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Australia not a good friend, says Namorong

I met many interesting people, including Julia Bishop, the MP who would soon become Australia's foreign minister

MELBOURNE - I'm on my first visit to Australia right now - and what an introduction to your country.

A two-week run of four major cities where I'm meeting politicians, journalists and ordinary Australians.

I'm trying to help foster a relationship between Papua New Guineans and Australians beyond business, politics, diplomacy and academia.

AaAfter all, PNG is a lot more than the Kokoda Track and birds of paradise. We're a nation of 7 million people who aspire to be better than we are.

The relationship between my country and Australia is complex. You were once our coloniser. You created institutions: Western democracy on our behalf - a Westminster-style parliament, a free press, a fairly robust judicial system, university education - and modern commerce and a working infrastructure.

All on our behalf. And yours too, let's be honest.

Campaigning is under way in PNG for the general election.

When Australia thought the election might be delayed, it spoke patronisingly to us and got a telling off for its trouble.

When the Papua New Guinean people thought it might be delayed, we marched in the streets and got an election.

The message is clear - as a people, Papua New Guineans might just be a bit better and more effective than Australians think we are.

There are some other issues between Australia and PNG that need to be addressed

When you get to PNG and land at Jackson airport in Port Moresby, you can buy a visa at our front door and we let you in. When we want to come to Australia, we are regarded as potential absconders and the visa process is a torture. I know people who couldn't even visit Australia for weddings and funerals of relatives.

Papua New Guineans do not present a major overstayer issue for Australia. We really do love the country we come from, despite its faults and privations. And we don't like being treated like potential criminals when we want to visit your place.

PNG is geographically closer than New Zealand and all other neighbours of Australia. Yet Australians don't see boatloads of Papua New Guineans heading down south. We have a strong attachment to our ancestral lands and as such we prefer living on our land. Yet the treatment we get for wanting to temporarily visit Australia is perhaps based on a lot of Australian prejudice.

This sort of treatment of Papua New Guineans also extends to the arena of business.

In my home of Western Province, BHP Billiton is responsible for the destruction of the Fly River by Ok Tedi mine, an environmental disaster of world-scale proportions.

Australian gold miner Newcrest dumps mine wastes into the sea around the island of Lihir in the north-east of Papua New Guinea. Newcrest also has a 50 per cent stake in Morobe Mining's Hidden Valley project that has been blamed for fish deaths in the Markham River.

Papua New Guineans are becoming increasingly weary of Australian attitudes towards us. As the Australian government pursues its trade agenda with PNG and other Pacific Island nations, we Papua New Guineans are concerned about the likelihood of further exploitation of our people by your government and businesses.

We protected and cared for young Australian men during World War II. We have also developed many friendships with Australians. But we are not happy with Australia's attitude to us.

I don't know if you've heard the expression ''boomerang aid'' - it's got a real Aussie ring to it, hasn't it? A lot of the half-billion-dollar-a-year aid you give to PNG boomerangs right back to Australia - as consultants' fees or for the purchase of goods and services.

Australia's development agency, AusAID, has invested in training and equipping PNG police. While maintaining law and order is a critical issue in PNG, recently serious and credible allegations have emerged of police being retained by resources companies and acting inappropriately against protesting landowners.

There have been some excellent Australian aid projects in Papua New Guinea but you need to know the truth - most of the aid money doesn't get to where it could do the most good: the provision of better health services; better roads; you know the list.

PNG's increasing engagement with China is in many ways a rejection of Australia due to Australia's failure to be a good friend since independence.

I do not suggest for a moment that it is not possible for our land to be used for other than traditional purposes. But this must happen with our informed consent and approval.

Australia has been good to my country - and I think my country has been good to Australia. You are, by and large, a benign neighbour. But there is such a concept as benign neglect.

AWe need a more understanding relationship with Australia. And that means you must adopt a more engaged and intelligent approach to Papua New Guinea and its people.

Martyn Awayang Namorong is an award-winning writer and blogger on PNG politics and a social activist. This article was published in the The Age (Melbourne) this morning


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Stephen Charteris

Clearly very little has changed. Interestingly, when Martyn penned this the population was around 7 million. In the decade since, it has increased by 2 million and is growing at a phenomenal rate.

I have always felt privileged to arrive at Jacksons and be met at Immigration with courtesy and respect. A far cry from stony faced counterparts in Brisbane or Cairns.

I agree with Martyn that reciprocating the visa on arrival or at least making it much easier for PNG citizens wishing to visit or seek work in Australia is long overdue.

As a long-time visitor to Port Moresby, I am struck by the superficiality of Australian ties to PNG. It appears to me they are characterised by long lines of miners arriving to extract resources from the ground for which the environmental consequences are tragic and permanent.

The heavy metal pollution of the Ok Tedi and Fly River systems, of the Jaba river basin and Empress Augusta Bay and the consignment of tailings to marine environments in New Ireland. In my view these are not the actions of a true friend or partner.

