O’Neill’s multi-million kina election campaign run by Australians

A PNG election too important for Australia to ignore

The shape of things to comePAUL OATES

AUSTRALIA’S next door neighbour, Papua New Guinea, will hold a general election in June-July.

But due to the limited media coverage in Australia, few people in this country seems to have any idea that the results of the election may well be very important to Australia’s future relations with PNG and our region.

PNG and Australia have a shared history that goes back to the late 19th century. During World War I, we fought and defeated the German garrison defending the then German New Guinea.

After the war, Australia successfully argued and won the right to administer north-east New Guinea on behalf of the League of Nations; Papua in the south-east was already a territory. After World War II, Australia continued to administer Papua New Guinea until its Independence.

What is often not remembered is that Imperial Japan, an ally during World War I, wanted to assume control of all previous German colonies in the Pacific including New Guinea. This was resisted by Australia’s then prime minister, the so-called ‘little digger’ William Morris (Billy) Hughes.

When at the Versailles peace conference after World War I, Hughes was denigrated as coming from a small insignificant nation, he reputedly said: “I represent 60,000 dead, sir.”

Imagine if Japan had assumed control of New Guinea in 1919 and had two decades to fortify it as a potentially hostile base of operations. Australia’s war in the South Pacific from 1942-45 would have been that much harder to win.

At this year’s commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea, an old Australian veteran alluded to the similarities between Japanese actions before World War II and Chinese expansionism today.

The large scale ‘soft power’ Chinese infrastructure aid and loans to PNG have created a huge debt that will have to be repaid in some way in the future. Chinese investment in mining and natural resources has steadily increased over the last decade.

PNG is the largest recipient of Australian overseas aid. Yet it is reportedly facing virtual bankruptcy. PNG is the largest South Pacific nation and is hoping to become a full member of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and will host next year’s APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation) meeting, It sees itself as the South Pacific regional leader.

PNG has requested Australia help finance the 2018 APEC meeting and has agreed to continue to allow the deployment of Australian police in the cities of Port Moresby and Lae. Australian police will also help with the planning for the meeting and assist local police maintain law and order.

There is some consternation however that the continued deployment of Australian police in PNG is actually achieving very little in the way of curbing problems with law enforcement. These unarmed officers have no formal policing functions and reports of non-investigated murders and tribal fighting using high powered weapons seem almost a daily feature of the local news.

While the potential for earning revenue from abundant natural resources is high, the riches have failed to trickle down to landowners and Papua New Guineans in general.

In PNG, land ownership is communal and the failure to payment mineral royalties is a hot issue.

The large scale extraction by foreign companies of valuable timber resources is also widespread. Often, once timber has been removed, promised development evaporates.

Corruption is an everyday occurrence in PNG. Former prime minister Michael Somare’s throw-away line that a ‘six pack’ is all that’s required to get something done applies all the way to the top of the ministry and the public service. Individual members of the government are reputedly supplied with funds to keep them loyal.

Overall it’s a troubling and bleak scenario which few observers see as ending any time soon.

While more than 3,000 political aspirants have nominated for the 111 seats in parliament, many of them motivated by the reputed riches that a successful candidate will be able to access.

There are signs that a better class of politicians may be emerging, depending upon the will of voters of course. Gary Juffa, previous head of PNG Customs and now a provincial governor is recontesting his Oro seat. Former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta has nominated as has a previous head of the PNG Defence Force, retired General Jerry Singirok. Bulolo MP and Deputy Opposition Leader Sam Basil, who now leads a revamped Pangu Pati, is standing again.

Some senior members of the government have, on the eve of the election, distanced themselves from current prime minister Peter O’Neill. Most prominent amongst them is Treasurer Patrick Pruaitch who now says PNG is effectively broke yet doesn’t admit that any culpability rests with himself.

A notable lawyer, who has been linked with O’Neill over alleged fraudulent payments, has established his own party which is contesting all 111 seats.

The job of fingering the corrupt was made much harder by the O’Neill government disbanding the corruption busting task force he had earlier established after its investigations seemed to move to close to him and his cronies.

People in Australia who are able to see past sport and domestic politics now await the results of the PNG’s election.

