New Zealand Tops New Ranking For Assistance To Pacific

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Alfred Deakin Research Institute-Sustineo Pacific Index was launched in Canberra yesterday. It ranks and assesses 27 OECD countries on aid, trade, migration, finance, security, the creation and dissemination of new technologies and the promotion of environmental sustainability. New Zealand index score ranks nearly twice that of Australia — primarily because of its aid, migration and security efforts.

The top five donor countries in the Pacific region are: New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Finland and Portugal. However, it does not measure the aid given by China because of a lack of data. The authors say the index will be used for advocacy to get all rich countries to do more in the Pacific, and not just by increasing their aid.


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Reflections on how the Manus Island detention centre promotes gender-based violence

Manus Island detention centre

The violence in February this year at the Australian offshore asylum seeker detention centre on Manus Island resulted in the death of asylum seeker Reza Berati. In the absence of the results of formal inquiries into this incident, the investigative media reports provide compelling evidence that whatever happened that night involved a large number of men exhibiting behaviour resonant with a complex and toxic cocktail of anger, frustration, confusion, violence and chaos. Also reflected in this media narrative are the array of factions among these men and the apparent absence of any functioning order and law.

In fact there have been two ‘detention centre related’ deaths on Manus Island in the past year. In July 2013, 21 year old Raymond Sipaun, a Manus Island man died after being bashed by PNG’s police mobile squad, who were deployed there to provide extra security for the detention centre. His crime, causing disturbance in Lorengau town, is common for many young men in PNG and one that their families and loved ones are constantly managing, and living with the day-to-day consequences of. Five PNG men – members of the mobile squad sent to Manus Island for security – were charged with murder.

Ironically, it is with international attention on these cases that Australian leaders implicitly rest their case. For anyone risking arrival in Australia by boat, PNG men are a dangerous lot. Unfortunately, the Australian policy, the Manus centre and these events also exacerbate widely accepted and recognised problems of gender-based violence in PNG.

What are the implications of this policy for those who have to live daily with violence in Manus Island? For too many people in PNG, especially women and children, the management of violence in homes and communities is as mundane as a daily chore. Mitigating the risk of a violent act occurring, seeking health treatment as a result of violence, seeking shelter to ride the tidal wave of a violent episode, nursing a broken arm, hiding a bruised eye or pretending that all is ‘normal’ are daily concerns undertaken in the midst of breakfast, livelihood strategizing, marketing, loving, caring, lunch, customary feasts, gardening, attending church, weaving, fishing and even love making. For community leaders, mediating conflict resolution to prevent an instance of violence escalating into anything more is an ongoing affair.

The extent of violence has led to international outcry and in a jointly prepared PNG Country Gender Assessment conducted in 2012 by the World Bank, The Asian Development Bank, the Australian Government, the United Nations and the Government of PNG it noted that Family and Sexual Violence (FSV):

FSV is widespread and pervasive, and has a devastating impact on the lives of individuals, families and communities. The high prevalence of such violence in PNG is a cross cutting issue, with very serious implications for public health and social policy, economic development, and justice and law enforcement.

To see how the Manus Island detention centre might have a direct impact on levels of violence in PNG and on gender-based violence, it’s useful to look at the United Nations study “Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It?”  This report, which includes PNG, noted that the complex factors shaping male violence:

… reflect influential narratives of masculinity that justify and celebrate domination, aggression, strength and a capacity for violence as well as men’s heterosexual performance and men’s control over women. These findings reflect social patterns of gender inequality and patriarchy that promote male dominance and power over women.

While violence against women cuts across all socio-economic groups and sites, the study suggests that the use of violence may increase among men who have less power compared to other men or who experience social stresses such as those caused by substance abuse or by poverty. Still, while social exclusion or inequalities may be a trigger of violent behaviour, this violence is not perpetrated indiscriminately. Rather, it is used against those over whom the perpetrator perceives he has power and in a context where that kind of violence is normalized because of cultural acceptance and impunity. It may be that such violence against women is used as a way to reassert some level of power and control where, in other domains of their life, men feel relatively powerless.

In the space of two years, the male population at the location of the detention centre has greatly increased, as has the intensification of the complex web of political dynamics that entangles state sovereignty and a regionalist agenda with the joint demonising and dehumanising of male asylum seekers on the one hand and the local men on Manus Island, who are presented as a counter demon to be reckoned with, on the other. By the end of 2013, the centre had over 1,100 male asylum seekers, and around 220 (nearly all male) Manusians were employed to work at the centre. Add to this the staff of the various state and contracted agencies and migrants seeking the economic opportunities presented by the centre and the number is significantly higher.

These men come from diverse backgrounds but many of them will have been directly involved in or impacted by events that are riddled by male-dominated conflict – think of the asylum seekers themselves, or military, private security and police personnel. They hold different levels of authority, such as being officials of state – Australian or PNG – managers of contracted security firms, or as leaders within their ‘faction’ – be it a group of asylum seekers, local security guards or local groups. The Manus complex is without doubt a dynamic of power and hierarchy that depends on masculine domination, aggression, intimidation and inequality. These dynamics are reaffirmed at the national and bilateral political levels in the language used by political leaders in Australia and PNG.

So while the attention of the international community might be on the welfare and security of asylum seekers, another important question to consider is the impact of the centre on Manus Island itself and, in particular, the lives of the local men who are attracted by the economic opportunity and status of being involved in an internationally-driven intervention. Many of these men will find themselves in situations where they have less power and income than others. What is the direct or indirect impact of all this on women and other vulnerable groups in Manus?

