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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: NZ foreign policy, death penalty in PNG, Somare dynasty, Bishop in Fiji and more

  • New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully addressed New Zealand's international priorities in a speech at the Lowy Institute. The minister discussed the importance of economic development, renewable energy and disaster readiness in the Pacific and talked about New Zealand's relationship with Fiji and with Nauru.
  • Nauru's government has continued with electoral reforms, raising the candidate fee from $100 to $2000. Opposition MPs argue the fee is an unfair barrier for prospective candidates.
  • In Papua New Guinea, Deputy Opposition Leader Sam Basil has criticised the government's handling of the economy. Political alliances are being formed with an eye on next year's election.
  • The first Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare, announced that he will retire from politics at the 2017 election. Sir Michael's daughter is considering standing for parliament.
  • The Papua New Guinea Law Reform Commission says public opinion is against the reintroduction of the death penalty. The Commission will recommend completely repealing the death penalty.
  • One year on, damage caused by Cyclone Pam still challenges Vanuatu. Recovery Committee chairman Johnny Koanapo says the country is moving from the humanitarian to the rebuilding phase.
  • Foreign Minister Julie Bishop toured cyclone-hit Fiji to inspect Australia's relief support and meet with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and disaster relief officials.
  • I wrote for The Interpreter on the foreign policy implications of the Cyclone Winston relief effort in Fiji.
  • Medical teams in Fiji are combating the threat of infectious diseases, with mosquito-borne illnesses a key concern.
  • Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Dame Meg Taylor discusses Pacific regionalism, the priorities of the Forum and the role of women in leadership in this interview on Devpolicy's blog.



Vanuatu's neglected international airport

By Jonathan Pryke, Research Fellow in the Lowy Institute's Melanesia Program and Matthew Dornan, Deputy Director of the Development Policy Centre

Vanuatu is the 9th most tourism-dependent country in the world. The tourism sector accounts for between 40% and 65% of GDP (measures vary by year and source), and creates a third of all employment in the country. So the alarm caused by the decision of Air New Zealand, (and soon after) Qantas, and Virgin Australia, to cancel flights/tickets to Vanuatu in January was understandable. The decision was blamed on the poor condition of Vanuatu’s main international runway at Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila. While Air Vanuatu, Fiji Airways, Solomon Airlines, Air Niugini and Air Calin are still running routes into Vanuatu, the lack of seats, reputational damage, and importantly, the loss of advertising by the Australian and New Zealand airlines, will no doubt have an impact on tourism arrivals. 

The cancellations have come at a bad time. They follow the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam in March 2015, which left more than 70% of Vanuatu’s 277,000 people displaced with lost output and damaged property valued at roughly 61% of Vanuatu’s GDP. The IMF has estimated that reconstruction costs add up to 40% of GDP, of which around half will be paid by the public sector. Funding the reconstruction effort was always going to be a daunting task for government, irrespective of whether the economy performed well. Without a strong tourism sector, that challenge will be all the greater.

Vanuatu has already suffered a decline in tourism arrivals in 2015 as a result of Cyclone Pam and the negative publicity associated with the disaster (not many people travel to places recently hit by a cyclone). Air visitor arrivals in 2015 were down almost 19,000 on the previous year, cruise ship arrivals were down almost 23,000. We’ve made some very rough estimates as to what this downturn in tourism means for the Vanuatu economy as a whole, drawing on a 2007 baseline study of tourism expenditure in the country. We estimate that the decline in tourism arrivals in 2015 (with air arrivals spend on average six times more than cruise ship arrivals) will cost the sector approximately $40 million in revenue (adjusting for inflation). That's roughly two thirds of Australia's total aid budget to Vanuatu, and equivalent to about 4% of Vanuatu's GDP in 2015.

Enter Underlying working and full dataset available here

While such declines in tourism arrivals are nothing new in the wake of disasters, fortunately they do tend to be temporary. The Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority had flagged in 2015 that it would pursue an aggressive marketing campaign in order to draw tourists back to the country and repair the damage to the ‘Vanuatu brand’ caused by Cyclone Pam. That recovery has now been put in question by the negative publicity associated with the cancellation of air services to Vanuatu by three Australian and New Zealand airlines. The cessation of advertising of Vanuatu as a destination by these companies will be equally damaging.

So what happened? How did Vanuatu, a country that is so reliant on tourism, fail to maintain its main international runway?

