Lowy Institute

Fiji's 2013 constitution calls for a separation of powers between military and police (Photo: Getty)

Fiji’s Police Commissioner Ben Groenewald ended his contract this week. The official statement from the Fiji government cited personal and family reasons for the Commissioner’s departure, however Groenewald admitted in an interview with Radio Australia’s Bruce Hill that the Fiji military’s interference in policing 'indirectly' influenced his decision. The Fiji military’s Land Force Commander, Colonel Sitiveni Qiliho has been appointed acting police commissioner.

The South African Groenewald had earned respect in Fiji and the wider region in his relatively short term for improving the performance of the Fiji police and dealing effectively and transparently with disciplinary issues. In the post-2006 coup era, Fiji’s police commissioners were drawn from senior military ranks; Colonel Esala Teleni and then Brigadier General Ioane Navilarua, who were not universally regarded as effective. It was therefore a positive achievement for Fiji, as it rebuilds its democracy and implements a new constitution, to have its police force led by an independent and experienced police officer who was not linked to the military.

In contrast, the appointment of Land Force Commander Qiliho as acting police commissioner is a poor decision on many fronts. The appointment was formally made by Fiji’s outgoing president, on the advice of Prime Minister Bainimarama as chair of the Constitutional Offices Commission. Bainimarama’s choice of one of his former military colleagues harks back to the post-2006 coup era and pre-2014 election when Bainimarama put senior military officers in the roles of police commissioner and heads of civilian government agencies. The Qiliho appointment indicates the prime minister is happy for the military to be influencing the police.

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Fiji’s 2013 constitution and the 2009 State Services Decree make clear the separation of powers between the military and police. The prime minister’s decision to appoint a senior military officer to the police commissioner’s position, even temporarily, blurs this distinction and undermines his commitment to the constitution.

The prime minister’s choice of Qiliho in particular is worrying because Qiliho has just recruited into the military three police officers charged in relation to the infamous torture video (warning: video contains graphic images). The three suspended officers were charged in relation to the assault captured in the video, that went viral nearly three years ago. Qiliho has claimed the police had abandoned the officers. Although Groenewald did not name this case when he made his claims about military interference in policing, this is the clearest evidence of such.

Qiliho says he recruited the three officers so they would be provided with lawyers but it sends an unfortunate message to the Fiji people that he is more interested in protecting the alleged perpetrators of crime than condemning the crime. His approach is in marked contrast to Groenewald who made it clear he would not tolerate any ill treatment of the citizenry by police, and has actively investigated allegations of police brutality. 

The people of Fiji are entitled to have confidence that their police commissioner will protect their rights as well as those of police officers. The appointment of Qiliho does not inspire such confidence.

Groenewald’s admission that the military are interfering in policing was important because it means this can be discussed within Fiji. The Republic of Fiji Military Forces are regarded as something of a sacred cow in Fiji. Few politicians are prepared to tackle the issue of the military’s extraordinary influence in the country, not least because of the three coups the military has engineered. 

Groenewald’s admission also, however, has the potential to make recruiting a new police commissioner more challenging. There are unlikely to be many qualified candidates within Fiji, and it may be difficult to find foreign candidates who are prepared to deal with what may be continuing attempts by the military to interfere in policing operations, particularly if there is scant government support for preserving police independence.

After the elections last year, I argued Fiji had more to do to restore democracy, and in this Policy Brief I said Australia should continue to back Fiji’s transition to democracy beyond the elections. Australia is supporting good governance in Fiji through its aid program but could further assist by offering to help with the recruitment process for a new police commissioner.

Groenewald's admission and departure, and Col Qiliho’s subsequent appointment, are setbacks for Fiji’s rebuilding democracy project. If the military continues to assert its influence over policing in Fiji, police will struggle to perform their constitutional role effectively. The government’s commitment to the 2013 constitution and to the rule of law then has to be questioned. 

But the situation is not beyond repair. The appointment of another independent and experienced police officer to the police commissioner’s job is critical. The Fiji government should recognise it has a constitutional duty not only to recruit a qualified person, but to also support the police commissioner in carrying out his or her duties independently of the military. 

Fiji’s international partners should convey their interest in this process and offer to assist with an international recruitment process to find the best candidate.