During my PhD fieldwork in a Port Moresby settlement in 2013, I asked people what issues most affected or threatened their livelihoods and well-being. One of the most common responses was violence. People talked about the many forms of violence in families and the broader community. These included ethnic violence, criminal activity, petty crimes, rape, domestic violence and state violence. Some forms of violence are easier to talk about, such as state violence in the form of settlement eviction, while others, such as domestic violence and rape, were not so easily spoken of. An important thread in the responses by mothers, fathers, siblings and leaders was how they manage the men and ‘boys’, or younger men, in the absence of employment or other forms of social support. This is important for the well-being of everyone, especially when acts of violence committed by men (whether they are domestic and directly impact the family or committed externally, such as armed hold up), have a direct impact on the welfare of his family and community.

Although Manus Island is not a Port Moresby settlement, based on my own experiences with violence on Manus Island and long-term, ongoing connection with Manus, I have no doubt that the same issues facing families in Port Moresby are being dealt with by families on Manus.

While some people may argue that the problems of violence on Manus predate the detention centre and are not therefore a problem for policy makers, I would argue that Manus, like the rest of PNG, faces immense challenges in dealing with violence. The locals of Manus, the younger men of Manus in particular, are a vulnerable population easily prone to influence and manipulation, just like young men all over the world. The detention centre has a direct bearing on their behaviour by promoting a culture of violence.

While Peter O’Neill may be keen to help Australia find a lasting solution for the asylum seeker problem, he must bear in mind that the economic benefits of Manus Island do not outweigh or justify violence in any form, be it towards an asylum seeker, a rogue local youth, or a woman facing an adrenalin intoxicated husband, brother or son. Sending in a mobile squad of policemen is not enough to provide security for the Manus population, and in fact it is already proving to be yet another contributor to violence.

There are also questions for Australia and its support of activities to reduce gender-based violence and promote gender equality in PNG. What is one to make of a government that opposes such violence on the one hand, and takes action that increases it on the other? Whatever the benefits of the Manus detention centre are, its contribution to a culture of violence in PNG and violence against women in particular makes it unacceptable. A re-think is long overdue.

Michelle Nayahamui Rooney is a PhD candidate with SSGM at the ANU. Prior to taking up studies, Michelle worked as a national officer in the development sector in Papua New Guinea.

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PNG’s elections: the most expensive in the world, and getting worse

A wall of standing candidates in Goroka, 2007.An interesting evaluation has just been released by DFAT of Australia’s assistance to PNG to help it hold elections over the last decade.

The evaluation estimates that the PNG Government spent $US207 million on the 2012 elections, and the Australian Government spent another $US35 million. This takes the total cost per voter to $US63, the highest in the world. The typical cost of an election is apparently US$5 per voter.

What’s more, elections are getting more expensive in PNG. The report estimates that the 2007 election cost 68% more than the 2002 election and the 2012 election cost 54% more than the 2007 election, so that the 2012 election was 2.6 times as expensive as the 2002 one – and all those numbers are after inflation.

Costs might be increasing, but that doesn’t mean that quality is improving. The evaluation finds that the 2007 election was better than the 2002 election (the “worst elections ever” and “a debacle”), but that the 2012 election was worse than 2007. For example, the 2002 election rolls are estimated to have had half a million “excess voters” (more names than there should have been). This was an improvement from the 1.4 million excess voters on the electoral rolls in 2002, but the number increased again to 900,0000 in 2012.

Another world record PNG might hold is the number of candidates per seat. The report has a fascinating table, graphed here, showing the steady rise in the number of election candidates per seat since 1977.

Average number of PNG candidates per seatFinally, the evaluation points to problems with seat sizes. The average seat in the 2012 elections had 53,700 registered voters, but the largest (Laigip-Porgera Open) had 122,202 registered voters, and the smallest (Rabaul Open) only 22,403. The report informs us that “Parliament has systematically rejected all proposals made by the PNG Boundaries Commission to redress present inequalities, without legislating alternative approaches that might solve the problem.” (p.15)

The evaluation also makes a number of interesting observations about the effectiveness (or otherwise) of Australian assistance. This assistance has come in two forms: longer-term capacity building and short-term, focused efforts every five years to help run the elections. The evaluation finds that there have been some improvements over the last decade in the capacity of the PNG Electoral Commission (PNGEC) but that these are “not commensurate with the effort invested.” (p. 28) And the two types of assistance were not well coordinated. At one point, close to the 2012 elections, there were advisors under the AusAID PNGEC capacity building project for gender and HIV/AIDS, for M&E (1.5 advisers in fact), and for corporate planning, but there was only one actual elections operations adviser (p. 32). It is telling, and an indictment, that the report is forced to recommend that “[a]ny future Australian electoral assistance to PNGEC should focus mainly on strengthening election delivery capacity.” (p. vi)

There is a lot in this evaluation for both governments to reflect and act on before the next round of PNG elections in 2017. The Coalition might have decided that Australia won’t be distributing text books or drugs in PNG since these are “the responsibility of sovereign governments,” but there is no suggestion that we won’t be working with PNG to deliver the next election, even though it is hard to imagine any government responsibility more core than the holding of elections.

We’ve been critical of late of a number of evaluations coming out of DFAT and its Office of Development Effectiveness. This evaluation shows just how useful they can be. Credit to its authors, Simon Henderson and Horacio Boneo.

Stephen Howes is Director of the Development Policy Centre

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Australia Network axing: what will happen to coverage of the region?

downloadToday’s budget teaser in the papers is that the Australia Network will be scrapped. This is unsurprising, considering it not only came under fire from the recent Commission of Audit, but has also been in the Foreign Minister’s sights for cuts since she was in Opposition.

