Professorial Lecture Series: Professor Joanne Wallis
Cognitive dissonance? Contradictions in Australia’s Pacific Islands policy and discourse.
The Australian government has long identified that a secure Pacific Islands region sits only behind a secure Australia in the hierarchy of its strategic interests. The Australian government has begun to demonstrate strategic anxiety about the ‘crowded and complex’ geopolitics of the region. This reflects its broader concerns about geostrategic competition in the ‘Indo-Pacific’, and its perception that Pacific states are ‘small’ and ‘weak’, and therefore vulnerable to influence from potentially hostile powers that may threaten Australia. Simultaneously, the Australian government has vowed to ‘step-up’ its engagement with its ‘Pacific family’, emphasising that its relationships with Pacific states will be characterised by respect for, and listening to them, as equals. While the Australian government has articulated its intention to improve its relationships with Pacific states in the pursuit of its strategic interests, puzzlingly, it continues to adopt policies that undermine this goal.
In this lecture I employ the concept of ‘cognitive dissonance’ to analyse how and why this occurs. I outline what this analysis demonstrates about how the Australian government perceives the Pacific, what assumptions and habits inform those beliefs, and as Australia’s ‘step-up’ moves from announcement to implementation, how they are translated into behaviour via government policy. I conclude by arguing that the Australian government should seek ‘cognitive consistency’ in its discourse about, and policies toward, the Pacific, guided by the discourse of the ‘Blue Pacific’.