Last Friday I attended the “Day of Diplomacy” held as part of the Young Diplomats Program (YDP), an annual event sponsored by the College of Arts, Society and Education at James Cook University.
The YDP commenced in 1997 as a partnership between JCU, the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) and Education Queensland (EQ) and gives young people interested in world affairs a wonderful insight into the world of International Diplomacy. Teams of Year 10 students from local schools test their research and diplomatic skills in a mock UN style Forum where they are judged by diplomats from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and representatives of the University.
(Nick Murphy from DFAT addressing the “Day of Diplomacy”)
This year is the 20th year of the program and the Diplomatic Scenario was based on the Communique released following the Pacific Islands Forum held in September 2015 in Port Moresby. This communique focused on issues of regional significance such as the impact of climate change, gender equality, sustainable economic development, Information and Communications Technologies, health challenges and West Papua.
Delegations from six schools attended Friday’s event representing six Pacific nations – Kirwan State High School representing the Solomon Islands, Malanda Stare High School representing Tonga, Northern Beaches State High School, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Pimlico State High School representing Palau, St Margaret Mary’s College Samoa, and Townsville State High School, Papua New Guinea.
Chairperson for the day was Professor Nola Alloway , Dean of the College of Arts, Society and Education who welcomed participants to the day. Opening remarks at the event were made by JCU Vice-Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding, newly elected Federal member for Herbert Cathy O’Toole, and Nick Murphy, Pacific Liaison Officer for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Professor Harding spoke about the State of the Tropics report released in 2104 that set out to answer the question “Is life in the Tropics getting better?’. She reminded us that more than 40% of the world’s population now lives in the Tropics and this is likely to be close to 50% by 2050. The region generates around 20% of global economic output and is home to some 80% of the world’s biodiversity.
Cathy O’Toole told us how excited she was to be the newly elected member for Herbert. Her speech at the event was her first public address since becoming our local member. She told those present that she was proud to be the first woman to be elected in the seat of Herbert. Most of the students present were female and she shared from her own experience how important education was in enabling women to take leadership roles in the community. She also reminded us that Port Moresby is closer to Townsville than Brisbane. Nick Murphy continued on this theme and described how important Papua New Guinea was to the Queensland economy. Nick also welcomed the interest in diplomacy of the students attending.
(JCU Chancellor Bill Tweddell greets the delegates from St Margaret Mary’s College representing Samoa)
The first part of the Day of Diplomacy involved presentations from each delegation on what they saw as the key issues for their country and for the region. They also outlined what they would like to take away from the forum. There was general consensus that climate change, gender equality and economic development were three key issues facing the region. There were poignant moments when delegations shared issues that were having special impact on their country.
The delegation from the Marshall Islands shared the devastating impact of the nuclear tests carried out in the 1950s by the US that are still affecting large areas of their nation today. Papua New Guinea informed the forum of the severe drought that currently affects large areas of the country. The Solomon Islands delegation made reference to the ethnic violence that rocked their nation from 1998 to 2003#. Tonga reminded the forum that they are one of the Pacific nations that will disappear under the waters in less than 100 years if global temperatures continue to rise. They reported that sea level rise is already having an impact on some islands.
(Students from Northern Beaches High School representing the Marshall Islands during the negotiation round)
Following the presentations there was a session of bilateral negotiations between country delegations. In discussions between Solomon Islands and Tonga, a major focus was working together to influence larger polluting nations such as China and the US in global forums such as the United Nations. Delegates welcomed the agreements made at the Paris conference last year but said that strong words need to be matched by strong actions. Delegates also discussed how they might work together to improve the status of women in their respective countries and how they might encourage economic development in their respective nations.
The next round was between Palau (population 20,000) and Samoa (200,000). Both delegations stressed the importance of working together with larger nations in the region to bring about important changes. They were keen to investigate further a proposal to develop tourist cruises that would visit a number of member countries. As in the earlier negotiation, climate change was a keen concern and both these smaller countries said it was essential that Pacific nations work together as a bloc to influence global forums.
I was impressed both by the knowledge displayed by delegates and also the empathy displayed for fellow nations. The Solomon Island delegation opened their negotiation round by reassuring the Tongans that they would favorably consider requests for resettlement should sea level rises necessitate this. The negotiation skills displayed by all delegates were outstanding. Delegates listened intently to each other, identified common interests, and then employed well developed problem solving skills in addressing any outstanding differences. It was refreshing to see a group of young people who clearly understand that co-operation and empathy will be needed if we are to successfully address the major issues now facing our global community.
Follow this link to a report on the day made by Journalism students at JCU.