“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.