SPC founded in 1947
The South Pacific Commission, as SPC was formerly called, was founded in Australia in 1947 under the Canberra Agreement by the six ‘participating governments’ that then administered territories in the Pacific: Australia, France, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. They established the organisation to restore stability to a region that had experienced the turbulence of the Second World War, to assist in administering their dependent territories and to benefit the people of the Pacific.
Expansion of membership
In 1962, Samoa was the first island nation to become an independent state and in 1965 was the first to become a full member of SPC. Other island nations in turn became independent or largely self-governing and in 1983, at the 23rd South Pacific Conference in Saipan, all 22 Pacific Island member countries and territories were recognised as full voting and contributing members of SPC.
The Saipan decision, which followed a long period of Pacific leaders taking greater ownership of the organisation, marked SPC’s coming of age with its now comprehensive regional membership and equal vote for all members regardless of their political situation. The decision also reaffirmed SPC’s status as a non-political body. Despite this status, many of the Pacific’s best-known leaders – such as Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara of Fiji – took a deep interest in SPC’s affairs and contributed strongly to its evolution.
Change of name
The name, South Pacific Commission, was changed to the Pacific Community at the 50th anniversary conference in 1997 to reflect the organisation’s Pacific-wide membership. Now, in 2010, SPC’s 26-strong membership includes the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories along with four of the original founders (the Netherlands and United Kingdom withdrew in 1962 and 2004 respectively when they relinquished their Pacific interests).
SPC’s governing body
The Conference of the Pacific Community, which is held every two years, is the governing body of SPC with each member entitled to one vote on decisions. However, debates are usually resolved in the Pacific way by consensus. The Committee of Representatives of Governments and Administrations (CRGA) meets annually, and in the years that the conference does not meet, is empowered to make decisions on the governance of SPC.
Although the region is home to around 7500 separate islands and a third of the world’s languages, SPC meetings bring together representatives from all of the island countries and territories using just two: English and French. SPC is proud of its bilingual status, which has played a role in encouraging interaction between Francophone and Anglophone countries and territories and in building regional cooperation.
Meeting house of the Pacific
SPC’s history, which mirrors the development of the Pacific region itself, is described in a book published to mark its 60th anniversary: Meeting house of the Pacific – the story of SPC 1947-2007 (see Corporate publications).
Key dates in SPC’s history
2012: SPC celebrated 65 years of service to Pacific Island countries and territories
2011: The Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) transferred its core functions to SPC
2010: The South Pacific Board for Educational Assessment (SPBEA) merged with SPC
2007: SPC celebrated its 60th anniversary on 6 February
2006: The First Pacific Youth Festival was held in French Polynesia with support from SPC and UNESCO
2004: The United Kingdom withdrew from the Pacific Community
1999: Lourdes Pangelinan, from Guam, was the first woman to be appointed Director-General
1997: The 50th anniversary conference was held in Canberra; the name South Pacific Commission was changed to the ‘Pacific Community’
1995: SPC moved into specially designed new headquarters at Anse Vata, Noumea
1983: At the annual conference held in Saipan, all countries and territories in the area served by SPC became full and equal members and the SPC Conference became the governing body
1972: The First Festival of Pacific Arts was held in Fiji (SPC led its establishment)
1965: Samoa joined SPC as a full member, and first Pacific Island member
1963: The First South Pacific Games were held in Suva (SPC played a leading role in the process)
1962: Netherlands withdrew from Irian Jaya and from membership of SPC
1962: Samoa (then known as (Western Samoa) reclaimed its independence, becoming the first Pacific Island country to achieve independence in the modern era
1951: The area served by SPC was expanded to include Guam and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (Micronesia)
1950: The First South Pacific Conference was held in Noumea
1949: SPC headquarters were transferred from their temporary location in Sydney to Noumea
1947: Following the end of World War II, the South Pacific Commission was established in Australia with the signing of the Canberra Agreement between Australia, France, Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States of America