  • The PNG government brought down the 2016 budget this week, which drew the government back from the edge of a fiscal crisis. Jonathan Pryke provided his immediate reaction to the ABC, and will provide more in depth analysis in the coming days.
  • Australia’s minister for the Pacific and international development Steve Ciobo is visiting New Caledonia, Fiji and Niue this week. In Fiji, he observed Exercise Longreach — a disaster preparedness seminar organised by the Australian Defence Force and, importantly, the first exercise the ADF has undertaken in Fiji since the 2006 coup.
  • Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten, shadow minister for foreign affairs Tanya Plibersek and shadow immigration minister Richard Marles are also in the Pacific this week, visiting Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands and Kiribati to investigate the impact of climate change. The ANU’s Professor Stephen Howes argues Australia needs to do more to provide labour migration options for Pacific Island countries affected by climate change.
  • Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is calling for greater political will from wealthy nations in the lead up to COP21 climate change negotiations in Paris.
  • The 11 (mostly Pacific) nations which are party to the Tokelau Arrangement have called for a 40% cut to the catch of southern albacore tuna stocks, following alarming new evidence that the species’ numbers are down to 40 per cent of pre-fishing levels. The ABC’s Jemima Garrett reports
  • The prime ministers of both Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands averted votes of no confidence that were mooted to be moved against them last week. Jenny Hayward-Jones looks at the corruption allegations that continue to threaten the stability of the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s government.
  • Human Rights Watch Australia launched its new report on family violence in Papua New Guinea today and called on the PNG government to expedite the implementation of its Family Protection Act throughout the country.
  • Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten joins in some local dancing during his trip to Kiribati.


Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O'Neill comprehensively headed off a motion of no confidence in parliament yesterday over corruption allegations. O'Neill's assertion that his government is stable and will 'continue to provide stability' ahead of handing down a difficult budget next week is convincing, particularly as he yesterday won a vote of confidence 78 votes to two. But doubts remain about his government's commitment to the rule of law and freedom of speech.

I wrote about the O'Neill Government's apparent lack of respect for the rule of law in June 2014 ('PNG: O'Neill Survives, Rule of Law Suffers'). At that time, Prime Minister O'Neill had avoided an arrest warrant issued relating to his alleged connections to fraudulent payments from the Papua New Guinea Finance Department to Paraka Lawyers.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill at the Lowy Institute, 2012. (Peter Morris.)

This matter has continued to reverberate. In July this year former Police Commissioner Geoffrey Vaki was found guilty of contempt of court for failing to execute the2014 arrest warrant against the Prime Minister and sentenced to three years in jail. In August, two PNG detectives with the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate, Chief Superintendent Mathew Damaru and Chief Inspector Timothy Gitua, brought contempt charges against new Police Commissioner Gari Baki for alleged interference with an arrest warrant that had been issued for Treasury Secretary Dairi Vele on charges of official corruption relating to decisions of the Prime Minister. Vele won a stay against the warrant in July, pending a court decision on setting aside the warrant.

Commissioner Baki then began an investigation into Damaru and Gitua and issued an arrest warrant against them.

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Two Australian lawyers, Greg Egan and Terence Lambert, who were joining the legal team acting for Damaru and Gitua, were denied entry to Papua New Guinea in late September. They believed this to be politically motivated. A week later the National Court of Justice overturned the ban imposed by the PNG Department of Immigration and the two lawyers were permitted entry. The arrest warrant against Damaru and Gitua was stayed by the National Court in October and Baki was restrained from further investigating the detectives and their lawyer in a case which cast doubt on Baki's commitment to police impartiality.

The Government also sought to suspend Chief Magistrate Nerrie Eliakim in early October. Eliakim is the magistrate who issued the arrest warrant against the Prime Minister. The Government insists its move to suspect Eliakim is related to complaints received about her performance rather than her involvement in the Prime Minister's case.

In a further twist this week, Supreme Court Judge George Manahu dismissed the application of Attorney-General Ano Pala to have an arrest warrant against him stayed. Pala is alleged to have conspired with Finance Minister James Marape, Prime Minister O'Neill and others to defeat the course of justice in relation to the investigations into the Paraka Lawyers payments. Importantly, the judge said the power of police to investigate and arrest should not be interfered with, that criminal matters do not recognise the status of a person in the community, and that being a minister and the chief legal adviser to the government is irrelevant. In other words: no-one is above the law. Assistant Police Commissioner Thomas Eluh, perhaps fearing another lawsuit, has called for Pala to  hand himself in for questioning at the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate office, declaring 'we cannot be going around looking to arrest a national leader'. But Pala doesn't have time to hand himself in this week – he is busy attending parliament.

This convoluted web of legal processes which the Government has woven has created a public perception that it has something to hide. The Prime Minister has encouraged this perception through his unwillingness to engage with critics. His government has cracked down on 'improper use' of the internet, with new laws imposing fines and jail sentences for placing 'offensive' or 'false' information online – apparently targeting social media activists who have been very critical of the government. The Prime Minister decided in August that Australian journalist John Garnaut and former Treasury official Paul Flanagan were no longer welcome in Papua New Guinea because of their criticism of his government's budget management. A peaceful public protest against the Prime Minister at the beginning of this week in Port Moresby which drew only small numbers provoked a disproportionate reaction from the police.

Why a leader with a parliamentary majority that would be the envy of prime ministers the world over should be sensitive about a few critics on social media, an Australian economist and a journalist is curious.

