Collaborative regional focus for WA research hub

02/10/2015 - 12:28

A new Perth-based think tank will have a vital research role to play in the Indian Ocean region.

Collaborative regional focus for WA research hub

A new Perth-based think tank will have a vital research role to play in the Indian Ocean region.

Moves are under way to establish a Perth-based specialist regional Indian Ocean research centre.

The new think tank, to be called the International Centre for the Indian Ocean Region, will be a joint venture between Curtin and Murdoch universities.

The idea for the centre emerged in mid-2013 following a Senate committee report titled, ‘Importance of the Indian Ocean rim for Australia’s foreign, trade and defence policy’.

More specifically, the report said Canberra should “consider establishing an institute for Indian Ocean research in a Western Australian university”.

The report proposes a cooperative pathway for Canberra so as to boost Australian links with 20 Indian Ocean Rim Association countries (IORA), and envisages the new Perth-based research centre playing a pivotal role within this regional focus.

Curtin University Indian Ocean studies academic Dennis Rumley said the key factor in the focus on the region was Australia’s aggregate trade with its 20 member states.

He said total trade in goods and services with China during 2013 stood at $151 billion, while Japan trade was $70.7 billion and the US $54.7 billion.

“What’s not widely realised is Australia’s trade last year with the Indian Ocean’s 20 rim states stood at just over $85 billion,” Professor Rumley said.

“Also not realised is the fact that 100,000 ships – two thirds of the world’s oil tankers and one third of global container traffic – ply the Indian Ocean each year.

“The Senate committee’s recommendation recognises these facts and consequently saw a need for Australia to invest in Indian Ocean research as well as education.

“Importantly, the University of Western Australia has established an Indian Ocean Maritime Research Centre to concentrate on the science of the ocean.”

Funding for UWA’s $34 million maritime centre, which will focus on the fishing sector and is located at the Crawley campus, was met by Canberra.

“However, what the Senate report recognised was the need for a complementary focus on the humanities and social science research,” Professor Rumley said.

The emergence of these dual research pathways means Perth could potentially emerge as a major Indian Ocean research venue, with former foreign minister Stephen Smith promoting that outcome in his new role as director of the Perth USAsia Centre based at UWA.

A total of 20 nations make up the IORA.

The three with the largest populations are India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.

Its six island states include Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Comoros, and Singapore, while the four Middle Eastern members are Iran, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen.

Malaysia and Thailand join Indonesia from South-East Asia, while Africa’s members are Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.

Australia, of course, makes up the 20.

There are also six observer participants – China, Egypt, France, Japan, UK and the US – and two observer organisations, the Indian Ocean Tourism Organisation and the Adelaide and Curtin universities-based Indian Ocean Research Group, which is made up of academics and researchers from around the world.

Research to be undertaken by the new Perth think tank, ICIOR, will focus on geo-political, economic, environmental and technological issues seen as relevant to the region, and will be facilitated by expanded contacts between Perth academics and campuses from the 20 member states.

An application for funding ICIOR, which will be housed on both the Perth campuses, has been made to the federal and state governments.

What are needed first are start-up grants totalling $2.4 million, to be spread over a five-year phase.

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