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PNG & Australia: Don’t be shy, say what you think


Neighbours & friendsMANY OF US IN AUSTRALIA are willing to offer advice to Papua New Guinea and especially criticism when our own house is hardly in order.

What criticism we do level at our own government with respect to Papua New Guinea is focused on their inept handling of the relationship between the two separate and sovereign nations.

Apart from that we are critical of the plundering activities of Australian resource developers in Papua New Guinea.

However, the major basis of our concerns is what we perceive to be the failure of successive Papuan New Guinean governments to fulfil the promises of 1975.  Apart from the politicians there is seldom criticism of the Papua New Guinean people.

In fact, the pages of PNG Attitude are loaded with contributions extolling ordinary citizens.  In simple terms, we comment because we want to help.  Perhaps we should be more aware of the sovereign nature of our relationship.

Most of the advice and criticism stems from a genuine concern about Papua New Guinea and its people, although there is also a significant element of cynicism from the ‘I told you so’ brigade.

The concern stems from past or current associations with Papua New Guinea.  Often the commentators left Papua New Guinea close to or shortly after 1975 and haven’t been back since.  There is a feeling that these people, no matter how genuine their concern, are not really qualified to offer advice because things have changed so much. 

And, dare I say it some of the regular Australian contributors do tend to sound a tad patronising from time to time.  I wouldn’t exclude myself from this charge.  One can only imagine some of the comments that Keith refuses to publish.

However, with all the information now available on social media, this point may not be so relevant anymore; in this era of information overload we all offer advice on other countries that we’ve never visited and on topics for which we have no first-hand experience.

As watchers of Papua New Guinea, these old timers see trends developing that are worrying and they have difficulty not voicing their opinions.  The most recent events surrounding the persecution of ‘witches’, the rise of Christian fundamentalism and the problem with the supply of safe drugs are cases in point.

The aim of PNG Attitude is to foster and facilitate the relationship between Australians and Papua New Guineans and it does a very good job in this respect, perhaps more so than any other blog on the web.  It is a very effective counter balance to the poor state of Australian media reporting on Papua New Guinea.

However, one can’t help feeling that the balance of comment, although vastly improved in recent years, is still a little bit one-sided.  That is, we talk much more about what’s going on in Papua New Guinea than we do about what Australia is doing, especially where it has an impact on Papua New Guinea.

Sometimes I can’t help thinking that our comments are akin to a family discussing what the rowdy next door neighbours are doing without realising that our prissy attitude is just as bad as the antics of the unruly Joneses.

Papua New Guineans are generally not wont to criticise their friends and wantoks.  This is a topic much discussed on PNG Attitude and I think the consensus is that it has its roots in the communistic nature of traditional Papua New Guinean society.  It would be nice sometimes if this were not the case.

Australia continues to make mistakes in its dealings with Papua New Guinea and some of those mistakes are stupid and poorly thought out.  We also take advantage of Papua New Guinea and ride roughshod over its sensibilities.  These things need to be highlighted, not by those few concerned Australians but by Papua New Guineans themselves.

Australia as a dispenser of ‘wisdom’ and Papua New Guinea as a compliant receiver is not a healthy position in any debate.  What we need is more comment about what is going on in Australia by Papua New Guineans.

Of any country in the world qualified to criticise Australia Papua New Guinea must be at the forefront, perhaps more so than Indonesia.  It also has the resources to do the job.

Not only does Papua New Guinea receive Australian media, especially television, its citizens are frequent visitors to the country.  It is indisputable that Papua New Guineans know more about Australia than Australians know about Papua New Guinea.

Contrary to what many people think, well measured criticism results in respect.  Indonesia’s criticism of Australian spying and the treatment of refugees have engendered a greater respect of Indonesians among Australians.  Indonesia has demonstrated that it is not prepared to be bullied by an ill-informed reactionary, racist and arrogant Australian government.

If Papua New Guinea ramped up its criticism of Australia it would earn the same sort of respect. The mirror that would be offered might be very educational indeed.  And, of course, one of the best places to do this is in the pages of the widely-read PNG Attitude.  


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Trevor Freestone

Everyone seems to forget that our nearest neighbour is West Papua. If a young woman was tortured, raped and then murdered in Australia or America there would be outraged expressed in all the media throughout the world.

Half a million innocent victims including young women and children have been tortured,raped and killed in West Papua.

Hardly a mention has been made of this in any media. The ABC has done stories on this topic but these stories have not resulted in any positive action by anyone.

Even the recent report in PNG Attitude only received three comments showing that its old news and everyone seems to be tired of hearing about it.

My letters to the Foreign Affairs Department produce such comments as Indonesia is a sovereign nation and its none of our business. Julie Bishop even praised Indonesia for the way they were dealing with West Papua.

Everyone in Australia,Papua New Guinea and the World should be ashamed of their lack of concern for the poor children who are being raped and tortured in West Papua. All the problems in Australia and PNG are nothing compared to the reported problems being encountered daily by the innocent in West Papua.

