Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Pacific Reset: A Retroliberal Analysis

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Version 2 2023-09-26, 01:37
Version 1 2021-12-09, 02:11
posted on 2023-09-26, 01:37 authored by McDowall, Thomas

The interaction and relationships between stakeholders, international trends, history and politics, inform the shape and sequencing of development policy. The Pacific Reset policy initiative of the Sixth Labour Government is an example of how such interactions not only impact, but contribute to understandings on development policy. Despite being a recent policy announcement, the Pacific Reset was understood as being informed by the factors listed above and is a geopolitically motivated statement of capability in the region.   The last decade of development thinking has shifted towards a model of economic growth, defined by ‘shared prosperity’ and development tied to national interest. Marking a distinct aid regime, retroliberalism offers the theoretical rigour to this research. In analysing the understandings of the Pacific Reset through such a lens, the Pacific Reset loosely aligns with the tenets of retroliberalism. Although it was found that rhetoric surrounding the Pacific Reset marks New Zealand’s divergence from typical retroliberal, and current global development discourses.  Using critical discourse analysis of rhetoric surrounding the announcement, and early stages of the Pacific Reset, together with a thematic analysis of eight interviews, this thesis examines the understandings of the Pacific Reset as communicated by members of the New Zealand development community. It assesses the factors involved in the policy’s formation, and its impact on Pacific-focused development activities, before discussing the extent retroliberalism can interpret the Pacific Reset.   This research found the Pacific Reset to be an amalgam of policies, modalities, and structures of earlier New Zealand development policy. Historical patterns of development assistance, personalities and style of engagement, and path dependence in policy were found to impact the Pacific Reset. Participants understood the policy as merely a shift in rhetoric and a geopolitical statement of renewed engagement in the Pacific. This thesis collates these responses to analyse the understandings on, and the impact of the Pacific Reset on New Zealand development activities, and to offer an empirical base for further research on the policy.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

Development Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Development Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Murray , Warwick; Overton, John