Wednesday 27 Jan 2021 | 18:21 | SYDNEY
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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 Island links: Alternative Russia, Australia's coal, women in politics, and more

    Pacific links: PNG's schools, Rugby World Cup, regional feminism and more

    By Harriet Smith, an intern with the Lowy Institute's Melanesia Program.

    • The outcomes document from the 2016 GE Aus-PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue is now available on the Aus-PNG Network website. You can view a photo essay of the Dialogue here.
    • Human Rights Watch has released its World Report for 2017, which highlights Papua New Guinea's failure to adequately address a number of human rights violations. Read the full chapter on Papua New Guinea here.
    • With the PNG national election mid-year and Rugby League World Cup matches in Port Moresby later in 2017, politics and sport will dominate life in that nation this year. Get the full lowdown in this interview with the Lowy Institute's Jonathan Pryke on the ABC's Pacific Beat.
    • Still in Papua New Guinea, this Devpolicy blog post explores delays in school funding. The problems with the O’Neill government’s flagship Tuition Fee Free (TFF) policy have prompted some to wonder if this fourth attempt at free education will go the same way as the previous failures.
    • The Solomon Islands government is expanding its urban agenda to address the rapidly growing informal settlements in Honiara caused by high land and housing costs.
    • Activist and PhD candidate Jane Alver believes 'coalitions across diversity' are one way to progress gender equality in the Pacific. Read here how she saw these playing out at the inaugural Pacific Feminist Forum in Suva, Fiji, last year.
    • In the World Bank’s Pacific Possible campaign, one of Fiji’s youngest leaders, Latileta Qoro, explains how greater gender equality can help end poverty in Fiji.
    • Latileta attended the 2015 Melanesia New Voices conference, from which an outcomes document was published by the Lowy Institute.


    Main photo of PNG school students courtesy of Flickr user Asian Development Bank


    The benefits and challenges of ICT in PNG

    Access to information and increased communications capacity bring major benefits to a society. New business opportunities emerge, as do opportunities for education. Access to ICT can broaden opportunities for capacity building and increase workforce productivity.

    The adoption and use of information communication technology in Papua New Guinea has increased significantly in the past decade. The penetration of mobile phone usage is one well-documented example of this rise, with coverage growing from about 4.7% in 2007 to 47% in 2015. Internet usage -though gaining - is significantly lower. World Bank statistics suggest around 7.9% of the population is now online. While the rate of growth is the highest in the region, the percentage online remains the lowest; progress is encouraging but there is still a long way to go.

    But how does increased connectivity translate to perceivable development improvements in PNG? For key development indicators such as adult literacy and GDP growth, it is still a little early to tell. As growth continues and uptake in various sectors improves, we should see trends emerging.

    It's useful to look at other countries that have had greater ICT and internet usage for a longer period of time. A 2011 report by the McKinsey Global Institute that examined the G8 economies and those of Brazil, China, India, South Korea, and Sweden found that internet ‘accounts for a significant and growing portion of global GDP’ – so significant that if the internet and its surrounding business and transactions were seen as a single sector, it would be greater than that of agriculture or energy. Global GDP expansion brings local benefits: the telco industry has forecast the expansion of mobile telecommunication will create 16,000 new jobs across the Pacific Islands, contributing a 6.2% rise to GDP in the region.  

    The benefits of ICT for development are not only economic in nature. Education is one sector that can dramatically benefit. Caribbean countries which, as small island developing states face similar challenges to many Pacific nations, have used ICT to help bridge the gap in education provision that existed between them and more developed countries. ICT has also proven critical in humanitarian responses to crises, particularly as older technologies such as short-wave radio services are phased out. In Vanuatu during Cyclone Pam and its aftermath ICT was pivotal in coordinating relief efforts and restoring normalcy. This benefit is particularly important in a region that is one of the most prone to natural disasters in the world.

    While the benefits of further ICT development in PNG may be clear, many expansion and adoption challenges remain. Of all the countries in the Pacific, PNG is among the most populous with about 7.3 million, 87% of whom live in rural areas where challenging terrain makes further mobile penetration and uptake difficult. Being the largest, most mountainous island in the region, infrastructure has always been an issue for development within PNG.

