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A letter to Dear Mister Prime Minister….

Wakpi_EmmaEMMA WAKPI

FOREWORD

To our friends in Australia; you have the advantage of a good education and knowledge of world politics and conventions to help you make informed ethical decisions according to your world view.

To me the ethics of a processing centre in Manus and its justification by the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments is secondary compared to the blatant disregard to courtesy and civility that should have been extended to a sovereign and independent nation whose cultural and socio-economic makeup is so very complicated and counter cultural to the Western worlds' understanding.

We cannot be measured by the same standards because we are just not comparable at that level; we have our issues that we have to deal with in order to be accepted by the global in-crowd.

The majority of our people are illiterate and rural based. Their lives are so independent of the state system that if the government should collapse tomorrow they will be unaffected.

The task we have is to try to unite our people to develop a national identity and in doing so provide basic services (so basic that you take them for granted - water, education, roads, health etc) that will contribute to their well-being and create an awareness of a greater world.

The fact is that, right now, roughly 85% of PNG’s population has no or little knowledge of what is currently happening but, in these coming weeks, and will most definitely hear filtered versions exaggerated beyond truth.

Although PNG is a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, we do not have the systems, the western perspective, the capacity and the resources to be able to sustain this commitment.

Our people’s reaction will be to grasp at what we understand and react to - money, power, land. This will be so different to the Western way of thinking that we are likely to be categorised as "difficult", "dangerous", "backward" etc.

The prime ministers of both countries knew this and knew that there would be no great outcry in PNG; and that if there were, it would be from the minority of educated people who would be unable to sustain their opinion and reaction due to a lack of understanding of the issue by the majority of the population.

Peter O’Neill and Kevin Rudd knew it would be a hose down and went for it. They exposed PNG's vulnerability to their advantage.

PNG became a pawn in the political power struggle of a selfish few and got pulled into a domestic Australian problem. As a result we were battered with negative and unfair labels. Please understand that we do not want your contempt or your pity but rather your appreciation of how very different our worlds are and how we can work toward creating a better dialogue so we really understand each other.

Australians, if you want to be our friends don't push your agendas and expectations at us, instead help to facilitate our agendas so we get to a point where we can really be of help to you. It may take a while and will cause frustrations but real friends stick it out no matter what.

I have written a letter based very loosely on how an average Papua New Guinean might react to this current situation.

Please keep in mind that we are many different cultures and that this is a very general perspective of one highlands culture.

But this is the reality we deal with as the global world marches ever onward. As a Western thinker how would you react to the views being expressed?

________________

Dear Mister Prime Minister,

I HEARD TODAY from someone who came from town that you had a big kibung with the Australian Prime Minister and that he was going to pay you big, big money to have some outside people come live on Manus Island.

The man said maybe someday you will let them take over our land. He said they won’t be like the other foreigners that come do business here and go back to their country but will be like the Saina man who will come and live with us, and maybe take over from us.

At the moment I don’t know what to think because the council elections are on and my people are involved in a fight with the other tribe, and things are pretty wild here but sir they say that maybe we have to give up some land. Is this true Mr Prime Minister? How many million will you give me for my land? You got millions from Australia so well it’s only fair - I want my million before you bring those people hia.

But anyway, Mr Prime Minister, I heard you got some money already from Australia. Eh, Prime Minister, sir, you said free education - but no school in my place, you said free health care - but no aid post in my place.

Please fly in your helicopter to me and put a school and aid post up hia, please.  The man from town said something about process and protocol but I don’t understand. You said school and hospital so I am waiting to see you put the buildings up and bring the teachers and nurses to me.

The man from town mentioned too that some of our save manmeri are not happy with you because you didn’t follow hausman rules at the haus tambaran and did one man decision. Mr. Prime Minister I don’t really know what happens at the haus tambaran (except that you have a lot of kibungs) and I don’t really care; as long as I have my land, a house to sleep in and feel I am in control of my situation, what you do in Moresby is for you big men.

But Mr Prime Minister if I see strange people coming to my land trying to push me around, I tell you sir I will take action!

Also Mr Prime Minister, that man said Australia was talking bad about us. He said they said PNG is a really bad place. Sir that made me really mad; my village is good, my food is good, I know my way of life and it is comforting to me – how can they say it’s a bad place? Hey yu Australia, don’t push your standard on me, I don’t like your style.  I like my own style. 

Mr Prime Minister please tell our dia gud fren Australia, I know we have problems; big, big problems with our young people, with the breakdown of our cultural ways, with respect and civility but Mr Prime Minister, you, me and other leader men (and now they say women must be involved too, so okay women too), we can sit and talk.

