6 Aug 2007

Anger among New Zealand's Pacific academics at being left out of Pacific Thought Leaders Dialogue

5:46 pm on 6 August 2007

Pacific scholars in New Zealand say they feel insulted and ignored ahead of a major conference on Pacific research.

Several academics are giving talks at the so-called Pacific Thought Leaders Dialogue in Auckland at the end of this month, but not one of them is a Pacific Islander.

Jen Craddock reports.

The Department of Labour, which is organising the conference, says it pulls together the latest research on Pacific issues in New Zealand, with a focus on economics, trade and migration. It aims to connect academics with the public, and Pacific people are invited to attend. But of the eight speakers, not one is a Pacific Islander. That's raised the ire of Professor Sitaleki Finau from Massey University. He says he's boycotting the conference, which he describes as insulting.

"There are Pacific researchers who could do exactly the same work that has been farmed out to the Pakehas. So overall the thing is saying, you Pacific Islanders come here, we'll discuss you, but you're not yet ready to lead the thinking about yourselves."

That's a view echoed by Tagaloa Dr Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, the director of Va'aomanu Pasifika, the Department of Pacific Studies at Victoria University. She says Pacific researchers are being ignored.

Maybe in earlier days there was not a strong body of Pacific research or researchers in New Zealand, but there's certainly no excuse for it now. We are building a particularly strong body of Pacific researchers in New Zealand, right across all the disciplines today. In addition, our Pacific researchers are bringing a different perspective which hopefully this particular research will capture.

Dr Fairbairn-Dunlop says she wasn't at Victoria when the research was commissioned, but there's a handful of scholars at that university alone who could have contributed. However, one of the organisers from the Department of Labour disagrees.

Tofilau Kerupi Taviata says there's a lack of Pacific Island scholars in the areas of economics and migration studies. And he says there will be panels responding at length to each talk.

So it's not a case of this symposium where people are just going to sit and listen. The whole objective here is about Pacific people being able to really offer a view of what they think the researchers came up with. And in this symposium we've offered 150 free registration to Pacific community leaders who are wanting to attend.

The man who chose the researchers says the lack of brown faces is certainly not deliberate. Alastair Bisley, who coordinated the project for Victoria University's Institute of Policy Studies, says Pacific experts and steering groups were consulted all the way. He says he chose the best scholars he could find.

It happened that, you know, the person who seemed to be doing the most relevant work in migration seemed to be Dick Bedford, it happened that John Gibson is a very able economist who's done a lot of work on Pacific economies, and so on. You know, it's happenstance, certainly not deliberate policy.

Alastair Bisley says this event is not the final word on Pacific research, and future projects could well widen their scope.