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Angelo, A H --- "The Pacific Islands Forum 2011" [2011] NZYbkIntLaw 8; (2011) 9 New Zealand Yearbook of International Law 215

Last Updated: 8 July 2015


AH Angelo*

Amid much fanfare the 42nd Pacific Islands Forum was held in Auckland on 7 and 8 September 2011. It was also the 40th birthday of the Pacific Islands Forum; memorable because the first gathering had been held in New Zealand in 1971. All Forum members had high-level representation, absent Fiji.1

This Forum had added profile because of the attendance of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and other world leaders not typically at Forum meetings. What attracted these world figures was not immediately clear, but the focus of the Secretary-General of the United Nations at least was on environmental matters and his attendance in Auckland came at the end of a Pacific tournee which included Kiribati and Solomon Islands. Some of that focus could be seen to relate to Pacific and world interests in the Climate Change Conference which was held in Durban, South Africa in November-December 2011.

In addition to the fanfare there was a backdrop, some of it predictable, of media comment relating to the independence aspirations of French Polynesia, the self-determination aspirations of the people of West Papua, and the continued suspension of Fiji from Forum meetings. Particularly topical and significant for several Forum members was the recent High Court of Australia decision in Plaintiff M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship2 which strongly denounced the Australian Government’s plans for offshore processing of refugees. That judgment precluded (at least without legislative intervention) the planned Malaysian solution to Australia’s refugee problems. Consequentially, it also raised questions about the Pacific solution which had previously involved Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Little if anything of these matters is reflected in the Forum Communiqué.3

Before the Forum began, there was the traditional meeting of the Smaller Island States (SIS)4 leaders. After the Forum closed on 8 September 2011, there was the Post Forum Dialogue – the opportunity for Forum states and others to engage with the 13 formal Forum dialogue partners, and for any other states which chose to engage with the Forum countries. This year, in addition to the formal partners,5 there is evidence of the involvement of Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg and Bhutan.6

Any attention that the Forum attracted was quickly distracted by the Rugby World Cup festivities, which began in Auckland in the evening of 9 September.

There is little or no evidence in the Forum Communiqué of any outcome of legal significance from the Forum. The Communiqué records discussion of the regular topics: fisheries, transport and energy, tourism, climate change, health, sport, Fiji and the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands. Trade received some particular focus because of the “Private Sector Dialogue”7 which had taken place with Pacific business representatives and the concern to complete the Economic Partnership Agreement arrangements with the European Union (EU) in 2012.8 The Forum indicated a priority for discussions on the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus). It was in this context that democratic idealism gave way to economic pragmatism with the agreement to permit Fiji to participate in PACER Plus meetings at the official level.9 The Pacific Plan got barely three paragraphs of mention.10

The position of Secretary-General of the Forum Secretariat was considered as an item of business and Tuiloma Neroni Slade was reappointed as Secretary- General for a further term of three years.11

In paragraph 50 of the Communiqué it is recorded that the “Leaders reaffirmed their strong and unanimous support for Australia’s candidature for the UNSC for the term 2013-2014, and New Zealand’s candidature for the term 2015-2016.”

Of greater potential, and legal significance, was the exhortation in paragraph 47 of the Communiqué to Forum members to ratify the 2005 Agreement on the Pacific Islands Forum as soon as possible.12
With the business agenda completed, delegates could look forward to the spectacle of the Rugby World Cup and to meeting again at the Forum in the Cook Islands in 2012.13

* Professor of Law, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

1 Two associate members (New Caledonia and French Polynesia) and eight observers including Timor-Leste, Tokelau and Wallis and Futuna were also present.
2 Plaintiff M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and Plaintiff M106 of 2011 by His Litigation Guardian, Plaintiff M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship & Anor Defendants [2011] HCA 32; (2011) 280 ALR 18.
3 Forty-Second Pacific Islands Forum “Forum Communiqué” (Press Release, 8 September 2011).
4 The Smaller Islands States include the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.
5 There are currently thirteen partners: Canada, People’s Republic of China, European Union, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States. See Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat < forumsec.orgs./>.
6 Simon Cullen “Powerful diplomacy behind Pacific Islands Forum meeting” (12 September 2011) ABC Radio Australia <>.
7 Forum Communiqué, above n 3, at [4].
8 Ibid. at [13].
9 Ibid. at [34].
10 Ibid. at [18]-[19].
11 Ibid. at [57].
12 Determining which states have ratified is difficult. It is clear that Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu have ratified; for further information see Anthony Angelo “The UN Charter and Regional Security: Is the PIF a regional organisation?” in Kennedy Graham (ed) Models of Regional Governance for the Pacific – Sovereignty and the future architecture of regionalism (Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, 2008) 61 at 63 and 65.
13 After the Forum, it was announced that Samoa would host a meeting of Polynesian country leaders in Samoa in November 2011 to consider taking further the idea of a Polynesian network group; see Radio New Zealand International "Polynsian countries to form new group" (11 September 2011) <>.

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