    Internet access costs in PNG are also a substantial barrier. These are among the highest in the world. Even if rural communities are able to receive a mobile internet signal, the cost to access may be prohibitive. This can deter small business owners looking to improve their business but who may not have the budget for internet. With 3G and now 4G coverage increasing, and an internet exchange point planned (which should improve the quality and, to a degree, lower service costs), cost rather than accessibility is likely to be the major barrier for further urban uptake. Improved service quality would also help encourage PNG businesses to adopt ICT innovations, provided costs can be brought down. Further government and development agency investment in ICT, particularly to help reduce costs, would therefore go a long way and be well received by the public, given the trends in uptake.

    A further challenge to be reckoned with is the disruptive impact ICT can have on existing industries. A notable example is PNG’s domestic media, which is being overtaken by social media and blogs that often operate with little oversight. A 2014 study from ABC International Development on access to information in Papua New Guinea, reported a decline in radio listenership. This was attributed, at least in part, to increased interest in the internet. As developed nations have discovered, few sectors are immune to technology-enabled disruption. This cannot be avoided but it can be anticipated. For this reason, the relevant offices and agencies need to plan carefully when developing strategies involving ICT.

    It is encouraging to see that the rate of growth in internet usage within PNG has ticked up so significantly and spawned new opportunities, but there is still a lot of work to be done. PNG is not alone in this endeavour, as illustrated by discussions at the Small Island Developing States Roundtable hosted by the Internet Governance Forum. A good starting point for PNG would be to collaborate with global organisations charged with promoting good internet governance for the betterment of society. Such organisations, including the ITU, ICANN and APNIC, are well-placed to promote best practice policy development in developing states. The multi-stakeholder, bottom-up approach to governance is much favoured within the internet space. Taking this approach would go a long way to ensuring various sectors’ interests are taken into account in future policy development to promote growth in ICT and consequently advance PNG’s sustainable development goals.

    Pacific Island links: 2017 predictions, PNG uni places, internet cables and more

    How the ABC can avoid tuning out the Pacific

    This week the ABC announced it would end shortwave transmission services to the Pacific region early next year, delivering an estimated $2.8 million in savings. It’s unclear exactly how much of these savings will be ring-fenced for the ABC’s already stripped-back Pacific services.

    I have a lot of sympathy with the ABC's position. Given the budgetary limitations facing the ABC’s international broadcasting services, it’s fair to argue that resources should be focused on the FM and digital services that have the most market penetration. The proliferation of ICT and mobile telephones across the region is not to be understated; you’re more likely to find a phone signal than running water or consistent electricity supply in rural PNG. There’s also a new generation of middle class Pacific islanders who get their news almost exclusively from social media. Freeing up resources to better tap into these markets seems like a reasonable decision.

    But it’s the most disenfranchised in the Pacific, those in extremely remote communities that cell towers and FM radio still can’t reach, who are going to be deprived. Exactly how many people will lose out from the closure to shortwave (often a remote community’s only connection to the outside world) is hard to say, but I would hope that it’s information the ABC collected before making such a decision.

    Weighing the arguments, it is understandable that the ABC made the decision to focus on FM and digital services. But it is profoundly disappointing that such a decision needs to be made at all. The gutting of Radio Australia has already made the ABC’s Pacific broadcasting a shell of its former self. With no other broadcaster poised or incentivised to fill the gap in the Pacific, we are witnessing a serious deterioration of international media engagement in the region.

    It’s particularly hard to reconcile the cuts when you put $2.8 million into context. Our government is sending over $1.1 billion to the Pacific in 2016/17 alone. We have more than $20 billion invested in the region (see table 5 here). Compared to those numbers, the cost of maintaining the ABC’s shortwave presence is a rounding error.

    The cut is particularly disappointing when considering Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s rhetoric about the need for a step-change and a scaling up of all elements of our engagement in the region, and considering that the announcement was made at the same time as a prominent (and very welcome) high-level bipartisan political tour of the region.

    This isn’t to say that blame for this decision should fall at the Coalition’s feet. The ABC isn’t exactly on great terms with the Coalition government, and the ABC may well be culpable of failing to both recognise and justify to government the vital importance of their international services, especially in the Pacific.

