The recent anti-Asian
disturbances in Papua New Guinea led to a range of views in post mortem: on the
one hand, gloomy prognoses that the riots heralded the beginning of a period of
civil unrest that would lead to even more violence and social meltdown.
hands, the predictable political response of an inquiry. Politicians are lost
without something to look into.
And on the other
hand, the limp hand, there was complacency.
For a handful of
Australians, however, the events took a dramatic personal twist last weekend
when we received a long email from two concerned PNG correspondents, the
essence of which is expressed in these words:
“The rule of the
grassroots will be this and very clear: No more Asians owning Cottage
Businesses in PNG by 31 December 2009. Or otherwise, we will celebrate 2010 New
Year with bon-fires of all Asian-owned Takka Shops in flames all around the
country. That will be the solution. Forget the government. If they can't do it,
we will do it ourselves!”
We all responded with
alacrity but the response of one of my colleagues in particular was especially
noteworthy because of its measured, sympathetic and positive tone. And, as
things have turned out, it proved to be very helpful to the young men
concerned, who have since acknowledged the wisdom of the words that were
written and their intention to heed them.
It was Bob Curtis
who wrote the letter, which he shared with us. And I want to share it with you.
I personally hear
the message sent by A and B, and it distresses me, whilst I see that serious
unrest is imminent.
I would counsel
the PNG Nationals to firstly confront their Elected Members with a very strong
message that their position in Parliament depends on their immediate reaction
to the people's complaint. Advise the Members that you will sponsor Candidates
to stand against them at the next Elections.
potential Candidates amongst those with a Secondary Education or a Degree or
strong Village status, and push for reform. At least two local Candidates
should confront each Member. Preferably one of these Candidates should be
Form a PNG Reform
Party and go to the people with your Policy Platform and distribute that
Platform in Pidgin, Police Motu, Motu, Kotte and Yabim. Use the Churches to
assist you. Similarly the Journalists amongst you can help spread the message
either through the Press, Pamphlets. the Pulpits. Word of mouth is a powerful
media amongst the unsophisticated Bush dweller.
Seek support from
the Catholic Church, The Lutherans, the Methodists, and Business. The Ballot
box is a powerful argument against Corruption. You should target current
Elected members pressuring them to respond to your concerns. You should
pressure those investigating Corruption to report to the People urgently.
impress on them using non inflammatory language that the time has come for
action, and the People are mobilizing. Encourage your Party Members to expose
and reveal occurrences of Corruption, Illegal Gambling and Prostitution.
Build a Data bank
of information to be given to the People at a time when it will hurt the Law
Breakers the most. Fight Police corruption at every turn. Seek higher wages for
Police and ask for their support.
Form a Reform
Committee and for the time being keep the names of the Committee Persons (Male
and Female) undercover to protect them. Boycott the Stores you do not like, in
the long term that is a better idea than burning them down.
Storekeepers give credit to customers, particularly when the customers produce
Copra , Coffee or Cacao. The same applies to Bislama, Lili, Vegetables and Kukas.
Encourage your Members not to fall into the Credit trap.
Above all, think
before you act. Breaking the law is dumb.
Now you don’t have
to agree with everything Bob wrote to understand that this was an important and
supportive and helpful piece of communication.
And so it turned
out, when a response came acknowledging the soundness of that advice and an
intention to heed it. Furthermore, there was clear pleasure in being able to
communicate with people who cared, and who were sympathetic.
It’s another indication
that the power of the Internet and email have more than a little ability to
establish useful communication between Australians and Papua New Guineans who
do necessarily have institutional influence but who do care about each other as
Well done Bob,
Colin Huggins, Paul Oates and Bernard Oberleuter.