It takes 1.5 to tango

The Pacific Islands Forum has once again demonstrated that it cannot represent the interests of both the developing and the developed world. The climate change ‘commitment’ in final PIF communiqué was watered down (sorry) from supporting a limit of 1.5 degrees average global temperature rise to ‘1.5 or 2’ degrees.

If there were any lingering doubts about whose Forum this really is, they’ve now been put to rest. It’s time the real island states in the Forum either send Australia and New Zealand packing or find another grouping that is willing at least to allow them their own voice.

This is no longer a matter of principle; it’s a matter of survival.

Our front page yesterday featured a story about a two year-old Tannese girl who died, in part because of the after-effects of cyclone Pam and the ongoing El Nino-induced drought. She and her fellow villagers were reduced to eating Nipatem, a local vine. It grows as a weed in gardens, but when boiled it is sweet to chew. It’s of very limited nutritive value; the fibre has to be chewed, then spit out, somewhat like sugarcane.

Students and staff at Tongoa’s Nambangasale School have no choice now but to walk all the way down to the seashore every day to wash. There’s only barely enough water to drink. Nearby Tongariki is even worse off. It has no streams or rivers. The water tank at Craig Cove is dry.

Private charities like WITA Aid are doing what they can to mitigate water shortages in the Shepherds group. And while CARE, Save the Children, UNICEF, Oxfam and others do their best to address both safe access to water & sanitation and food security, they are ultimately hamstrung when privileged nations refuse the play their part.

In the absence of global action, all they can do is offer comfort to a dying planet. Continue reading

(New York Times -

With friends like this…

While Tony Abbott was boasting about his story-telling capabilities as he entered the Leaders’ retreat at the Pacific Islands Forum, his cabinet were busy drumming up derision with jokes about climate change. Classy.

The ABC and several other news agencies have reported Mr Dutton’s soon-to-be-infamous quip that “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door.”

The Liberal government’s blasé, even callous indifference to the plight of their nearest neighbours is enough to make even Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s sulk look mature and considered.

To add injury to insult, Fairfax Media obtained leaked drafts of the Leaders’ statement, traditionally circulated once the conclave is complete, showing that a proposed goal of limiting average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees was struck from the document.

Kiribati President Anote Tong has said that anything less than this constitutes a betrayal of small island states.

Earlier on, Mr Tong raised the possibility that smaller states might leave the Forum if it no longer served their interests. Couple this with Mr Bainimarama’s insistence that Australia and New Zealand take their leave, and it becomes clear that, once again, Australia’s apparent dearth of insight into its own neighbourhood leaves it rudderless, clumsily knocking the china off the shelves.

Maybe it is in fact time for a re-think on how Pacific island states align themselves.

Arguably, New Zealand may be forgiven for its occasional lapses into introspection. But aside from economic aid, it is perfectly reasonable to ask what Australia has done to earn its place as a citizen of the Pacific neighbourhood.

Now, let’s be fair. We can’t for a moment pretend that Australia’s largesse isn’t critical to the region’s development. But what with Nauru’s imploding democracy, Manus on the edge of anarchy and shambolic relations with PNG generally—to say nothing about the utter vacuum where its climate policy should be—there are more than a few Pacific islanders rolling their eyes today and wondering just how much more of this so-called help they really need.


Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare during his first official visit since he assumed the chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

Humble Beginnings

In an exclusive interview, Manasseh Sogavare describes his long personal journey to the top

Asked how he started his career, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare laughs wryly.

“I entered public service as a toilet cleaner and tea boy,” he chuckles. It was, he says, “a tough, rough beginning.”

“And I learned from that.”

If Mr Sogavare’s example is any guide, there are few shortcuts in life. “What I got is through hard work, and basically I worked my way…. I worked my way up through public service…

in all my life in public service, I worked in the Inland Revenue division.

“I started as toilet cleaner in the Inland Revenue Division and localised the Commissioner of Inland Revenue post in twelve years.

