A personal letter to Peter O’Neill about those police shootings
Foul Haus Tambaran monster farting on an undeserving PNG

No call for bloody crackdown in PNG, says leading Oz newspaper

Injured studentEDITORIAL | The Age (Melbourne)

THE right to peaceful protest is fundamental to any liberal democracy. Governments who fear their people and respond to demonstrations with unreasonable force are rightly condemned.

For police with automatic weapons to have shot unarmed university students – as happened in Papua New Guinea capital of Port Moresby on Wednesday – speaks volumes of the fragility in Australia's closest neighbour. There is simply no justification for this violent crackdown.

Students across PNG have engaged in a five-week boycott of their classes in an attempt to pressure Prime Minister Peter O'Neill to step aside. For two years, Mr O'Neill has prevaricated in the face of an investigation into long-standing claims of corruption.

When investigators issued an arrest warrant in 2014 to question him about millions of dollars in fraudulent payments, Mr O'Neill made sure the anti-corruption task force was disbanded, sacked the attorney-general and installed a new police chief.

When the PNG Supreme Court allowed the investigation to resume in April, the investigators found themselves again suspended.

The corruption claims levelled against the prime minister are fuelling a wider national malaise. The PNG economy is crumbling and debt is mounting after an expected boon from natural gas deposits was cut by falling global commodity prices.

Public servants have gone without pay and severe budget cuts have followed in critical sectors, such as health and education. Foreign currency is also in short supply, raising fears about imports.

On Wednesday, the tensions boiled over after students from the University of Papua New Guinea attempted to march to Parliament in support of a no-confidence motion against the O'Neill government. Police blocked their path, shooting into the crowd with bullets and tear gas. More than a dozen people were wounded – at least three critically.

Parliament was also adjourned early before the no-confidence motion could be heard. The next sitting is not until August, effectively triggering a constitutional ban on no-confidence motions, which cannot be tabled within 12 months of an election, and PNG is expected to go to the polls in July 2017.

With the police compromised and the Parliament hobbled, frustration about Mr O'Neill's belligerence has mounted. He has blamed the students and "agitators" for provoking a police response, but also conceded the event "could have been handled better". An independent and transparent investigation is urgently needed to establish what led to this outrage.

Australia offered to help. About 70 Australian Federal Police officers are already serving in PNG in mentoring roles. Mr O'Neill immediately rebuffed the offer, calling it an "internal matter". This was missed opportunity.

There is understandable sensitivity within PNG about any Australian interference, given the colonial history. But if Mr O'Neill is so sure of the police conduct, an independent inquiry would have bolstered confidence in the community.

The Turnbull government should also be more vocal in the demanding Mr O'Neill respect of the right of students to protest. Australia provides more than $550 million each year to PNG in foreign aid, but the relationship has been deeply compromised by the Manus Island detention camp.

Relying on PNG to process asylum seekers has seen Australia lose influence over the priorities for aid, and generally cowed Australia's voice about governance challenges in the country.

Instead of attempting to keep the Manus Island camp operation, Australia should not be foisting its responsibilities onto the neighbours. PNG clearly has enough problems of its own.


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Chris Overland

Susan Merrell has neatly illustrated how she and, presumably, others who support Mr O'Neill, willfully misunderstand the nature and intent of the criticism directed towards him.

The criticism is not motivated by his politics or even his distinctly hazy grasp of economic fundamentals: it is about his complete unwillingness to submit to the rule of law.

If, as he is consistently maintained, he is concerned about being "fitted up" by various un-named political enemies, surely this is a compelling reason to allow the police and judiciary to examine his situation forensically and, in so doing, vindicate him entirely?

It is possible that he is innocent of anything more than being grievously misled into signing documents that he should not have signed. A very busy minister could be relatively easily misled into signing or approving something whilst not understanding its full implications. That is not a crime, merely an example of bad judgement.

The heart of the criticism of Mr O'Neill is that he refuses to do what any honest citizen would surely do, which is to assist the police with their inquiries. By all means hire the best legal team you can get but don't then use them to explore every possible avenue to avoid even fronting up for an interview.

Protestations of innocence don't sit easily with such behaviour, they merely arouse suspicion that Mr O'Neill has something to hide.

As for critics claiming to represent the silent majority, I have not seen such claims. Anyway, the so-called silent majority never existed and doesn't now. It merely is a rhetorical device of politicians, not a reflection of reality.

