Understand PNG – and know this plan is disastrous
Three debut poets: (3) Jessica Dobb

Kevin Rudd, you're not a good friend of PNG

MARTYN NAMORONG | The Interpreter | Lowy Institute

Martyn Namorong, March 2013IN MARCH 2008, KEVIN RUDD made his first official visit to Papua New Guinea to build ties, the first such visit by an Australian prime minister in 11 years.

Out of that visit was forged a special affinity and respect Papua New Guineans had for Kevin Rudd, perhaps best illustrated by the naming of a baby from the highlands after the Australian prime minister.

Papua New Guinean relationships are best defined by the cultural narrative of tribalism. By his special consideration of PNG in 2008, Rudd had made himself a member of the tribe.

It is therefore unsurprising that Rudd's extraordinary request for Papua New Guinea to resettle refugees was accepted easily by men who had grown up in that tribal context. It is not unusual for the tribe in Papua New Guinea to protect and assist a tribesman even though such decisions could have negative consequences. And Kevin Rudd is no ordinary member of the tribe, he is a Big Man – the Prime Minister of Australia.

This may be an oversimplification of the decision-making process, but when one looks at how this decision was made, one finds similarities in PNG culture. To begin with, there was no consultation or public debate in PNG prior to the announcement.

PNG's big men, along with Rudd, made an announcement that shocked everyone. This is typical of how big men sitting in a tribal house make decisions that affect the lives of everyone else.

In essence, Kevin Rudd was party to a decision-making process was undemocratic and detrimental to the development of democratic institutions and processes in Papua New Guinea. It is not known if the Department of Justice and Attorney General were involved in advising the Government of PNG. It seems to have been a rushed decision that has not been well thought through.

In Papua New Guinea, tribal violence arises when a stupid decision is made to protect a trouble maker at the expense of the tribe. Papua New Guinea now has to deal with the negative consequences of this decision just so that Kevin Rudd's dog whistle politics about stopping the boat people wins him the next election. PNG may help solve Rudd's election woes, but it has created problems for itself.

In 2012 Papua New Guinea was ranked 156 out of 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index. The capital, Port Moresby, has been ranked the second most unliveable city on earth just ahead of Dhaka. The country has a high population growth rate, government services and infrastructure are crumbling, 80% of the country lives in rural areas and youth unemployment is high.

Perhaps these are the negative facts about Papua New Guinea that Kevin Rudd hopes will deter boat people from travelling to Australia. As criminologist Kristian Lasslett wrote, this may also indicate a lot about how Rudd and politicians in Canberra view PNG:

...not as a country rich in culture, biodiversity and history, but as a hostile, primitive backwater populated by mean, uneducated people – just the sort of thing that will 'turn back the boats.'

If this is indeed true, it confirms the view amongst some Papua New Guineans that Australia is the racist bully In the Pacific and reaffirms my view that Australia is not a good friend to Papua New Guinea.

It is hardly surprising therefore that there is much opposition throughout Papua New Guinea towards Australia's plans to dump its refugee problems on PNG soil

Martyn Namorong is a multi-award winning writer, blogger and television presenter


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Colin Huggins

Martyn - you are neither right or wrong with your analysis of this situation.

The comments of you and Warwick Brandes are very good, but I suspect a bit on the anti-Aussie.

I think Australia pays most for the benefit of PNG, and regrettably via your leaders and senior bureaucrats come back here for purchases of homes, etc.

Now what do you think of that? Somare and Co etc. Go to Clifton Gardens, north 20 odd kms of Cairns and have a look. You will be surprised - BMWs and Mercedes (top range) even left in the streets! I have seen it courtesy of an ex-resident of Lae, and born in Lae.

If you were in Brisbane on your visit to address the PNG problems, you may have had the opportunity to visit ANZAC Square, where you may have seen a statue - WW2 - the "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel" assisting a wounded Australian soldier.

You might also be interested in knowing that school Australians knowledge regarding PNG is what happened in WW2, classes here do history lessons and I have seen many kids of all nationalities (now Aussies) taking copious notes of what is written on the plaques under the statues.

So school children here "should" know some history regarding PNG and Australia?

As you have mentioned - look at the cartoons in the Australian press - today one had Kevin in bed with William, Katie and a baby! Silly but funny, I believe in the Murdoch rag - The Sydney Telegraph.

Martyn - you are not right on this nor are you wrong.

A bit of both one may say. I do recall that the first visit by PM Kevin Rudd and the naming of a baby bought great glee in comments long ago.

PM Rudd was the "hero". You can't have it both ways, or can you?

Peter Kranz

For Kevin Rudd to ignite the fuse of racial and nationalistic denigration of PNG by ignorant Australians shows that Martyn has a good point.

Rudd is prepared to sacrifice his much-vaunted relationship with PNG for cynical exploitation to try and win an electoral advantage.

Just imagine this in the reverse. PNG is faced by the frightening prospect of a few thousand Muslims seeking refuge in PNG, so manages to broker a deal with Australia whereby they can all be sent to Groote Eylandt.

Equal partners? My arse.

This is colonial-era bullying and bribery.

Martyn Namorong

Thanks Warwick for your feedback. I believe this was also a major blunder on the part of PNG's politicians.

One only has to look at the cartoons in the Australian press to see negative stereotypes of PNG, further perpetuating the myth that Martyn Namorong and his kind still live as savages

Warwick Brandes

Hi Martyn,

I have been trying to find words for these hasty arrangements and after reviewing the Regional Resettlement arrangement between Australia and Papua New Guinea, find the whole process an ill conceived election winning ploy by PM Rudd.
PNG is not the "hostile, primitive backwater populated by mean, uneducated people" but it is an easy illusion to sell to potential illegal boat arrivals.
PNG Attitude has quite a few contributors who are expats and PNG Nationals with experience in Australian attitudes and for that we are thankful as they tend to try and keep the story straight.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of Australian population have little idea of PNG culture, society and family structures. Their basic knowledge is that of WW2 commitment and contribution the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels made.
With such a naive voter population, the sell is easy.
Interestingly, the Australian Opposition Leader Abbot is a supporter of same policy and hence demonstrates his complete ignorance of PNG society.
His deputy leader Julie Bishop seems equally ill equipped with understanding of PNG regularly using Moresby as a stage to proclaim her credentials and denigrate the current Australian government (regardless of who is the leader) for their contributions and investments in PNG.
Politics in Australia has become extremely grubby and personal. Voters are tiring of such behaviour yet in the new 24/7 news cycle with twitter and Facebook, this seems the new norm.
I suppose the party that reinvents the message in a friendlier and productive manner will gain popularity and improve the lot for all those unfortunate observers of this current style of politics.
I see the resettlement arrangement will evolve considerably prior to the detail due 31 July 2013 for new bilateral Memorandum of understanding to replace existing memorandum of understanding in effect for the Manus Island Processing Centre.
Thank you Marytn for finding the words in your usual effective style.

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