The Australia Network had some serious flaws as a television channel. But axing it entirely is going to leave some serious gaps in the already limited news coverage of the Pacific, not only in the region itself where the Australia Network is beamed, but here at home. The Australia Network, along with Radio Australia, is one of the few broadcast outlets that regularly files stories and interviews on the aid program and on Pacific development issues. These stories feed back into the ABC at large, via the web and domestic news bulletins. Without the Australia Network and its funding, there is a concerning possibility that we may see a drop in coverage of the Pacific and aid and development on the ABC.

As I mentioned above, I’m no fan of the Australia Network. I wrote a piece earlier this year criticising the entertainment content on the channel and suggesting ideas for how it could be changed as a model to better support development and diplomacy objectives in the region.

It certainly needed a shakeup and a major rethink, but I don’t think social media alone is any kind of replacement, as suggested by the Foreign Minister, particularly when it comes to news coverage. We’ve already seen resource constraints in the Australian media affect coverage of PNG, with AAP closing its bureau there last year, so in this case privately-funded media is unlikely to step up to fill the gap.

When we are working to increase our engagement and economic diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific, it seems short sighted to scrap one of the few generators of reliable information on the region.  If the network must be axed, then I hope at least some of its funding goes towards supporting continued news coverage of the region through ABC, SBS or other media. But it seems more likely that this loss for Pacific- and aid-watchers will simply be chalked up as a budget saving.


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Priya Chattier joined SSGM as a Pacific Research Fellow

The ANU Pacific Institute would like to welcome Dr Priya Chattier who has recently joined the State Society & Governance in Melanesia Program as a Pacific Research Fellow.


Priya’s work is located at the intersections of academic and activist work on gender equality, women’s economic empowerment, gender relations, Hindu womanhood and Hinduism, and social change in contemporary Fiji and the Pacific Island Countries. Her recent publications focus on the capability approach and gender-sensitive measures of poverty and also on, gender and Hinduism in Fiji.

In the recent past, she has been involved in various research projects including an Australian Research Council research grant for Fiji-based fieldwork on Assessing Development: Designing Better Indices for Poverty and Gender Equity and was also a lead researcher for World Bank qualitative rapid assessment in Fiji informing the World Development Report 2012 on ‘gender and economic choice’. Priya was employed as the National Consultant for AusAID Fiji’s Market Development Fund’s research project on gender and poverty in horticulture and tourism sectors in Fiji. These research experiences required her to critically evaluate gender relations, history of women’s movements and current discourses on feminist political economy and globalization in Fiji and the Pacific.

Forthcoming Research Projects:

UNICEF funded Child Sensitive Social Protection in Fiji: An Assessment of the Care & Protection Allowance (June 2014-Aug 2014). The purpose of this research project is to conduct an in-depth assessment of Fiji’s Care and Protection Allowance- a cash transfer programme targeting children in foster or residential care and children in vulnerable households. As part of the Development Pathways’ (UK based consulting firm) team, I will be involved in conducting qualitative research as a Senior Researcher.

DFAT Fiji – funded research activity to trial Measuring Poverty and Gender Disparity project’s Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM) in Fiji. This research may be conducted in partnership with IWDA and Fiji Bureau of Statistics. The proposed study will be part of the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Fiji Country Work programme and will probably start in the next financial year (2014/2015). The first trial of the IDM was conducted in Phillipines (2013) and the second trial planned for Fiji might help clarify the performance of the measure and survey tool in revealing gender differences in deprivation where they exist.  Further trialing is needed to refine the measure and build experience with its use and confidence in what it can reveal.

For more information please see Dr Priya Chattier’s ANU researcher profile.

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Floods of information, drought of listening – communications in Honiara’s floods

The Honiara floods. Photo: ABC.The recent floods in Honiara, capital of Solomon Islands, provided an illuminating example of how media can be used to communicate with the people most in need of information – those affected by the flooding.

In natural disaster response, the focus is rightfully on immediate needs – how government and aid agencies can get help to those who need it most. However, major agencies are staffed by communications professionals tasked by their directors with public relations, community awareness and media liaison activities. What should they be doing during a natural disaster?

A comparative research study that I worked on of five areas from different regions of the world that had experienced natural disasters, Community Resilience in Natural Disasters, found that resilience is found in all communities: people cooperate and cope during disaster. However, when aid arrives so too can conflict and dependency, which saps a community’s sense of agency and ability to recover or adapt to the situation. What I have realized in the recent Honiara floods is that my profession – communications and public relations – also contributes to this phenomenon.

As I gathered the newspapers each day during the post-flood crisis, I was amazed to observe the “old school” public relations approach being employed time and time again by different agencies. Even in the early days after the disaster, aid agencies filled the newspaper with articles that their communications officers had written on what they were doing. Some went into overdrive. One major aid agency filled two pages with news about their distribution of relief supplies, at a time when media was still reporting on missing and found bodies, the health and water/sanitation crisis in evacuation centres and other critical issues.

Public relations or relating to the public?

Of course agencies need to let the public know what they are doing and seek support for their work (donations generally peak to civil society and international aid agencies during disasters). However, there is a time, a place and a tone for this kind of communication.

Immediately after a disaster is a time for media to focus on what people need to know – the dead and missing, where to get food, water and shelter, how to communicate with agencies about critical issues. If an agency has information that people need (e.g. how to treat diarrhea or the dangers in handling dead bodies) then those messages should be prioritized in the first week to 10 days.

Testing of communications is also critical, and a reality check on the information being distributed during the Honiara disaster would have been helpful. For instance, one agency issued information encouraging people to eat fruit and vegetables when food gardens had been destroyed and Honiara’s normally crowded fresh produce market was lined with empty stalls.

