Ex-Australian Ambassador Questions Effectiveness Of Pacific Aid

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Retired diplomat questions focus on promoting democracy

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, June 25, 2015) – A former Australian ambassador has questioned the effectiveness of Australian aid to promote democracy and the rule of law in the Pacific.

Retired senior Australian diplomat Cavan Hogue said Australia seemed to want to convert people in the Pacific to "one true political faith".

He said as well as questioning the effectiveness of aid in the Pacific, Australia should also ask itself if it ought to promote democratic values in the first place.

"The basic problem, it seems to me, is that you're dealing with cultures which have their own traditions," he told Pacific Beat.

"Very often you're dealing with a nation [that was] created by an imperial power and the locals see themselves first and foremost as belonging to a particular tribe or religion.

"If you're looking purely in terms of international relationships, it doesn't necessarily follow that ... having people following our system of government are going to be doing things to do with our interests."

But some argue Australia should continue encouraging democratic values through its aid programs in the Pacific.

Jenny Hayward-Jones, director of the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute, said despite the political turmoil, people in the Pacific region, especially the younger generation, want democracy, free speech and respect for the rule of law.

She said she noticed a shift in cultures and values as younger people were well-educated, well-travelled and more exposed to new ideas through the internet.

"It's perhaps a little bit colonialist even of Australia if we're to assume that countries should not be democracies because it's not within their culture to become so," she said.

Pacific youths signal change in attitude

At a dialogue in Port Vila, Ms Hayward-Jones said the emerging leaders from Melanesia believed in democracy and rights.

"They believe in fairer representation, certainly for women, for minority groups, they believe in free speech," she said.

"They also believe in their own culture and ... their own participation in their culture and in having a voice in government and how their countries are run.

"To assume the Pacific doesn't want democracy just because some governments are taking some steps that are in breach of it, is completely wrong."

These comments follow the arrests of opposition MPs in Nauru and protests over free speech which has prompted international criticism of the Nauru government's application of the rule of law.

Concern has also been raised over Fiji's parliament considering a law that assumes an accused person is guilty until proven innocent.

Ms Hayward-Jones said despite Australia's investment in the Pacific to promote good governance, the countries themselves have agreed that "these are their ideals and this is what they want to support".

"We have to remember the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) as a group has supported these ideals and agreed on them, so it's not something that Australia has just pushed on Nauru or Fiji on PNG and said 'You must have our system of government'."

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