Pacific Islands Program

The courses in this program address a wide range of issues affecting the Pacific Islands region. The breadth of coverage between the courses is partly informed by the fact that the South Pacific is a region of such immense diversity. Nonetheless, it has common challenges in sustaining economic development in a region that is remote from world markets and has limited natural and human resources. The micro-states of Micronesia and Polynesia have a tiny population base, and while some of the larger Melanesian states have substantial mineral reserves, they face difficulties in spreading benefits from that wealth across their societies. Post-independence state institutions were largely copies of colonial models imposed by Britain and Australia, with little accommodation made for local systems and traditions. This has contributed to recurrent conflict, including coups in Fiji, near-collapse of the state in the Solomons, and sporadic instability in PNG. Yet, despite these shaky historical and material foundations, forms of democratic governance have largely survived in the region. The biggest state, PNG, seems to have achieved stability after the crises of the 1990s, notwithstanding a flawed electoral system, corruption and deteriorating government services. On top of this, the region also faces a broad range of other traditional and non-traditional challenges such as drug resistant diseases, natural disasters, the effects of climate change and new geo-strategic rivalries. Various aspects and dimensions of these issues form the basis of each of the courses offered within the Pacific Island’s Stream. 

Professional Development Course (PDC) List 


Geo-Politics and Strategic Competition across the Pacific Islands There has been a significant amount of news coverage about possible Chinese influence and interference across the Pacific Islands region and the Australian government itself had demonstrated a heightened concern in this regard through efforts to maintain strong relations across the region. For example, in 2018 Australia and Vanuatu announced they were in negotiations for a security treaty and then PM Turnbull hosted the leaders of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands while then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau. A leaked U.S. Department of State Report provided further validity to concerns about a new era of strategic rivalry being driven by Beijing. Given these considerations, the course examines the following: what is the geo-political importance of the Pacific Islands to Australia and the broader region; to what extent are concerns about Chinese influence warranted; what other geopolitical and geo-strategic challenges does the region face; and how might foreign countries best engage the Pacific Islands to strengthen human security and sustainable development over the long-term. The course concludes with an interactive discussion and debate about how Australia should engage the region in the economic, political and security spheres over the coming two decades. 3 Days
Australia’s Economic Integration with the Pacific For decades, Australia has had an insular attitude towards the Pacific rim, driven periodically to involvement (in fits and starts) and governed principally by our geopolitical interests. Successive Australian Governments have been lukewarm towards the threat of rising seawaters in Tuvalu, downgraded labour mobility initiatives for fear of arousing negative public sentiments, and typically viewed the Pacific as an arc of unstable and politically fragile states characterised by ethnic tensions and corruption that have necessitated Canberra aid funding as a response. The current drive towards Pacific economic integration has been spurred by increasing Chinese influence and encroachment in our traditional Pacific neighbourhood. This has involved a succession of bilateral security partnerships with a range of Pacific nations plus signing of the Biketawa Declaration, an architecture for regional intervention. These security developments could create a paradigmatic shift where bilateral initiatives that once faltered on a contemplation of risk – such as tourism, labour mobility and business investment – could potentially be revived to the mutual interests and benefits of Australia and our Pacific partner nations. This workshop will explore the rationale, drivers, challenges, benefits/opportunities and risks of economic integration with the Pacific and its pay-offs from a strategic security perspective 3 Days
Development, Governance, and Aid in the South Pacific How have the states of the South Pacific managed to sustain themselves despite unpromising circumstances and what are the prospects for future development and stability? What role has aid from regional and international donors played in past achievements and failures? Can the micro-states ever be economically self-sustaining? What is their future with the effects of climate change already becoming evident? What are Australia’s interests in the region and what is the significance of China’s growing profile? This course provides a broad introduction to the politics, economics and society of the South Pacific. It surveys current debates about the prospects for economic development, the viability of political institutions, the quality of governance, the role of outside aid and political intervention, and the resilience of indigenous cultures and relationships. It will give a firm basis for understanding the dynamics underpinning developments in Australia’s near neighbours.  4 Days
Drivers of Instability across the Pacific Islands This course examines some of the push-pull factors that affect instability in the Pacific region and the implications for Pacific Islands’ neighbours such as Australia and New Zealand. Non-traditional security issues such as climatic and environmental considerations, food and water security, pandemics can contribute to insecurity and to irregular migration. Other drivers include man-made stresses such as civil conflict and fragile and unstable governments, growing interest from external actors, and organised crime. When several factors converge, they act as a multiplier causing instability among nation states as affected populations seek other sources of food, resources, stability or safety. These and other issues affect stability in the Pacific region are important considerations for Pacific Islands’ neighbours Australia and New Zealand from a holistic policy perspective. 3 Days
Pacific Island Conflict Drivers: The Socio-Cultural and Human Security Domains Conflict occurs in many forms across the region, between different communities and for assorted reasons. Conflict can arise between different ethnic and cultural groups such as past riots in Vanuatu against Asian shop keepers, in Papua New Guinea against Manus Island detainees, anti-Chinese riots in the Solomon Islands, and tensions in New Caledonia about the referendum for independence from France. Conflict can also arise when people seek food, water and other resources, safety and security in areas geographically different from their own. This course will explore the different forms conflict can take and the effect on communities and nation states in the Region. 3 Days