Disaster-affected communities in remote parts of Solomon Islands have strong opinions on the language, tone, cultural appropriateness and practicality of the messages and advice in communications materials, according to a recent research report by ABC International, the National Disaster Management Office and Solomon Islands Media Assistance Scheme. Assessing what is known (rather than assuming knowledge levels), including traditional knowledge of what to do during natural disasters, is also seen as an important task before materials are distributed.

Most government ministries and agencies, such as the National Disaster Management Office in Solomon Islands, have few or no communications officers, while most aid agencies have at least one. Government offices are also less likely to enjoy the big communication budgets of their aid counterparts. There is potential for international agencies to help government get their messages out, particularly in the crisis response period. Such communications should be prioritized, or at least balanced, with the self-promotion of what aid organizations are doing.

A smart move for aid agencies is to tell communities what they need to know while mentioning their organization, rather than making it the focus. For example, when using radio (still the most popular media format across Solomon Islands) for awareness on health issues, ending the message with a simple “brought to you by [insert organization name]”. People in crisis value useful information and may resent organizations’ promoting themselves during a time when people are suffering.

Another way of relating to the public is to talk to the media rather than spoon-feed them features and media releases. Local and foreign reporters who did deal directly with the agencies for information and interviews reported competition and confusion between the different agencies. One foreign journalist remarked to me: “if I meet another media officer pretending their agency is doing absolutely everything in this disaster I’m going to scream”.

While government agencies acknowledged donors comprehensively, aid agencies rarely acknowledged each other’s efforts, or  placed their work within the broader context of government and non-government assistance. Instead, information from different sources was given in the same format with often confusing results – for example, there were at least four different agencies issuing “Situation Reports” to the media, leading to at least four different perceptions of what the “situation” was.

Joint media conferences by the agencies could have easily avoided this confusion, as well as giving journalists and the general public more idea of what the bigger picture of disaster response was and where they could  direct questions. Similarly, a hotline or referral service would have been useful for flood-affected people, instead of turning up outside government and NGO offices in search of information. Such coordination and collaboration could also be a more efficient use of time by both the aid agencies and the media.

Images of victims or images of survivors?

Finally, there is the question of community resilience. In any disaster there will be a mix of people: those with some resources who help themselves and others, those who are in shock and unable to act without the support of others, and those who see aid as a chance for personal gain and/or become dependent on aid. Media and public relations can be used to influence these outcomes by shaping people’s perceptions of themselves, and other people’s perceptions of survivors of natural disasters.

The typical formula of an aid-agency written story about survivors of disaster is first a description of an individual’ personal loss, then an account of the help that was provided by the aid agency, and finally a report of the individual’s thanks to the agency or restatement of the agency’s message. The article might then call on others to help similar “victims”. The story will be accompanied by a photo of the individual or a few people with a package or some object showing the organization’s logo. In this formula, survivors are always reduced to an image of an individual (rather than a community organizing itself, for example), a helpless person, a passive “victim” whose only hope is the supplies or activities provided by the aid or government organization. It ignores what the survivors did for themselves, what ideas the may have about how to improve assistance or ensure that such a disaster never happens again, and how local (not aid agency) strengths enabled them to cope. It creates a perception that such people need to be saved, not that they have abilities and strengths of their own that could be tapped for learning and adaptation after natural disasters. These articles provide predictable reading, as opposed to, for example, the Solomon Star newspaper reporter interviews with disaster survivors, which told truly heroic and extraordinary tales of survival, often related by the survivors in a matter-of-fact tone with lessons and messages of resilience.

Similarly, aid agencies would do well to present themselves not as “white knights” who rush in only after a disaster, but as longer-term friends who help with the underlying causes of natural disasters. For instance, there is a common public relations trick when an issue is in the media to brand old funding as new. So, an agency working on issues that were prominent in the media after the floods – health, water, housing, safety of women and children – might add up the amount spent on their relevant, ongoing programmes and present it as new funding. When any seasoned journalist will be wise to this trick, I am not sure why it persists, especially since it is much more sensible for an agency to have a longer term plan for these issues. It is better to present the agency as an old friend who contributes over the years than a new one with a lot of cash to spend quickly. Let’s call these agencies the “disaster weather friends”, that will soon be gone. Agencies can better use the interest in the longer term issues generated by the experience of disaster to build support for change to more adaptive and resilient societies (as happened recently when the Honiara City Council issued an ordinance against riverside development).

In Community Resilience in Natural Disasters, Pakistani NGO worker Naila Azam described a common sentiment amongst local development workers: “If organizations are going to go in and keep pumping in aid, obviously people would become dependent. If they [people] are dependent it is because they were made dependent.” The dependency problem in Solomon Islands will doubtless be blamed on the evacuees themselves, but if the aid agencies continue to depict them as passive “victims” in need of saving, rather than capable people able to articulate what is needed and solve their own problems, then that will fast become reality.

It is telling that most of the evacuees still in evacuation centres are squatters who lived in makeshift housing before the floods, mostly with a communal standpipe for water and no electricity services and struggled to pay for education for their children. How they survived before the disaster is testament to the coping and problem solving capacities of the poor.

There is much that communications and the media can do to provide disaster-affected communities with information and relay back their analysis to those who wish to help. However, this requires less of a focus on organizational promotion in public relations and more of an approach that uses the media to highlight and build two-way relations and communications between the public and the humanitarian aid sector.

Anouk Ride is a researcher, communications professional and co-editor of ‘Community Resilience in Natural Disasters’ (2011). This post is entirely based on the personal views of the writer, and does not represent any of the agencies mentioned. 