Prime Minister O'Neill's ability to maintain his dominance is not as easy now as it was at this time last year. The dramatic fall in commodity prices, consequent budgetary challenges and the El Nino drought threaten his capacity to deliver promised nationally significant reforms such as free education and healthcare, and maintain the District Services Improvement Program under which MPs receive grants to administer services and development initiatives in their electorates and which secure their loyalty to the Prime Minister. O'Neill is also clearly concerned about his legal battles, which ultimately may present the greatest threat to his leadership.

Nevertheless, for the moment O'Neill remains in a strong position with few realistic competitors for his job. O'Neill is right that Papua New Guinea needs a stable government to deal with the challenges facing the nation. But the people of Papua New Guinea also need a government that respects the rule of law and is confident enough to engage with its critics about the best way to deal with those challenges.


The saga over bribery and pardons in Vanuatu has brought out the worst and the best in the Pacific island nation's political-legal class.

Vanuatu's Supreme Court found 14 members of parliament guilty of the criminal charge of bribery on 9 October. Later that day, in flagrant disregard for the rule of law, Speaker Marcellino Pipite, one of those convicted and  who happened also to be Acting President that day, used a provision in the Constitution to pardon himself and the other MPs convicted of bribery charges.

The Vanuatu parliament, Port Vila. (Flickr/Phillip Capper.)

Baldwin Lonsdale, the President of Vanuatu who had earlier declared no-one was above the law, revoked the Speaker's pardons a few days after he returned from his visit to Samoa. This decision, which served to restore some public confidence in the rule of law, was challenged in the courts but Justice Oliver Saksak ruled on 21 October in favour of the President's revocations of the Speaker's pardons.

The sentencing yesterday of the 14 MPs to custodial jail terms of more than two years means they will lose their seats, destroying Prime Minister Sato Kilman's parliamentary majority. By-elections need to be held to replace the MPs but with elections due next year, one Opposition MP has speculated it might be more efficient to dissolve parliament and hold early elections. The convicted MPs will no doubt appeal their sentences so the saga is not quite over yet. Veteran MP and Finance Minister Willie Jimmy received a suspended sentence because he pleaded guilty at the beginning of the hearing.

The bribery charges and convictions exposed on a grand scale the weaknesses in Vanuatu's political system and the flaws of many of its elected politicians.

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It is not the first time Vanuatu MPs (including some of those sentenced on 22 October) have been caught up in corruption, fraud or other financial scandals, nor the first time politicians have been convicted and jailed. This has, however, been the largest political corruption case in Vanuatu's history and according to Justice Mary Sey, the MPs are 'the first in Vanuatu to be prosecuted for this offence in your capacity as members of parliament at the time of the offending'.

Vanuatu has a long history of political instability. It is not uncommon for the position of prime minister and most cabinet positions to change hands three or four times during a parliamentary term (elections are held every four years). Indeed, Vanuatu is probably the only country in the region to rival Australia's turnover rate of prime ministers in recent years.

Although Vanuatu has historically had one of the strongest party systems in Melanesia, many voters elect the candidates they believe most capable of delivering cargo to the local community rather than those most capable of doing good for the nation. Opposition MPs keen to occupy the government benches and assume valuable ministerial portfolios regularly move no-confidence motions against the prime minister. Holding cabinet positions offers a much surer way of directing resources to constituents and supporters than trying to influence policy-making or hold the government to account from the opposition backbench.

To Vanuatu's credit, regular changes of government have rarely provoked strong public reactions or the kind of violence seen in neighbouring Solomon Islands. Politicians who lose power in motions of no-confidence almost always launch court challenges and have a very good record of abiding by the court's decisions. As a junior Australian diplomat covering Vanuatu politics in the late 1990s, I quickly gained a good knowledge of Vanuatu's constitution while beating the well-trodden path between the parliament and the Supreme Court buildings. I was frequently in awe of the Chief Justice's patient approach to teaching MPs something they did not know about the constitution or parliamentary standing orders every time they appeared before him.

The developments over the last few weeks have been stunning, even for the jaded citizens of Vanuatu used to their unpredictable national politics. The criminal convictions of a quarter of the nation's parliament and the Speaker's attempts to pardon them are a disaster for the government and damaging for Vanuatu's international image.

But the conviction and sentencing of 14 MPs on bribery charges, the President's statement that no-one is above the law, Justice Mary Sey's statement that bribery is a cancer, and the strong demonstration of the independence of the judiciary are positive signs for Vanuatu over the long term. The rule of law has been upheld and politicians who sought not only personal advantage but to mock Vanuatu's laws are being punished.

The people of Vanuatu have been given a clear message that it is not acceptable for their politicians to cheat them and undermine the rule of law, and that there are serious consequences for those who do. If this helps voters to question the integrity of candidates and demand better behaviour from the people that represent them in parliament, and if it reminds MPs of their duty to uphold the rule of law and to respect the trust placed in them, this is unquestionably a good thing.


