State of the Pacific 2015 book launch (day 1)

Inside of the Hedley Bull Building, ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.

We are pleased to be launching a series of books edited and authored by Department of Pacific Affairs scholars during the State of the Pacific 2015 conference.

Political Life Writing in the Pacific
Editors: Jack Corbett and Brij V. Lal
ANU Press 2015

This book aims to reflect on the experiential side of writing political lives in the Pacific region. The collection touches on aspects of life writing art that is particularly pertinent to political figures: public perception and ideology; identifying important political successes and policy initiatives; grappling with issues like corruption and age-old political science questions about leadership and 'dirty hands'.

These are general themes but they take on a particular significance in the Pacific context and so the contributions explore these themes in relation to patterns of colonisation and the memory of independence; issues elliptically captured by terms like 'culture' and 'tradition'; the nature of 'self' presented in Pacific life writing; and the tendency for many of these texts to be written by 'outsiders', or at least the increasingly contested nature of what that term means.


Being Political: Leadership and Democracy in the Pacific Islands
Author: Jack Corbett
University of Hawai'i Press

Politicians everywhere tend to attract cynicism and inspire disillusionment. They are supposed to epitomize the promise of democratic government and yet invariably find themselves cast as the enemy of every virtue that the system seeks to uphold.

In the Pacific, "politician" has become a byword for corruption, graft, and misconduct. This was not always the case "the independence generation is still remembered as strong leaders" but today's leaders are commonly associated with malaise and despair. Once heroes of self-determination, politicians are now the targets of donor attempts to institute "good governance," while Fiji's 2006 coup was partly justified on the grounds that they needed "cleaning up."

But who are these much-maligned figures? How did they come to arrive in politics? What is it like to be a politician? Why do they enter, stay, and leave?

Drawing on more than 110 interviews and other published sources, including autobiographies and biographies, Being Political provides a collective portrait of the region's political elite. This is an insider account of political life in the Pacific as seen through the eyes of those who have done the job.

We learn that politics is a messy, unpredictable, and, at times, dirty business that nonetheless inspires service and sacrifice. We come to understand how being a politician has changed since independence and consider what this means for how we think about issues of corruption and misconduct. We find that politics is deeply embedded in the lives of individuals, families, and communities; an account that belies the common characterization of democracy in the Pacific as a "facade" or "foreign flower."

Ultimately, this is a sympathetic counter-narrative to the populist critique. We come to know politicians as people with hopes and fears, pains and pleasures, vices and virtues. A reminder that politicians are human "neither saints nor sinners" is timely given the wave of cynicism and disaffection. As such, this book is a must-read for all those who believe in the promise of representative government.