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Re-advertisement: Opportunity to work as a lecturer in economics at UPNG

Our Australian Volunteers for International Development position for an ”Economics Teaching and Research Fellow” to work in the Division of Economics of the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) for a period of one to two years has just been re-advertised.

It is no exaggeration to say that, sadly, economics is in a state of crisis in PNG. The only place where it is taught is at UPNG, and the Economics Division there has faced difficulties retaining its teaching staff. The resulting quantity and quality problems have massive flow-on effects for PNG more broadly, making it difficult for government and non-government institutions alike to recruit and retain quality staff.

The assignment should be a really interesting one, with opportunities to teach, research and engage in policy outreach. You will benefit not only from your immersion within UPNG, but from the opportunity to develop close, collaborative links with us at the Development Policy Centre.

More details on the position and the online application are available here. Assignment Title: Economics Teaching and Research Fellow, Assignment Code: AV0214PG04P. Applications close May 21.

If you have any questions or intend to make an application, please contact myself or Anthony Swan at

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Death and development in the Pacific

Aged care in the PacificIn any Pacific country it doesn’t take long before you meet people who are caring for dying loved ones at home, with very little support. Immobility. Pain. Incontinence. The fear, and often shame, associated with terminal illness and a deteriorating body. These are some of life’s biggest challenges anywhere, let alone in a remote village where water and electricity aren’t within arm’s reach. These challenges raise important questions about what can be done to assist, and whether aid and development efforts can make space for death.

These questions are increasingly relevant across the developing world, as popluations age, and non-communicable diseases become more prevalent. Across the Pacific, non-communicable diseases already cause 75 per cent of all deaths, with indications this is rising (see this Pacific Framework for the Prevention and Control of NCDs). Acoss the world, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, AIDS, and diabetes are the dominant diseases for which adults need palliative care (a sub-set of end of life care measured by the need for pain control) (The Global Atlas of Palliative Care). End of life care is also necessary for people and families enduring conditions such as dementia, Alzheimers and Parkinsons.

Development efforts, particularly aid, are all about saving and improving lives. The metrics account for lives saved, deaths averted, immunisations administered, water-wells built and children in schools. In relation to non-communicable diseases, both the Pacific Framework and the Global Action Plan indicators are all about reducing risk factors and disease burden prevalence. This focus on prevention is crucial. In resource-poor environments, Pacific governments are already spending up to 60 per cent of their health care budgets on expensive tertiary care (Pacific Framework). These diseases are preventable and we must prevent them. (More analysis here and here.)

Yet it will take time for prevention efforts to have an effect, and even when (or if) they do, people will continue to die from non-communicable diseases. This will be exacerbated by increasingly aging populations, who, even without non-communicable diseases, also have particular end of life needs themselves.

Ultimately, after a certain point, some diseases have no cure. Yet we have the knowledge and technology to support people to live as well as possible up until the moment of death. End of life care accepts death as a normal life process, and provides holistic support to dying individuals and their families, to prevent and relieve physical, psychosocial, emotional and spiritual suffering. Given the fact we all die, and that the statistics show that many Pacific Islanders will die slowly (as a result of such factors as high blood glucose and high blood pressure), end of life care is an area that cannot be overlooked.

In the Pacific, this is an issue that few governments or aid agencies have turned their attention to. The Global Atlas of Palliative Care updated and refined a 2006 study that had analysed all countries and placed them in one of four categories. In the 2011 updated version, the majority of Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) were categorised as undertaking no known palliative care activities (category 1). Fiji and Papua New Guinea were placed in category 2, with capacity building activities underway to develop palliative care services. I suspect PNG should actually be in category 3a, which involves isolated palliative care provision, due to efforts there to care for people dying of AIDS. (The study’s authors note challenges with categorising countries.) However, the only PICT that is included in this category is Niue, which had improved its position from the 2006 study. Category 3b includes countries that offer generalised palliative care provision, while countries in category 4a and 4b are those where palliative care services are becoming, or already are, fully integrated into mainstream health services. No PICT falls into these categories.

Given the significant challenges for PICT governments in preventing non-communicable diseases, I’m wary of putting forward a shopping list of recommendations for governments to undertake: there is not enough resources available for prevention, let alone end of life care. But this is an area where families need help: globally, approximately 37 per cent (p. 74) of all deaths from all causes will need palliative care alone. This is likely to be a low estimate in the PICTs given the high prevalence of mortality risks. So what could be done?

I don’t have any radical solutions and in light of the suffering terminal illness can bring, my suggestion seems inadequate. Yet sustainable change only comes from understanding the context and carefully devising appropriate responses. Therefore, a useful place to begin is to understand the current situation. Pacific-specific research into the existing needs and services will enable a robust assessment of potential next steps. Currently, Pacific data is aggregated with Asian country data, which obscures Pacific issues. Families and communities are already providing end of life care and will have developed approaches that we can learn from, and build on. No doubt faith-based services, such as those provided by Churches, will also be active in this area and have important insights to share. Research could also examine the presence of laws and policies, standards, health workforce and public education activities, and the consumption of morphine-equivalent strong opiod pain relief (which is actually an ‘extra’ indicator in the Global Action Plan on Non-Communicable Diseases). This is no small task. People don’t like talking about death: for many it speaks of defeat and failure.

Done well, this is where research can make an extra contribution through instigating conversations about an overlooked, and often taboo, subject. Currently family (often women) care for people who are dying, hidden away in homes and villages, with tentative or non-existant links to formal health care services. Simply talking about end of life care can help policy-makers, health professionals and others in positions of power understand what these families experience, and that there are ways to ease suffering and instill peace and hope, even at the time of death.

