The Second Track can help improve governance by sharing and reinforcing proper values through the people-to-people networks of entities and platforms like Pacific Connect.
This is an edited summary of the keynote address by the Honourable Peter Kenilorea Jr, Member of the National Parliament of Solomon Islands, at the 2022 Pacific Connect Ideas Exchange on 23 August 2022.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, recognise their continuing connection to the land and waters and thank them for protecting the coastlines and ecosystems since time immemorial. We pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging, and extend that respect to all First Nations people present today.
I extend this kind greeting to my fellow Pacific Islanders on their visit to this beautiful land that we are meeting on. I thank the President of the Legislative Council and the Speaker of the NSW Parliament; and commend Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu on her work with Pacific Connect and for Samoa, the country she loves.
I remember meeting Dr Ian Watt and Simone Pensko in Canberra back in 2017 to discuss the Second Track idea that evolved into Pacific Connect. I was then the Permanent Secretary of the Solomon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs but recognised the value in a new approach to business-government relations and its potential to mentor young entrepreneurs. It’s an honour to address the ICDP staff, hub coordinators and Pacific Connect partners here today and share my thoughts on the values we share and our future.
Turning Dreams into Reality
Solomon citizens, Pacific Islanders and Australians share the same hope of pursuing progress together, providing for our families and leading lives which fulfil our potential. In the Pacific, these dreams belong to the young, as 70% of people in the Solomon Islands are under 30.
This can appear daunting to leaders, but also creates exciting opportunities to harness the imagination, creativity and daring of the young. They are open to both the positive and not-so-positive influences which traverse the globe at the speed of light through fibre optic cables, but overall, I think they are inspired in positive ways, and still look to our nearest developed neighbour, Australia.
Turning those dreams into reality is the challenge we face in the Pacific Islands, a challenge that keeps leaders and policymakers awake at night. While our citizens dream the same dreams, the opportunities to realise them are not equally available. The lack of resources and many competing demands on small Pacific Islands often result in a lack of support to help young people make their dreams come true. While new generations in Australia have more ‘baskets’ to dip their hands into, their peers in the Pacific often find their bounty gone.
The small size of Pacific Island nations means we cannot generate economies of scale, so we struggle to attract foreign investment, while our isolation leaves us remote from markets overseas. Our business costs are higher, and our open economies are vulnerable to business shocks and the threat of higher seas. Climate change poses an existential threat to the Solomon Islands and other Pacific Island Nations, and while developed nations have the means to adapt, we lack the resources to ensure our survival.
That said, there are also benefits to being small. We can watch the successes and failures of larger states and move faster to tweak and adjust on the fly. The positive or negative effects of policy changes manifest quicker and are easier to gauge in our small nations, and successful pilots can be scaled in shorter spans of time. Partnerships often blossom best in smaller settings, and working together towards collective goals is a traditional trait of Pacific Island people. It is part of our culture to cooperate in our villages and communities and move forward together as a group. Pacific Island countries therefore understand the value of partnerships to build resilience and overcome our inherent vulnerabilities.
Over the last four years, we have all seen Pacific Connect generate and foster many partnerships supporting new ventures till they succeed in their own right. Pacific Connect offered Pacific Island thinkers, innovators and entrepreneurs a conduit to turn their dreams into reality, and these projects will now generate opportunities for other Pacific Islanders in turn.
While “First Track” government-to-government schemes tend to become “talkfests”, the “Second Track” encourages collaboration towards tangible outcomes, and this was the “secret sauce” of Pacific Connect. The Second Track approach encouraged the freedom and creativity which is often suppressed in First Track interactions and holds in its heart the shared democratic values we adhere to and uphold.
Pacific Islanders may be young and relatively poor, but our cultures and traditions are much older and much richer. Australians and Pacific Island people share the same deep traditional values of family, friendship, and what Australians call ‘mateship’. Genuine and durable partnerships leave a more lasting impression beyond mere profit margins and bring us all closer together.