Pacific Islands Forum leaders met in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea last week. The meeting was highly anticipated for a few reasons. It is the first Forum hosted by PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who has clear regional leadership ambitions. PNG is celebrating 40 years of independence from Australia this week and hosted the Pacific Games in July. It is also preparing to host APEC in 2018, and needed to demonstrate its credentials in hosting regional meetings.

Leaders at the 46th Pacific Islands Forum, Post Moresby, Papua New Guinea (Facebook/Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat)

It was the first time the Fiji Government has been invited to attend the leaders’ summit since Fiji was suspended from the Forum in 2009. The now elected Prime Minister Bainimarama followed through on his promise to boycott the meeting, but was represented by his Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

The meeting was billed as an opportunity for Forum leaders to seek a common position to take to COP21 negotiations in Paris – 'seek' being the operative word.

In a break from past procedures and under the stewardship of new Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General Dame Meg Taylor, leaders had five priority issues on their agenda instead of the usual 35 or so they have previously been expected to discuss. Derived in part from public consulations, these issues were: fisheries and maritime surveillance, climate change and disaster risk management, West Papua, information and communications technology and cervical cancer.

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Anyone expecting more succinct outcomes from a focus on five rather than 35 issues, however, would have been disappointed. The meeting produced a 41 paragraph communiqué and two annexes: an 11 paragraph Declaration  on Climate Change Action and a 21 paragraph Hiri Declaration, 'Strengthening connections to enhance Pacific regionalism'.

The reporting of the summit focused on the split between Australia/New Zealand and the island states on climate change. Neither Tony Abbott nor John Key agreed to the island states' demand for a position that would restrict global warming to 1.5 C°. This enabled leaders such as the Kiribati President Anote Tong and the Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister Tony de Brum to join Fiji’s Prime Minister in portraying Australia and New Zealand as out of step with the region. Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who made an insensitive joke about Pacific islands affected by climate change last Friday, reinforced that notion.

But there was much more to the discussion on climate change than reaching agreement on the temperature goal, which in itself offers no guarantees for a global agreement in Paris. The leaders did reach agreement on a number of significant issues that they would seek for inclusion in the outcome of the Paris negotiations. The language in the Declaration on Climate Change Action was as good as it could be given the attitudes of Australia and New Zealand, and presents a number of common substantial arguments Forum members can take to Paris. But the acrimony that spilled out from the Forum and Peter Dutton’s damaging intervention have already overshadowed the positive outcomes, and may constrain any further united action. 

The inability of the leaders to communicate effectively the totality of their position on climate change also obscured the fact that they botched discussion on three of the five issues on which they should have reached decisions.

On cervical cancer, leaders 'noted the substantial burden that cervical cancer places on women and girls in the Pacific region as well as the insufficient response to address it across the region' and put off any action until there was 'further consultation' with relevant authorities. Cervical cancer is one the most preventable cancers, yet kills nearly twice as many women in Melanesia as in Australia and New Zealand. For a disease that can be prevented in many cases by a vaccine and regular screening, this was a poor effort by the Forum.

The Pacific Islands region lags behind the rest of the world in access to and use of information and communication technology (ICT), which puts island states at further economic disadvantage in a world increasingly dependent on connectivity. Regional cooperation in this sector could deliver increased access and savings and more importantly education and employment opportunities for young people. All leaders could agree on, however, was asking the Forum Secretariat and USP to 'consider the merit of a regional ICT Advisory Council.'  In a statement Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud of, leaders instructed that such a Council (which may not ever even exist) 'must deliver real deliverables.'  

Forum leaders noted concerns about human rights in West Papua, but appeared to defer to PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill who has developed a strategy for dealing with the situation and wants to manage it himself.

On fisheries and maritime surveillance, leaders were bolder. They agreed that a joint task force of regional agencies with fishery responsibilities should lead a program to increase sustainable economic returns, and tasked ministers to evaluate regional monitoring, surveillance and compliance, with an emphasis on sharing technology. While not yet an outcome to celebrate, the value of fisheries to all island states cannot be underestimated and better regional cooperation could have real benefits.

Public divisions on climate change hurt all members of the Pacific Islands Forum. Island states need to work harder to have their voice heard internationally, and the reputation of Australia and New Zealand in the region is impaired. Just as troubling, though, these divisions obscure and jeopardise coordinated action on many other significant challenges the region faces. Leaders would better serve their people and build confidence in the region by acting cooperatively and decisively on issues they do agree on, rather than emphasising their differences.