“I got all the degrees along the way, and all the promotions.”

He smiles in recollection. “The people that I’d salute along the way: ‘Good morning, sir!’ … the people with white socks—these were colonial days—I’d welcome them into the building and direct them to their desk.

“Three remained when I became Commissioner of Inland Revenue, and the role changed to ‘Good morning SIR!’”

He snapped a smart salute, mimicking how they would receive him, and then allowed himself an amiable laugh. Continue reading

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare during his first official visit since he assumed the chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

A Very Melanesian Solution

Manasseh Sogavare explains how he helped bring West Papua into the MSG

“It’s all under the water now, so we can actually say it: It came down to 3-2.”

This is how Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare described the situation in Honiara in June of this year, when he played a central role in brokering an historic agreement finally to bring West Papua into the MSG fold.

This week marks Mr Sogavare’s first visit to Port Vila since Solomon Islands took over the chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group at that fateful meeting in June. He took some time to give an exclusive interview to the Daily Post.

In it, he looked back at the events leading up to the decision to include the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. He also offered some frank observations about the road ahead for the MSG under his chairmanship.

Asked how he could square the circle of embracing both Indonesia and the West Papuan independence movement, he said, “I guess that’s where the true Melanesian spirit of arriving at decisions comes into play.”

“It came down to 3-2,” he continued. “If we’d gone down the path of democratic voting, it would have gone through. But if we did, it would have caused serious division amongst the group, and we don’t want to go down that path.”

Seeing that an all-out push for full membership for the ULMWP wasn’t achievable, Mr Sogavare decided to apply a more Melanesian approach, and to broker a compromise.

He described how he presented his solution: “We have a history of making consensus decisions, and we would like to maintain that…. The bottom line is that we would like to bring West Papua into the fold of the MSG. How can we achieve that?” Continue reading


Gail Kelly is right

Statements by ex-Westpac CEO Gail Kelly at a CARE fundraising event in Melbourne have caused a minor firestorm here in Vanuatu. On July 28th, Ms Kelly provided a litany of examples of sexual abuse, violence and subjugation of women in Vanuatu, which she characterised as “staggering,” according to the Guardian Australia.

The response in Vanuatu was outrage.

Men and (to a much lesser degree) women alike castigated Ms Kelly, claiming that she was uninformed, that she had no insight into traditional values and was grossly misrepresenting the situation.

It is true that when such issues are put under the microscope, they look appalling, especially when crime, prejudice and systematic bias are piled up side by side with one another.

That’s because they are appalling. Continue reading


‘Fake’ Names, Real Concerns

The issue of ‘kiaman’—or fake—names is a perennial topic both on social media and off. On one side are those who insist that everyone should stand up and hold their opinion proudly. On the other side are people who worry that merely sharing their thoughts will land them in hot water.

Truth be told, opinion among the staff and management of the Daily Post is mixed, too.

Without utterly discounting one side or the other, it would nonetheless be useful to challenge a few of the arguments, both for and against.

Some commenters have equated anonymous speech to unsigned letters to the editor in this newspaper. That comparison is not correct. Our editorial staff know the identity of every writer; it’s a requirement for publication. And we are responsible for everything printed in our newspaper. If a legal complaint is made against the letter, we’re as much on the hook as the writer of the thing.

That’s not the same as when someone posts a comment on social media. In high volume discussion groups, it’s simply not possible to police every single comment in real time. Most of these groups are administered by volunteers who have neither the time nor the inclination to read every single comment and every single post.

Nor should they have to. Continue reading



The space where kastom and the law overlap has seldom been a peaceful one. From the earliest colonial days, land, law and kastom were gunpowder.

Historian Howard Van Trease writes of the plight of Ni Vanuatu in the years immediately following the 1906 Condominium. He recounts how Edward Jacomb, a British civil servant, ultimately advised Ni Vanuatu to resist attempts to alienate their land with force, as the Joint Court was powerless to help them.

