Monday 21 Sep 2020 | 18:36 | SYDNEY
What's happening on
  • 21 Sep 2020 14:00

    Ginsburg’s pendulum

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a deep faith in America’s capacity for self-correction. Her absence puts it to the test.

  • 21 Sep 2020 06:00

    China’s gambit in Tajikistan: Partner or overlord?

    Development funding, security presence and historical claims on territory raise questions about China’s objectives.

  • 20 Sep 2020 17:30

    America’s breaking point?

    The fear is that Trump appoints a judge to decide his electoral fate and then call on the military to enforce it.

About the project

A focus on Pacific Islands has been a central component of the Lowy Institute’s work for more than a decade. We research contemporary challenges facing the Pacific islands region in areas including geostrategic competition, sustainable economic development, governance and leadership challenges, poverty alleviation, and Australia’s relationship with Pacific countries and organisations. We also hold major conferences, workshops, dialogues and exchanges. We have produced influential work on Australia’s Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, the 2006 Fiji Coup, normalising Australia’s bilateral relationship with Fiji, Australia’s bilateral relationship with Papua New Guinea, the future development challenges of Papua New Guinea, the economic benefits of greater labour mobility between Australia and the South Pacific, security and resilience dynamics in the Pacific, and foreign aid flows in the Pacific.

The Institute manages four major projects focusing on the Pacific:

The Pacific Research Program (PRP) is a consortium partnership between the Lowy Institute and the Australian National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs and Development Policy Centre, with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The PRP is designed to be a globally pre-eminent centre of excellence for research on the Pacific. More details are available here.

The Lowy Institute Pacific Aid Map is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and is designed to enhance aid effectiveness in the Pacific.

The Australia-PNG Network is a project supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, designed to foster people-to-people links between Australia and Papua New Guinea. More details are available here.

The South Pacific Fragile States Project was a project supported by the Department of Defence to produce independent research and forward looking analysis on the key drivers of instability in the South Pacific and the associated security challenges for Australia and the wider region. More details are available here.


The Lowy Institute Pacific Aid Map is an analytical tool designed to enhance aid effectiveness in the Pacific by improving coordination, alignment, and accountability of foreign aid through enhanced transparency of aid flows. The Pacific Aid Map has collected data on close to 13,000 projects in 14 countries supplied by 62 donors from 2011 onwards. All data has been made freely available on this interactive platform, allowing users to investigate and manipulate the information in a variety of ways. The Pacific Aid Map is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Lowy Institute Pacific Aid map is available here.

Country profiles from Pacific Islands countries can be found here.

See the Chinese Aid in the Pacific map here.



Latest publications

Pacific links: PNG election drama, bringing Pacific languages to life

  • PNG’s Parliament will sit today for the first time since the election and is expected to vote for Prime Minister and Speaker. Peter O’Neill has said that his coalition has secured 56 members, enough for him to reclaim the position of PM. Stefan Armbruster provides an excellent overview here.
  • The end of the election was not without drama. Last Thursday, the elected member for Ijivitari, Richard Masere of the National Alliance party, suffered an attempted kidnapping by members of the People’s National Congress Party.
  • On the same day, former Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta was named as the winner in the seat of Moresby North-West but the Returning Officer went rogue and declared the third placed candidate Joseph Tonde in front of a small group of media, the candidate and his supporters. Soon after the Electoral Commissioner announced the second declaration was invalid and confirmed Sir Mekere was the winner. Morauta released this statement about the incident, and Sir Mekere Morauta discusses it in the video below:


  • PNG’s Treasury has released its Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, an important reminder of the priorities for the next government. Paul Flanagan highlights the economic mismanagement of the former government.
  • Global Witness has released a new report on the shocking impacts of illegal logging and associated land grabs in PNG, which documents the failure to screen out illegal timber from global supply chains. The Financial Times has summarised the report here.
  • Linguists and academics are using virtual reality technology to bring an archive of endangered Pacific languages for life in Australian museums.  
  • A new exhibition, ‘The Long Story’ will open on 19 August at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art to explore representations of history, connection to land and the contestation of public image and space in contemporary Pacific and Asian art.


