This book is a comprehensive look at all the populated islands in our region, and in one continent, Australia. I’m not quite sure why there are chapters on the big players, Australia and New Zealand, but even very small territories (like Pitcairn Island) get a chapter. I confess to have not heard of some of them, such as Wallis & Futuna.
The book is in its second edition, not too long after the first, and it has the same format. So the chapters, and nations, appear in alphabetical order, rather than based on their proximity to each other. I think it might have been worth grouping them by their political origins, some being British or French colonies, or previously governed by the United States of America. There are many new authors writing about their own countries, or their area of academic interest, but this is mostly a reference book for university students. Though, rather oddly, there is still no index for such a long book.
While the sub-title of the book refers to the politics of the Pacific Islands, and the form of Government, it is really the latter that is the basis for most chapters. I think perhaps the politics of the smaller islands has been somewhat downplayed. One can always go to the Fiji chapter for some controversy or try to follow the political machinations of French Polynesia. Even though there is a concluding chapter drawing things together to some extent, I still think some key political issues are avoided.
In particular, there does not seem to be much discussion of the environmental issues or questions over climate change in the book, other than in the chapter on the Marshall Islands. The other topical issue that barely rates a mention is that of the many tax havens in the Pacific. The only specific reference is in the chapter on Vanuatu, where its tax haven has been longstanding. Given the focus on legal aspects of governance, and the fact that newly independent islands quickly constructed tax haven frameworks in law, this omission is curious. The specific Cook Islands tax controversy in the late 1980s is not highlighted, nor the demise of the tax haven in Niue, though money laundering is mentioned briefly in the chapter on Nauru.
Given that the Pacific tax havens are found in the Panama Papers, in both Samoa and the Marshall Islands, I think there should have been some historical context for this in the book. Perhaps a focus on such controversial issues is not the ‘Pacific Way’, but there is not much for the general reader of non-fiction in this particular book.
Reviewed by Simon Boyce
Pacific Ways: Government and Politics in the Pacific Islands, 2nd edition
by Stephen Levine
Published by VUP