When a plantation operator was murdered on Epi in 1911, the event “evoked an outcry for the administration to instigate much harsher measures to reduce the threat against Europeans….”

Fast forward 100 years, and the problems of today bear a striking resemblance. The rule of law still doesn’t reach all the way out to the islands. The concept of land ownership and entitlement is still cloudy, and misunderstandings still lead to disagreements.

Disagreements still sometimes lead to violence.

The most striking example of this, of course, has been playing out on Tanna near Bethel village. There is much yet to be understood about the issue, and because some aspects of the dispute are already before the courts, we need to tread carefully.

Likewise, the widely held sense of outrage and search for kastom resolution needs to be treated with sensitivity.

But some things are already clear. Continue reading


Neither Fear nor Favour

I first began to worry about the future of journalism in Vanuatu back in 2011, when Marc Neil-Jones was attacked in his office at the Daily Post by a minister of state and others.

At the time, I quoted him: “’I’ve been deported, jailed and beaten up before. This isn’t the worst I’ve seen.’

“‘I am getting a bit old for this, though,’ he added wryly.”

Marc will be retiring at the end of this year, and I will be taking his place.

The largest part of my job will be preserving and protecting the legacy of the institution that Marc has built in the face of significant adversity.

Inside the newsroom at the Daily Post are reporters who have worked their beat since before independence. They are storied, wise and, surprisingly, not a bit jaded by their decades of service.

When I was being interviewed for the position of media director, I said that I felt that we had moved on from 2011. I felt that using the threat of violence to intimidate the media was no longer in the cards.

It was gratifying, therefore, to meet with the prime minister and several senior ministers of state to discuss the state of the media on Monday. Continue reading


The reason for rules

Written for the Vanuatu Daily Post

There are days when it looks like this country is committing slow, deliberate suicide.

As an ex-smoker, I have a vivid sense of how that feels. You know it’s going to end in tears. At best, you’ll be struck down years before your time, clutching your chest and knowing it wasn’t worth it. But more likely, it ends in indignity as you cough your lungs out, slowly losing the battle to breathe, while others look on at you with a mixture of pity and loathing.

Yet still, you light up and smoke. The incremental pain of staying hooked is nothing to the agony of quitting. Until that fateful day when you realise that if you want to live, you have to set some limits.

This country has a habit, and painful as it might be, it needs to quit. We cannot—not must not, not should not—we cannot continue using bureaucratic and political appointments as rewards.

I’m not saying we need to stop because it’s wrong. It is, but this is not a bully pulpit. In fact, morality be damned. The problem is that this path is guaranteed to end in tears for everyone. Continue reading


Business as usual?

Written for the Vanuatu Daily Post

Moana Carcasses wants changes to the VIPA Act. That might be a good idea.

Back in 2013, when Moana Carcasses was prime minister and acting minister of Trade, Cooperatives and Ni Vanuatu Business, he put a stop to the issuing of so-called D2 business licenses. These are the licenses needed to run a retail/wholesale shop.

Mr Carcasses was reacting to a widespread—and largely accurate—belief that some investors were flouting the intent of the VIPA Act, which reserves certain sectors and occupations to Ni Vanuatu. Now, two years later, he wants to review his decision.

He’s right to do that as well.

It’s clear today that a blanket ban on issuing D2 licenses has done little to remedy the situation. On the contrary, it has stifled the diversity of shops and retail goods in Port Vila.

During a public meeting earlier this week, about 40 of the usual suspects turned up to comment. The Chamber of Commerce (or VCCI) sent a delegation, and local merchants and manufacturers showed up to check on things.

The feedback, if well-intentioned, was predictable. A VCCI representative trotted out the tired assertion that the Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority can either promote or regulate business, but not both. This is just wrong. Responsible business promotion requires regulation. Continue reading