The University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Laucala Campus hosted a public lecture on Pacific Regionalism by Honourable Peter Paire O’Neill, Prime Minister of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG) at the Japan-Pacific ICT Centre.
More than 300 people attended the lecture including H.E. Mr Esala Teleni, Fiji’s High Commissioner to PNG; H.E. Ratu Tui Cavuilati, Fiji’s Roving Ambassador for the Pacific, H.E. Mr John Feakes, Australia’s High Commissioner to Fiji, H.E. Mr Jonathan Curr, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Fiji, H.E. Mr Sujiro Seam, Ambassador of France to Fiji; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Heads of Regional and International Organisations, Private Sector; NGOs, the media and staff and students of USP.
In welcoming the Honorable Prime Minister, Mr Winston Thompson, Pro-Chancellor and Chair of USP Council noted that this was the second time for the University to host a leader from PNG, the first of whom was Sir Michael Somare who attended the 25th Anniversary of the Melanesian Spearhead Group in March 2013.
Thompson said it was an honour for the University to host Hon. O’Neill especially on USP’s 50th Anniversary year.
“Having you visit the University has made this year even more special for us as a regional University of higher education, research and regional integration,” Thompson stated.
“USP and PNG have enjoyed a longstanding relationship since USP’s inception in 1968 especially through the various student exchange programmes between University of PNG and USP in the early days of our establishment.
“We currently have forty (40) students from PNG studying with us, thirty-two (32) of them right here at the Laucala Campus and the remaining from our campuses in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands,” he added.
Thompson added that the University looked forward to continued talks with the Government of PNG to joining its twelve (12) neighbours as a USP member country and the synergy from this development would have far-reaching benefits for higher education in the region.
In her remarks, Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) said, “if we are to ever realise the full potential of Pacific regionalism, then now is the time.”
“The current moment calls upon the region to be steadfast in our solidarity in order to secure the integrity of our ocean sovereignty, cultures and resources,” she said.
Dame Taylor mentioned that realising the potential of Pacific regionalism in today’s context will require a range of focused political conversations in order to establish the foundations for the future of the region.
In his address, Hon. O’Neill said he was very appreciative of the opportunity to speak on regionalism.
“This is a very important topic because it certainly changes the way we look at managing issues that affect every man, woman and child both here in Fiji and the Pacific generally,” he stated.
Regionalism he said, is an important driving force for collective action as we develop our countries and especially as one voice – the Pacific voice.
“The Pacific, particularly Melanesia is a place of great opportunity and the regionalism agenda must embrace; and it must also be embraced by our governments, our business communities and more importantly our students and citizens who are advancing many of these issues through universities and other institutions throughout the Pacific,” he said.
O’Neill mentioned that as global citizens, “our responsibility is to try and encourage trade and investment does not only lie in our respective countries but we must engage as a region and we must engage more meaningfully and globally as well.”
“We must also use our collective strengths in ensuring that the interests of our people are advanced in a manner that a lot of our Governments and global leaders are aware of the issues that are affecting the Pacific. Our desire is to create more opportunities particularly in employment, encourage small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and confront the challenges of climate change,” Hon. O’Neill noted.
“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of this earth and this is why we acknowledge the leadership that Fiji is providing in many of the discussions that is taking place in the global arena including COP23,” he added.