Bauerfield airport, the country’s main international airport, has been in need of repair and rehabilitation for years. Airports Vanuatu Limited, which is responsible for management of the airport, has been unable to fund major airport works using the (insufficient) fees it collects — in part due to its management of several other (loss-making) airports in Vanuatu. Poor management and a politicised board have also been a problem at various times. As a result, Airports Vanuatu Limited has been reliant on government funds (or donor funds negotiated by government) for major rehabilitation work.

There have been numerous false starts to rebuilding or rehabilitating Vanuatu’s airport, with each new government appearing to have its own opinion on what should be done. In 2013 a deal to the tune of US$350 million (involving no initial outlay by government) was struck with ‘Vanuatu Trade Development’, a Singapore-based company with no aviation experience, to upgrade Vanuatu’s airports and run them for 50 years. A change of leadership saw the proposal dumped (probably prudently), with the new government agreeing on a US$59.5 million loan agreement with the World Bank. Unfortunately, another leadership change led to this deal being squashed with the incoming Prime Minister instead pursuing a deal with a Shanghai-based consortium.

Some in Vanuatu claim that the condition of the runway is an excuse made by the airlines to cancel their services. According to this argument, the decision was actually made on commercial grounds, with the routes no longer profitable given the decline in arrivals post-Pam. An independent assessment of the airstrip clearing it for commercial use provides some backing to this claim, but it also calls for urgent repairs in the next 12 months. Whatever the case, it is clear that the airport was in need of urgent attention; attention that the Vanuatu government failed to provide.

Underlying the indecisiveness surrounding work to the airport has been political instability. In October last year Vanuatu’s Supreme Court took the unprecedented and remarkable action of convicting more than a quarter of the country’s legislature on charges of bribery, disqualifying them from office. Attempts to pardon themselves failed, with the impasse leading the President to dissolve parliament, forcing a snap election early in 2016. This resulted in a new parliament and Coalition government under the leadership of Charlot Salwai. Mr Salwai will be Vanuatu’s eleventh Prime Minister since the country gained independence in 1980, and the fifth in less than six years, just beating out Australia as the most turbulent democracy in Oceania. This revolving door of leadership is in stark contrast to Airports Vanuatu’s line of Vanuatu having 'a thriving economy and a stable political environment'. While political instability is not always associated with poor policy, in this case, the link is clear.

Fortunately, the seriousness of the problem has now been recognised. The new Coalition government has appointed a well-regarded Minister for Infrastructure and Public Utilities, who has taken rapid action to rehabilitate the airport runway. Short-term remediation work is already underway. Longer-term rehabilitation work is planned. This will not spare Vanuatu’s tourism industry from feeling the effects of reduced passenger numbers in the short-term. Hopefully, in the long-term, all three of the Australian and New Zealand airlines that cancelled ticketing/flights will again begin servicing Vanuatu. Although this is by no means guaranteed, Virgin Australia has provided a good sign by indicating that it will recommence flights to Port Vila starting on 2 May. If nothing else, the unfortunate episode will hopefully be a wake-up call for Vanuatu’s political leaders. Jostling for political power is part of the game, but it should not come at the expense of good (or in this case, simply adequate) governance.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user lirneasia

Pacific Island links: Cyclone Winston devastates, aid arrives in Fiji, PNG's SABL controversy and more

The Embarrassed Colonialist

Forty years after independence, Papua New Guinea is the largest single recipient of aid from Australia. Yet Australians seem to be largely ambivalent about the country. Few Australians know the history of our colonial rule in PNG and our ties to the country are being forgotten.



Pacific Island links: Russian arms in Fiji, Vanuatu's election result, PNG drought and more

By Alastair Davis, an intern in the Lowy Institute's Melanesia Program.

Aid & development links: Australian Aid Tracker, inequality quiz, Zika Virus, #Proudest100 and more

By Chloe Hickey-Jones, an intern in the Lowy Institute's Melanesia Program.