Mr O'Neill can disarm his critics at a stroke, merely by sitting down (with his legal representatives beside him) to discuss the allegations against him with the police.

It's as simple as that.

Michael Dom

Keith - I heard the PM was in Paris yesterday.

Please verify the facts before posting regurgitated Facebook posts vomited up by Susan Merrell.

Samting blong yu iet long skelim.

Em liik samting ia. Yu mas stap isi isi - KJ

Paul Oates

The other side of the coin is the clearly evident, poor leadership and examples being shown to the PNG police. That this service has stooped so low is absolutely regrettable and almost impossible to understand given my previous experience of working with the RPNGC.

As a pre Independence officer of the Constabulary, the police we served with were honest and well disciplined. Kiaps could not have successfully undertaken their work without the support and help of the RPNGC.

To see the service as it is now portrayed in media photos with ill fitting camouflaged uniforms that appear to have seen better days and apparently to never have seen an iron, unpolished shoes or boots, many overweight and apparently acting like bullies, is very disappointing.

I'm sure there would be many RPNGC members who are still proud of their service and would positively respond if they were given better leadership and respect for the rule of law.

My respect for the Service I served with is undiminished but I do think today's RPNGC leaders need to take stock of where the Service is going and what that means for everyone in PNG.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I agree with Paul. The events at the university provided a perfect excuse for the downtrodden in Port Moresby to go on a rampage.

If you look at similar situations worldwide and especially in the Pacific region the same thing has happened.

Remember when the people of Solomon Islands burnt and looted all the Chinese stores in Honiara - that spun out of a protest against the government.

That it happens is an indictment of the poor quality and neglect of a government.

Michael Dom

The RPNGC are always brutal and bloody on the public. Ask anyone in PNG and especially those living in settlements.

Ask the street kids, the betel nut vendors and the youth.

Fuck it - ask me - I've caught a police boot when the bastard and his mates stripped off my jean jacket outside a night club, just because he wanted it.

Almost every PNG male has had one run in or another with the cops that went beyond the use of force in arresting.

This inquiry will not go well with the RPNGC. It might be best to just fire the lot.

Susan Merrell - shut your pie hole - yu nogat save long ol dispela samting yu toktok long em istap.

Senisim sikin kala blong yu, giaman kamap olsem wanpela man na yu traim toktok kusai, olsem nau yu mekim, long wanpela polisman - em bai senisim pes blong yu olgeta na mama blong yu tu bai inonap luksave long yu.

Mathias Kin

Susan Merrell, so you think the students sign up for this? They signed up to be shot? With high powered rifles by trained police men whose job it is to protect these students? You are such an immoral pipia!

Paul Oates

The inference here seems to be that there has been a breakdown in law and order due to the university students protest.

Much of what has been mentioned seems to be symptomatic of a day of heightened tensions in Port Moresby if one reads the usual media reports. So it would appear that the student protests have merely raised the law and order situation in Moresby to the level that the authorities now acknowledge already exists. i.e. Don't blame the students for what has been allowed to develop by the current and previous governments.

The 15% of PNG population that now reportedly live in a metropolitan environment has been ignored and sidelined by many of those whose who should be concerned but are too busy feathering their own nest while they can. People who are hungry and ill served are far more likely to riot as they have nothing to lose except some of their constant frustration. No one in the government seems to have any idea of what to do except take out more overseas loans and mortgage everyone's future, put on more fireworks displays and build high class accommodation for the hoped for high rollers to rent.

With Parliament virtually consigned to a rubber stamp that issues DSIP funds to the faithful grovelers and even that august body has now has been dismissed until August, the PM and government must be laughing all the way to the bank.

All the Australian PM can do is ask if he can help and we presume, was politely told where to go.

So it seems PNG is back to square one.

Someone please tell me I'm wrong.

You are not wrong. It is clear that the shootings and subsequent bloodshed were initiated by police. Journalists at the scene, the only independent witnesses we have, affirm this was so. As you write, any subsequent civil disturbance demonstrated what a hair trigger climate exists in the national capital at present. The O'Neill government and RPNGC must bear full responsibility for this. There are plenty of government apologists and blame shifters operating at present. They would be better spending their time engineering solutions that are democratic and align with the PNG constitution - KJ

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