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Pacific: Missing pieces of Australia's arc

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COMMENTS

28 September 2009 09:21

Nic Maclellan works as a journalist and researcher in the Pacific islands.

Graeme Dobell's discussion on 'the Australian arc' leaves out a couple of important places.

First, New Caledonia, which seems to be a blind spot in the Australian debate about Melanesia, as if the massive influx of French money absolves anyone from looking at the political and cultural contradictions of the Noumea Accord process. Given the Pacific Islands Forum's investment of political and diplomatic energy in the territory twenty years ago, it's odd that so little attention is paid to the issue today.

Under the provisions of the Noumea Accord, it's only five years before New Caledonia must hold a referendum on self-determination. To avoid the referendum, some conservative politicians in Noumea and Paris are hoping to cobble together a new transitional form of free association with France, but that won't go down well with key elements of the independence movement. In spite of the advances in inter-communal engagement over the last two decades, there's ongoing potential for instability.

The latest elections in New Caledonia passed by with little or no coverage in the Australian media, even though it brought to power the leadership which will decide on New Caledonia's political process over the next five years (interested readers might like to scan my briefing note on the elections, published by the SSGM program at ANU).

By coincidence, in about five years time Bougainville too may be starting to make a decision on its future political status, ten years after the 2005 election of the Bougainville Autonomous Government. Interesting conundrum for Canberra – we support the right to self-determination in New Caledonia, a classic blue water colony that's on the list of non-self-governing territories at the UN. But we show more reticence about self-determination in the case of Bougainville, as part of the post-colonial independent state of Papua New Guinea. For many people in the Pacific however, there won’t be such a legalistic interpretation of the rights of Melanesian peoples.

Thirdly, Dobell's article says 'The Arc starts in East Timor and runs through Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu…' But what happened to the western half of the island of New Guinea? Forum member governments don't want to discuss West Papua, but that's all the more reason we should!

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