  • Last week the Development Policy Centre launched the Australian Aid Tracker, a primer website with all kinds of useful information, visualisations, trends, maps and graphs on Australia's aid program.
  • Analysis of the Aid Tracker data is also already underway, with the first piece of commentary from Ashlee Betteridge showing that our humanitarian efforts are coming up short. Currently, Australia is ranked 12th largest OECD provider of humanitarian assistance, although our rank is expected to drop after the 3% humanitarian aid funding cut in the last budget.
  • Start your Monday off with some development trivia and take the Guardian's Global Inequality Quiz. You can also take a quiz over at Devpolicy on your knowledge of Australian aid.
  • Today, the WHO International Health Regulations Emergency Committee will convene to discuss the Zika Virus. Research for the development of a vaccine, and new tools to control mosquito populations, are being prioritised. Slate takes it a step further, arguing that we should be aiming to eradicate all of the world's mosquitoes.
  • Edge's Question of the Year 2016 was 'What do you consider the most interesting recent scientific news?' Steven Pinker's answer: that human progress is now quantifiable. He analyses the profound effect this 'feedback signal' has had on development over time. (h/t Max Roser).
  • On 26 January 2016, Campaign for Australian Aid linked up with comedian Tom Ballard to host the #Proudest100, pairing every song in the Hottest 100 to Australian aid efforts. Read WhyDev's analysis of this attempt to mobilise support and positively communicate foreign aid to a wider audience.
  • El Nino in 2016 is set to be the worst on record, with millions of people in Ethiopia, Haiti and Papua New Guinea already feeling the effects of ongoing drought and crop failure. Prices of staple food items (sugar, rice, cocoa, etc.) have increased by 5-10%.
  • Should our race for fast-paced connectivity and the 'fourth industrial revolution' be a priority for all when food and water sanitation are still not a guarantee? Ian Wishart considers that technology is an enabler but that should not necessarily mean it trumps basic needs in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
  • Malala Yousafai and Muzoon Almellehan share their thoughts on the $1.4 billion required to educate Syrian refugee children, saying that while this upfront cost is large, the cost of a lost generation would be higher.
  • This video of Syrian refugee children experiencing snow for the first time thanks to their Canadian sponsors is sure to put a smile on your face and cure Monday-itis:

Pacific Island links: First female leader, Vanuatu election, Fijian labour law, tourism in the Pacific and more

By Alastair Davis, an intern in the Lowy Institute's Melanesia Program.

  • The Marshall Islands parliament has elected Education Minister Dr Hilde Heine to replace Castor Nemra as President, the first female head of government in the Pacific.
  • Vanuatu held its snap election last week in the wake of an extraordinary corruption scandal, stretching the resources of the Electoral Commission.
  • Election results from the Vanuatu elections are almost in. Negotiations to form a coalition government will likely take several weeks, with a group of independents playing kingmaker.
  • The consequences of the US withdrawal from the South Pacific Tuna Treaty in 2017 are still uncertain, with a restructured treaty a priority for the Pacific Islands Forum.
  • Fijian labour law reforms are being reviewed by an International Labour Organisation delegation this week. Fijian trade unions say the country is at risk of becoming a 'rogue nation' if it doesn't meet international standards.
  • Secrecy surrounding the nature and content of Fiji’s receipt of a shipment of Russian arms has raised questions about both countries’ strategic intentions.
  • Air New Zealand and Qantas have both suspended flights to Port Vila, potentially damaging Vanuatu’s tourism industry which is still recovering from Cyclone Pam.
  • Meanwhile, this Asian Development Bank report on what the Pacific could learn from Southeast Asia in promoting sustainable tourism may be particularly relevant to Vanuatu this week.
  • Yoga is proving popular in Papa New Guinea and is having positive effects as part of prison rehabilitation programs.
  • Papua New Guinea born singer Ngaiire is the focus of this SBS piece on the experience of migrants in Australia:

Pacific Islands links: Fiji's Russian arms, PNG drought, Vanuatu election and more

Alastair Davis is an intern in the Lowy Institute Melanesia Program.

  • Political tension relating to payments to ex-combatants in the Solomon Islands has continued. PM Sogavare has responded forcefully to critics of his contribution towards peace in the Solomons.
  • Vanuatu Youth Against Corruption warn that 70% of 18-21 year-olds have been denied the chance to register to vote in Friday's snap election. This is contested by the Electoral Commission.
  • Observer groups from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth have acknowledged the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Vanuatu election, and have praised the access afforded to observers thus far.
  • In Fiji, the leader of the NFP opposition party has raised the possibility of withdrawing his three MPs from parliament in protest at what the opposition sees as a lack of bipartisanship and open debate.
  • Bill Standish predicts a turbulent year ahead for PNG politics, with the end of the resources boom and pending legal issues presenting challenges to the leadership of PM O'Neill. 
  • ANU academics have produced a country-wide analysis on food shortages in PNG, highlighting the ongoing effects of the drought. Government drought assistance is at risk of being distributed to political supporters rather than those most in need.
  • Fiji has received a shipment of Russian military equipment and expects the arrival of Russian military personnel to train their Fijian counterparts in the next month.
  • The US has announced its intention to withdraw from the US Pacific Islands Fisheries treaty, a blow to the budgets of many Pacific countries.
  • The PNG Hunters will play the Penrith Panthers NSW Cup side to officially open the National Football Stadium in Port Moresby on 6 February.


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