The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
and incoming Forum Chair, the Honourable Peter O’Neill,
[The Honourable Chief Justice and members of the judiciary,]
President of the Republic of Palau
and outgoing Forum Chair, His Excellency, Tommy Remengesau,
Honourable Forum Leaders and your good Ladies,
Distinguished representatives of Forum Associate Members and Observers,
Distinguished representatives of the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific,
Citizens of Papua New Guinea, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great honour to address you all today as we open the 46th meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum. This is an occasion of deep significance for me both professionally and personally – my first time to address the Forum as Secretary General, and doing so in my beloved homeland of Papua New Guinea.
This week you come together as the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum – a community of countries committed to realizing a collective vision of a peaceful and prosperous Pacific. Together you build on a foundation laid some 44 years ago by the leaders of seven countries – most of them newly independent – who recognised the importance of political dialogue and collective action to mitigate common challenges and achieve shared goals.
This initial meeting has developed into a mature organisation comprising 16 Member countries and three (3) Associate Members and (12) Observers. The profile and influence of the Forum has also developed significantly – once a relatively informal meeting of Leaders is now a major summit attracting the attention and participation of many other nations and international and regional organizations.
Through the Forum, your countries have worked together to make the Pacific a better place in numerous ways, for example through presenting a united voice against nuclear testing and establishing a legally binding nuclear free zone for the Pacific. The Forum has brought to life important bodies such as the Forum Fisheries Agency. And through regional initiatives such as the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, we have supported each other to overcome difficult times.
Over the years regionalism had its significance but the politics of issues that were paramount to the direction of the Pacific were lost.
Honourable Leaders, the Framework articulates your expectations that the regional agenda strive for a higher level of ambition, and that our regional efforts deliver results that make a practical and positive difference to the lives of Pacific people.
The Framework also represents your commitment to inclusivity and transparency in the development of regional public policy. A key innovation of the Framework is that anyone in the Pacific can contribute proposals for regional action. This opportunity was taken up enthusiastically as attested by the 68 submissions we received in response to the public call for proposals – submissions were received from governments, international and regional organisations, academic institutions, but in particular from NGOs and individual citizens. Indeed, we have seen a lot of public interest in the subsequent assessment of these proposals by the newly established Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism and the Forum Officials Committee.
I see this level of interest as very encouraging – a clear indication that the wider public values the Forum’s commitment under the Framework to promote an inclusive regional agenda. As a further symbol of your ongoing commitment to inclusive regional public policy development, the Leaders’ Troika met with representatives of civil society at breakfast this morning to hear their collective view on the five (5) initiatives that you will consider in your retreat on Thursday.The Framework for Pacific Regionalism represents a different way of doing business for the Forum. As with any kind of changes, there will be times when the transition seems uncomfortable, when unexpected consequences arise. But please be assured that I am here to assist and support your expectations of greater space for political discussion and decision-making on important regional initiatives.
As your Secretary General, I also stand ready to oversee and drive the implementation of those issues which you determine a priority. The issues recommended to you are multi-faceted and complex – they cannot be solved or delivered by any one single organisation. Member countries, regional and international organisations, the private sector and civil society will all need to have ongoing and productive conversations to advance the region’s new priorities bringing the theme of this year’s Forum to life.
At this point, I would like to specifically acknowledge the role of the organizations comprising the Council of the Regional Organisations of the Pacific. In my role as Secretary General of the Forum, I also serve as Chair of this Council and since assuming my role, I have learnt so much about the diverse and important services that these organisations provide to our region. Each organisation has its own institutional mandate, but they all share a common purpose in the collective delivery of the priorities of you, their Member countries. With their technical expertise and skills, Pacific regional organisations will be vitally important actors in ensuring the successful implementation of those initiatives which Leaders identify as regional priorities.
Your Excellencies, the Framework emphasises effective, honest and enduring relationships based on mutual accountability and respect. This expectation is not limited to the relationships between ourselves, but applies to the relationships the Forum has developed with a wide range of countries which are represented here this week as members of the Post-Forum Dialogue. In this inaugural year of the Framework, we have a unique opportunity to revitalize our discussions with our Post-Forum Dialoguepartners and to ensure that our regional partnerships are aligned with the priorities that you have determined on behalf of the Pacific.
Honourable Leaders, as I conclude my short remarks, I would like to take this opportunity to convey my sincere thanks to the President of the Republic of Palau and outgoing Forum Chair, the His Excellency Tommy Remengesau. You have presided over the Forum during a very busy period and you have brought much energy and commitment to this role. The leadership that you brought as Forum Chair to the Forum’s negotiations with Japan at PALM7 warrants particular mention.
To Prime Minister O’Neill, the Forum Secretariat and I look forward to serving and assisting you in every way possible as you take up the Chairmanship of the Forum.
Honourable Leaders, I wish you every success in your discussions and deliberations.