Pacific links: PNG’s election, Australia’s inconsistent approach, Manus and more

  • Over half the seats in Papua New Guinea's national election are still to be declared after more than two weeks of counting. Four of the country's provinces have seen violent unrest since polling completed – four died over the weekend in Enga Province.

  • Radio New Zealand International's Johnny Blades has put together an interesting overview of the contenders for the top job in PNG, and some up and coming politicians to keep an eye on.  

  • It's now expected that PNG will have no female MPs in the next parliament, with the last of the three incumbent women MPs, Delilah Gore, losing her seat and none of the other female candidates expected to win. It's an opportune moment to look back at this post from earlier in the year from Julien Barbara and Kerryn Baker on improving the chances for female candidates in Melanesian elections.

  • Joanne Wallis spoke to Pacific Beat about her new book on Australia's policy in the Pacific, which argues that Australia's influence in the region is waning because of an inconsistent foreign policy approach.

  • On Friday, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's 26 members will be meeting for their conference and 70th anniversary celebrations. A proposed Pacific Ocean Science Centre will be on the agenda for ministers.  

  • ANU is calling for papers for a special issue of the Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies journal on the Pacific Islands in the 21st Century.

  • Stefan Armbruster tells the story of Manus Island's first refugees, who came from West Papua 50 years ago and have now been offered PNG citizenship.

Pacific links: PNG’s O’Neill keeps his seat, Mr Tomato, the Cook Islands budget and more

  • Dysfunction in the Papua New Guinea election continues, with claims of suspicious ghost voters turning up on the electoral roll and the resignation of the recently formed Election Advisory Committee. As always, Bill Standish provides an excellent overview.
  • The elections have also taken a bizarre turn, with electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato requesting a gag order against an anti-corruption campaigner to stop being called 'Mr Tomato'.
  • In what looks to be a swipe at Gamato, the presiding Justice Collin Makail ordered the Statement of Claim be published in newspapers in full, adding fuel to the fire of this distraction.
  • Results from the election are starting to emerge. Peter O’Neill has retained his seat and can now start the important task of Coalition building, despite a court case being mounted against ‘unconstitutional’ Sunday voting in his electorate.
  • The Speaker, Fisheries Minister and Housing Minister have all lost their seats and Health Minister Michael Malabag looks set to do the same. O’Neill’s PNC party is still forecast to secure the largest number of seats and be called on to form government.  
  • Vanuatu’s deputy Prime Minister has called for the Pacific Islands Forum to consider having a permanent model or arrangement like that of RAMSI to help island countries with law and order and natural disaster challenges.
  • A marae in French Polynesia has been awarded world heritage status after 20 years of campaigning from the territory.
  • The Cook Islands has handed down the largest budget in the country’s history totalling more than US$200 million.
  • Matthew Dornan and Neelesh Gounder assess the ‘election bonanza’ of the 2017/18 Fiji budget.

Pacific links: PNG’s election, Vanuatu’s new president, Kiribati’s anniversary and more

  • PNG’s elections continue to attract attention and criticism. The members of the Election Advisory Committee resigned on Sunday, saying the Electoral Commission had not given them the information they needed to fulfil their obligation to assess the legitimacy of the election.
  • Stefan Armbruster provides an overview of the reactions to the resignations from prominent Papua New Guineans. It includes a scathing statement from former PNG Prime Minster Sir Mekere Morauta, calling for Australia to take some responsibility for the situation.
  • Despite these complications, counting has begun in a number of districts, with one winner already declared. People’s National Congress Party member James Marape has retained his seat of Tari-Pori in Hela Province.
  • Tensions remain high on the ground. Police have confirmed one person died and two were injured as a result of election-related violence in the Western Highlands while observers from both the Australian National University and Melanesian Spearhead Group missions were allegedly assaulted by security forces at a counting venue in Port Moresby.
  • In Fiji, the opposition has spoken out against the proposed budget saying that it favours big business and the elite.
  • Obed Tallis was elected President of Vanuatu last Friday. He has played an important role in Vanuatu public life as a leader of the Presbyterian Church.
  • Kiribati marks 38 years of independence today. The tiny atoll nation is most well-known internationally because of the existential threat it faces from climate change and rising sea levels.


