MCGHIE: “Let’s have a look at our performance in some of these microstates and see how we’ve emerged after 30 years of independence. Things don’t look too good in the Solomons, particularly bad in fact and Papua New Guinea is not an area of tranquility at all. We need to know more about this and we need to get it out more to the community”.
DOBELL: What are the new realities in the Pacific that New Zealand needs to confront?
MCGHIE: “We don’t have such a Melanesian focus I think as Australia does. Ours is more of a Polynesian focus but we are certainly aware of Melanesia. But the realities in the Pacific we have spelled out back in 1970, the late 60s when I was in and around my first posting in the Pacific, you know the ethnicity, governance, those things were seen there in the very early stages with Berry Boyd, one of our academics at Victoria University.
“They were seen as economically non-viable and political and social fragmentation as well as over inflated bureaucracies I think you know were going to become a problem in the Pacific”.
DOBELL: So if those fragmentation issues haven’t changed how do the responses have to change?
MCGHIE: “I think at least we might start with an acknowledgement of the fact that we haven’t had our antenna as acutely tuned as we might have. I’m part of that; I was High Commissioner in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s, a particularly difficult country to get your ear to the ground realistically of.
“But the question, you know look at New Zealand’s All Black rugby team for instance and see the huge Polynesian input we have there, people have a tendency to think that we have Samoans and Tongans etc. in our All Black team therefore we understand the Pacific, look how they’re involved with us. It to me is a fragmented involvement.
“But you don’t really get an automatic move to saying ok, terrorism in the Pacific, globalisation and discontent in the Pacific Islands, how is it destroying these communities and what does this mean for us and the inevitable stability of their own areas?”
DOBELL: And what is your prognosis for stability?
MCGHIE: “More of the same with perhaps some more surprises. I don’t think that Fiji presents me with the greatest encouraging outlooks, I led our peacekeeping monitoring team to the Solomon Islands after the Townsville agreement very, very well organised by the Australians I might say, and I think that was just a ceasefire between the hot fighting, between the Malaitans and the Gualies and I don’t see any real change there.
“I think it seems more of the same. Papua New Guinea I’m not quite as apocalyptic as perhaps some Australians are on that, I think there is a bit more stability and also just how fragmented it is makes it very difficult for coups to take place.
“But I don’t make any predictions that are at all comfortable. If you have things like HIV-AIDS coming away in the Pacific I think we could look very much to some real problems for Australia and New Zealand and their health services activities.
“Certainly for New Zealand we have very close links with many countries and I think the failed state syndrome a lot of people think we’ve done enough, we’re doing patrolling, monitoring, visiting, talking to the kids of the place, but the cost of a failed state will be far more than any of the work that we’re doing at the moment it seems to me”.