  • John Garnaut continued his commentary on PNG's looming fiscal crisis, while Liam Cochrane revealed some questionable expenditure items in the recent Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.
  • The PNG Advantage investment summit will take place on 27 and 28 August.
  • Journalist Ellen Whinnett documents the week-long journey of five federal Australian MPs (3 Labor and 2 Coalition) to rural PNG.
  • James Batley at ANU takes a look at PNG's budding aid program, showing that 'aid is now a significant feature of its regional diplomacy'.
  • Terence Wood has painstakingly compiled a database of almost 50 years of Solomon Islands election results.
  • Up to 60 people face sedition charges in three separate cases in Fiji as Prime Minister Bainimarama vows to 'crush' possible insurrection.
  • On a more cheerful note, the National Gallery of Australia has launched its 'Myth and Magic – art of the Sepik River, PNG' exhibit in Canberra. It closes 1 November and is not to be missed. 
  • The Centre for Global Development's Owen Barder previews the Third International Conference on Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa this week.
  • With negotiations well underway for the post-2015 development goals, how did the Millennium Development Goals fare? The 2015 UN MDG Report was released last week. Link to the full report and other press releases here.
  • IMF President Christine Lagarde announced that the IMF will expand access to its concessional facilities by 50%. It will also focus concessional resources more on the poorest and most vulnerable countries.
  • Pacific Islands Forum foreign ministers have emphasised the importance of local leadership in responses to natural disasters. In their meeting in Sydney on 10 July, they called on international partners, regional organisations, the private sector and civil society organisations to support processes led by Pacific Island governments for disaster-related assistance.
  • Impact investing is growing rapidly. Oxfam's Erinch Sahan analyses its appeal, the importance of ownership and the role of aid.
  • Brookings Nonresident Fellow Yun Sen argues China cannot ignore the voices of African countries as it gradually reforms its foreign aid policies.

Pacific Islands Forum foreign ministers are meeting in Sydney this week but may struggle for the spotlight as regional attention is focused on the Pacific Games, being hosted by Papua New Guinea. Port Moresby hosted a stunning opening ceremony on 4 July. It was one of several events this year which the Papua New Guinea Government and in particular Prime Minister Peter O'Neill will use to project the country's growing prominence in the region. Papua New Guinea will also host the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Summit in September along with celebrations on the occasion of 40 years of independence from Australia.

Prime Minister O'Neill sought to inspire the region in his address at the opening ceremony of the Games, saying the event would bring strong bonds between people, teams and nations. He promised that the world-class facilities PNG had built for the Games would benefit the region for 'generations to come' and said with 'global economic growth centred on our part of the world' it was a 'great time to live in the Pacific'.

In the lead-up to the Games, O'Neill has been busy bolstering his regional leadership credentials. At the biennial Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Leaders' summit in Honiara on 25 June, O'Neill brokered the admission of Indonesia as an Associate member of the Group, 'representing the five Melanesian Provinces in Indonesia'.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) had applied for membership too, an initiative supported by civil society groups across Melanesia. West Papuan hopes of securing full membership had been high following an impassioned speech by the MSG summit host and new chair, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. But it was O'Neill's formulation which won the day, and the ULMWP was instead accorded the status of an 'Observer member representing Melanesians living abroad.' O'Neill's position is that there is no collective voice among the West Papuan political movements so it is not appropriate for a group that is not elected to represent West Papua at the sub-regional level.

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O'Neill broke news of this decision via a Facebook post before the MSG leaders addressed a press conference or released their communiqué in Honiara. This was important. That he made his announcement separately and not in concert with the other leaders suggests he wanted to demonstrate his own role in brokering the outcome. Given that so much of the advocacy for the West Papuan cause is now conducted via social media channels (including in Papua New Guinea), announcing the MSG's decision on Facebook also helped O'Neill show he is in touch with his constituency.

O'Neill had already promised Papua New Guinea's support for Indonesia's associate membership during President Joko Widodo's visit to Port Moresby on 11-12 May. He followed up by announcing the proposal at the Pacific Leaders' Meeting in Japan on 22-23 May. O'Neill made it clear in Japan that Pacific Island countries had to deal with the Indonesian President and elected leaders of the Indonesian provinces with Melanesian populations if they wanted to see social conditions for West Papuans improve. He also set a tone for his expectations about how Pacific Island countries should deal with 'issues such as climate change, asylum seekers, West Papua' and their interactions with each other, stressing that 'playing emotional politics through the media is not the way to manage international issues in the modern world.'

Papua New Guinea has further promoted its leadership through a series of bilateral initiatives in the region. Prime Minister O'Neill wants to bestow the region's elder statesman, long-serving Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa, with PNG's highest award, the Order of Logohu, during the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Meeting. Papua New Guinea provided disaster relief to Vanuatu following Cyclone Pam in April, including a $2.5 million aid package and an assessment team. The Papua New Guinea Government is delivering a 5-year development assistance program worth about $49 million to Solomon Islands.

Most of the credit for Papua New Guinea's new leadership role in the region should go to Prime Minister O'Neill. He has made a number of important speeches and interventions in 2015 both at home and abroad that are clearly focused on building and securing recognition of PNG's reputation as a regional leader and projecting his views on how PNG and its Pacific neighbours should interact on the global stage.