Where will they take our next door neighbour – to a better or a worse place? And, if the latter, will this weak and corrupt state become a Chinese proxy which will seriously threaten Australia’s strategic interests?


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Peter Sandery

I suggest that if either or both Mekere Morauta and Jerry Singirok are involved in a meaningful way in the next PNG government, it will be business as usual but in a slightly different way. Messrs Juffa and Basil, on the other hand, provided that don't go the way of the majority of their political and bureaucratic forbears, including the afore-mentioned, could make a substantial change

Philip Fitzpatrick

Might have helped prevent the Pacific war, not WW2 Chris.

I also find it hard to reconcile the view that the Japanese were "appallingly exploitative and cruel colonists". Not that I dispute their appalling record in China and WW2. The Chinese/Japanese relationship has its own unique complexities and the Bushido cult that held that people who surrendered rather than die were less than human didn't help. Old hands in PNG, including Michael Somare, thought the Japanese were pretty good however, as did some of the earlier German regime.

It's always dangerous to classify a people en masse but until just recently the Japanese had become and were adamant pacifists opposed to war. Abe, now egged on by Trump, is changing that stance.

I have some very nice Japanese friends who are gentle, caring people who are ashamed of their record in WW2. This shame is part of why their government refuses to accept their brutality in WW2.

I would like to believe those friends are representative of Japan but then I see how their government refuses to accept refugees and will not easily grant citizenship to foreigners. Their birth rate is declining and they have huge numbers of elderly people. It may be possible that they will eventually breed themselves into extinction.

Everyone notes that it is past history and water under the bridge but I would maintain that an understanding of it will help with current problems.

Japanese influence in PNG is not great but Chinese influence, including Malay Chinese, is huge and growing. If PNG is to survive in its Melanesian form it needs to understand the Asians.

Unfortunately, apart from kowtowing, few PNG politicians seem capable of this necessary feat. Perhaps, only when they have been subsumed, will they realise what's been going on and what they have done.

But will they care? I doubt it.

Ed Brumby

The Japanese had every right to feel aggrieved at their treatment by the Brits, the Yanks and us after WW1. They'd been loyal allies who, among other services, provided armed escorts to our troops on their way to the Middle East and deserved at least some recognition for their efforts. It doesn't explain their subsequent expansionism of course: that had as much to do with securing supplies of natural resources as with militant imperialism .... a la George W's invasion of Iraq. Who says history doesn't repeat itself??

Chris Overland

Billy Hughes has both loved and reviled in equal measure.

He was an early stalwart of the Labour Party who then "ratted" to become Prime Minister as leader of a Nationalist Labour Party. The issue leading to the split was conscription, which half the Labour Party, especially the Irish Catholic faction, bitterly opposed.

Overall, he changed parties 5 times and was expelled from 3 of them. So he was a quintuple rat, setting a record unsurpassed in Australia or, so far as I can tell, anywhere else.

Hughes' famous remark that he represented 60,000 dead was a pointed rebuke of the major powers at the post World War 1 peace conference, who wanted to exclude "the colonies" from a seat at the negotiating table. His view was shared by the Prime Ministers of Canada and South Africa, who were not going to be fobbed off by their former colonial masters.

Hughes loathed US President Wilson, who he thought was a sanctimonious windbag, while Wilson reciprocated, describing Hughes as a "pestiferous varmint". Both were right in their assessments.

While undoubtedly a racist, Hughes was also a shrewd and uncompromising politician who did, in fact, foresee the rise of Japanese imperialism long before the supposedly great and good.

I don't share Phil's view that allowing the Japanese to take over German New Guinea would have helped prevent World War 2. Nothing was going to prevent that war because, as Winston Churchill understood very well in 1919, the punitive terms of the Versailles' Agreement had guaranteed the future appearance of an angry and vengeful Germany.

The Japanese were appallingly exploitative and cruel colonists. Their behaviour in conquered parts of China, where the casual enslavement or extermination of millions would occur, would doubtless have been repeated in New Guinea.

There would have been no restrained colonial hand as was the case with Australia. Attacks on Japanese patrols would have led to disproportionately savage reprisals. Under the Code of Bushido and the Nazi racial policies, Papua New Guineans would have been regarded as sub humans, without rights or any intrinsic value.

