A RESEARCHER AT the University of Melbourne (from which, by the way, my stepson, Evan, has just graduated with an MSc in marine biology), has said Australia's relationships with its Pacific island neighbours are characterised by short-term thinking, neglect and stagnation.
Jonathan Schultz (pictured) is condemnatory. He says Australia's engagement with the Pacific is volatile and reactive, fluctuating wildly based on events and lacking any real vision or long-term policy direction.
In his study, Overseeing and Overlooking (download below), Dr Schultz says “we keep making similar mistakes and having to relearn the same lessons''.
He says the federal government should appoint a minister for Pacific island affairs to address this policy drift.
Clearly he doesn’t think much of the current set-up where Richard Marles as parliamentary secretary with responsibility for the Pacific hasn't achieved any cut-through.
Dr Schultz says the situation is exacerbated by the low level of importance placed on Pacific issues within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
At the same time Dr Schultz’s study was released, an AusAID consultant in Papua New Guinea made some observations to me about his long experience with DFAT and its aid arm.
“I am really battling with AusAID direction at the moment,” he wrote, “especially their law and justice engagement.
“It’s all about process, like reports and so on, and little time for actual implementation.
“I know PNG and the Australian public want results. AusAID just seem to employ so many academics that know all.”
And he added, “Don't please put me down saying these things. I need a job and I battle through it.”
When will the Australian government stump up and admit its Pacific policies are failing?
After a change in government this coming September, with any luck.