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Australia’s response to PNG election: diplomatic ineptitude

Keith in full flight
Keith in full flight


“AUSTRALIA praises 'successful' PNG election as death toll mounts,” the SBS headline said.

Note the single inverted commas around the word ‘successful’; in headline writer’s terms a technique to imply sarcasm.

A statement to SBS News from Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop had said: “The Australian government congratulates PNG, one of our closest friends and partners, on its successful election and we looking forward to continuing to work with prime minister O’Neill and PNG’s new government.”

This was not only wrong (the election was demonstrably unsuccessful in its conduct), embarrassing (the current Australian government persistently confusing diplomacy with prostration and self-abasement) but it was treacherous.

The statement was disloyal and perfidious to Papua New Guineans like Dr Alphonse Gelu, the registrar of political parties and candidates, who said the election had been marred by numerous bad practices and that there were many questions about the way it transpired.

Ms Bishop turned her back on Dr Gelu and all those Papua New Guineans, many in prominent positions, who courageously and in some cases to their own detriment, called out the election for what it was – incompetently managed and in a number of cases thoroughly corrupted.

There were many factual, ethical and justified statements that could be made about this travesty of an election and, in her statement, Ms Bishop professed blindness to them all.

She demonstrated unfitness for her job as foreign minister, a conclusion many Australians had reached before me.

We should never forget that this was an election in which Australia played a significant part in preparing a common roll (that was revealed to be sullied) and in assisting to distribute ballot papers, the allocation of which in many instances had been engineered to favour People’s National Congress candidates.

In case anyone needs reminding of how this election was manipulated by the PNC (with the active collaboration of Australia in assembling the common roll and distributing ballot papers) and also possibly unconstitutional, these articles by Paul Flanagan, Francis Nii and Sam Koim will refresh your memory.

And while such eminent international organisations such as Transparency International, the Pacific Forum and Reporters Without Borders explicitly condemned the conduct of the election, apparently the fact that Ms Bishop “did not specifically congratulate Mr O’Neill”, as SBS put it, was supposed to be something of an Australian slight to a PNG prime minister who had just presided over a most shameful charade.

(Transparency International PNG condemned the conduct of the election as “disheartening and completely unacceptable to the vast majority of our people who believe in good and fair actions, transparency and democratic processes”.)

But, if slight it was, Ms Bishop did offer some consoling words that “Australia looks forward to working with re-elected PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill despite ongoing violence in the wake of the country's recent election”.

No we don’t. Let me correct that. We look forward to working with honest Papua New Guineans who want to ensure the good of their country and its people.

The Australian government too often mistakes fawning and sycophancy for diplomacy (witness the just leaked transcript of Malcolm Turnbull's first encounter with Donald Trump), and Ms Bishop's words to O'Neill were another example.

And, by the way, we’re still waiting for the report by the four Australian MPs who acted as election observers but who, in their observations, always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and, reports suggest, talking with the wrong people.


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Bill Standish

Phil Fitzpatrick is right in saying you could put together a useful current affairs doco using the reports from ABC/Radio Australia’s Eric Tlozek , also using the many pieces from Johnny Blades and others at, and Stefan Armbruster at

But don’t bother with the Fairfax papers.

Paul Oates

John K Kamasua , an additional and lamentable aspect of what you have described, is the atrophy of the organs of government. Namely the law, the public service and the people’s expectations of good government.

As you have rightly said, a corrupt government will divert badly needed funds into edifice building to try and enhance their own egos while the people’s health, education and the nation’s well being suffer.

Secondly, those that work in the public service and try to be ethical and obey the law will become disheartened and either leave or give up. Both actions help those corrupt leaders endure.

Thirdly, the people will simply lose interest and ignore the ineffectual government and try to survive without it. This also helps the corrupt.

What we now see as a result is the implosion of ethical and legal government in PNG. The process of diverting public funds into private gain is exactly the style of dictators and ‘robber barons’ use to keep themselves in power.

What we have also seen that is indeed amazing, is the total lack of backbone in the Australian government to speak out, not as a superior but as a trusted friend and neighbour, against this deplorable situation.

For those of us who knew what it was like and still could be, the extent of the national shame cannot be estimated. All our forefathers and ancestors who fought and died for our two nation’s freedom would turn in their graves if they knew how low the situation has been allowed to become.

John K Kamasua

Some Good leaders have chosen convenience and mediocre over excellence, justice and the protection and upholding of state institutions.

That's how you get by in this country, that's how you survive in the political arena; and that's how you have access to resources such as the DSIP and PSIP, and best of all get rewarded with Ministries.

In PNG politics is a game of convenience, not guts and ideals; in PNG it is convenience and mediocre over and above principles and values!

