How Oz gave PNG the wrong political system
Sir Brian Bell, nation builder, dies at 82

Fiji outmanoeuvres Australia in the Pacific


AUSTRALIA’S BENIGN neglect of its own backyard – the island states of the south-west Pacific – has come back to bite it.

That neglect is all the more noticeable given the initial enthusiasm with which the Rudd government approached the job of rebuilding bridges with the region after its election in 2007.

Why the commitment waned is debatable. Perhaps there were bigger items on the diplomatic agenda. Perhaps it was a way of Australia expressing distaste for various developments in the region – like corruption and misgovernance. Perhaps it was a sign of Australia rethinking a failing approach. Perhaps it was sheer incompetence.

Whatever, this cooling of enthusiasm was seen tangibly in the government’s failure to appoint a new Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. In 2007 this had been an innovative and creative move. By 2009 it was dead.

Duncan Kerr had been a committed and energetic appointee. When he announced his retirement from the job, for reasons that are now unclear, no replacement was announced.

At the weekend, Fiji’s illegal military regime for the first time won international support for its coup.

Late Friday, at the conclusion of Frank Bainimarama's summit in Suva, the heads of the governments of PNG, the Solomons, Kiribati, Tuvalu, East Timor and five other Pacific states signed a communique which endorsed Bainimarama's eight-year ‘road map’ for a return to democracy.

The communique, issued late on Friday, agreed that the road map was a credible home-grown process for positioning Fiji as a modern nation and to hold "true democratic elections".

Rowan Callick reports in today’s The Australian that this raises the prospect that next week’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders' summit will be asked to lift the suspension of Fiji from the Forum.

Along with Samoa, Australia and New Zealand have been the most consistent supporters of the suspension.

Australia has not yet decided whether it will attend the Forum meeting. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith – who’s making a real mess of his regional diplomacy - said he would decide whether to attend "in the context of the [Australian election] campaign".

Meanwhile, Fiji is making hay of its diplomatic outmanoeuvring of Australia and New Zealand.

At the weekend, details emerged about a controversial new land use decree in Fiji which gives Bainimarama the power to designate the use of land, even by indigenous Fijians, without challenge, including by the courts.

Last week, Bainimarama said that even the 2014 deadline for elections was in doubt because of continuing criticism from Australia and New Zealand.


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Reginald Renagi

Andy - I agree with you 100 percent and the sooner Australia does that the better.

I wrote a piece recently for this blog on what Australia should do about PNG. PNG needs more trade with Australia than aid.

If Australia stops spoon-feeding PNG as a 'spoilt brat' originating out of a very early independence in 1975, then PNG will find its feet, on its own, over time - and do this according to its own national agenda and timetable.

Andy McNabb

I honestly believe Australia is wasting good time and money trying to engage with the small Pacific islands, particularly those who have a pebble in their sandals about Australia.

Apart from providing some humanitarian aid when it is needed (they have our telephone numbers), we would do better recognising their enmity toward Australia, and do nothing about it. “Go ahead, hate out guts !”.

The angst ridden Australian hand wringing has resulted in us having dermatitis, and keeps a number of journalists, public servants, priests, bush commentators (like me) and other assorted non- productive types employed or busy for no substantial gain.

If Somare hates our guts, then let it be. We are here to stay, and we will not collapse whether Somare stays in power or not.

Whether Somare or someone else is Prime Minister has no bearing on Australia (they can send a fax). PNG is just like Australia – it tends to continue on an even keel in spite of the government.

We do not understand the Melanesian way. The continuous criticism by Australians of Somare simply feeds his hatred of us.

We would do better agreeing with him, confessing our colonial past, flagellating over our past sins and opening our guilt suitcases for him and sundry to hang our smudged underpants on the line.

Then sit down, and chew some buai with him.

We do not need PNG gas and oil. We have other customers banging on our door for these things, on better terms and without the acrimony.

I have no religious belief, but I am an evolutionist. PNG will find its feet at sometime in the future, and only it can find it. The more we smudge our undies by intervening, the longer it will take for PNG to find its feet.

All the posturing, diplomatic manoeuvres, crisis meetings and smoke and mirrors are of no effect.

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