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VIEW ON THE PACIFIC briefing series

 View on Nauru
Between a mined-out rock and a hard place
 

 Helen Fraser & Minh Nguyen
July 2005

Executive summary

A lot can change in a year on the tiny Pacific island state of Nauru. In 2003 alone, the presidency changed six times. But recent leadership instability only reflects a much deeper crisis. Once ranked among the world’s wealthiest countries per capita owing to its rich phosphate resources, Nauru is now an island struggling to stay afloat. Continued dependency on phosphate revenues following independence has reduced Nauru to near bankruptcy. The country’s economic problems have fuelled the instability, as various Cabinet Ministers, encouraged by unscrupulous foreign advisers, sought the role of financial saviour, devoting time and resources to seeking loan funds and rescue packages at the expense of their portfolio responsibilities.

But it has been over a year since the island has seen a change in government. For now, the incumbent administration is enjoying one of the longest periods of stability in years with a parliamentary majority and incremental financial improvements courtesy of an Australian aid package. How long stability will last is anyone’s guess. As Australia and Nauru sign a further agreement to extend the present aid arrangement which has kept essential services running, Australia may attempt to play an even greater interventionist role in an already desperate country.

Australia’s post-war colonial administration of Nauru, characterised by an unfair appropriation of the island’s resources under trust, is still fresh on the Nauruans’ collective memory. This time around, having transformed Nauru into one of Australia’s refugee detention outposts, the locals have good reasons to receive Australia’s assistance with suspicion. Whether or not Australia’s latest intervention is sustainable will depend on how it treads the fine line between renewed colonial paternalism and ensuring that aid money is well spent.

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The authors: Helen Fraser is a former journalist and editor of the Pacific Report. Minh Nguyen is a Research Officer at Uniya. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors. View on The Pacific is a publication of the Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre, a research centre based in Sydney’s Kings Cross, Australia. Please email comments to Uniya:

 

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