For Sale: Analysis of exclusion of people from land in Melanesia and directions forward.

SSGM Working Paper

Author/s (editor/s):

Matthew Allen, Siobhan McDonnell, Colin Filer

Publication year:

2014

Publication type:

Working paper

A two-day “publication workshop” was convened by SSGM/ANU and Oxfam Australia as part of the Australian Association for Pacific Studies (AAPS) biennial conference held at Sydney University. The workshop brought together policymakers, academics, NGOs and activists with a shared interest in contemporary land issues in post-colonial Melanesia. It was chaired by Mr Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, and involved a number of other distinguished guest participants including Mr Charles Lepani, High Commissioner for Papua New Guinea, Dr James Weiner (ANU) and professors George Curry (Curtin University), John Connell (University of Sydney) and Margaret Jolly (ANU).

Highlights

  • The eleven papers and one interview that were presented at the workshop were empirically and theoretically rich, and, though diverse in terms of topics and approaches, there were a number of theoretical and thematic threads that wove them together into an intellectually coherent set (see below).
  • Collectively the papers presented provide a unique set of perspectives on land issues in Melanesia, including from Melanesian researchers and a significant number of women researchers. Many of the authors had not previously written about land and offered their unique „voices‟ as part of the larger international debate.
  • Some of the empirics that were presented were especially striking, for example that the region‟s urban settlements are growing at an average rate of 7 per cent per annum and that 12 per cent of PNG‟s land area has come under Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs) since 1995.
  • The stories told of the recent “ministerial land grab” in Vanuatu, PNG‟s SABL saga, and the contemporary political economy of land allocation in Honiara were particularly sobering. However, these were tempered by more positive stories, for example, the recent passage of a major land reform programme in Vanuatu, that gave cause for optimism.
  • The diverse array of actors that animated these stories was also striking: from the cleaners and drivers in the Vanuatu Lands Department who had been gifted land titles by the previous Minister, to shady “Asian businessmen” and globalised oil palm corporations.
  • Collectively the workshop participants were challenged, by Minister Regenvanu and other participants from the region, to ensure that the research findings are communicated effectively and made available to those who have the most potential to be empowered by them. Charles Lepani also pointed to the importance of developing collaborative research partnerships between foreign researchers and Pacific Islander researchers and policy-makers.
  • One highlight of the first day was Charles Lepani‟s reading aloud of a text message from the Prime Minister of PNG, Peter O‟Neill, which announced publically for the first time that SABL‟s “that have been abused for forestry” will be cancelled or suspended and that cabinet approval will be required for leases over “large parcels of land” (reported by Radio Australia here).

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