State of the Pacific 2014



The second annual State of the Pacific conference, hosted by the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program, will be held on 18-19th June 2014 at the Australian National University. A showcase for research on the Pacific region, the conference aims to bring together academics, policy makers, business leaders, civil society representatives and the media to discuss the important nexus between research and policy. Through the themes of Political Development and Innovation and Experimentation in Development, the conference will explore some of the most pressing contemporary challenges facing the region.

The Conference will also host a session, "New Directions", for academics, post-graduate students, development practitioners and policy makers to profile new research projects currently underway in the Pacific region.

To view the latest draft program (12 June), please click here.

To view the abstract of the film "Tep Tok", please click here

The State of the Pacific forms part of Pacific Perspectives week at ANU, and follows on from the Pacific Update, organised by the Development Policy Centre, ANU.



‘New Directions in research’ offers a unique platform for profiling new and innovative research on the Pacific. For presenters, the session offers the rare opportunity to discuss their work in front of a diverse audience which includes academics, policy makers, and representatives from civil society, business, and the media. For those attending, the session provides succinct information on recent and interesting research being conducted in and on the Pacific, by researchers from a range of backgrounds, and from the Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand.

This session is offered on day two of the conference – 19 June, 2014.

For more information contact


For Session Abstracts, click here

Vanua Sauvi: Conservation, Food Security & Carbon Sinking, Rosiana Lagi; PhD Candidate, USP

‘Do No Harm’:  Understanding the relationship between women’s economic empowerment and violence against women in Melanesia, Jo Crawford, Research and Policy Advisor, IWDA

The Pacific Index, Simon Feeny, Associate Professor, RMIT

Pacific Leadership Program Action Research, Michael O’Keefe, Senior Lecturer, Latrobe University

The political and developmental significance of new and emerging ‘middle classes’ in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste, Michael Leach (RMIT), Julien Barbara (ANU), John Cox (ANU)

Reflections on the RAMSI People’s Survey 2006 – 2013, Christine McMurray, Adjunct Professor, ANU 

Artisanal Mining in Bougainville, Anita Togolo, PhD Candidate, ANU & Anthony Regan, Fellow, ANU

Towards a political ecology of REDD in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, Nicole Gooch, PhD Candidate, Monash University

Seasonal worker programs as a model for development: a role for employers?, Luke Craven, PhD Candidate, University of Sydney

Women’s Savings Clubs: Developing, implementing and learning from the Tugeda Tude fo Tumoro Model, Heather Brown, Director of Programs, IWDA

Introducing a Culture-centered Mode of Communication for HIV/AIDS: The Case Study of Papua-Indonesia, Meylani Yo, Deakin University

Rights & Religion – Implications for Development in the Pacific, Bronwyn Fraser, UnitingWorld


Elections in Fiji, 2014

Convenor: Stewart Firth

This year Fiji will hold its first elections after eight years of military rule. The elections will be under the terms of the Fiji government’s new constitution – the fourth in the country’s history – and will be for 50 members of parliament elected without regard to race and under a system of open list proportional representation. The government has released electoral rolls and appointed a seven-member Electoral Commission charged with educating voters, registering candidates, settling electoral disputes and enforcing electoral law. In the meantime the mainstream political parties – the Social Democratic Liberal Party or SODELPA, the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party, which have organised themselves as the United Front for a Democratic Fiji, together with a new party called the People’s Democratic Party  – have cleared the daunting hurdles set for them by the government and been registered to participate. Bainimarama, Fiji’s self-appointed prime minister, has stepped down from his position as military commander and will stand for election. He has said he hopes to win all 50 seats.

