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Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 05:31 | SYDNEY
Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 05:31 | SYDNEY

Things I have changed my mind about this year

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COMMENTS

22 December 2008 15:37

1. The isolation of Pacific Islands: Poor communication links have long been a significant obstacle to the development of business and economic growth in Pacific Island countries. I was sceptical of the capacity of cash-strapped communities to take up new technology and did not believe telecommunications would improve much in the near term in the Pacific. 

The rapid success of Irish mobile phone company, Digicel, in revolutionising communications in Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga and Fiji over the last year or so has astonished me. That one company could overcome strict institutional barriers, introduce coverage to remote areas, increase mobile penetration by over 100 per cent in some countries and drive down the price of phone calls has made me re-think the assumptions I had about fundamental constraints to growth and what it would take to reduce the isolation of Pacific islands.

2. The usefulness of regional diplomacy in resolving crises: I have long thought the outspokenness of the leaders and foreign ministers of Australia and New Zealand when tackling regional crises in the Pacific was ineffective because it reeked of colonialism. 

When John Howard, Alexander Downer and Helen Clark claimed to be speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum in criticising negative developments in the region, we hardly ever heard concurrence from Pacific Island leaders, who preferred a quieter, non-confrontational approach. I believed greater open unity, as we saw in the Forum’s approach to the crisis in Solomon Islands in 2003, involving active contributions and public support from all leaders, was a better way to solve regional crises. The case of Fiji has proved me wrong. The Forum has been consistently united in urging the interim government to hold elections by March 2009. 

Leaders and foreign ministers of almost every Pacific Island country have publicly voiced concerns about the situation in Fiji, to no avail. Even the famous 'Pacific Way' – the quiet diplomacy tried in the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in May and the urgings of the leaders of Tonga and Samoa — have failed to sway Commodore Bainimarama. It has not been a good year for advocates of regional cooperation, such as myself.

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