The Department of Pacific Affairs’ biennial State of the Pacific (SOTP) conference will take place on 4 and 5 September 2024 at The Australian National University in Canberra.

Registrations for this event will open in June.

A Pacific Research Program flagship event, the State of the Pacific Conference brings together leading academics, policymakers, business leaders, civil society representatives and the media to present on, discuss and debate current issues of interest concerning the Pacific Islands region. SOTP 2024 will involve the presentation of new research and analysis from prominent Pacific figures and scholars and others deeply interested and engaged in the Pacific. It will generate discussion on the factors shaping our collective forward-looking research agenda on the Pacific Islands region.

The Pacific's Place in the World

The countries, territories and communities of the Pacific Islands have received increased attention lately, generating interesting discussions about how the region situates itself within, and relates to, the rest of the world. The theme of this year’s conference, The Pacific’s Place in the World, seeks to engage with evolving narratives constructed both within the Pacific, and by those outside the region, in terms of its own identity and its contribution to the defining global debates of our time: self-determination and decolonisation, climate resilience, migration and integration, and the elimination of inequality. Two keynote addresses will focus on particular self-determination journeys in the Pacific: one by President Moetai Brotherson of the government of French Polynesia, and the other by Theonila Roka Matbob, one of five female members of, and a minister in, the Autonomous Bougainville Government.

Discussions will continue with two panels on self-determination, one on decolonisation and the other on processes seeking ‘external self-determination’. Two parallel streams of presentations will deal with numerous other issues, including: Pacific criminology; disability inclusion and equity; inclusive political systems; migration policy; geopolitics, one panel on external engagement and another on Pacific perceptions; AUKUS; digital connections to the world; environmental peacebuilding; education transformations; climate change mitigation; and challenges of cross-border displacement. We anticipate a focus on many different countries, territories and communities, including the Banaban and Rabi Islander communities of Kiribati and Tokelau; Bougainville; Fiji; Guam; Federated States of Micronesia; French Polynesia; Kiribati; New Caledonia; Papua New Guinea; Samoa and Solomon Islands.

Keynote Speakers

Elected by the Assembly of French Polynesia as the first Polynesian President of French Polynesia in May 2023, Moetai Brotherson grew up in French Polynesia, before gaining experience as a computer and telecommunications engineer in France, Japan, Germany and the USA. He returned to Tahiti over 20 years ago. In 2004, he joined the pro-independence Tavini Huira'atira party. From 2005 to 2008, he held the position of Head of French Polynesia’s Post and Telecommunications Department. From 2011 to 2013, he served as Chief of Staff to Vice President of French Polynesia Antony Géros. In 2014, he became a local councillor for Faa'a, the most populous district in the territory. He was elected to the National Assembly of France in 2017 and re-elected in 2022, and was also elected to the Assembly of French Polynesia in 2018 and 2023. In Paris, as a member of the National Assembly, he stood out for displaying his Polynesian language, shirts, tattoos and lavalava. When he became the youngest President of French Polynesia in May 2023, he resigned from the National Assembly. Mr Brotherson is known for his outspoken nature, consensus-building approach, listening skills, humanist values, and ‘quiet force'. He is passionate about photography, writing and new technologies, he is a chess player and a former rugby stalwart. He advocates a referendum on self-determination for French Polynesia to be held by the 2030s, for reparations to be made for nuclear testing, and for Papeete to be included in the discussions on France's Indo-Pacific strategy. He supports imposition of a moratorium being on the exploitation of the seabed of French Polynesia, and for resources to be pooled with the Oceanians.

An elected member, since 2020, of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) for the Ioro constituency (which includes the derelict site of the previous giant Panguna copper and gold mine), Theonila Roka Matbob has the distinction of being one of only five female members, and only two that represent any of the ABG’s 33 single-member (‘open’) constituencies, rather than one of the 3 regional constituencies each reserved for 1 female and 1 (male) former combatant representatives. Currently Minister for Community Government, she has been one of the 14 ABG ministers since her 2020 election, and in 2024 is one of 3 female Cabinet members. In her very early years, she grew up during the Bougainville conflict. Since 2020 she has been the lead complainant in an ongoing significant case initiated under an OECD treaty, with support of the Melbourne Human Rights Law Centre, against mining giant, Rio Tinto, till 2016 majority shareholder in Bougainville Copper Ltd, the operator of the Panguna mine, 1972-1989, alleging serious human rights and environmental abuses.

The 2024 SOTP will be opened by the Hon Pat Conroy MP, Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a hybrid event and will take place in-person as well as on Zoom.

The idea of ownership was put at the heart of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the key policy for global aid reform, in 2005. Despite the global consensus in Paris, ownership emerged as a contested idea.

In this final seminar for her doctoral thesis, Suzanne O’Neill presents her research which examines the influence of the idea of ownership on development partnerships in two Pacific countries, Samoa and Kiribati. Her research unpacks the model for policy change underpinning the idea of ownership in the Paris Declaration. The findings show that local policy actors attributed a different significance to ownership. Instead, policy actors chose to assert locally-situated values and beliefs around aid and development. This reflected the exercise of ownership in each site in ways that contested the policy logic claimed by the Paris Declaration. It challenged Australia’s expectations of aid relations.

Event Speakers

Suzanne O’Neill

Suzanne O’Neill

Suzanne O’Neill is a PhD Candidate with DPA. She has extensive experience as a development practitioner across remote Australia and the Pacific. Her research interests are equity in development, the influence of ideas on policy change and interpretive methodologies, particularly oral histories.