To read about the speakers, click here

Political Settlements: evaluating a new concept in development thinking

Convenor: Sinclair Dinnen

Technical approaches to institutional reform and development following liberal-democratic and market economy blueprints have generally had disappointing outcomes. Recent years have seen a growing acknowledgement among development actors of the need for a much better understanding of how power, structure and agency combine to shape, constrain and compromise the workings of (formal and informal) institutions, with a view to facilitating more successful development outcomes in recipient countries. The new catch-cry of ‘thinking and working politically’ has been accompanied by growing investment in political economy analyses and other analytical tools. As a concept, ‘political settlements’ provides a potentially valuable instrument for enhancing understanding of the organisation and exercise of power in particular local contexts and for enabling the crafting of more appropriate and  effective development interventions. In this session, we will examine the concept in the specific contexts of Timor-Leste and Solomon Islands with a view to considering its broader value to development theory and practice.

To read about the speakers, click here

Emerging donors, emerging investors and Australia’s changing role in the Pacific

Convenor: Graeme Smith

A considerable volume of literature in the international relations and security studies field raises concerns shifts in the geopolitics of the south Pacific, and what this portends for Australia, New Zealand, France and the United States. This panel will bring together a range of experts from different disciplines to examine these issues through the lens of in-country analysis. The panel will explore the perspectives and motivations of Pacific Island actors, and the shifts that are occurring in Pacific aid, trade, investment and diplomacy. Amid calls for Australia to “muscle up” in terms of its defence and diplomatic presence in the region, perhaps it is better that we “wise up” and accept that the Pacific has changed. The panel will explore possible new roles for Australia in this changing landscape.

To read about the speakers, click here

Land, resources and state formation

Convenor: Matthew Allen

Struggles over the control of, and access to, land and natural resources loom large in the political economies of contemporary Melanesia. These struggles play out at multiple scales, in myriad institutional spaces, and involve diverse sets of actors. They often have salient gender, inter-generational, and ethnic dimensions. In some instances they are managed peacefully, but in others they can erupt into violence. Struggles over land and the benefits that flow from extractive resource industries are reorganizing political space and reshaping institutions in profound ways. In this sense, they are central to the on-going processes of state formation in region. This session will explore the interactions between land, extractive industries and state formation in contemporary Melanesia. Potential topics will include the political economy of “land grabs” in Vanuatu and PNG; the implications of the shift from logging to mining in Solomon Islands; the reopening of Panguna mine on Bougainville; and the relationships between gender, land and state formation.

To read about the speakers, click here

Placing Pasifika Communities in Australia

Convenor: Roannie Ng Shiu

The Pasifika community in Australia is largely invisible. Understanding and charactering the Pasifika peoples in Australia poses a challenge given the lack of information and data available for Pasifika people. Pacific islander demographics and statistics at state level and within institutions are better captured. In Queensland the Pasifika community in the Logan-Ipswich corridor is the fastest growing migrant community with some secondary schools reporting Pacific enrolments as high as 80% (Mariner, 2012). In the education and juvenile justice sectors statistics show that Pasifika young people are underrepresented in higher education conversely, in NSW they are are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system compromising 25% of all juvenile offenders (Ravulo, 2012). Panellists will discuss current debates, challenges and barriers Pasifika communities face and how can we best address these issues in order to improve the social and economic wellbeing and resiliency of Pasifika communities in Australia.

To read about the speakers, click here

Elections in Solomon Islands, 2014

Convenor: Sinclair Dinnen

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands began a gradual withdrawal from that country in 2011 and 2012. From July 2013 RAMSI’s development programs in health, education and justice were transferred to the bilateral Partnership for Development between Australia and Solomon Islands, while RAMSI remains as a mission to assist the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force until 2017. Voter registration is taking place across the country and the Electoral Commission has set up registration centres in Honiara for people working in town to register to vote in their home constituencies. The Solomon Islands election this year will be the first for more than a decade to take place without a strong RAMSI presence, and will test the country’s political resources at a time when the economic future is clouded. RAMSI became a substantial contributor to the national economy where it was located, accounting for 38 per cent of GDP on average in the decade of its presence, and its phased withdrawal is having economic consequences. The tropical forests which have fed the timber industry for more than two decades are being depleted, and the newly elected Solomon Islands government will face daunting challenges.

