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PNG beware: Australia takes a step into the unknown


What do you really know about meTHE POLLING BOOTHS HAVE JUST OPENED in eastern Australia and millions of people are about to cast their votes – inevitably to change the country’s government to a Coalition whose substance nobody really knows much about. Ditto for its leader, Tony Abbott.

The early signs have not been promising, especially the Coalition’s decision to swap aid dollars for infrastructure at home; one of the world’s richest countries effectively shrugging its shoulders at its global responsibilities.

From tomorrow the Papua New Guinea government is going to have to deal with an Australian leadership which, last time round, showed considerable contempt for PNG and the Pacific.

This time round, if inbound foreign minister Julie Bishop finds herself distracted by other pressing international issues, the Pacific may have to get used to being ignored.

Ms Bishop has said she will visit PNG during the course of next week. We’ll see. If she does, that will be a promising sign. But we’ll all be looking at the follow-up. Promises are easy; action is complex.

I make those observations in full recognition that PNG and the Pacific may not care too much about whether Australia – which is regarded by the island states as being increasingly irrelevant to their future – seeks to exercise deputy sheriff-type oversight over regional affairs.

As China and the US contest this part of the world, so Melanesia in particular knows that it is in a strengthening position to leverage its global position and its growing resource base to tread a path of its own.

Meanwhile, to a somewhat more light-hearted anecdote from Peter Kranz:

Elections in PNG are fun (and dangerous).

Officials try to stop multiple voting by stamping your hand with indelible ink once you've voted.

There were blokes outside the voting stations doing a roaring trade in wiping the ink clear with dry-cleaning fluid for just a few toea. Quite enterprising I thought.

Some of my staff had a competition running for who could vote the most times. The winner boasted he'd managed five!

Of course this would never happen in Australia. Or would it?


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Peter Kranz

I voted early at my local primary school. The cleaners had left a warning sign outside the main hall (where the polling booths are) as there had been a water spill.

"Warning - hazardous area ahead"

Never a truer word...

Trevor Freestone

Hopefully Bob Carr will no longer be foreign minister for Australia. He had no idea about what was happening in PNG or West Papua and couldn't care less.

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