Corney Korokan Alone

Another excellent article for discussion, Phil. Thanks, one of our rare true Aussie friends.

It's a documented fact that, the best way to sort any problem is to graduate from the fear of bruising one's ego and talk frankly face-to-face.

It cuts down on all the mountain of bullshit and saves everyone's time, energy and effort.

I applaud the Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill and his government for banning "visa on arrival" for Australians. We will be silly to waste years talking about the same thing for kangaroo years.

One thing Australians must realize is that, some Papua New Guineans have been to the same schools that they have been too, are reading the same stuff online (thanks to internet) - and from non-traditional sources, so they must get off the idea that Papua New Guineans are still to be lectured to in all facets of life.

The culture of accountability and established process management systems may not have been documented and stored in our cultural archives, but they were practised by our great-great-grand parents in the simplest ways that they carried themselves in discharge of responsibilities.

Virtues like honesty, respect for others, equity and what have you. Just because the failings and abuses of our leaders are glossed over and broadcast widely by Australian media, we should never be conveniently categorized as a failed state.

Yes, that is not to say we don’t need assistance and support from “real Australian consultants” (unfortunately not fresh graduates) to train and institutionalize processes.

I applaud what the Queensland Parliamentary Speaker and her staff are doing to bring some sense into the processes and systems in our National Parliament.

There are numerous areas Australia is and rightly credited for in PNG’s progress as a nation. We appreciate those assistance and support. But, hello, one needs to adopt a matured approach in dealing with a 39 year-old kid who has a mind of her own.

Despite the so-called diplomatic rhetoric’s on Australia’s stance with Indonesia on the West Papuan issue, we are optimistic that she will pull an “East Timor” on Indonesia very soon. Former Prime Minister, John Howard, is still alive in the political elite cycles. With a Hillary Clinton Presidential looming in the US, we feel the time is ripe for another Clinton magic in this part of the world.

I feel strongly that Australia should seriously consider withdraw her boomerang aid to PNG in 2015 as her 40th anniversary gift. This will help us adopt a "President Paul Kagame spirit and boldness" in growing up and becoming an adult. One has to look at the phenomenal legacy of this Rwandan leader to appreciate and lead a nation to self-sufficiency and economic independence.

James Paul

I have lived in Australia for almost 3 years now . I used to think differently of Australia, especially of their mistakes to PNG as mentioned by Phil.

One of the millions of things PNG has yet to learn and get it right is the greed of politicians and senior bureaucrats to side-pocket personal benefits before facilitating development and negotiations.

Greed at high level is blindfolding leaders to make strong and respectable decisions, and that is why Australia and others will always look down on us.

The recent ban on Australians to get a tourist visa on arrival. This was one of the bargains requested by PNG in exchange for Australia to set up its prison (well we think it's a prison) operations on Manus.

What a cheap bargain! Does PNG have any better deals which are of greater benefit to its wider population?

Indonesia has used its opportunity of the very same subject matter to make its deals clear and strong with Australia.

Indonesia and PNG are obviously on the upper hand of the deal because of Australia's desperate need, yet PNG is blind enough to be the follower, all because the leaders are selfish and shy.

We will never get it right until our leaders can prove to be on par with Australian leaders. A Queensland Minister lost his ministry for failure to pay a $50 (or PGK130) parking ticket fine, yet PNG politicians can steal millions of kina and get promoted, even to the highest office in country.

Mrs Barbara Short

Thanks Phil.

Yes, I haven't been back since 1985 but that has mainly been due to my poor health. But I have kept in touch with many of my former students and so have heard a lot about what is going on.

My present concern about the medicines is probably due to the fact that one of my former students was sick for 10 years and the medicines did her no good. She was told to just try to eat good food. She survives on one meal a day - and tries to grow her own fruit and vegetables, but life is a constant struggle.

I am also disappointed that some Australians now consider PNG a "failed state" and believe that we should just leave them to themselves to sort out their problems and get on with our own lives.

They have forgotten what PNG has done for Australia. They do not know any Papua New Guinea people. Pity!

Kevin O'Regan

Phil, good article and very close to my feelings exactly. I have a helpless feeling of disappointment over the asylum issues and promises made for Manus.

Australia made some very rash promises including a scoping survey for the Lae-Madang Highway which has been closed because of bridge wash outs on and off for the past two months. Why hasn't this work commenced?

Australia is bringing in a floating hotel to house workers and the Manus guest house and hotel operators are left high and dry.

Australian contractors and equipment on earthworks for the extensions. Gagging news from Manus. Where is Tony Abbott, where is Julie Bishop, that they cannot or are not willing to at least pencil in a visit.

Their silence and absence from even showing an interest in PNG and issues here stinks. They are showing both their arrogance and their ignorance.

Julie was full of what the former Labor government's shortcomings were, but now nothing but deafening silence.

I am very disappointed that the connection between Australia and her nearest neighbour is doomed.

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