Good afternoon colleagues and friends.
Before I commence I want to take this opportunity to thank PIANGO for inviting me to deliver the keynote address for this session, because the theme, ‘Self-determination, Decolonisation and Pacific Regionalism’, neatly captures some of the history behind the establishment of the Pacific Islands Forum.
A Bit of History
Let me delve into some of the history behind the Forum, and specifically the notion of a common good. The impetus for a common good for the Pacific region came about early in our history toward self-determination.
The first written reference to this approach came about because of Bananas!
Bananas and the Pacific Island Producers Association. In the mid-1960s Fiji was exporting bananas to New Zealand. New Zealand wanted to give Western Samoa a higher price. It would pay Fiji and Tonga less. In true Pacific spirit, Samoa said they would not accept this and suggested to Tonga and Fiji that they all go to NZ and negotiate a fair and common price. They succeeded. This led eventually to the creation the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation, which is now the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
There was also the issue of the Secretariat for the Pacific Community, or SPC – an organization set up after World War 2 – made up of the metropolitan powers, with the colonies in the region. Its constitution and rules were rigid. It was autocratic and paternalistic. At an SPC meeting in Lae, Papua & New Guinea, tensions emerged when island countries were not allowed to discuss political issues.
By this time in the late 1960s, self-determination had arrived in the Pacific. Samoa had become independent. Nauru was on the way. Fiji wanted to discuss their journey toward independence with other countries in the Commission. Meanwhile, nuclear testing had begun at Mururoa Atoll.
SPC said yes to discussions on economic issues, but no to discussions on politics. Fiji then walked out, as did Papua & New Guinea, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga. Fiji prepared a proposal to establish an alternative system for SPC meetings, which was a three day conference, where territories could be involved in discussions.
During the 1970’s, as a result of the difficulties the Pacific Leaders faced with colonial and administrative powers, they decided to have their own Forum. Nauru offered to finance the creation of a separate organisation. The grouping was then joined by Michael Somare of PNG, Robert Rex of Niue, then IeremiaTabai from Kiribati, Walter Lini from Vanuatu, Paeniu of Tuvalu, and then Kenilorea of Solomon Islands.
Meeting were informal and easy. Later, the discussions became more formal with papers being prepared as if at a mini UN. The bureaucrats had arrived!
The Pacific Islands Forum started as a meeting, in 1971, of the Heads of Government of the independent and self-governing states in the Pacific, to discuss a wide range of issues of common concern, as well as possible solutions. At the most basic level that is what regionalism is about – sharing opportunities to address common challenges, a concept our founding Leaders recognised and sought to fully realise.
Today, 45 years later, the Forum membership has grown significantly with the inclusion of Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) in 1987, Palau in 1995 and more recently French Polynesia and New Caledonia. Now PIF is 18 in number. However, the purpose is still the same, maximising strength in numbers to achieve common objectives.
In fact, I would argue that regionalism is even more important today in light of the proliferation of trans-boundary challenges we face. These include climate change, ocean resource management, sustainable economic development, governance and security.
Over the years our Leaders have used their strength in numbers to advocate, as a region, on behalf of neighbours that did not have access to international platforms due to their lack of international status, particularly when it comes to self-governance and self-determination. Self-determination is a fundamental principle in public international law enshrined in Article 1 of UN Charter.
Self-determination and the rights of colonised peoples have featured in Forum Communiques since 1979, with the Forum also adopting specific mechanisms to progress the issue. I refer in particular to the Forum Ministerial Committees on New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
Personal experiences from PNG’s Road to Independence
My own history in the process toward self-determination is in my homeland Papua New Guinea. At the time of my studies at the University of PNG, the Pangu Pati had a branch at the campus.
I went along to meetings with fellow friends Rabbie Namaliu from East New Britain and Leo Hannett from Bougainville. I am from the Highlands, and that was United Party country. United Party was solidly against self-government.
PANGU was the progressive party looking to the future. My family supported PANGU but I got letters from family friends very disappointed with my association with a political organisation clearly determined to find the pathway to self-government and Independence.
The origins of PANGU is a good story. It is fondly known as the Bully Beef Club. Michael Somare, Albert Moari Kiki, Ola Rarua, Paul Lapun and Cecil Abel began their deliberations at the Administrative College about the future of the two territories. PANGU grew from the Bully Beef Club into a political party which won seats in the House of Assembly and then lead the political charge for self-government and then Independence.
