IT’S been quite a ride since prime minister Peter O'Neill came into office and advocated a strengthening of the already strong relationship bond with Australia – and this past 12 months has presented some particular challenges.
Australian government moves to announce the establishment of a new diplomatic post in Bougainville led to angry Papua New Guinean government protests and a ban (later lifted) put in place to stop Australian passport holders visiting the autonomous province.
Mr O’Neill also wanted Australia to agree to some form of relaxed visa for PNG nationals visiting our southern neighbour – a request that Australia, despite its important strategic interests across the Coral Sea – saw fit to largely ignore.
Australia bluntly told O'Neill they ain't changing any visa arrangement; its only concession was to enable online applications.
Meanwhile the Manus island asylum seeker detention centre was beginning to receive customers as part of Australia’s effort to stop people smugglers boating people from Indonesia to Australia.
An asylum seeker died in the Australian-operated detention centre in a riot, triggering an international outcry that has not died down.
Not long after the Bougainville diplomatic post spat, Australia’s high commissioner to PNG was recalled well before her term expired. The Australian foreign minister, despite being asked directly by journalists, gave no explanation.
Peter O'Neill then called for a review of Torres Strait border arrangements between both countries, announcing an eminent persons’ group to look into provisions announced just before PNG’s independence.
Just this week we have learned that three Australian security guards have been accused of drugging and raping a PNG national working at Manus island detention centre. Wilson Security, the company contracted to provide security, flew the accused out of the country before the police could investigate the matter.
Manus Island police gave a deadline of 4:30 yesterday afternoon for the three suspects to return to Manus. Otherwise police said they would arrest detention centre managers for obstructing the course of justice. Late yesterday this had not happened.
In recent years there have been increasing calls for Australia to take action about the huge amount of PNG taxpayers money that disappears south to be laundered in Australia.
A documentary by the Australian SBS program, Dateline, showed a prominent Australian lawyer apparently advising on how to get corrupt money out of PNG. Dateline quoted the Australian Federal Police as saying that more than A$1.2 billion in corrupt money has been lost from PNG to Australia.
Meanwhile, in PNG, court cases alleging corruption against the prime minister and senior public servants are challenging the entire structure of government, law enforcement and the justice system.
Then the government seemed to have found the solution by bringing in a 400-year old Bible from the United States which managed to capture the imagination of our seven million people. This was part of the Speaker of Parliament’s effort to restore what he call's “the Godly principle to help forge a strong Christian country”.
There’s even been a tentative embracing of Zionism with Israeli flags floating around. Is PNG set to move towards becoming a religious state?
Whatever our future, it looks like being a great time for fireworks – especially in the PNG-Australia relationship.