Honorable Ministers; Excellencies; Distinguished delegates
I bring warm greetings from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Secretary General who has asked that I convey her sincere gratitude to the Government of the Republic of Indonesia for inviting the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to attend the 10th Bali Democracy Forum.
The Pacific Islands Forum is a political grouping of eighteen member governments in the Pacific islands region. Our membership is quite diverse, ranging from Australia, a developed country with a population of tens of millions, to Niue a small island developing state with a population of several thousand. The geography of our members is also diverse, with Papua New Guinea comprising mainly high volcanic islands, with a large land area of half a million square kilometers to Nauru, a single raised coral atoll with an area of twenty one square kilometers.
Members also have quite different systems of government, wherein we have fully independent states and a constitutional monarchy. We have three countries in the Northern Pacific that are self-governing in a Compact of Free Association with the United States of America, and another two countries in the South Pacific that are self-governing in Free Association with New Zealand. We also have two territories of France with one of these – New Caledonia – to hold an important referendum for independence next year.
In one respect all Members of the Pacific Islands Forum are the same – and that is a shared commitment to the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. Under the Framework Forum members collective vision is for a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity – so that all Pacific peoples can lead free, healthy, and productive lives. This vision strongly aligns with the principles and objectives of democracy, and is also underpinned by a set of values including for good governance and the full observance of democratic values.
The common thread running across the diversity that characterises Pacific Islands Forum member countries is our commitment to representative democracy. This is further articulated in several Pacific Islands Forum Leaders commitments to the democratic principles of good governance and the lawful transfer of power such as the 1997 Aitutaki Declaration, the 2000 Biketawa Declaration, and the 2003 Forum Principles of Good Leadership.
With reference to the theme of this session, we are of the view that democracy lays the groundwork for security, equity and social justice, particularly in diversity. Democracy provides the very minimum standards for equity and social justice for all peoples, irrespective of diverse genders, faiths, political aspirations, or any other criteria by which we choose to identify. And as we all know, an equitable and just society is a secure and stable society.
By the standards of equity and social justice it is clear that no country in the world has yet achieved full democracy, for no country in the world is without security issues. However, democracy is a journey, and the internationally agreed principles of democracy provide the common destination to which we as democratic societies aspire to. At its simplest, democracy is government for the people by the people but the challenges we face in achieving this show how complicated it really is. Therefore, democracy must be fortified by strong institutions of accountability and transparency. The principles of separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, rule of law and accountability to voters serve as a crucial system of checks and balances.
In the Pacific our respective journeys towards democracy has not always been smooth sailing. To use Pacific voyaging as an analogy – as captains of our canoes we have the responsibility of ensuring that our craft are seaworthy – in other words to ensure that our government institutions are strong and effective. We have to ensure our crews are content, in other words that there is equity and social justice for all. For it is only with strong institutions and the provision of equity and social justice that we can overcome the other challenges over which we have little to no control.
In the Pacific we face geographical challenges of huge distances from each other and the smallness of lands on which we live. It is therefore in our collective interest to work together to overcome these common challenges and has been the basis for the Pacific Islands Forum since its inception more than forty-five years ago. Our Leaders have increasingly come to appreciate our strengths as a collective and in September adopted The Blue Pacific narrative to leverage this strength as a collective, recognizing our shared ocean identity, geography and resources which are what defines Pacific peoples and is the source of transformative potential. The Blue Pacific pushes us to recognise that we control and are custodians of the world’s largest oceanic continent and that as big ocean stewardship states we are a force to be reckoned with, and are a collective representation for and of democracy.
I thank you.