To read about the speakers, click here


Emergent shifts in gender roles

Convenor: Ceridwen Spark

Twenty-six years ago, anthropologist Paula Brown (1988, p. 137), discussing the impact of education and change on the Simbu wrote, ‘traditional gender roles do change. Perhaps a new generation of educated, urbanized … women will participate in national affairs and politics’. In 2012, three women were elected to Parliament in Papua New Guinea. The excitement surrounding this outcome was widely interpreted as an indicator of the kind of social change anticipated by Brown. And yet as has been documented in countless reports and research publications, the Pacific region continues to be one of the most inequitable in the world in terms of gender.

In this session, we seek to look ahead but also back in order to understand gender and social change in the Pacific. In doing so, we recognise that despite the plethora of research on and projects designed to address gender issues in the region, women continue to be disadvantaged and marginalized in social, economic and political spheres. How are we to understand this and what does it mean for researchers and policy-makers? Looking back will enable reflection on these key questions.

At the same time, we wish to continue the effort to explain and understand gender inequities in the Pacific through reference to the concept of societies in transition. The papers in the session will discuss emerging masculinities and femininities in the Pacific in order to chart the development of these in their contexts. To do this, it is necessary to consider how contemporary Pacific identities are shaped not only by local contexts or tradition but are being remade in interaction with flows of global ideas, images and practices, including new forms of Christianity and structural economic transformations.

To read about the speakers, click here

For the session abstracts, click here

Mobile phones and the Internet in Melanesia: potential and pitfalls

Convenor: Sarah Logan

Mobile phone and internet penetration rates in Pacific Island countries have soared over the past five years, and many commentators hold great hopes for the potential these technologies hold for improving development and political outcomes. Substantial literature exists on these issues elsewhere in the world, but such literature is only just emerging in Melanesia, as populations and donors begin to grapple with the impact of these technologies on everyday life.

This panel brings together experts in the use of mobile phones for development and commentators on the use of the internet and associated technologies in Melanesia. It investigates the realised and unrealised potential of these technologies in practice and asks: how are mobile phones and the internet being used by Melanesians? How are they being used by development actors? What works, what doesn’t and what is likely to occur?  The panel highlights an emerging body of work and practice on this topic in Melanesia, adding nuance and depth to existing understanding.

To read about the speakers and session abstracts, click here

Experiments in markets and services

Convenor: Timothy Sharp

Access to services and a way to earn money are central to local perceptions of development, and are critical to addressing poverty in the Pacific. In many parts of the region the delivery of, and access to, health and education services is poor and people face significant challenges in entering markets for their produce and securing viable livelihoods for themselves. Money and services are also closely entangled: the geography that makes service delivery so challenging also shapes people’s access to markets; money influences access to services; and education and health also critically influence livelihoods. With this context this session draws attention to some of the diverse ways in which governments, regional organisations, non-government organisations, private enterprise, and individuals are innovating and experimenting in the area of markets and services.

To read about the speakers, click here

To read the session abstracts, click here

New Forms of Local Governance and Justice

Convenor: Thiago Oppermann

The state and systems of justice in the contemporary Pacific are widely perceived to be in crisis. In some cases it is remote or absent, and in the space of this absence communities are left to navigate a turbulent and uncertain path to development. In other cases, the state is all too present, drawing communities into networks which reproduce at a local level the contours of a broader system; in some contexts, relationships between the state and local communities have also been marked by increasing violence and confrontation. Countervailing this, there are local experiments in organization that challenge contemporary understandings of what the state is, and may be, in the Pacific and beyond.

This shifting landscape presents a challenge to Melanesians and to analysts. How does life proceed in the penumbra between formally informal, and informally formal government? What forms of governance and justice are being created in spaces of negative governance? How is justice understood and administered in contexts of delegitimated states? How do Christianity, kastom and secular normative narratives contribute to these efforts?  What are possible policy approaches to this?

To read about the speakers, click here

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