Make no mistake about the nature of Japanese militarism: it was racist, exploitative and brutal.

Of course, none of this now matters. PNG is not confronted with a belligerent military regime. Rather, it is confronted by a subtle, patient and manipulative form of colonialism where money is used to replace main force.

So far at least, its leaders have proved to be deeply susceptible to this form of creeping colonialism. It is not dissimilar in Australia and many other countries besides.

The new corporate imperialism cares nothing for borders or seizing territory. They only want the largely unfettered right to make obscene profits and are perfectly willing to suborn vulnerable politicians to do this or simply have the law changed to meet their corporate needs.

For the new corporate robber barons, regardless of their solemn and disingenuous protests to the contrary, the only welfare that they are concerned about is their own.

So, poor PNG is not only a mere pawn in the newly resurgent "Great Game" between the quasi-imperial powers of the USA, Russia and China, but hopelessly vulnerable to the power of the corporate raiders who thrive under each of these great powers.

Tragically, the broad left of politics is unable to formulate and articulate any coherent response to the neo-liberal orthodoxy that is the engine of this new imperialism. Instead, they blather on about identity politics, trigger alerts and various futile efforts to stop the environmental degradation which necessarily accompanies rampant capitalism.

As a consequence of this, there apparently is no-one in the so-called developed world who can put together a credible alternative economic model and then embark upon the difficult business of convincing a hyper stimulated, hugely cynical and self interested electorate that big changes are needed to create a stable and sustainable world for our children and grand children to live.

Given this context, the results of the election in PNG are likely to be as meaningless as those in much of the rest of the world.

It will merely result in replacing one set of self interested political opportunists with another.

In modern democracies, the acquisition and wielding of power for its own sake is the new "Game of Thrones' and the results will certainly be the same for the new peasantry unless and until they come to understand what is going on.

Philip Fitzpatrick

What I'm saying is that if the Japanese had acquired the German colonies after WW1 they might not have been so inclined in their expansionism.
Hughes and the US simply gave them an excuse by opposing them taking up the colonies. They were Australian allies in WW1 so the only conclusion I can make for Hughes' opposition was (1) he wanted New Guinea for Australia as a buffer or (2) giving it to an Asian race went against his beliefs.

I've never been able to make my mind up about Hughes. It's not only how he enforced the White Australia policy but how he tried to introduce conscription. He was licking the boots of British imperialism but so was everyone else in those times.

Now we lick the American's boots. One day we'll have to stand up for ourself.

Paul Oates

Sorry Phil, that's a 'Furphy'. The Japanese were already on their way from Korea, Manchuria and eastern China. The US oil embargo really only hastened the issue.

You are forgetting the essential human trait that seems to compel us to conquer when we can can. You may not have a lot of it in your DNA but most others do.

Once the Japanese broke out of their isolation mode (largely thanks to the US in the mid 19th Century), they then beat the Russians and were always going to advance empirically until stopped.

You may not like Billy Hughes' politics but he did stand up for our nation as did Chifley and Curtin in time of war.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I occasionally get asked to talk to different groups in Australia about PNG and get the distinct impression that knowledge of the country is rapidly fading. Maybe that's down to the diminishing numbers of people who worked there or even the passing of WW2 veterans who fought there.

Here's a typical comment I heard about PNGS at a talk, "They're Aborigines aren't they? I once knew an Aborigine, he was a good football player, I'd pick him up on Saturday mornings to take him into the game, he was a nice bloke but he smelled a bit."

I pointed out that there are 8 million plus smelly Aborigines living just 4 kilometres north of Australia, about 15 minutes away in a tinny, and they have a birth rate around 3-4% so that by about 2030 they'll outnumber Australians.

In anthropological terms Aborigines are, of course, 'Australians' and PNGs are 'Melanesians'. That aside, you'd think that a country with so many people in it so close to us would engender a hint of interest. Not so I'm afraid. It's inexplicable and really dumb.

On another note, Billy Hughes objected to the Japanese taking up the Pacific territories of the Germans because he was a racist and White Australia Policy supremacist. He didn't have any prescience about future threats. If the Japanese had taken over the territories it is more than likely they never would have gone to war.

Barbara Short

It's the Malaysian Chinese who run PNG.

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