Vic Hub Drought-Resilience Assoc Director part of new Oceania Institute

The Oceania Institute has been established to enhance connection and collaboration between the University of Melbourne and people and institutions throughout Oceania
The Oceania Institute has been established to enhance connection and collaboration between the University of Melbourne and people and institutions throughout Oceania

Oceania Institute launched to support Pacific nations in tackling biggest global challenges

 

The Vic Hub’s Associate Director of Drought Resilience, Te’o Lau Dr Vili Iese, is part of the new Oceania Institute at the University of Melbourne.

 

Leading university researchers, international guests and members of the Pasifika community gathered in early March to celebrate the Institute’s launch.

Te'o Lau Dr Viliamu Iese, Professor Fiona Russell, Sir Collin Tukuitonga, Professor Duncan Maskell and Rita Seumanutafa-Palala
L-R: Te’o Lau Dr Viliamu Iese, Professor Fiona Russell, Sir Collin Tukuitonga, Professor Duncan Maskell and Rita Seumanutafa-Palala

UoM Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell formally launched the new research hub, which has been established to enhance connection and collaboration between the University and people and institutions throughout Oceania. An illuminating discussion by Vili Iese (SAFES), Fiona Russell (Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences), and Sir Collin Tukuitonga (University of Auckland) explored how Pacific nations can meet environmental, social, health and cultural challenges by building community capability and pooling resources – and the crucial role the OI will play in this. The event concluded with a moving performance by the Niuean community choir. Learn more on the Institute’s new website.

The Institute is co-directed by Professor Jon Barnett, a political geographer whose research has helped explain the impacts of climate change on coastal communities, cultures, food security, migration, and water security, and Associate Professor Debra McDougall, a socio-cultural anthropologist specialising in language, culture, religion, gender, and the anthropology of education.

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.

 

You can watch the event launch here:

 

Professor 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,” he said.

“The Oceania Institute has a 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.”

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

“Too often, outsiders assume 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,” she said.

More than 150 guests attended the Institute launch in-person and online. Hosted by graduate researcher and Oceania Institute leadership team member, Rita Seumanutafa-Palala, the event began with a keynote by New Zealand doctor and Associate Dean Pacific University of Auckland, Sir Collin Tukuitonga, and was followed by a panel discussion on Strengthening health research in Oceania with Sir Collin, Lau Dr. Viliamu Iese and Professor Fiona Russell. To close the event, guests were treated to a moving performance by the Niuean Community Choir.

 

Learn more on the Oceania Institute website.