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 MAPPING FOREIGN ASSISTANCE IN THE PACIFIC PROJECT
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.
By Harriet Smith, an intern with the Lowy Institute's Melanesia program
Photo: Getty Images/Bloomberg
Harriet Smith is an intern in the Melanesia Program, Lowy Institute.
As the LGBTQ+ community in Australia continues the struggle for marriage equality, some are asking what impact this will have for our neighbours, especially in nations which still criminalise homosexuality. With the bill to hold a mariage-equality plebiscite passing the House of Representatives, but looking set to fail in the Senate, the issue has received significant media attention, and this has permeated throughout the Pacific, where Australian media is widely consumed.
When marriage equality was achieved in the US, the change prompted Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to make derogatory public comments about lesbians. This despite Fiji being the first Pacific Islands nation to give sexual and gender minorities protection against discrimination, in Article 26 of the 2013 constitution. Shamima Ali, the head of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, noted that while acceptance of the gay community in Fiji is increasing, especially in the capital, leaders must encourage tolerance. Prime Minister Bainimarama’s comments clearly demonstrate that international discussion of LGBTQ+ rights has a discernible impact on Pacific nations.
At the recent Olympics, there was a sad reminder from Tongan athlete Amini Fonua that in many parts of the world, homosexuality is still illegal. He criticised a journalist who created a false dating profile to lure in gay athletes at the Olympics and out them, potentially putting their lives in danger for those who come from countries where homosexuality is illegal. In the Pacific region alone, seven countries still criminalise homosexuality (Cook Islands, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Tuvalu; homosexuality was only decriminalised in Nauru in 2016). For those living under the threat of jail because of their sexuality, the right to marriage may not be a priority, and regional debate around the issue may spark tension. This backlash could take many forms, such as increased public homophobic rhetoric, religious condemnation, or even violent backlash, as was faced by LGBTQ+ activists in Uganda in response to calls for rights.
The impact of colonisation in the Pacific has been far reaching, as it spread both the legal system of the colonial powers and the moral values behind this system. Human Rights Watch points to a corroboration between countries colonised by the British Empire, and those that have had laws that criminalise homosexual conduct. This included Australia, Fiji, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Western Samoa.
Many nations which inherited these laws from the British defend them as products of nationalism and traditional culture, and paint homosexuality as a Western vice, forgetting that the West brought these laws forbidding it in the first place, as seen extensively in African nations. This even occurs in countries which may have had a much broader conceptualisation of gender and sexuality prior to colonisation – for example, the Fa’afafine in Samoa. The traditional values which many call on to oppose LGBTQ+ human rights may not be traditional at all.
Western media tends to only focus on a few narrow conceptions of LGBTQ+ sexuality, forgetting that there are many broader local conceptions which may not associate with this acronym - Pacific understandings of gender and sexuality are often different to those in the West, and LGBTQ+ labels may carry a stigma in parts of the Pacific.
Some Pacific states have indicated that they may repeal their laws against homosexuality, but others such as PNG have signalled the opposite, and the discussion is ongoing in Tonga. In a worst-case scenario, substantial public backlash around marriage equality could push back the decriminalisation of homosexuality in these nations. It may also drive the LGBTQ+ community further underground in overtly homophobic places and increase instances of hate crimes and discrimination. This could even cause loss of life, as seen just recently in PNG, where a young man was murdered because of his sexuality.
Both the LGBTQ+ community and the broader Australian public have a responsibility to pay closer attention to how this issue will affect the Pacific Islands, and to limit the harm which could occur.
Photo by Flickr user John Abel.
In this Lowy Institute Analysis, Anna Powles and Jose Sousa-Santos argue that Russia’s sale of arms to Fiji underlines how the security orthodoxy in the Pacific Islands region is changing. Unless Australia and New Zealand adapt to these changing strategic circumstances they will lose influence in the region to external players.
Photo: Commonwealth of Australia/Department of Defence/ABIS Chris Beerens
The reporting on the tragic confrontation between students and police at the gates of the University of Papua New Guinea on Wednesday reminded me of a comment made some years ago when I was covering a landslide in the PNG Highlands.
Initial reports out of Port Moresby this week quoted students as claiming police had shot dead four unarmed students. By the evening news, the number who died was back to zero, although at least seventeen were wounded.
The comment in relation to the Highlands landslide was that Papua New Guinea must be the only nation in the world where the death toll falls rather than rises as more information becomes available. That is not always the case, of course. My early reports on the Aitape Tsunami on the north-west coast of PNG in 1998 had eleven dead, but that rose to well over two thousand as we found out more about that terrible disaster.
What is going on in Papua New Guinea at the moment is tragic. And if the trouble spreads through the Highlands it will become very messy.
Peter O'Neill is not the quintessentially evil character his critics brand him as. But by closing down Task Force Sweep (which he had set up primarily to tackle corruption) and refusing to allow the police to question him over serious corruption allegations, he has allowed the perception to become common belief that he has placed himself above the law.
That is very dangerous in a country like Papua New Guinea, which is teeming with people with a grievance.
It is indicative of how few Australian journalists have any real knowledge of PNG that Rowan Callick had to write an analysis item for The Australian from Beijing, where he is once again the China correspondent. The Brisbane Courier Mail is so short of people who know anything about PNG that one of its headline writers decided the shootings had happened in the Indonesian province of Papua, not Papua New Guinea.