PNG is by far the largest Pacific Island nation in terms of population size, GDP and land size, and arguably more deserving of recognition as a regional leader than Fiji, which has historically played that role. But PNG's national development challenges are so much more significant in scale than those faced by any other island nation in the region. It is far from guaranteed that the Prime Minister can rely on support from his ministers, government agencies and the public, all of whom are necessarily more focused on domestic priorities, to reinforce his regional leadership ambitions.

  • Following a successful no-confidence motion in Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman, Sato Kilman was elected the new PM, his third turn in that office.  But another former Prime Minister, Edward Natapei, has lodged another motion of no confidence and has restarted a debate about changing the constitution to guarantee more political stability.  
  • Conclusions of the first Fiji-EU high-level talks since the return to democracy. 
  • Training and collaboration are the keys to the success of the US Navy's Pacific Partnership, now in Fiji.
  • Results from the 2015 Lowy Institute Poll show Australians seem to have a strong sense of obligation to Papua New Guinea and some understanding of its importance to Australia. 
  • In her 11 June speech to the Lowy Institute, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop emphasised the Pacific  Islands region as the priority for Australian aid, and where Australia has a 'particular responsibility to promote stability and prosperity'. 
  • In a 15 June speech Julie Bishop launched DFAT's Health for Development Strategy and paid special tribute to the collaborative work the Burnet Institute has undertaken in PNG. 
  • The 2015 PNG Update, organised by the ANU's Development Policy Centre and UPNG's School of Business Administration, will be convened at UPNG on 18 and 19 June. The focus is on development challenges in the LNG era. 
  • Coverage of re-elected Autonomous Bougainville Government President John Momis' first speech:


Papua New Guinea has reacted to Australia's recent decision to establish a diplomatic post in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville by banning Australian travel to the province. This spat is proving to be an irritant not only for the friendly relationship between Canberra and Port Moresby, but also for relations between Port Moresby and government authorities in Bougainville.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's arrival in Papua New Guinea, November 2014. (DFAT)

Australia's aid spend in Bougainville is $50 million next financial year – larger than Australian aid programs in Samoa, Tonga or Kiribati. Establishing an office to administer a program of this size is understandable. It is perhaps surprising Australia has not sought to establish a consulate either in Bougainville or another location in Papua New Guinea before now, given the quantum of Australian interests in our nearest neighbour. For its part, Papua New Guinea maintains three consulates in Australia — in Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns — in addition to its High Commission in Canberra.

The Papua New Guinea Government has interpreted the Australian decision as a threat to its sovereignty, but it is unclear whether Port Moresby really believes this or was upset by what it called 'a lack of consultation' on the matter.

The Australian Government would be foolish if it failed to consider the consequences of a 'yes' vote for independence in Bougainville when the referendum is held. But it is not in Australia's interests to be perceived as cheering for the creation of another state in the Pacific that will likely be vulnerable and largely dependent on aid. Canberra has to be careful to remain neutral while ultimately prefering to see Bougainville remain an autonomous region within Papua New Guinea.

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This incident will be particularly frustrating for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who has worked so hard to strengthen Australia's relations with Papua New Guinea and who is held in high regard in Port Moresby. Bishop would have hoped the fact that she had quarantined Papua New Guinea from the impact of the largest ever cut to Australia's aid program was good news for Port Moresby, but instead she finds herself on the defensive in the first diplomatic stoush with Papua New Guinea under her watch.

Prime Minister O'Neill has claimed the restrictions his Government has imposed on Australians traveling to Bougainville have been well received in the autonomous region but it is not clear that this view is widely held. Current President John Momis, for example, has said he wants Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato to lift the restrictions immediately. Polling in Bougainville's elections has just closed, with the count to take place next week. It would be unfortunate if this spat between Papua New Guinea and Australia damages Port Moresby's ability to develop a positive relationship with a new government in Bougainville as it prepares for a referendum on independence within the next five years.

The Australia-Papua New Guinea relationship has depth and is bolstered by strong business links. The fact that the Papua New Guinea Government's retaliatory measures were aimed only at restricting the travel of Australians to Bougainville suggests there is no desire to harm the wider relationship. Indeed, Prime Minister O'Neill declared in his speech to the Lowy Institute last week that the relationship was in better shape than at any time since independence. On Monday this week I watched the Prime Minister give another positive speech about the bilateral trade and investment relationship alongside the visiting Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb at the Australia-PNG Business Forum in Lae, and the two had a friendly meeting afterwards.

Both governments have an interest in the delivery of an effective aid program in Bougainville. If they don't resolve this spat soon, it could end up undermining their own objectives.

There has clearly been some kind of misunderstanding, misinterpretation or miscommunication about Australia's intentions, but rather than rehash who should have said what and when, it would be in the interests of ministers in Port Moresby and Canberra to prove the maturity of the  relationship with a swift resolution to this problem.


As the Prime Minister exhorts Australians to attend centenary Anzac Day services in order to support 'our country's values', I find myself reminiscing about my first experience at an Anzac Day service in Gallipoli a decade ago.

