Ambiguous Allies?: Australian and New Zealand in the Pacific Islands

Ambiguous Allies panel event

This is an audio recording of an SDSC public panel event held on 12 September 2018 entitled ‘Ambiguous Allies?: Australian and New Zealand in the Pacific Islands’, with Dr Joanne Wallis (SDSC< ANU), Dr Anna Powles (Massey University) and Dr Tess Newton Cain (Visiting Fellow, ANU).

Australia and New Zealand are often assumed to be as close as any two states in the international system; the Australian government describes them as ‘natural allies’ and the New Zealand government says it has ‘no closer ally’. During a March 2018 speech in Sydney, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters reminded Australia that ‘there has never been a time since 1945 when Australia and New Zealand need to work together more closely in the Pacific’.

But, divergences in Australia and New Zealand’s policies and practices raise questions about the status of the alliance and how the two states will work together to address challenges in the Pacific Islands. It’s not clear how compatible New Zealand’s purportedly principles-based ‘Pacific reset’ is with Australia’s more strategically driven plan to ‘step-up’ its engagement in the region. It’s also not clear how the two states will reconcile their apparently different approaches to the United States and China, both in the region and beyond.

This seminar addresses two puzzles: are the two ‘natural allies’ actually ‘ambiguous allies’? And, what does this mean for their relationship in the Pacific Islands in the future?

Dr Joanne Wallis is a Senior Lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, College of Asia & the Pacific at the Australian National University. She is the chief investigator on two ARC Discovery Projects examining reconciliation and Australian involvement in peacebuilding in the Pacific Islands. She is the author or editor of five books, including Constitution making during State building (CUP 2014) and Pacific Power? Australia’s Strategy in the Pacific Islands (MUP 2017), as well as many articles, chapters and commissioned research reports on peacebuilding, security and strategy in the Pacific Islands.

Dr Anna Powles is a Senior Lecturer in Security Studies in the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University. She is also the Director of Women In International Security New Zealand, and co-founder of the Security, Politics and Development Network. She is a member of the independent Pacific Reset Advisory Group which provides policy advice to the New Zealand Government on Pacific issues. She is the author or editor of three books, including The United Nations Peacekeeping Challenge (Routledge, 2015) and Sea-Change or Status Quo? New Zealand’s Pacific Reset (VUP, 2019), a forthcoming book on private security governance in the Pacific and numerous chapters on the geopolitics of the Pacific Islands and the influences on the regional order.

This event will be chaired by Dr Tess Newton Cain, the principal of TNC Pacific Consulting and a Visiting Fellow to ANU. As a former lecturer in Law at USP, she has over 20 years of experience living and working in the Pacific island region, cementing her position as a leading analyst of and commentator on Pacific politics, policy and governance. As an academic, she has a longstanding record of research and publications. She is a contributing author to ‘The New Pacific Diplomacy’ (2015) and a co-author of What’s in a term? ‘Green Growth’ and the ‘blue-green’ economy in the Pacific islands (forthcoming in Asia Pacific Policy Studies). As a consultant she provides research, analysis and strategic advice to national governments, regional organisations and development partners. During 2017 she worked as a strategic adviser to the Office of the President in Vanuatu.

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