Development is about improving the quality of life and improving the quality of dying is an integral component of a better life. End of life care, therefore, is a crucial undertaking for aid and development efforts. While governments focus on preventative activities, there is space for others, such as non-government and faith-based organisations, to work alongside to improve end of life care for those where prevention comes too late.

Joanna Spratt is a PhD candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU. She is also a consultant and coordinator of NZ Aid and Development Dialogues (NZADDs), with a background in nursing and international development.

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Journal of Pacific History

cover_jphThe Journal of Pacific History is a leading refereed journal dedicated to the study of the Pacific Islands, their peoples and their pasts.

In conjunction with the Pacific History Association at the Biennial Pacific History Association Conference, JPH awards the Gunson Prize for the best essay by a postgraduate or senior student. For further information see the 2014 Gunson Essay Prize in Pacific History.

For more details about the Journal please see the Journal page at:

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Solomon Islands fundraiser

As you are know doubt aware the Solomon Islands was recently hit by a series of devastating floods. The attached event aims to raise funds for the victims and I encourage you to attend if you can. The fundraiser will be held this Saturday May 3 at the Solomon Islands High Commission.

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Gunson Essay Prize in Pacific History

A prize of AUD$1,000 will be awarded at the 21st Biennial Pacific History Association Conference, in Taipei and Taitung, Taiwan, 3-6th December 2014, for the winner of the Gunson Essay Prize Competition.

Postgraduate or senior students from any country are invited to submit an essay

  • in English
  • between 5,000 and 8,000 words
  • on any topic relating to the pasts of the Island Pacific and its peoples
  • to by 3 November 2014.

Each entry should consist of two documents: one with the author’s name, contact details, essay title and abstract of 150 words; the other consisting of the essay itself, anonymised, with title, abstract and text. Referencing should be consistent, accurate and complete, but authors do not need to follow any one particular set of conventions for presentation.

Please note that an essay submitted for the prize should not have been published or accepted for publication in any outlet by the closing date for entries.

The winning entry will, in the eyes of the judges,

  • make the most valuable contribution to our historical knowledge
  • draw convincingly from relevant sources
  • communicate effectively.

The judging committee will consist of three members, including a special speaker at the Pacific History Association Conference, a representative of the Pacific History Association and a representative of The Journal of Pacific History.

The Gunson Prize is new. It promotes the work of scholars at the early stages of their research. It also pays tribute to Dr Niel Gunson, from the Australian National University, for mentoring so many students and scholars over a lifetime of dedication to Pacific history. It is awarded every two years.

The inaugural 2012 prize was won by:

  • Nicholas Hoare (Victoria University, Wellington), ‘“Harry” Holland and Samoa: the Labour leader’s “Samoa complex”.

Highly commended were:

  • Charmaine ‘Ilaiu Talei (University of Queensland), ‘Understanding the diffusion of coconut architecture through an analysis of thatching applied on traditional Tongan and Fijian architectures’
  • Natasha McKinney (Massey University), ‘Hidden episodes in Marquesan history Indigenous agency and the Marquesan collection at the British Museum, London’.

For further details, please contact The Journal of Pacific History,

For information about the 2014 PHA conference, see


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A victory over corruption in PNG


The fight against corruption in PNG reached a milestone last week when the PNG National Court sentenced Paul Tiensten, a former senior minister and current parliamentarian, to nine years imprisonment with hard labour for misappropriating A$4 million of public funds.


Picture source: Echo PNG

A year short of the maximum ten years sentence (prior to the amendment), it was the most severe penalty any PNG court has ever given to a convicted corrupt public official since PNG’s Independence. In his judgment, Deputy Chief Justice Salika was adamant that ‘misappropriation of public funds by public officials in positions of trust is a serious crime.’

Tiensten was first elected to Parliament in 2002 and up until last week, he has been in political office for over a decade. Tiensten was regarded as one of the most senior ministers in Somare’s National Alliance government, successively holding ministries of Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs, and National Planning. Tiensten was in the nucleus of Somare’s infamous ‘kitchen cabinet.’

No stranger to controversy, Tiensten, while serving as the Foreign Minister, was implicated in the Taiwanese diplomatic scandal, a charge he strongly denied. For this current case, Tiensten initially fled to Australia to avoid investigations, accusing the Task Force Sweep (TFS) of political ‘witch-hunt.’TFS is a multi-agency anti-corruption task force set up by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill as a policy response to corruption.

It was the most severe penalty any PNG court has ever given to a convicted corrupt public official since PNG’s independence. In his judgment, Deputy Chief Justice Salika was adamant that ‘misappropriation of public funds by public officials in positions of trust is a serious crime.’

Tiensten was first elected to parliament in 2002 and up until last week, he had been in political office for over a decade. Tiensten was regarded as one of the most senior ministers in Sir Michael Somare’s National Alliance government, successively holding ministries of Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs, and National Planning. Tiensten was a member of Somare’s infamous ‘kitchen cabinet.’

No stranger to controversy, Tiensten, while serving as the foreign minister, was implicated in the Taiwanese diplomatic scandal, a charge he strongly denied. Tiensten initially fled to Australia to avoid investigation of the current case, accusing Task Force Sweep (TFS) of a political ‘witch-hunt.’ TFS is a multi-agency anti-corruption task force set up by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

PNG’s corruption awakening?