My small role in it was as Private Secretary to Chief Minister then Prime Minister, Michael Soamre. I worked with a team of young people who surrounded the Chief Minister who had to negotiate both with Australia as colonial power and with the Constitutional Planning Committee led by John Momis (CPC) and debate the sections of the CPC reports that PANGU party disagreed with and negotiate with other political parties toward self-government and eventual Independence.
I am to this day so very proud of the Constitution of my country. An autochthonous document developed through consultation with our peoples. To this day the heart of the Constitution is the National Goals, and Directive a principles which states our values and aspirations as a people.
But to return to the region, the Pacific Islands Forum had a role to play in Vanuatu’s independence in 1979 when Forum Leaders reiterated in their Communique the “belief in the principle of self-determination and independence applying to all Pacific Island peoples in accordance with their freely expressed wishes” and called on the metropolitan powers concerned to work with the peoples of their Pacific Territories to this end.
Vanuatu was in turn instrumental in getting New Caledonia re-enlisted on the UN decolonisation list in 1986, as were individual Forum Members in French Polynesia’s re-enlistment on the same decolonisationlist in 2013. And in the current context, six Forum Members are actively advocating on behalf of the rights of the people of West Papua.
Underlying Forum Leaders acknowledgement and recognition of the desire of Pacific peoples, to determine their own future, is the agreement that the right to self-determination and independence must be exercised in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of those being governed.
Colonial powers must respect aspirations for greater autonomy by colonised peoples. At the same time, the aspirations for independence should be shared by at least the majority of the population. It is important that the achievement of greater autonomy and self-determination does not give rise to civil conflict.
The decision of Forum Leaders to include French Polynesia and New Caledonia as full members of the Forum is uncharted territory in many ways. Within the Secretariat we continue to work to clarify the practical and legal implications of this decision of Forum Leaders.
More broadly, there are other questions to be considered, particularly within the context of the Pacific Islands Forum – a grouping whose traditional criteria for membership has included full sovereignty and full self-government.
Many of you have great interest in the self-determination paths for both French Polynesia and New Caledonia. From where I sit, it is too soon to make sense of what their inclusion as full Forum members’ signals in terms of their self-determination aspirations. But many of you will be aware that both French Polynesia and New Caledonia remain on the UN decolonization list.
As with all things in the Forum context, any decisions self-determination for either territory will be discussed and considered by Forum Leaders.
To end, let me turn to the importance of regionalism for the Pacific – a concept and a practice that I continue to advocate for, and one that must drive outcomes. Regionalism can only work if member states give up some of their sovereignty for the common good. And that is no easy ask.
We have some significant results to show, most recently in our united strength, which delivered the Paris Agreement on climate change. But as we move forward, let me reiterate that results will be what matters most.
The Framework for Pacific Regionalism guides our collective efforts to work together for the common good.
Through the Framework, Forum Leaders have set out a vision for a “region of peace, harmony, security, inclusion, and prosperity” –and a number of key values andobjectives guide us as we strive to achieve this high level vision.
One of the core values of the Framework focuses on inclusivity. This value has been given effect through the regional public policy process – a process that has been actively embraced by civil society.
I want to acknowledge those of you here today for investing in this process, and for voicing the concerns you have for the region through this process. As you know, the Secretariat and the specialist sub-committee on regionalism has received numerous submissions from civil society through this process, on issues of real concern facing the region.
However, this process is more than receiving public submissions. Civil society and private sector have numerous entry points with which to engage in regional policy making – including through the submissions process, but also through an increased engagement with the Secretariat, as well as the opportunity to engage in direct dialogue with Forum Leaders.
The opening up of these spaces and opportunities along the policy process reflects the commitment on the part of the Forum to embrace this principle of inclusivity.
Our enduring challenge is to engage with community and with civil society as we turn to the real work of implementation, and on the delivery of results. Civil society has an active role to play, and it is our responsibility within the Forum to ensure that we actively involve civil society in implementation, and in monitoring.
As you are aware, one of the issues that has received renewed prominence through this new process is the welfare of the peoples of West Papua. The issue of West Papua is not new to the Forum, which since 2000 has occasionally expressed concern about violence and loss of life in West Papua.
However, as a result of the public policy process, Forum Leaders have now agreed to specific steps to try to help the people of West Papua. In addition, we have a number of Forum Leaders and Members that have come together with civil society groups to advocate for the rights and the welfare of the peoples of West Papua.
This is a good example of strengthened regional action under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism through the inclusion of civil society in the formation of regional policypositions. I commend civil society, and I commend the leadership demonstrated by PIANGO for continuing to fight for the cause of the peoples of West Papua.
Friends, I am privileged to speak to you here today on these important issues, and I wish you all the best for today and over the remainder of this week.