Pacific links: PNG election, Fiji’s and Samoa’s budget deficits, COP23 warm up, and more

  • The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands came to an end last week, after 14 years and at a cost of almost $3 billion. There has been significant coverage on RAMSI, from John Howard, myself, Daniel Evans, Jenny Hayward-Jones and Greg Colton.
  • Elections in Papua New Guinea wrap up this Saturday, but have been punctuated with significant turmoil. Eric Tlozek from the ABC, Stefan Armbruster from SBS and Radio New Zealand have the latest on-the-ground coverage and The Economist has this useful backgrounder.
  • When the dust settles after these turbulent elections, the unifying concern across the country will be the state of the electoral roll. Sam Koim writes about it for Devpolicy.
  • A second vote on who should be the new Vanuatu President has failed to achieve the support of two-thirds of the electoral college, and voting will now go to a third round. There were initially 16 candidates competing for the position.
  • Fiji hosted the Climate Action Pacific Partnership forum this week - a precursor to hosting COP23 next year -  where leaders called for accelerated action to address climate change.
  • Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama used the opportunity to offer permanent settlement in Fiji for any Tuvalu and Kiribati citizens that have to leave because of climate change. Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, however, does not think resettlement is the answer.
  • Fiji handed down its national budget, with deficit spending expected to reach 4.5% of GDP.
  • Samoa also handed down its national budget, with deficit spending reducing from 4.7% to 3.5% of GDP.
  • All of the presentations from the recently held Pacific Update in Suva are now available.  

Predicting PNG’s election

The PNG national elections are upon us, and for a brief moment the attention of regional and global media will be focused on this vibrant and costly celebration of democracy. The issues leading into the elections have been well documented by myself and others. Bal Kama's recent piece for The Interpreter is one of the best yet.

PNG's elections are famous for their diversity, high cost, logistical complexity, and security issues. They are a true marvel of the democratic process. The elections are also famous because they are incredibly unpredictable. There are no polls in PNG, and with 44 political parties and more than 3000 candidates contesting 111 seats, a prospective pollster wouldn't know where to begin. On top of that, PNG elections routinely boot out half of the country's sitting MPs.

It takes a brave or foolish person to predict the outcome of a PNG election. Here goes nothing.

How it could go right for Peter O'Neill

Prime Minister O'Neill has significant advantages coming into the election. He has marginalised the opposition to only 18 seats, and his own party (the People's National Congress) at last count held 54 seats in parliament, almost enough for a majority in its own right. O'Neill will be the first PNG Prime Minister to make it through a full term, and over that time he has proven to be a master at using the levers of politics and funding to maintain a broad coalition government.

Given his considerable advantages leading into the election, there is a very real chance that his party will succeed in being invited to form government. If O'Neill becomes the first declared winner in the election he can quickly move on to the real job of coalition-building. A low turnover of MPs (highly possible, given how subdued cash campaigning has been this year) will benefit O'Neill, as he can bring back more of his key allies and members of his own party. As his base builds he can continue to marginalise key opponents, and quickly get within striking distance of the magic number of 56, which would make a second term with O'Neill at the helm a foregone conclusion.