We know why our people are doing these things so we must take action. You with your big people up there in Moresby and me with my little people down here in the community. That million Australia is giving you, whose hand are you going to put it in? Will it come from that hand into our community? Will I see schools, roads, aid posts?

Anyway Mr Prime Minister what were we talking about? Oh about those people coming to Manus. Well Manus seems so far away, and the man said maybe you and Mr Rudd are playing politics. It’s all a game; yu save “grisim han long grisim man” – I get that, I am running for council so I had to do that but I only know how to play it with my own people, other people I don’t know…it’s funny to think Australia used the same technique. They’re not so different after all…

Okay Mr Prime Minister I have to stop here, a mother is having problems with birth so I have to send our young men two hours to the mission station to call for mission helicopter to come take her to hospital. We probably have to give coffee bags as no cash on hand.

Also they are fighting over the ballot boxes so I had better get that sorted out. You know council elections became serious now because they say big money is coming down our way to the local gavman. When we have mani in our hands, we can buy stuff and do stuff. People talk about plan and budget but what is that?

I didn’t go to school so I don’t know but if mani is around maybe I can get some and make life good for my community. Yu said in the news that Australia will pay PNG big mani if we get people, so if more mani comes to my community good; just don’t let those people come take my land.

Goodbye, Prime Minister, Sir,

Your faithful supota,

Hauslain Man

Comments

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Emma Wakpi

Thank you all for your comments. To Paul yes both our countries want a fair go and I am really surprised at how both our leaders are handling this situation. They know better than this surely. To Barbara totally agree with you, and hope that a regional consultation can be convened soon.

Felix Kipalan

Thank you Emma, it was really good reading / perspective.

Fiona Hukula

Mi nogat planti toktok. Emma Wakpi, you are a brilliant writer!

Francis Sina Nii

Well done Emma and excellent suggestion Barbara. I fully support your idea.

The boat people issue is a regional problem that affects Indonesia, Malaysia and even Nauru has been drawn into it as well.

Hence a regional consultative meeting is the best pathway to finding the best, collective and regional solution to the problem instead of a PNG-Australia solution. Excellent idea Barbara.

Mrs Barbara Short

Thank you, Emma. You have expressed the PNG sentiments well.

Yes, I want a fair go for everyone, which includes the people of PNG and the refugees.

I understood how refugees were housed in Manus while they were processed to see if they were genuine refugees, then they were sent to other countries that would accept them.

But to ask PNG to take boat-loads of refugees, bound for Australia, and place them in Manus and state they could never come to Australia, was wrong. It put all the burden on PNG which, for many reasons, is very wrong.

It was done to stop the people smugglers but it hasn't worked.

The Australian government must work at other ways of stopping the people smugglers and stopping all the boat-loads of refugees arriving in Australia.

There should be important meetings set up between all countries involved - Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and so on, and ways worked out to put a stop to the wholesale movement of people through many countries to their main destination, Australia.

These people have heard from their wantoks that in Australia, if you work hard, you can make a good life for yourself and that we are a relatively safe country in which to live with people from many racial, cultural and religious backgrounds, all trying to work together for the common good.

The Manus solution must be stopped as soon as possible before there is more heart-break.

Look at the riots in Nauru. There could be something even worse in Manus if boat-load after boat-load are sent there.
__________

Five years ago today, Barbara made the first of what has been a plenitude of sympathetic, supportive, intelligent and experience-based comments on PNG Attitude. We thank her and salute her - KJ

Paul Oates

Well done, Emma. You have effectively highlighted the problems from PNG's point of view.

Everyone needs to understand that there is a mutual lack of knowledge and appreciation about each other's countries. The decision to embroil PNG in the Australian asylum seeker debacle is one the leaders of both our countries have made.

The current Australian PM, who nobody voted for as leader, usurped power from his predecessor. However that is what she did to him previously. He therefore does not have a current mandate as Australian PM. Wait a minute, that sounds rather familiar doesn't it?

Mr Rudd is desperate to win the next general election at any cost even if it means demeaning anyone who might get in the way and get hurt as collateral damage. What does that say about him and his backers?

The average Australian, is there is one, is only just starting to find out and try to understand a little more about PNG. The same could really be said about the average PNGian if there is one, when he or she thinks about Australia.

The situation is not being helped by unscrupulous press reports and journalists who try to ramp up public opinion in order to sell their employer's newspapers.

The people of both our countries just want a 'fair go.'

It begs the question: What is it our leaders want?

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