"We share with our Pacific family culture, the principles of democracy and freedom, and these are things that are very important to the Pacific Island peoples” – Peter Dutton, Australian Defence Minister, Today
“Time doesn't mean anything when you're about to have water lapping at your door” – Peter Dutton's bad joke about (a) sea level rise in the Pacific and (b) what he sees as his Pacific family’s lack of attention to punctuality, 11 September 2015
CAIRNS – It is my personal observation following 35 years in Melanesia that Australia has hopelessly missed the mark when it comes to development assistance, and it continues to do so.
The total fixation on trying to build the capacity of central and sub-national agencies to the exclusion of an equal focus on communities has sunk almost every initiative you can name.
The heart and soul of every place in Melanesia is the community and its land - not a government agency or a politician.
By ignoring this, we have cultivated a façade, not a functional system, which has failed to connect with communities at any level, despite protestations to the contrary.
By attempting to make a public service in our own image we have simply demonstrated beyond all doubt that we do not understand Melanesia.
The Solomons has turned away from its traditional partner, Australia, because we do not understand how to include the most important social grouping - the key decision makers - in anything we have done.
Accordingly, we are unable to facilitate meaningful results at the community level where it matters most.
I could produce mountains of pictures of failed infrastructure projects: health posts, school buildings police bases, water supply systems and many more.
They failed because we insisted on supporting governments and a public service mechanism that cannot staff these facilities and is not representative of communities or their wishes.
But Canberra cannot be told anything: there lies a bureaucracy and political elite not known for their humility. They operate a closed shop without ears to listen or eyes to see.
They also operate under the misapprehension that they know it all.
They need to go back to the drawing board, start listening, observing - and learning damn fast – if they are to have any hope of turning around the future of Melanesia and the many other Pacific Islands countries.