Act of bastardry: Australia destroys canoes
Two poems by Jimmy Drekore

Mineral boom but PNG fails millenium goals

LAST WEEK'S SYMPOSIUM on Australia's relations with PNG, held in Melbourne, was told repeatedly that Australians knew very little about PNG apart from the Kokoda legend and the fact that PNG is one huge mining quarry.

One of the people attempting to broaden the knowledge of PNG is Professor David Lowe, the director of the Alfred Deakin Research Institute at f Deakin University.

He spoke with Geraldine Coutts of Radio Australia….

GERALDINE COUTTS: Now did we learn anything more from this symposium?

DAVID LOWE: Oh yeah, I think we did, I think it was an incredibly timely event. We've all got a sense in terms of those big national indicators, in terms of how a country is tracking, PNG is a place of extremes. We know it set for incredible economic growth generated by the mineral resources wealth, but we also know that it's tracking very poorly in terms of those Millenium Development Goals. So for Australians to try to get their head around some of the opportunities and the challenges ahead was really important.

We also thought it was very timely because we sensed a certain slippage in Australian consciousness there. We know that the press are pretty good at coming up with stories that highlight instances of corruption and problems of governance and those problems certainly do exist. But we also sense the need to engage and the need to get below the surface in order for Australians to have a slightly richer and more kind of engaging relationship with PNG seems to be thing that we need to do right now.

COUTTS: Well foreign aid and development has come under the microscope quite often, particularly in PNG and boomerang aid, the fact that advisers get a chunk of the money and aid isn't as effective as it could have been. Did that also get mentioned?

LOWE: Yes it did. Yes, I mean there are a couple of very rich do put big question marks over the effectiveness of Australian aid, but these question marks are just calling out for more research rather than drawing tremendous conclusions quickly.

One of the common themes that I think emerged was that the decline in PNG spending on public sector was a real issue in terms of how we might look to the future, because it's all very well to anticipate wealth coming from mineral resources and of course the liquefied natural gas project we've mentioned quite a bit, but if that's not matched by increased amounts of public sector spending, then we're not going to see some of the improvements in terms of the health and well being indicators flowing through society.

So in terms of aid, the linkage between that and public sector growth to date has been to some minds it's been appropriate, but to other minds it's been at the expense of increased levels of investment and promoting private opportunities.

COUTTS: And in terms of aid still, the question has always been as you've just described, it doesn't get to where it needs to be and may be Australia's approach has been more bureaucratic than it needs to be. But are they looking, apart from doing yet more research, are there answers?

LOWE: Well yes I suppose so. In terms of answers, I think it's across the board. One of the things that came out was just how many opportunities there were in the private sector, anticipating this growth, anticipating a stronger governance that we hope might emerge in PNG in the wake of forthcoming elections and in the wake of the tremendous interest in the economic growth occurring.

There is as we know a trend for NGOs to play a big part in the way in which aid is delivered and perhaps to make sure that it does flow out into different parts of the society. The other thing that came out very clearly though is that in order to measure how effective or otherwise it is. We're still grappling with the fact that PNG at the provincial and regional level is extremely hard to measure. It's very hard to measure what's happening.

So when I say the need for more research. We still really need very good quality indicators to see how things are tracking in the Highlands versus the capital district and so on and that's something that's starting up.

Dr Thomas Webster from the National Research Register of PNG spoke about the progress in this field. I think until you see some better progress in this area, we're still going to be scrambling a little bit in some of our debates about the effectiveness of aid.

COUTTS: And mining in general obviously got a mention and the best approach, because there are some question marks as to how many jobs will go to locals and how many will be brought in and the fly in and fly out concept as well?

LOWE: Yes, and a couple of things there and that is an issue and one of the things that everyone wants to see of course is the heightened degree of training that goes on for PNG residents and in terms of the plan for that liquefied natural gas project.

There's some encouraging signs about the scale of training being offered both close to the site in Port Moresby, in terms of the chain as to how the liquefied natural gas works. But there still is this issue of the portion of population as it currently stands is about 80 per cent employed in the agricultural sector and the non-mining sector if you like and that is a theme which came up in the symposium.

We really need to ensure that this huge bulk of population is addressed more squarely than simply thinking about the wealth flying through to people purely for mining base. 

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