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More aid is not the way to regain our regional influence

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 6 May 2022


We should welcome the focus during the federal election campaign on the security of our immediate region, and on how we might regain influence in our region, especially in the face of China's increasingly aggressive policy stance in regard to just about all our neighbours.

The broad response during the campaign so far has been for both sides to promise more "aid” to the region, despite the fact that we are today easily the largest provider of aid, or development assistance, to all our key neighbours, led by Papua New Guinea, but including the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji.

Labor has been more specific so far, but even its proposals amount to a modest increase in spending. The government seems to be relying on promoting its role as a leader of the "Pacific family" and promising to develop that (whatever it is in reality) further.

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Neither approach will work. Neither will make much, if any, difference.

In my next two articles I intend to outline what I believe to be the best two ways we can begin the long and difficult task of countering China, and rebuilding our "influence" step by step.

The first, and foremost, is to pro-actively and comprehensively work with our neighbours to strengthen their parliamentary democracies, help further entrench the "rule of law" and the independence of their judiciaries and judicial processes. We need to encourage our neighbours to especially strengthen anti-corruption processes.

To that needs to be added real reform to budget management and the functioning of island bureaucracies.

In my next contribution I will address the second course of action we must adopt - and that is massively enhancing our people-to-people engagement with each of our regional neighbours. This is a complex, and potentially hazardous exercise, but it needs to be a priority - in part making up for years of neglect of our people-to-people relationships in most, if not all, our neighbours, and especially Papua New Guinea.

But I return to my first priority - strengthening parliamentary democracy and wider democratic and accountability processes.

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Next week, the effective "starting gun" will be fired to begin the 2022 national elections in Papua New Guinea. The elections process has already been delayed by two weeks because of a shortage of resources and funding.

Fiji is scheduled to hold national elections in the second half of 2022, while national elections are scheduled for the Solomon Islands in 2023. There has to be some doubt they will be held on schedule - especially if the current Prime Minister remains in office.

The national elections in PNG are an enormously complex operation. That they are robustly democratic is beyond doubt, but increasingly there are concerns about the very integrity of the whole process.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jeffrey Wall

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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