodies and the Forum. Alf Simpson, former Director of the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC – now subsumed within the SPC), has said in response to the announcement that:

Time after time they keep asking the same questions hoping for a different response. Even worse the focus on the organisations only results in minor efficiency gains and the question of effectiveness is never addressed.

Transform Aqorau, the CEO of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement office, has labelled another review of the regional architecture as “ill advised, untimely and an overreaction.”
It is certainly significant that the announcement has been met with silence by most regional organisations (regional organisations, after all, would be unlikely to directly criticise the foreign ministers of Australia and Fiji). The one exception is the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, which has welcomed the initiative, although on the proviso that “the discussion comes up with some useful way forward”. Importantly, there has been no request for a review by the countries that have the greatest stake in regionalism: the smaller island states of the Pacific (a group that does not include the larger countries of Fiji and PNG, nor the developed economies of Australia and New Zealand).

This is cause for further concern. It is absurd that Australia and Fiji should bilaterally announce a review of the regional architecture with no consideration for the views of other Pacific island countries. After all, Fiji refuses to be a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, while Australia is not a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group or the Pacific Islands Development Forum. How can either country seek to review regional arrangements to which they are not party? The meeting in February will presumably include other Pacific island heads of government, but the fact remains that the need to hold a discussion was announced by Fiji and Australia without the involvement of other leaders.

The announcement may help to re-establish the bilateral relationship between Australia and Fiji, although there is no guarantee that it will succeed in bringing Fiji back into the Forum’s fold. But it is disappointing in terms of Australia’s engagement with the broader region. Whilst in opposition, Julie Bishop promised a better engagement with the region should her party come into government. What we have seen since last October is a selective approach to developing some bilateral relationships (most notably with PNG and Fiji) and a disregard for progressing regional relationships. Australia has been noticeable by its perceived absence in key forums where issues that matter to Pacific island countries (especially the smaller states) have been discussed. The continued inertia of the PACER Plus negotiations has arisen, at least in part, from the apparent inability of Australian (and New Zealand) officials to take the concerns of Pacific negotiators on board. And the Seasonal Workers’ Program remains a source of disappointment to many.

There are plenty of challenges ahead for the future of Pacific regionalism and visionary leadership is required if they are to be successfully navigated. A review of the regional architecture, announced by two countries less than 12 months after the completion of another review, is far from visionary.

Photo credit: Fiji Ministry of Information

 

Deafening silence on rule of law in Nauru

This item was first published on The Interpreter on 21st March, 2014

The status of the rule of law in Nauru became even more precarious with the recent resignation of Nauru’s Chief Justice, Australian Geoffrey Eames. After two months of seeking to have the withdrawal of his visa by the Nauruan Government overturned, he now says his position is untenable.

This week, the parliamentary opposition of Nauru expressed its deep concern about the state of governance in their country and called on the governments of Australia and New Zealand to stop ‘pussyfooting’ around the situation (more on that later). Particularly vocal among the Opposition is Roland Kun MP, who described government proposals to appoint a new chief justice on a six-month renewable contract as:

…proof that this government is either completely ignorant of the importance of the separation of powers and judicial independence – and therefore unfit to govern – or so contemptuous of the rule of law that they think they are entitled to effectively dictate to the judiciary that judicial decisions must favour government.

But elsewhere, the volume levels have been turned way down. It is true that the Pacific Conference of Chief Justices has expressed its collective concern, but by its own admission, it can do precious little else. More significantly, there has been no utterance from the Pacific Islands Forum. And it is not for want of a mechanism. The Forum has the Biketawa Declaration to provide guidance for responding to a situation of this type.

What is the Biketawa Declaration and why is it important here?
It is a statement of principles of governance that was accepted by the members of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2000. Among those principles is a commitment to maintaining the rule of law; indeed ‘upholding…the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary’ are expressly stipulated in point three of the document.

Not only does the Biketawa Declaration set out a democratic framework to which Pacific island countries have ascribed, it also delineates how the Pacific community can move to guide, censure or otherwise intervene in the event one of its members strays from the path. As well as engaging in national and regional consultation, the Forum Chair has a number of options available to him, including issuing a statement, deploying a fact-finding mission, convening a ministerial contact group or establishing an eminent persons’ group.

The Forum has acted on three occasions under the aegis of this declaration. The most significant was Operation Helpem Fren (also referred to as the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands or RAMSI). The other instances were the targeted measures in relation to Fiji (instigated in 2009 and including suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum) and the Pacific Regional Assistance to Nauru (PRAN), which ran from 2004 to 2009 at the request of the then Nauru Government.

While all of these initiatives are branded as ‘regional’ and carry the imprimatur of the Pacific Islands Forum, they have one other important characteristic in common: Australia played a pivotal role in driving each of them. So, it’s fair to say that unless Australia steps up to provide leadership in this space, we are unlikely to see a regional response beyond that of the chief justices’ grouping referred to earlier.

It is unrealistic to expect New Zealand to take the lead, given Nauru sits so firmly within Australia’s sphere of influence. However, there certainly is a role for Wellington to play given that it is footing the bill for the Nauru justice system to the tune of $1 million per year. Concerned voices from within and close to Nauru have been dismayed that New Zealand has maintained its financial support on the strength of what appear to be weak assurances given at a high level meeting between MFAT and Nauru’s Minister for Justice David Adeang and Home Affairs Minister Charmaine Scotty.

Which brings us to Australia. In discussing the reasons for his resignation, Geoffrey Eames was (by chief justice standards) strident in his criticism of Canberra for describing the situation in Nauru as being purely a domestic matter. It is doubtful that recent statements about the importance of ‘cultivating’ the rule of law in Nauru will comfort those who have criticised Australia’s silence on this issue.

Given the history of Australia’s involvement with Nauru, which started before independence and is much more complex than the most recent phase centred on processing of asylum seekers, it seems disingenuous to seek to adopt a ‘hands off’ approach at this juncture. The interweaving of the bureaucracies of Nauru and Australia, which has involved key positions in the Nauru government machinery being occupied by Australian public servants and contractors, is extensive. For some, it tends to undermine the credibility of Australian protestations about the importance of sovereignty.

Australia runs the risk of sending mixed messages to its Pacific island neighbours about how much value it places on democratic norms. As Bal Kama commented this week:
Australia continues to play a leadership role in the region as an established constitutional democracy. It needs to project a consistent and clear position on issues of rule of law and constitutional governance in a region plagued by serious socio-political instability.

Bal warns that the Nauru precedent may come back to haunt Australia. We should hope he is wrong but be aware of increasing concerns that he may be right.

Photo by Flickr user ARM Climate Research.