Although doubts remain among many about the independence and legality of the Task Force Sweep, its ability to prosecute a case of such significance is laudable. For the anti-corruption movements in the country, Tiensten’s conviction is a victory. Further, the message from the Court was clear: ‘…unless drastic steps such as imposition of stiff penalties are taken against such persons, the ordinary people of this country will continue to be manipulated and…suffer at the hand of the very people they appointed or elected to assist them.’  Even Tiensten’s character references from former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and the Opposition Leader Belden Namah was not able to persuade the Court. 

Coincidentally, the Chief Justice launched the National Court Fraud and Corruption Track (NCFCT) on the same day of the judgment. NCFCT is designed to streamline court processes and fast-track corruption cases, thereby reducing the backlog of cases that often compromise important evidence. It seeks to address the concern ‘that the courts are not doing enough to expedite the conduct of criminal cases which are of public interest.’ Despite some recent criticisms, the judiciary should be commended for taking such a decisive step.

Picture source: Radio Australia

Picture source: Radio Australia

Emerging from the 2011 constitutional crisis, where it was seriously undermined, the PNG judiciary appears determined to reclaim its indispensable role of dispensing justice without fear or favour. The Tiensten conviction should lead to the reinstatement of public confidence in the judiciary and reassure international partners who have spent millions on PNG’s justice sector.

Many Papua New Guineans went on social media to express their thoughts. George T Kabayage, on the Facebook group PNG News, captured the historic significance of the case: ‘since I was born, this is my first to read this type of news…anti-corruption work at its best.’ For various anti-corruption organisations, including international partners, this could be the long awaited moment of awakening.

Implication for the future

PNG still maintains its place as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International. It is widely known that corruption is well entrenched and institutionalised in the highest echelons of PNG’s socio-political order.

Tiensten was sentenced to nine years but with the recent amendments to the Criminal Code, a similar transgressor could face up to fifty years or life imprisonment. One would hope that this grim prospect should ring alarm bells within the corridors of Waigani where many, engaging in the craft of systemic abuse and misappropriation, consider themselves invincible to the lengthy arm of justice. The courts appeared to be ready. The onus is now on the law enforcement and investigative agencies including the Ombudsmen Commission to respond to this awakening.

Bal Kama is a staff member at the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra and PhD Candidate with the ANU College of Law, Australian National University.

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Kindred spirits


A five-year research project on the spread of Christianity in the Pacific is revealing just how much of the human spirit is common to both ‘the West’ and Oceania.

Church near Pouebo on the east coast of Grande Terre, New Caledonia, Melanesia, South Pacific, Pacific

“Jolly, who is now a professor of anthropology, gender and Pacific studies at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, says her time among the people of South Pentecost, was not only profoundly life changing, but laid the foundations of her academic career.

Almost 40 years later, Jolly has gone back to those roots. As an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow she is leading a five-year project which is examining gender, Christianity, commodities and emergent individualism across the Pacific.”

Read the full article here.


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The Emerging Pacific Leaders’ Dialogue (EPLD) 2014


The third Emerging Pacific Leaders’ Dialogue (EPLD) is an intensive development program for future leaders scheduled to take place across the Pacific region over a continuous two-week period from 16 October 2014.

This follows the successful staging of the inaugural EPLD in 2006 and the second in 2010 that each brought together around 125 future leaders from 22 Pacific region nations and territories including Australia and New Zealand. For EPLD 2006 and 2010, the average age of selected participants was 35 years.

EPLD 2014 is an important regional leadership development initiative that is funded and sponsored by government agencies and the private sector across the Pacific – particularly with strong support of the public and private sectors in Australia and New Zealand.

For 2014, it is planned to select up to 130 high calibre mid-career participants through an open and public application process. Applicants will be drawn from business, government, trade unions, education and the community service sector including NGO’s. Gender balance is expected to be achieved. All main areas of expenses including air travel, accommodation and meals are met by the conference organisers. Successful applicants meet their own incidental in room costs including laundry, phone, internet etc


The Opening Plenary sessions of the third EPLD will take place in Noumea, New Caledonia and the Closing Plenary sessions will be held in Port Vila, Vanuatu – each over two days. The middle week and weekends of the EPLD will be devoted to a maximum of 10 thought provoking and intellectually challenging study tour programs for widely representative groups each comprising 12/13 participants. Separate study tour groups will each visit different Pacific region locations including Australia and New Zealand focusing on leadership and community development initiatives.

The theme of the EPLD 2014 is again “Navigating our Future Together” and all aspects of the conference will focus on the significance of leadership in the context of relevant sub-themes. These include economic and social development; regional co-operation and infrastructure; good governance; security, stability and strengthening communities; the environment; business and industry as well as education and health.

Further information on this important leadership initiative is available on the EPLD web

Applications are now open and on line applications can be made via our web site as above – click on the “Applications” button to access the application form.

Applications are currently scheduled close at the end of March 2014.

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Nauru rule of law case and the implication for the Pacific

by Bal Kama

Australia’s blind eye while rule of law under siege in the Pacific
The resignation of the Australian born Nauru Supreme Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Eames last week will go down as one of the most disappointing moments in the judicial history of the island nation. It came about as a result of the sacking of Nauru’s Chief Magistrate and the suspension of the Chief Justice early this year by the Nauruan government – events widely condemned as breaching the rule of law doctrine.

The judiciary is often referred to as the ‘guardian of the constitution.’ Central to this relationship is the doctrine of rule of law and it is inextricably linked to the constitution. Interfering with the judiciary is a direct assault on the constitution and raises serious questions about a government’s commitment to the rule of law and constitutional democracy. Any such government should alarm Australia, which is an established constitutional democracy.