In the first few hours after the initial reports of the police shootings reached Australia, I was inundated with calls from the ABC to go live on various programs to comment. I declined, saying I did not feel I knew enough about what exactly was going on.
It concerns me that much of the reporting said the students were 'unarmed' and 'innocent'. I am sure some of them were, and my sympathy goes to those wounded. The use of live rounds by the police is appalling. But I have covered enough demonstrations in PNG to know that, when it comes to violent confrontations, 'innocent' is not a complete description for those on either side.
The students have been striking for weeks and were about to be bussed to the Parliament to demonstrate in support of Opposition attempts to bring on a No Confidence Motion against Peter O'Neill. O'Neill has the numbers to defeat such a motion at present, and there are those who are desperate to foment chaos to bring him down anyway they can.
Back in 2001, several university students were shot dead in Port Moresby in a confrontation between police and students protesting over the Mekere Morauta Government's implementation of an economic stringency program recommended by the World Bank. One report back then claimed Morauta was the one to blame and that it was 'PNG's Tiananmen Square'. It was not.
That comparison was raised again this week. Again, I cannot see the similarities.
Photo: Getty Images/PNGFM News
With the first Turnbull Government budget this week, it is important to take stock of the impact the Coalition government has had to date on Australia's aid program.
Perhaps the largest foreign policy legacy of the Abbott Government has been the impact it had upon Australian aid. Presiding over the biggest aid cuts in Australia's history, and a now-irreversible merger of AusAID into DFAT, the aid landscape in Australia today is vastly different from 2012 when, under Labor, aid flows were at their highest ever levels and projected to continue to grow.
In many ways this has been a return to trend for Australian aid and there has already been much discussion about the impact it has had on the aid industry. What has only recently become apparent, thanks to new statistics from the OECD, is the impact these cuts have had on our international donor standings. What's been happening in Australia comes into sharp contrast when compared with the rest of the world.
Overall, 2015 was another bumper year for international aid flows, with official development assistance (ODA) from OECD countries rising for a third straight year to US$131.6 billion in 2015. After adjusting for inflation and the appreciation of the US dollar, this represented an increase of 6.9% in real terms, the largest single year increase ever achieved. Even when excluding expenditures relating to in-donor country refugee support — Australia was a trailblazer in this kind of aid financing — aid still grew by 1.7% in real terms. This is surely good news for the international aid community, and those impoverished and in desperate need whom this industry ultimately serves. One country that cannot share in this revelry is Australia.
Figure 1: Falling out of synch with the aid industry
This chart highlights the collapse in Australian aid we were all expecting, one that is completely out of synch with global aid trends. When looking at a calendar year, Australian aid peaked at US$4.8 billion in 2012 before tumbling by 19% to US$3.9 billion in 2015. Given this is a calendar year measure, it doesn't even fully encapsulate the A$1 billion cut implemented in 2015/16 budget, or the expected 5% cut in next week's budget.
Table 1: How far we've slipped
Future decline aside, Australia's international standings have already been significantly impacted by the existing cuts. In each of the measures listed in the table above, the first assessing volumes of aid, the second a country's aid generosity, and the third a country's ability to give aid, Australia has dropped three or more places. Given there are only 28 countries in the OECD donors club, this is a significant drop, especially considering Australia had the 8th largest economy and 4th highest GDP per capita of this group in 2014, according to the World Bank.
Many would argue that we shouldn't compare ourselves to other countries as we all face different and competing domestic constraints. Another approach is to look back at our performance in the past. Compared to past years, however, our current efforts do not stack up particularly well. Based on Australian budget figures and after adjusting for inflation between 1971-72 and 2017-18, Australian aid will have increased by 68% while global aid more than tripled. Between 1980-81 and 2017-18, our aid per capita will be roughly 6% lower, implying our ability to give has remained about the same or, put differently, the amount we give has kept up with population growth. However, where our aid contributions have not kept up is when compared to the growth of our economy. As the graph below shows, by 2017-18 our generosity, as measured by aid as a proportion of gross national income, will be at an all-time low in 2017-18.
As we have become wealthier, our generosity has more than halved.
Figure 2: Historical low points for Australian generosity
For aid stakeholders and those that see Australian aid as an effective diplomatic and development tool, this is a sad state of affairs. One could argue that, given our geographic proximity to numerous developing nations, we now have an unbalanced set of foreign policy budget priorities. It could also be argued that voters, by and large, are supportive of the cuts. Our own Lowy Poll last year affirmed that sentiment, noting that 53% of Australians were in favour of the cuts. However more recent polling suggests Australians' enthusiasm for further cuts has waned, and also that the way the question is asked can have significant impact on respondents' answers, particularly when comparing Australia's effort to other countries.
Whatever the case, Australia's international standings in the aid community are falling, and along with them our capacity to influence the regional aid architecture and global development debates. Not to mention the capacity of the government to do good in the region.
We'll wait to see this week how much further pain the sector will suffer in the year ahead. I'll be taking a more forensic look at the 2016/17 budget figures as they are revealed, so keep your eyes glued to The Interpreter.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.