In 2005 I was privileged to attend the first of three Anzac Day services at Gallipoli in my role as the deputy head of mission at the Australian Embassy in Turkey. Our Embassy team, in cooperation with a small team from the Department of Veterans' Affairs in Canberra, was responsible for organising the ceremonies with our Turkish hosts and ensuring the safety of Australians attending the services. My principal job on the day was coordinating the visit of Prime Minister John Howard and his delegation.

Australian troops charge an Ottoman trench, just before the evacuation at Anzac. (Wikipedia.)

The 2005 services were controversial because of problems with the Anzac Cove road, overcrowding, a decision to play disco music to entertain the crowds sleeping at the site, inappropriate behaviour by some younger 'pilgrims', and rubbish left at the site. Vast improvements were made the following year, including upgraded and educational screen entertainment provided to the visitors in the hours before the ceremony (keep in mind that the only way to reach the Gallipoli National Park on 25 April is via coach from Istanbul, so thousands of people arrive at the site in the dark and are there for many hours before dawn in near freezing temperatures and without shelter). The improvements were necessary but created a new (and expensive) tradition of the Australian Government controlling the telling of the Anzac story through high quality modern entertainment at a place many believe to be sacred.

The commemorative services at Gallipoli run over two days. The Turkish, British and French services are all held on 24 April. 25 April is reserved for the Anzacs, with the famous dawn service followed later by an Australian service at Lone Pine and the New Zealand service at Chunuk Bair.

The services on 25 April all work to a similar formula: 45 minutes of speeches from the most senior VIPs, then prayers, hymns, national anthems, catafalq parties, wreath-laying and the Last Post. I felt sorry for the speechwriters for visiting politicians and for my ambassador, who had to think of something new to say on a subject on which everything has been said while remembering to be conspicuously polite about our Turkish hosts. The overtly Christian nature of the dawn service and the other two 25 April services always seemed to me a little incongruous in a country where the practice of Christianity was heavily regulated and when Australia was apprehensive about emerging Turkish efforts to portray the Battle of Çanakkale (as the Gallipoli battle is known in Turkey) as a holy war.

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I lost count of the number of times Ataturk's famous words about Johnnies and Mehmets lying side by side in peace were uttered during each service, although I suspect our Turkish hosts kept very careful count. There is now doubt about the origin of those words but this is unlikely to have any impact on how often they are quoted in Anzac Day services at Gallipoli.

The dawn service at Anzac Cove is meant to be awe-inspiring but the inspiration is rarely found in the speeches or the hymns. I found the sun rising on the Dardanelles and lighting up the steep cliff-face behind us midway through the ceremony — a stark reminder of the impossible task facing our soldiers in 1915 — to be the most moving element of the service. This natural wonder alone made being at Anzac Cove more meaningful than dawn services in Australia. The catafalq party, carried out by Australian and New Zealand army officers, also had a way of making me hold my breath.

The Australian service at Lone Pine has a different flavour to the dawn service. As we arrived at Lone Pine for my first ceremony there in 2005, it was already full to overflowing with people and there were thousands more walking up the hill, expecting to find seats. Several groups of young Australians draped in the national flag were chanting 'Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi and oi', calling out to Prime Minister Howard and generally creating a carnival atmosphere — not exactly what I had expected.

As the searing sun in a cloudless sky reminded me I had not slept for 30 hours, we scrambled to find seats for all the VIPs and the growing number of Turkish military officers streaming in to the site, and somehow find places where a few thousand more people could at least hear, if not see, the service. While this first experience was somewhat fraught I remember enjoying the community feel of the services I attended at Lone Pine over the following two years, when volunteer choristers from home sang, and Australian primary school children who had won writing competitions read poetry and talked about Simpson and his donkey (sadly, like Ataturk's words, this story is more myth than history).

After three years attending Anzac services in Gallipoli, I remained somewhat baffled by the large numbers of young Australians who made a pilgrimage to an event marking a battle with which they had little if any connection. I was in awe of the success of the Government's efforts to create such passion in a younger generation when I had no such feeling, even as the granddaughter of a World War II veteran and a student of World War I.

Perhaps this was because I made my own connection with this place in a way that had nothing to do with ceremonies or ritual. I made my first trip to the Gallipoli peninsula in late December 2004. With Turkey's best guide, Kenan Celik OAM, and my English husband I visited the sites familiar to most Australians: Anzac Cove and Lone Pine, Hill 60, and then the battle sites and memorials relevant to other Allies and to Turkey. I learned more about Gallipoli from Kenan in one day than in all my years of schooling in Sydney.

The last thing Kenan showed us was a simple stone monument with no names of the dead or details of the battle inscribed. It marked a site where thousands of soldiers, mostly Turkish, were buried as they were killed (because the battle had to continue). It was mid-afternoon and we were beginning to lose the winter sun. I had spent a day walking among graves of young men and gazing at monuments to important stages in the battle. Yet although I had long been taught that this event defined my nation, I was struggling to create my own relationship with the place. It was only at this last, most unfamiliar of sites that I could hear the souls of the dead and I understood.


Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill did something remarkable last Thursday. In a wide-ranging policy speech at a leadership summit in Port Moresby, he acknowledged the oppression of the people of West Papua. It was the first time an incumbent prime minister of Papua New Guinea has spoken directly about the rights of West Papuans in a public forum:

Papua New Guinea today is a respected regional leader. After 40 years of undisturbed democracy, we are in a unique position to lead mature discussions on issues affecting our people in the region.

Our leading role in encouraging Fiji to return to a democratically elected government and voicing our concerns about the plight of our people in New Caledonia are examples of our growing influence. We have also participated in the restoration of democracy and law and order in countries like Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.

But sometimes we forgot our family, our brothers and sisters, especially those in West Papua.

I think as a country the time has come for us to speak about oppression our people. Pictures of brutality of our people appear daily on social media and yet we take no notice. We have the moral obligation to speak for those who are not allowed to talk. We must be the eyes for those who are blindfolded. Again, Papua New Guinea, as a regional leader, we must lead these discussions with our friends in a mature and engaging manner.

O'Neill was careful not to refer to independence or greater autonomy for West Papua. He also made no reference to the latest attempt by West Papuan independence groups to seek membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. But significantly, he referred to West Papuans as 'family', 'brothers and sisters' and 'our people.' This is not quite the same as questioning the sovereignty of Indonesia over West Papua but is a radical departure from previous language. It is notable that in the year that Papua New Guinea celebrates 40 years of independence from colonial rule, the Prime Minister of the most populous Melanesian state has sought to identify with Melanesian populations which are not yet independent – in New Caledonia and in West Papua.

Interestingly, O'Neill indicated he was concerned about the pictures of brutality appearing on social media. If his decision to speak out now was even in part inspired by the images of human rights abuses posted by supporters of West Papua on Facebook and Twitter, this is a breakthrough moment for the influence of activists who use social media for political advocacy in Papua New Guinea. Indeed, those who post pictures on social media of brutality that women experience in Papua New Guinea will hope the Prime Minister may be paying attention to them too.

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O'Neill's remarks will be a blow to Jakarta (see here for comments from Indonesia's Human Rights Commissioner). Indonesia has been working hard to court Melanesian states and has attended Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meetings as an observer as part of efforts to dissuade the MSG from admitting the West Papuan independence movement as a member. The then Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was the guest of honour at Fiji's Pacific Islands Development Forum meeting in Fiji last year, demonstrating the importance Indonesia attaches to influencing Melanesian countries.

Although the PNG Government has long carefully managed its relationship with Indonesia and avoided public statements on West Papua, there is much support in the PNG community and among a number of MPs for the West Papuan independence movement. Papua New Guinea's capacity to drive international action on a human rights issues is unproven, but O'Neill will now come under domestic pressure to follow through on his statement. The decision by Indonesia's Foreign Ministry to establish a special working group to 'handle developments and issues relating to Papua' might offer a window for closer engagement with Papua New Guinea on human rights issues.

O'Neill's remarks will have surprised others in the region. O'Neill has been at odds with with Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama over a range of issues, including Fiji's desire to reform regional diplomatic architecture. O'Neill's statement on West Papuan human rights may now leave Fiji as an outlier within the Melanesia Spearhead Group; Vanuatu and Solomon Islands are supporters of West Papuan independence but Bainimarama has been reluctant to endorse West Papuan demands. At a time when Fiji's government is seeking to reclaim regional leadership at the expense of Papua New Guinea's ambitions, this will unnerve Fiji.

The move also wrong-foots Canberra. It would be naïve to imagine Canberra can comfortably stay neutral on this issue. Australia wants a stable relationship between its two nearest neighbours and therefore has an interest in averting tensions over West Papua. The Australian Government's position in relation to West Papuan lobbying efforts has always been that it supports the sovereignty of Indonesia over the provinces of Papua and West Papua, a position shared by the Papua New Guinea Government.

Australia has also been supportive of Papua New Guinea assuming a more significant regional leadership role, consistent with the size of its population, its economy and its potential for growth. Papua New Guinea is a country of some 7 million people and its economy, the largest of the Pacific Island countries, is forecast to grow by 15% in 2015, more than any other country in the world. Canberra can hardly complain if Peter O'Neill has determined that PNG will stand a better chance of recognition as a regional leader if he stands up for the rights of West Papuans. But in so doing, he has changed regional dynamics in the Pacific, probably made them even more difficult for Australia to attempt to manage and may even add to pressure on Australia to act.

Papua New Guinea will host the Pacific Islands Forum leaders' summit this year. The Forum has avoided recognition of West Papua issues in its official pronouncements but discussion this year could be quite different if PNG, this year's chair, campaigns for it.