Asambleas Ciudadanos


the Citizens' Assembly in Oceania



A Citizens’ Assembly Of Oceania on the horizon !

Translations : English . français . Español

Betsan Martin from the NGO Response Trust located in Wellington, New Zealand, is carefully organizing the construction of a citizens’assembly in Oceania. The idea, as we all know, is not totally new : Betsan has been promoting the Charter of Human Responsibilities since its very beginning, in 2002. Different kinds of work carried out with participants from Oceania have created, during the past ten years, a social and reflection asset connected especially with water and governance, which can set the foundation for a wider process of dialog within the societies in Oceania.

The idea for a citizens’ assembly sprang up after a meeting about water and responsibility, organized in Samoa in January, 2008. Betsan stresses one of the foundation ideas of this meeting : governance and water, in the long run, demands attending to Maori expectations (indigenous communities), as well as contributions across all sectors from society in the debate and in the decision making processes. A wide range of obstacles and challenges raised as regards the current ways of managing social and public goods converge in this idea. This is an issue widely discussed internationally as well as one of our privileged action areas. It is also urgent for the people from Oceania».

But what is Oceania? Though not aiming at a detailed portrait, we can point out some features :

  • a sea territory far wider than continental territory, making Oceania a true “water continent” reaching around the Pacific Ring of Fire from Vietnam to Chile. The larger islands of Oceania are New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with Island groups known as Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia with Samoa, Hawaii, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Tahiti included. With the continent of Australia reaching across Asia-Pacific territory, and we can include countries such as the Philippines.
  • a population of 38 million inhabitants and one of the largest varieties of cultures, languages and dialects in the world,
  • a colonial history that gave rise to various independent small States, most of which are still developing, and to the existence of a colonial oligarchy ; -* the presence of democratic regimes capable of accepting and incorporating traditional governance ways, such as how to elect indigenous representatives for Parliament ;
  • growing disproportionate interest and pressure from foreign powers, from the EU, China and Japan, to influence resource use, and exploit the fishing resources of the continent ;
  • a challenge to adapt the governance of States and natural ecosystems : on the one hand, the States’ insufficient means to ensure the management of an immense sea territory, and on the other, the fragmentation of the approaches to administer the forest, river and coast ecosystems, or even the water supply.

The next stage which should contribute to the construction of the assembly will be the organization of a meeting – a “hui” in Maori language, a concept close to that of an assembly - about water governance which will take place in New Zealand around September and October, 2009. «Three prior meeting have been held to prepare for the assembly. We are involved with engagement with the relevant Maori indigenous communities, as hosts of the area where the meeting will be held, and because indigenous peoples’ opinions are considered to be a priority. Often they are seen as accessory and may be ignored. This dimension is essential for us", Betsan points out. The meeting should allow for the comparison between the experiences of engineers, scientists, Maori leaders, government officials, philosophers and writers from New Zealand, Australia and certain islands in the Pacific. Horizontal and “deliberative” discussions with a group of 20 or 30 participants at most will be privileged, in order to avoid concentrating everything during the conference and scattering the exchanges. «One of our obstacles is connected with the logistics. Flights from one island to another are extremely expensive. In addition to the support of the FPH, we will seek support from New Zealand Aid, for instance, whom we are already working with.

In June and July, 2009 Betsan and her team will focus their efforts on planning for the process of a citizens’ assembly in Oceania, as a follow-up of the work done and eventually finding inspiration in the itinerary of other assemblies. The symbolic and the imaginary have a date that cannot be put off : “the sea and the ocean will be considered, above all, as the link between peoples”, the “joining of people” can be symbolized as a two-hulled “waka”, a traditional vessel for long journeys across the Pacific Ocean... Ideas for the assembly are still being explored. These are the first steps of the initiative. Let’s allow it to germinate and grow healthily from the experience and the learning built through time.







Pacific Summer Assembly


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