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Oz immigration targets black passengers for 'racist treatment'


Bart PhilemonBART PHILEMON AND I were at the University of Papua New Guinea together. We shared Prof Rex Mortimer’s politics honours class along with people like Rabbie Namaliu, Utula Samana and Paul Pora Schmidt.

Unlike me, who failed at my only attempt at the polls in Australia’s 1983 federal election, the year Bob Hawke became prime minister, my student colleagues of the mid-1970s – including Bart – all went on to considerable and successful political careers.

Until he was defeated in 2012, Bart was the long-serving (20 years) member for Lae in the PNG parliament, serving as Treasurer and in other cabinet roles. He was also one of the founders of the once-dominant National Alliance Party. He is now a director of Oil Search.

A calmer, more pleasant and more diplomatic person you would not meet in a day’s march.

But it turns out that on Wednesday of last week each of these attributes was sorely tested.

Bart was among all the black passengers on an Air Niugini flight to Brisbane who were lined up at the airport and had a sniffer dog set on them.

Not the white passengers, I emphasise, just the black ones.

Bart later told the media that he had never witnessed such a scene and he trenchantly criticised Australian immigration authorities for the “most blatant racism” against Papua New Guineans.

He said the flight from Port Moresby arrived at Brisbane at 4.30pm and passengers disembarked for the normal passport check.

“I got my baggage and was then going through the quarantine section, which is the last before they let you out,” Bart said.

“There was a woman in front of me. We were told to queue there and I stood behind the woman, who was Indian, but she was black.

“I stood there and all the black ones who collected their bags came and there were about 20 of us all queuing on the red carpet.

“And they put on the sniffer dog.

“There was only one white man who was in that line.

“I told the quarantine man, ‘This is really bad as there is no white person here except for a white man who’s married to a Papua New Guinean, so why are you doing this?

“He said ‘Go and check the government’ and I asked ‘Which government’.

“He went and grabbed me a document about bio-security.

“I raised my voice and said it brought me ‘right there and then back to colonial times when there were black people here and white people there’.

“I said ‘I don’t care if I get arrested or deported back to Papua New Guinea but this is black and white discrimination where all the whites are going and all the blacks are locked up here in a queue’.

“The question I want to ask is ‘Why is Australian quarantine singling out just Papua New Guineans, black skins’,” Bart said.

With this kind of treatment, together with Australia’s discriminatory visa policy against Papua New Guineans, not to mention the recent melt-down in this country’s relations with Indonesia, our near Asia-Pacific neighbours’ patience with this kind of Australian ugliness must be getting severely strained.


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Phil Fitzpatrick

Whenever I came in from the bush, unshaven and in grubby clothes and in a rush to make the connection south I invariably got done over by customs on arrival in Oz.

When things got a bit more sophisticated and I had more time to clean up, and especially after I cut off the long hair and shaved off the beard things got better.

Nowadays I don't seem to have much trouble.

The dogs are nice, anyway. Always happy to see you.

Trevor Shelley (Snr)

From what I have read it seems as though something unsavoury happened.

I am now old and wrinkled and have come in and out of the country since 1965 thousands of times and many times with PNG nationals.

Occasionally I have had problems but minor ones and in Indonesia was given a good going over twice but I can honestly say I have not seen any discrimination at Australian entry ports.

Nowadays it is actually getting harder to find true blue Aussies on the staff as they are usually manned from people from all corners of the earth. Perhaps I am not observant of my surroundings.

Jo Cooper

I feel that I need some clarification before making a judgement. Do you mean to say that white people who had something to declare were not screened and waved aside? Were you in a group towards the back? Could you please accurately describe exactly what happened. I will forward this as a complaint to Customs if it appears to be unconscionable conduct. From the wording above it's not clear to me how this played out.

Dr Momia Teariki-Tautea

I've lived in Oz since 1993 and am subjected to a check or stand on the sniffer dog line every time I declare carriage of food etc (which is 99% of the time).

Quarantine are just performing their role as per protocol I would have thought? Remember though that security agencies do profiling and automatically target whoever fits some category, i.e., colour, region of origin, political persuasion , past criminal history etc, just a thought.

Peter Kranz

Customs, as with police, rely a lot on profiling. If someone looks suspicious they are worth further investigation.

We flew from Darwin to Sydney a few years ago. Going through pre-flight screening Rose set off the metal detectors. (She was wearing a big metal belt buckle).

Other people set the alarm off as well - forgetting their mobiles, or cigarette lighters etc. They were all allowed to take off the items and go through again.

But not Rose. She was taken aside and subjected to a full naked-body search. Very humiliating.

After 15 minutes she came out of the booth crying. "Why did they do this to me?"

I looked around. She was the only black person on the flight.

Is that a coincidence?

Tanya Zeriga Alone

Get used to it. The antics by Mrs Yawari and her haul of drugs has got PNGeans on the blacklist.

But hey isn't that what we do all the time? Goilalas, Taris, Wabags, etc - we profile and judge people based on one or two miscreants.

Geoff Hancock

Further to my previous comment i would like to point out that if I thought for one minute my family was being discriminated against at the airport, I would be the first to complain.

I recently registered a complaint to Translink in Brisbane after my daughters were told by a bus driver to move to the back of the bus because they were speaking to each other in Motu which annoyed him.

Australia has very strong anti-discrimination laws and people should take advantage of these laws when the need arises.

Translink wasted no time in dealing with my complaint.

Steve W Labuan

Where do we draw the line between genuine quaratine checks and discriminatory procedures in similar/routine cases? There are particular jobs, acts and responsibilities etc that go by the rule of 'benefit of the doubt.' In such situations, reality is most often interpretedin in the eyes of the beholder. However, with the Sir Bart Philemon factor in this case, it is truely beyond all reasonable doubt that appropriate respect should have been accorded him.

Frank K Daosak

I am not surprised, it's plain racism.

Geoff Hancock

I don't think it is a racial issue generally. I often go to the airport to meet family coming down from Moresby and they can take up to an hour or more to get through customs and quarantine.

I don't envy quarantine officers in Moresby or Brisbane as large volumes of foodstuffs, including buai and daka, are coming down on every flight ... it is a thriving business.

I agree with Maureen, some people's ignorance of correct procedures are making it difficult for those who do the right thing and unfortunately people like Bart, a great laid back guy who I also knew many years ago, are being caught up in officialdom.

Arthur Smedley

Bart - Like Kevin, I also wish I had been there.

I am embarrassed and ashamed at what happened and I too apologise.

Maureen Wari

One only goes through quarantine if on the incoming card one has declared something that at times requires verifying.

If there is nothing to declare, one should not have to go through the quarantine unless instructed by officials.

We've gone through that a lot because each time we're bringing in to Australia Paradise biscuits, skinned frozen buai or pandanus mats and baskets (which I always fumigate in POM) with accompanying certification.

I will agree that at times it seems more racist than routine checks as we leave feeling offended and as if we don't know anything.

My assumption is that the actions of a few who due to lack of information or ignorance makes it difficult for the rest of us.

Mr BP, welcome to the real world!

Peter Naime

This is very sad indeed. The Opposition Leader, Hon. Belden Namah once said we don't need Australia. Why are we bowing down to them? Is it because of aid money? It is about time we should reconsider our relation with them.

Kevin O'Regan

Mr Philemon, on behalf of the white people still living and working in Papua New Guinea (Lae) I apologise on behalf of stupid ignorant rude people.

I wish I had been there...

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