Picture source: Radio Australia

The Nauru situation is similar to that of Fiji when the current military regime first came to power and the 2011-2012 impasse in Papua New Guinea. However, while Fiji and PNG drew sanctions and stern condemnation respectively from Australia, the Nauru situation was simply dismissed as a ‘domestic…internal issue.’ As Chief Justice Eames said, it is ‘extraordinary’ that Australia adopts this approach. Has Australia all of a sudden changed to a ‘non-interference’ policy like that of China? What could be some possible implications as a result of this shift?

Nauru Experience
Nauru has housed Australia-bound asylum seekers. Nauru’s economy is largely driven by Australia’s aid and financial spinoffs from the detention centre. Nauru’s key political elites are closely connected to the Australian government. Australia’s High Court is Nauru’s highest court of appeal and Nauru is arguably Australia’s success story in terms of dealing with its current biggest policy nightmare – the asylum seekers.

As an established democracy, the international community expects Australia not only to support the domestic democratic institutions in the Pacific Islands countries, but to take a more assertive stand against any individual or government that threatened the pillars of democracy.

To some extent, Australia responded to this latter expectation during the constitutional crises of Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Has Australia taken the same stance against the Nauruan government? No. Why not? It is argued Australia was more concerned with safeguarding its asylum seeker deal with the Nauruan government than raising concerns of rule of law and political incursions on judicial integrity.

But in this relatively unstable region, these contradictions can have serious implications for Australia’s future role as a proponent of the rule of law and democratic governance. The experiences of Fiji and Papua New Guinea indicate that the issue is not alien to Australia’s backyard and Australia need to be consistent and determinative in addressing such issues.

Picture Source: Dexter S Brechtefeld, Blogspot

Fiji Experience
Fiji has had four coups since 1987 when Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka first stormed the Fijian Parliament. The latest coup in 2006, led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, saw him in power till last month when he quit as Fiji military chief, a move welcomed both in Australia and New Zealand.

In each of these coups, the constitution was suspended or dismissed as nonexistent, affecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens guaranteed under the constitution.

Since 2006, the Fiji regime has been accused of politicising the judiciary. Many judges who have stood in defence of the rule of law were forcefully retired or silenced. Despite Commodore Bainimarama’s retirement in respect of the new constitution, Australia needs to remain vigilant.

Picture source: Devra Berkowitz, UN photo

Picture source: Devra Berkowitz, UN photo

Until a constitutionally elected democratic government comes to power and serious efforts are made to strengthen the democratic institutions including the courts, the rule of law in Fiji is far from ideal and Australia must be seen to play a consistent, objective role in this process.

PNG Experience
Between December 2011 and July 2012, PNG became the first country in the Commonwealth since the inception of the Westminster system of government to have ‘two’ governments for over seven months.

The tumultuous crisis saw almost ‘two’ of every important government portfolio including ‘two’ governor-generals, ‘two’ Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers and ‘two’ police and defence chiefs. One ‘government,’ led by the current Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, was elected by Parliament and the other, led by then Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, was appointed by the Supreme Court.

Picture source: ABC News

What transpired was historic.  The Chief Justice was charged with the criminal offence of sedition and the integrity of some of his fellow Supreme Court judges was called into question. The parliamentary elected government went further to enact the Judicial Conduct Act (now repealed), a law aimed at giving powers to the Parliament to scrutinise the judges’ professional ethics with criminal penalties including the loss of retirement benefits. These events encapsulated one of the 21st century’s most profound constitutional crises.

The rule of law was clearly undermined.

Has it been resolved? No, not formally. It appeared to be ‘ended’ only with a televised handshake between O’Neill and Somare, the leaders of the warring faction after the Alotau Accord was agreed upon. It was a sight that promises hope for the people of PNG but hope for what?

How about the assault on the judiciary? And what of the allegations and outstanding charges initiated by the judiciary against these political elites? It all seemed to vanish in the air of ‘forgive and forget.’ And Australia was more than happy to accept this questionable status quo.

Picture source: Radio Australia

With this current government, there are already doubts as to its longevity in the office. Many issues appear to trigger this perception including the Parakagate allegation that had implicated the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and the Ministers of Treasury and Finance for defrauding the state of millions of kina. The recent sacking of senior government ministers, especially the Treasury Minister Don Polye, had resulted in widespread scepticism. The Opposition is publicly calling for a revolution within the government, accusing it of serious misappropriation and internal instability.

Maybe it is premature at this stage to predict another crisis but one can never be sure in the ‘land of the unexpected.’ As shown in Nauru, one wonders whether if a constitutional crisis does happen in PNG, Australia, with the Manus deal in sight, will maintain its ‘non-interference’ policy.

Australia continues to play a leadership role in the region as an established constitutional democracy. It needs to project a consistent and clear position on issues of rule of law and constitutional governance in a region plagued by serious socio-political instability.

The World Bank, in a recent report presented at the ANU Crawford School of Economics, identified the Pacific Islands as one of the most difficult places in the world to make business. The high levels of corruption, gender violence, and pervasive increase in crime rates, to name a few factors, are some constant challenges that continue to undermine development efforts in the Pacific – ‘Australia’s backyard.’ Has Australia done enough? Are Australia’s policies driven by the desire to genuinely help the Pacific or are they constructed for its own interests?

The citizens of the Pacific states expect Australia to be proactive when their institutions of justice and democracy are interfered and tampered with by their political elite. For Australia to wash its hands and say it’s was ‘domestic…internal matters’ is, as the Chief Justice said, ‘extraordinary.’

Australia is not asked to be a ‘deputy sheriff’ policing the region‘. It is simply asked to be a genuine friend. The Nauru precedent may come back to haunt Australia in the uncertain days ahead.

Bal Kama is a staff member at the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra and PhD Candidate with the ANU College of Law, Australian National University.

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