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Do nothing Australia is a backslider in the Pacific

Michael Dom hsMICHAEL DOM

THE Special Agriculture and Business Lease saga in Papua New Guinea is an issue that might be feasible for Australia to tackle politically.

One can assume that products from some of this illegal timber trade must end up in Australia.

And as a leader within the South East Asian region, Australia could help to apply pressure on the governments of those countries where the logging conglomerates are based.

But there is a reason why Australia will not step in on the SABL issue, no matter how many diggers the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels carried out of the jungle.

It doesn’t really consider itself part of the Pacific.

New Zealanders live in the Pacific, Australians do not.

This is not about geopolitics, it is about society and Kiwis see themselves as part of the Pacific community.

Australians - the vast majority of whom are not represented on PNG Attitude - are disinclined to be part of the Pacific community.

They would prefer to be considered pseudo-western and predominantly Caucasian with a mismatched cacophony of multicultural affiliations, preferably to non-Pacific migrants.

On a street in Adelaide, when Australians meet me, they seem more surprised than bumping into a two-metre tall, black as night Sudanese.

But who arrived in this region first?


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Peter Kranz

Another quote from Abbott's Quadrant essay showing his depth of knowledge and sympathy for PNG....

"Unlike France or Britain, we lack a colonial past to complicate the present."

Peter Kranz

Ex PM Tony Abbott, in an essay from this month's Quadrant magazine.

"As a very early sign of good faith to the Indonesians, I had West Papuan activists, who’d arrived in the Torres Strait claiming asylum, quietly returned to Papua New Guinea. A protest boat seeking to sail from Australia to Indonesian West Papua was prevailed upon never to leave."

Peter Kranz

It gets worse. Alexander Downer was Howard's Foreign Minister who did the dirty on East Timor.

When he left government he became an advisor to Woodside Petroleum, the company exploiting the Timorese oil and gas reserves.

He also famously got photographed wearing a pair of fishnet stockings.

Peter Kranz

Hey Steve Ciobo MP, Indonesia isn't in the Pacific and Papua New Guinea is barely 5 km from our northern coastline. You should know, you were in Port Moresby in October.

Peter Kranz

In a stunning display of hypocrisy, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has urged other countries to abide by the rule of international law, specifically the UN Convention on the Law of Sea.

He was referring of course to China's aggressive expansion in the south China sea. But this pointedly ignores the same UN convention when it comes to East Timor's maritime boundary.

In case you are not familiar with the story, Australia did a deal with Indonesia before East Timor's independence which gave Australia rights to oil and gas reserves off the coast of East Timor which it is now exploiting.

John Howard's government refused to recognise the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice which East Timor had appealed to.

Instead it jostled East Timor into a series of temporary resource sharing arrangements – all of which short change East Timor out of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue.

Further, Australia used underhanded tactics to do so. The Australian government is accused of using an aid project as a guise to bug the Timorese cabinet room so it could spy on Timor-Leste’s leaders and officials during negotiations.

This matter was to be heard before the International Court, but before this could happened Australia raided the offices of the lawyer representing East Timor, and removed the passport of a key witness, preventing him from testifying.

Australia now has an entrenched reputation as the regional bully. You can't get mush lower than that.

And to add insult to injury, Australian senior government officials have been only too keen to suck up to Indonesia and ignore Papua New Guinea in recent foreign policy announcements.

Steve Ciobo (Minister for International Development and the Pacific) even this week again repeated the old canard that Indonesia is Australia's nearest neighbour and closest ally, thus ignoring Papua New Guinea and other Pacific countries and rubbing salt into the wound of West Papua's occupation which of course Australia refuses to talk about.

Chris Overland

It is difficult to disagree with Michael Dom's assessment of where Australia stands vis a vis PNG.

There appears to be no inclination on the part of politicians to tackle issues like the SABL scandal. This evidently is seen as internal business for PNG, not an issue justifying international action.

In any event, Australia's ability to take any useful action is constrained partly by the sensitivities surrounding the Manus Island detention centre and partly because the home countries of the forestry pirates almost certainly lack both the will and capacity to tackle their errant corporations.

Just look at the current imbroglio in Malaysia where the Prime Minister is under siege regarding a $A1.0 Billion "gift" from Saudi Arabia that found its way into his personal bank account. Why would anyone imagine that such a hopelessly compromised political leader would care about the dodgy doings of Malaysian companies in PNG?

I agree with Michael's assessment that Australia's self image is not that of a Pacific country. For a start, the country is so enormous in size that it is, to some degree, a world in itself.

Also, it is indeed overwhelmingly western from a cultural perspective, although that is changing quite rapidly as around half of the current legal immigrant intake is from non-Caucasian countries.

As a long term resident of Adelaide I entirely agree with Michael that the average resident would more easily recognise a person from the Sudan than from PNG. This would probably be the situation almost anywhere in Australia other than far north Queensland.

Hopefully, the Pacific countries will secure greater attention from Australia over the next few decades.

In the meantime, PNG will just have to deal with things like the SABL scandal without much in the way of recognition, let alone support or guidance, from the great and the good in Canberra.

Philip Fitzpatrick

This is an ongoing theme in Papua New Guinea.

People jump up and down and make a big fuss and then forget it and go on to the next outrage.

The government relies on this forgetfulness.

If you trawl through the PNG Attitude archives you will see issues pop up and then die. Classic example is the shonky medicine deal. Presumably the medical fraternity in PNG is now happily handing out questionable drugs.

Sooner or later someone will die from these drugs and the fuss will fire up again for a while and then die.

Remember the fuss about the Oilsearch loan? A lot of prominent commentators on PNG Attitude thought it was a wonderful deal and supported it. Now it looks like it will help bankrupt the country.

Mi ting yupela olosem longlong tru - bel bilong yupela ino sitrong.

Michael Dom

The leaders in this government allowed chainsaws to rip through the iconic posts and lintel carvings that adorned our national parliament.

Many people argued about that action on religious grounds and then quickly forgot about it. Afterall, we wouldn't want to prevent the good work God's servants now would we?

Later on others may have thought 'maski, samting kamap pinis ia, lus tingting'.

The symbolism is clear.

This government will never revoke the SABL's.

Papua New Guinean's will argue amongst themselves but do nothing to get their government to act, and eventually will accept forest destruction as being God's will.

Olgeta kirap

Rausim bun blo ‘Haus Tambaran’
Olgeta kirap
Kumul bagarap antap
Long pipia hap aien

Vikki John

The 25 page report "The Great Timber Heist: The Logging Industry in Papua New Guinea" was recently released by the Oakland Institute (USA).
The Conclusion to the report states:
"Customary landowners in PNG are largely dependent on
their land for their livelihoods. Their collective ownership
of land and natural resources is supposed to be protected
by the Constitution and other national laws. Instead, they
face arrests and law suits, whereas logging companies enjoy
apparent impunity.
This report uncovers financial practices of the logging
industry in PNG that raise important questions about the
extent of tax evasion and financial misreporting in the
sector. The report’s findings call for relevant authorities
such as PNG’s Internal Revenue Commission, the agency
in charge of collecting taxes and enforcing tax regulations,
to take action urgently to defend the interests and rights
of PNG citizens. Effective legal action to protect customary
land rights, stop the appropriation of resources, and
prevent human rights violations of the citizens is lacking.
The question is, will the government of PNG take action to
stop illegal activities, tax evasion, and other wrongdoings of
the logging industry?"
See the full report here

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