David Keating probably won't thank me for contrasting his views on Papua New Guinea with those of Australian Prime Minister John Howard. But I will anyway.

At the same time I was enjoying a quiet lunch with David and Ron Antoine [also ASOPA 1962-62] on the Brisbane riverside last week, our PM decided to give PNG a touch up by intimating, as part-justification of an increase in Australia's defence forces, that the former Territory was well on the way to becoming a failed state.

Quite naturally, PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare objected to this characterisation. In fact, PNG  must be tiring of the proclivity of some senior Australian politicians (Alexander Downer is another) to refer to PNG in terms which, not to mince words, are patronising.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, David, Ron and I were discussing the trials and triumphs of PNG since Independence in 1975 when David made the salient observation that, of all that has happened in the 30 years since, and some of that's been pretty ugly, the over-rding achievement has been PNG's capacity to remain as one democratic nation.

Eight hundred tribes came together to form PNG. And, despite all the vicissitudes, they are still together. And they still have regular free and fair elections. These really are great achievements. And the Australian government ought to be mindful of them.


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