As an observer what has particularly alarmed me is the inexorable decline of basic services and with it the opportunity for human capital development. The 2 million new souls added since Martyn first wrote his article have less access now to a health or education service than their parents or grandparents did.

It is true that successive Australian administrations have allocated considerable treasure towards strengthening the capacity to deliver services but as Martyn correctly points out, not in a manner that has benefitted the common man, woman or child in any tangible way.

From where I sit that looks very much like neglect and it could be argued, with bloody minded stupidity thrown in for good measure.

I am not laying this outcome entirely at Australia’s feet, that would be ridiculous, but it is painfully obvious that it has not helped in any intelligent way. And that is exemplified by the fact that the modus operandi has changed very little over forty plus years despite the end results screaming failure, failure and more failure.

The crux of the matter is that Papua New Guineans know very well what the solutions should look like however that doesn’t necessarily fit the received wisdom in Canberra.

As other commentators have correctly pointed out, it is time to listen to those who live there, those who know and to empower them to lead and drive sustainable solutions.

Philip Fitzpatrick

This is worth a re-run I reckon Keith.

I can't see that anything has changed since 2012 except for getting a lot worse.

Penny Wong, at least, needs to read it.

Simon Merton

Thank you, Martyn. You make me proud.

Wilfred Mainumbu

I think Australia should relax the visa process a bit for business purpose only. We have to toughen our systems too before we ask Australia to relax theirs.

I also have good Australian friends. Papua New Guinea must clean it's backyard first. If Fijians and other Pacific islanders can conduct themselves orderly and abide by the rule of law why not we PNGeans do the same.

Simple things like traffic rules are broken, running through redlights, taking number plates off the vehicle and the list goes on.

General order is lacking. Asking Australia to relax the visa process won't solve our problems.

I am always ashamed when PNGean causing trouble in Australia because I have good Australian friends.

Laurie Meintjes

Regina - Under a qualification of generalisation, you profess gratitude "for the few like KJ, Phil Fitzpatrick, Barbara Short and others who still love PNG, despite everything".

Generalisations aside, I think you will find that a great many of the readers of and contributers to PNG Attitude have real affection for PNG and her people, and I count myself among them. We are not a 'few'.

Many of us invested time and energy in serving the people of PNG, and happily so, and I suspect that most would do so again in a flash if they could find the replay button and revisit the past.

Bob Cleland

Well said Martyn. Sometimes I despair at the actions and comments of Australians in high places. Paternalism and condescension live on.

And good for you, Peter Aimos, for pointing out that PNG was never a colony of Australia.

With most Australians believing it was, maybe that has something to do with current attitudes.

PNG Vision

Well put Martyn, you played your part.

Michael Dom

This is good stuff Martyn.

Nou Vada

Ka-booom! Good work, Comrade!

Peter Aimos

Well phrased Martyn! Australians, by and large are a lovely people and society.

However, as you’ve rightly expounded, it is their government’s policy towards PNG, often made with little or no sensitivity to our cultural and social settings, that has at times led to friction and even seen the recent rise in ‘anti-Australianism’.

Just one observation though. You asserted that Australia was once ‘our coloniser’. However, contrary to mainstream understanding and acceptance of this view, the fact is that Australia at no time ever colonised either British Papua or German New Guinea.

Papua became a British Protectorate in the year 1884, and four years later it was formally annexed as British New Guinea.

After Federation, Britain entrusted Australia to manage its claims over the colony (Papua). In 1949 it was dissolved as a political entity when it was amalgamated with the former German New Guinea territory.

During World War 1, Australia assumed occupancy over German New Guinea and when hostilities ended, Australia was given a mandate to administer both colonies by the League of Nations.

Do note the key phrases here being, ‘entrusted Australia to manage’ and ‘mandate to administer’.

Craige Brown

Great article by Martyn.

David Kitchnoge

You've nailed it Martyn. Congratulations!

Regina Dorum

Thank you Martyn. About time for Australians to check their ignorance.

I am now generalising and I am grateful for the few like KJ, Phil Fitzpatrick, Barbara Short and others who still love PNG, despite everything.

Big thanks to you. may God bless you for your efforts, and yours too Martyn.

Richard Clarke

Spot on, Martyn. Keep it up!

Noel Pascoe

Great summary by the man. Let's hope they listen n take note n change.

Corney K Alone

Thanks Martyn. Many of us PNG Attitude readers are with you.

Barbara - You nailed it with your comments. We feel (deeply) and know what you're saying.

Mrs Barbara Short

Thank you Martyn, for this well written and well thought out article.

Let's hope that it will help to foster better relationships between PNG and Australia, especially at the business and government level.

I'm sure you already know that, at the personal level, there are many wantoks "down under" who care a lot for their "brothers and sisters" and their "sons and daughters" in PNG.

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