After 41 years of independence, this country has become a sinking ship; we were almost a failed state couple of years ago, but our leaders denied that. Now we have a failed elections and our leaders have denied that again.

Try living in a country like PNG with the kind of mentality and actions of leaders who can flaunt and destroy instructions of state at will, and put self-interests above the good of the country - it is simply depressing.

I keep saying this. If we do not stem this tide, we will end up with a situation similar to what some of the African countries are facing or were facing over the recent years.

We have to learn to appreciate that fact that building and strengthing institutions (laws, principle, regulations), that underpin and govern the workings of public organisations and machinery, which in turn should auger well for all people in the country need to be protected and guarded.

It is not about boasting on the number of bridges, stadiums, roads and super-overheads (and often at inflated costs) to the detriment of starving funding for the response and treatment of treatable diseases like cancer, TB, malnutrition, and other health afflictions.

If we do not let our moral compass dictate our actions and decisions, particularly as for those who are in a position of greater responsibility, we will definitely erode the sense of nation state. Regionalism, negative ethnic vibes, and conflicts will grow.

The powers that be may try to arrive at order by abusing the police and defence, but a national disintegration will begin in the heart and minds of a despondent and socially marginalised masses - what terrible consequences will be wrought from there is anyone's guesse.

A dystopian outcome that might not just materialise but will have already been written in the hearts and minds of the informed and educated.

Do we just lose hope, when there is very little in the tank of hope? Or do we risk being ostracized and singled out by directly attacking some of these issues? We have seen Martyn Namarong being singled out and slapped with a court order for trying to speak the truth.

Bernard Corden

Dear Keith, Paul, Phil, Lindsay, Bob, Daniel et al,

Many thanks for your stance on this. I have sent a letter to Rowan Dean at the Spectator Australia regarding Australia's inertia and Julie Bishop's disgraceful performance. Many of its readers and contributors have spent prolonged periods in PNG. These include Rowan Callick and Chris Ashton.

A healthy loyalty is active and critical, not passive and complacent - Harold Laski

Bernard Corden

Maybe excessive exposure to ambergris and patchouli incense oil at the Airways Hotel day spa is clouding the judgement of the illegitimate daughter of Satan.

John K Kamasua

Yes Australia should look forward to working with honest leaders and politicians for the prosperity of all.

Paul Oates

Sorry Trevor, but if you follow that line of reasoning it becomes the same as those who follow O'Neill.

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em' mentality.

There is a moral vacuum at the top and the problem is that unless leaders speak out against something those who are benefiting think they are OK and have got away with what they've done and those who are easily swayed think it's alright to follow.

That's the problem with PNG today. If the Australian leaders don't speak out against illegal and unethical activities then by their inaction they are seen as condoning what is unethical and illegal.

In addition, other smaller nations nearby see the situation for what it is and think that's the way to go. Larger nations with their own agendas are laughing at us as they profit from our inaction.

We hear our leaders speak out against other tyrants in the world and even send our troops overseas to fight them yet when unethical and illegal activities occur on our doorstep, the silence is deafening.

What's the last phase of the classic Foreign Affairs four stage advice (per Yes, Prime Minister), 'There may have been something we could have done but it's much too late to do it now'.

Australian taxpayers cough up over half a billion dollars each year to help the PNG people yet the PNG people seem to be worse off each year.

Exactly where must the line in the sand be drawn? Manus is an insufficient excuse to do nothing. We already have sufficient leverage to be perfectly able to comment on something that is blatantly wrong with the recipient of our aid money.

In addition, from what little facts are known at this stage, it is possible there may well be complicity that involves Australian assistance. If that is so, those responsible should be quickly brought to account for allowing it to happen and should be dismissed.

Trevor Shelley

Had Julie Bishop had gone the other way and criticized the election and called it for what it was , what would have happened? The old Aussie bashers would have had a field day and of course so would have the opposition. It would have been very Shrill and much worse that this reaction so I suppose this was the easiest way out. Damned if she did and damned if she didn't!

Bernard Corden

Be careful, all this criticism of Julie Bishop might force our PM to replace her with Michaelia Cash.
She can never keep her head still and looks like a marionette
If John Kerry and Michaelia Cash ever took the podium together at a UN conference it would look like a real live Punch and Judy show from an English seaside pier.

Daniel Kumbon

Barbara, the seven caretaker ministers Peter O’Neill has appointed remind me of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales,
PO killed 60 with one blow and these are the first seven casualties.

Philip Fitzpatrick

This is slightly off track but what the hell is Charles Abel doing?