These partnerships and shared values lie at the heart of what I call ‘shared wins. These are not ‘win-wins’ in which separate nations with diverse goals take different things out of adversarial encounters, but shared benefits enjoyed by all for the same reasons. Just as families enjoy ‘shared wins’ rather than negotiate ‘win-wins’ between each other, so the Pacific family created by ICDP have enjoyed shared wins by turning good ideas and intentions into practical action.
The international community has long used global institutions such as the United Nations to partner with developing nations to build a brighter future for all. These commitments include treaties on climate change, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UN Convention on Biodiversity, and the Sustainable Development Goals for smaller nations.
International policies tailored for small island nations include The Barbados Programme of Action launched in 1994, the Mauritius Strategy and the latest SAMOA Pathway for sustainable development. In this acronym, the S stands for “small island developing states”, A for “accelerated”, M for “modalities” and OA “of action”. It is not just a pathway for Samoa, but for small islands around the Pacific and across the globe.
These policies acknowledge the special circumstance of small island nations and the duty of wealthier nations to support their development. The clinics and schools created with the help of development partners are a win for that community, and a shared win for all, rather than a ‘win-win’ of mutual convenience.
In the Pacific, there are only shared wins, and Australia has done much to support the Solomons and the wider region in this way, not least by ensuring the United Nations Least Developed Country programme focused on the Pacific. The numbers may vary, and there is always room for improvement, but overall Australia has remained true, and this trust is the basis of our genuine and durable partnership. Sometimes, it takes longer to see the outcomes of a shared win, but they are there, and it is through these wins that partnerships deepen to secure development, cooperation and solidarity. In the Pacific region, Australia is in our backyard, and the bonds that bind us make us family, we are mates. Even tough policy choices regarding immigration, employment and security become more palatable when viewed through this lens of family.
Solomon Islands is a Least Developing Country – perhaps the most unflattering of UN categories – as well as a small island state, but we lie just two and a half hours by air from Brisbane. Our relative proximity to Australia offers opportunities we can both embrace to overcome the tyranny of distance, our historical remoteness, and our lack of access to markets and investment. Pacific Connect offered an important platform for this exchange and yielded fruit over its short span of time. Rather than hunt for ‘win-wins’ as other major nations do, we should continue to pursue shared wins and keep our eye on the bigger picture, united by our shared values, mutual interests, and common values of democracy.
The intangible value of what we share, as well as the tangible benefits from projects and enterprises, combined to produce clear wins for the Pacific. Indeed, such interpersonal exchanges and mentoring opportunities can yield intangible outcomes that outweigh the tangible outcomes we always focus on. When we concentrate on nurturing genuine and durable partnerships and commit, long term, to programs that connect Australians and the Pacific Islanders to exchange views, enhance understanding and encourage mentoring, then we can overcome the sense of competition and geo-political one-upmanship currently plaguing the region.
We must therefore recommit ourselves to our shared values, and Australia must support and resource them appropriately in an age of increasing international tension. However, we must all protect and promote these values, not least by tackling corruption within the region itself.
When our shared values start to escape us, the concept of right and wrong becomes blurred. What is right is ridiculed as being wrong and what is wrong is defended as right. Corruption thrives in this growing grey area, and we are entering a scary space where anything goes. Small Pacific islands are still grappling with the concepts of democracy, and so poor examples set by political leaders soon permeate the public service. Public servants seize on the justification that if their political masters have admitted to being corrupt, and see nothing wrong, then anything goes, and they should grab their own piece of the pie. Nothing is wrong anymore, and corruption undermines the whole system.
The Second Track can help improve governance by sharing and reinforcing proper values through the people-to-people networks of entities and platforms like Pacific Connect. I hope such exchanges can continue, and the Australian government and other stakeholders continue to support such initiatives in the future.
It has been an honour to be part of the Pacific Connect family and, as we embark on new adventures, let us continue the good work we have only just begun.