How it could go wrong

Prime Minister O'Neill is not as invincible as he was when commodity prices were soaring in 2014. The people of PNG have been disappointed on a number of fronts, and the dangerous state of the economy is impacting all parts of the country. There has been civil unrest in urban areas, and the outstanding corruption cases against the Prime Minister have tarnished his reputation. A 'coalition in opposition' has already formed hoping to grab the reigns from O'Neill, which includes major names such as Don Polye, Gary Juffa, Ben Micah, Patrick Pruatch, Kerenga Kua and former prime ministers Michael Somare, Julius Chan and Mekere Morauta. O'Neill has certainly been battered, but he is nowhere near beaten. There is, however, an opening for change that one might not have thought possible even a year ago.

The wheels could start to fall off for O'Neill back in his home electorate. While O'Neill is confident he will win quickly, an insurrection is being led against him by one-time protégé Stanley Liria, who has campaigned heavily. If Liria splits the vote in the Ialibu-Pangia seat then an outcome may take some time, distracting O'Neill from the task of building a coalition. If the turnover of MPs is unprecedentedly high, as it was in 2002 when 75% of MPs were booted out, then existing allegiances and party ties will count for far less. O'Neill nearly doubled his party membership from 27 MPs in 2012 to 54 over five years, but opportunism will pose a difficult test of that loyalty.

A lot will need to go right for this scenario to play out, and even if O'Neill is hamstrung in building his own coalition, it is still unclear which leader will take charge of the 'coalition in opposition'.

What will happen?

With all the variables at play this is an educated guess, but my money is on O'Neill. Say what you will about his policy track record, he is clearly a master at the game of politics. Whoever comes into power, however, will have urgent challenges to address – first and foremost, the dire state of the economy. As the count takes place and coalition negotiations drag on, the stakes for the new government will only get higher.

Pacific links: Resilience, US engagement, marine health and more

  • Jenny Hayward-Jones discusses the limitations of resilience in the Pacific Islands context.
  • Greg Colton cautions that President Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement may be the beginning of the end of US influence in the Pacific Isands region.
  • The first Pasifika musical to be staged in Australia, 'ReHavaiki', explored identity and belonging for young Pacific Islanders living away from their homelands.
  • Solomon Islands is launching a Women, Peace and Security National Action Plan.
  • Vanuatu announced it will not sign the PACER Plus trade agreement, alongside Fiji and PNG.
  • Bal Kama writes on the challenges faced by the O'Neill Government in PNG over the last five years leading up to this election.
  • Michelle Nayahamui Rooney unpacks a recent political cartoon about female candidates in the PNG election, and offers suggestions to address the media's problematic treatment of women.
  • The 'PNG Speaks' initiative has collected extensive interviews with ten prominent Papua New Guineans, documenting their memories of PNG's independence in 1975.
  • The UN Oceans Conference has ended and, after years of lobbying by Pacific nations, all 193 member countries are supporting an action plan to restore marine health.


Pacific links: Ocean economies, PACER Plus, Robin Nair and more

Aid and development links: M-Pesa in Kenya, Blockchain, Paul Romer and more

  • The New York Times discusses the success of M-Pesa leapfrogging conventional banking in Kenya and how it is continuing to innovate.
  • 'Blockchain' is getting thrown around a lot in development circles this year. Duncan Green provides a handy primer of what it actually means.
  • As the Trump administration threatens dramatic cuts to the US aid program, Steve Radelet once again addresses the age-old question of whether foreign aid actually works. NPR also tackles the subject.
  • Reports have emerged that the World Bank’s new chief economist Dr Paul Romer is being sidelined from his management duties as he tries to force them to communicate more clearly. Romer has responded to the reports on his personal blog.
  • According to a World Bank survey of more than 10,000 ‘influencers’ in more than 40 countries, concern about governance has increased rapidly in recent years and reform in this area is now regarded as the most important development priority. 
  • Branko Milanovic talks about why focusing on inequality is important for The Guardian.
  • Scientists have mapped the changes in night time lighting between 2012 and 2016, teasing out some interesting conclusions that are discussed in this National Geographic article.
  • Terence Wood has written on the rise and fall of the New Zealand aid program following the recent budget. He has also tracked how the Pacific fared during the McCully era.


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