He supported the Crocodile Prize and came along to the awards night in 2014 with Gary Juffa and seemed like an astute, caring and responsible politician.

Why is he still in the PNC camp sprouting claptrap about fixing corruption just as O'Neill did in 2012 before establishing one of the most corrupt regimes in PNG politics.

Bernard Corden

The ABC like many others is now a victim of cognitive or non-materialist capture and operates like the cabals, power brokers, lobbyists and the political coterie it attempts to expose.

This is quite evident in its newzak broadcasts, which are supplemented by insufferable game shows, cooking and formulaic home improvement, gardening or design programs.

Bernard Corden

Maybe Julie Bishop should save the following link as a favourite, if she hasn't already done so:

Barbara Short

It is so disheartening when I look at the faces of the mob who are in the government and who are given the ministerial positions. I wouldn't trust any of them.

Corruption, corruption corruption... hanging over them.... even Duma! for heaven's sake,... who is before the courts at the moment... and people who I know have been inept, or corrupt, or incapable.. or something like that over the past 10 years... as the country has been so badly run and gone deeper into debt.

Someone is fooling himself when he thinks he has brought free education to all and free health to all... when in actual fact ... schools are now in a mess, students standards are falling dramatically, hospitals have been in decay, medical centres of all types have been closing from lack of medicines and lack of all the basic things like fresh water etc etc ..please, please,... can we have some TRUTH for a change instead of lies, lies, lies...

William Dunlop

We are back to the Peacock show pony ineptitude with our Foreign Minister, Hon J Bishop.

Much more appropriate for her to be a show judge in say the flower section of a rural show.

Rob Parer

I would remind Ms Bishop of the following.

In 1963, Hon Charles Barnes was appointed Minister for External Territories. Although popular with Warwick (Queensland) farmers and the horse racing community many considered he was not well enough versed in the current affairs of TPNG.

One cartoonist had him as a latter day Christopher Columbus: "When he went to visit TPNG he didn't know where he was going and when he got there he didn't know where he was and when he got back he didn't know where he had been."

Rather unkind perhaps as CEB certainly meant well and he did know where New Guinea was as he served there as a Flying Officer in 1944.

Lindsay F Bond

'Lusim fridom' has a meaning set out eloquently by the writer and illustrator the late Bob Brown in a petite volume entitled ‘Grassroots Guide to PNG Pidgin Namba 2'.

Therein Bob assures those who 'laik painim wanpela wodia, dis de ples 4 finding it'.

‘Successful election’ are not words Bob Brown would have found here.

"Giant in the Oceania region, and a former colony," Dr Max Quanchi states of PNG, for which Australia ought give "separate, sensitive, careful and thoughtful consideration".

"Pacific Islanders do not judge Australia by its policy, instead they see policy as mere words."

Lukim liklik buk…wanpela wodia liklik tu. (oraitim yu, tok inglis blong mi.)

Lukim lo…constetusen…sitisen wankain? Harim wodia toktok? (Nogat sori, harim rong blong mi.)

Lukim wodia…’premised with trade and investment priorities’…Yes Minister Foreign?

Daniel Kumbon

Four people died today in Mendi, SHP.

Twelve died here in Wabag including two policemen and a stillborn infant when the young mother fled from the labour ward when the Wabag General Hospital was attacked.

More people died in Kundiawa in Simbu Province.

Many more people have been hospitalised with serious gunshot wounds.

There were numerous rapes of women and property valued at millions of kina was destroyed in many parts of the highlands.

This has not been a ‘successful’ election.

Julie Bishop should retract her words.

To hear the description ‘successful election ’ causes more hurt to the pain and anguish the people feel right now.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I have contacted 4 Corners and the 7.30 Report and suggested that an investigation of the PNG election and Australia's part in it would be timely.

It would be good if other people could do the same, including Papua New Guineans.

The process is fairly simple, you just go to their respective websites and click on the contact tag and follow it from there.

The Australian government seems to react to both these programs and the commercial channels usually pick up on what they have to say, albeit in a superficial and sensationalist manner.

It is one of the few ways in which the public voice can penetrate the miasma that is Canberra.

Paul Oates

Onya Keith.

I can't think of a worst case of political blindness and ineptitude in Foreign Affairs on behalf of Australia except perhaps Canberra's myopic and intransitive lack of action prior to the Japanese invasion on PNG. And even that was when a lot of relevant information was not as freely available as it has been in this case.

If that's all we have looking after Australia's and PNG's best interests then God help us all.

Perhaps whoever is elected as Opposition Leader in PNG (when all the seats are finally declared), might be prepared to clearly relate just how Australia and her political leaders have intentionally and blatantly let the people of her next door neighbour down?

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