New research hub to support Pacific nations tackle biggest global challenges

Oceania Institute Launch
L-R: Lau Dr. Viliamu Iese; Professor Fiona Russell; Sir Collin Tukuitonga; University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell; Rita Seumanutafa-Palala.

A new institute to support Pacific nations address their key global challenges of the 21st Century has been established in Melbourne.

The Oceania Institute at the University of Melbourne, which launches today, brings together researchers and members of the Pasifika community from across the University, Melbourne and the region to tackle issues that matter to people in the Pacific.

The name ‘Oceania Institute’ was chosen to show respect for and celebrate the custodianship that people of the Pacific have for their seas and islands.

Rita Seumanutafa-Palala, graduate researcher and member of the Institute leadership team, said the institute would create a supportive community for people from Oceania while growing the capacity of researchers, students, and professionals in Pacific Island countries and in local Pasifika communities.

“Australia is yet to fully realise the incredibly culturally rich and diverse region that is Oceania. We want this institute to be a welcoming place for our Pasifika researchers, students and staff here at the University. A priority is to engage with our local Pasifika communities, and be an empowering educational space for young people -  our future Pasifika professionals, scholars and leaders of Australia.” Mrs Seumanutafa-Palala said.

Researchers within the Oceania Institute are addressing the following key issues:

Climate change: How the climate in Oceania is changing, and how islands, cities, people and villages can adapt to avoid climate impacts.

Health and wellbeing: Improving public health – in particular mental health and wellbeing – to support communities into the future through research, education and inclusive development.

Infectious diseases: Improving health through research and the prevention, treatment and cure.

Food, livelihoods, and biodiversity: Finding ways to balance land uses and practice that support food security, biodiversity conservation, and livelihoods.

Sustainable urban and rural development: Addressing challenges of uneven development and helping to establish economically viable, socially just, environmentally sustainable, and safe and healthy human communities.

Law, peace and politics: Supporting legal reform, peacebuilding, and issues such as food security and gender justice, while developing a critical understanding of Australia’s approach to the region.

Languages, culture and history: Recognising the richness, diversity and creativity of contemporary Oceanic languages and cultures, including drawing on both shared and unique histories to influence and enrich communities.

Institute co-director Professor Jon Barnett said global crises such as climate change were disproportionately affecting the 16 island countries and territories that make up Oceania.

“Australia shares responsibility for the challenges facing Oceania, such as rising sea levels and other climate change impacts, geopolitical tensions, access to quality health care and education, and growing socio-economic inequality,” Professor Barnett said.

“The Oceania Institute has strong and clear mission to bring meaningful, reciprocal and sustained partnerships with the region, and to build a community of mutual learning and problem solving. These relationships are critical in addressing the key challenges facing not only the islands of the Pacific, but all of us.”

Fellow co-director Associate Professor Debra McDougall said some of the most promising approaches to shared global challenges were coming from Pacific nations themselves.

“Too often, outsiders assume that they have the solutions to regional problems, particularly in the context of externally funded projects and programs. Researchers in our community here at the University feel strongly that Australia has much to learn from the wider Oceania region about building just, equitable and sustainable societies,” Associate Professor McDougall said.