    Still, the call has been made and the plug will soon be pulled. It provides the ABC with an opportunity to re-engage with the Pacific in new and exciting ways. This should start by setting aside the $2.8 million in savings for more Pacific programming. The ABC has been particularly vague on how these savings will be reprioritised. When addressing the Lowy Institute in August, ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie outlined a focus on:

    …exploring new distribution channels to reach people and an expanded content offering for the region that would include English and Tok Pisin (or pidgin English) audio content and an enhanced Pacific Beat News service.

    The first step towards reaching this target is a firm commitment to reinvest the shortwave savings back into Pacific programming. There are any number of ways in which this injection of resources could be effectively used, but I have three suggestions:

    1. The ABC should rebuild its journalistic capacity to get out to the region more and investigate more in-depth stories. The Pacific Beat team does a valiant job but as they operate on a shoestring budget they pull their content together from their base in Melbourne and aren’t able to travel to the region extensively. Such efforts would have the added benefit of further developing domestic media across the Pacific through working side-by-side with seasoned ABC journalists.

    2. The ABC should follow through on its commitment to investing in FM receivers throughout the region and expanding their syndications and partnerships with a growing domestic media. Of course, a patchwork of FM towers across the region won’t provide the full coverage that shortwave currently does, so investments would need to be made strategically in order to cover the largest number of people. There should be a focus on those in remote cyclone-prone areas that rely on the ABC’s broadcasting services for safety alerts. The ABC should provide a timetable of this rollout to ensure that as much as possible of their shortwave audience tunes back in once services are again made available.

    3. The ABC should invest in significantly enhancing its social media presence in the region. Anyone who has spent any time in the Pacific will know that the majority of young urbanites now consume information through Facebook. Tapping into this market, as well as feeding Pacific Beat content into the vibrant blogosphere and social media news groups, would help to greatly increase the ABC’s audience in the region.

    The ABC plays a critical role in a region starved of international journalistic attention. By pulling the plug on shortwave services it runs the risk of tuning the Pacific out entirely. That would be a grave mistake, and a significant own goal for Australia’s soft power reach in the region. I can only hope that the ABC’s executives recognise what’s at stake, and back up Guthrie’s rhetoric with a solid commitment to further fund Pacific-oriented services. Our nearest neighbours deserve that much.

    Photo: Wikimedia/EGuide Travel

    Pacific Island links: Tourism in PNG, gender-based violence, bans on home births, and more


    Photo: Flickr/Taro Taylor

    Pacific links: NZ quake, PNG budget, Palau election and more

    By Harriet Smith, an intern with the Lowy Institute's Melanesia program

    Pacific Island links: Abbott and Wong in PNG, Grasberg mine, Zika in Palau and more

    • Tony Abbott, Australia’s former prime minister, was in PNG last week, where he gave a talk at an Anglicare fundraising dinner, hung out with the AFP, and had an informal meeting with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
    • A Guardian report on Grasberg mine in West Papua, the world’s largest gold mine and third largest copper mine, discusses the environmental effects on the island and how little impact it has had on the development of West Papua.
    • Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited PNG in late October, and has written on the importance of Australia investing in all elements of its relationship with its closest neighbour.
    • The acting speaker of PNG’s parliament Aide Ganasi has passed away from a heart attack.
    • Fiji has entered a bid to preside over next year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP23), a move welcomed by the deputy director-general of the Pacific Community.
    • As the cyclone season begins in Fiji, many are still residing in tents following Cyclone Winston, and are in a highly vulnerable position if another cyclone strikes. 
    • Fiji’s police commissioner is taking a year off to attend a military training college in Malaysia, prompting criticism from Fiji’s opposition leader.
    • Provincial leaders in Solomon Islands have agreed to adopt a federal constitution.
    • Palau has recorded its first case of the Zika virus.
    • American Samoans are electing a governor and a lieutenant-governor (as well as twenty House of Representatives members).
    • The Samoa Victim Support Group has won the With and For Girls Award, recognising its work to eliminate violence against women and girls.
    • EMTV has aired the first episode in a series highlighting gender-based violence prevention and response in PNG:

    Photo: Getty Images/Bloomberg

    Australia's marriage-equality debate reverberates through the Pacific

    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.


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