TUMBY BAY - Apart from the magnificent scenery my relationship with Papua New Guinea is firmly based on the individual friendships I’ve established there.
As Paul Oates notes, we are all human beings and our commonalities far outweigh our differences.
One of the other good things about a relationship based on friendship is that it naturally leads to a sense of equality.
This means that I don’t approach any particular engagement in which I become involved in Papua New Guinea with a sense of superiority.
When we ran the Crocodile Prize, for instance, we were working with fellow writers, there was no teacher-student or other status-based element involved. This is one reason why, I think, the Crocodile Prize succeeded.
Australia purports to be a long-standing friend of Papua New Guinea but I’m not sure this is true, particularly under the watch of our current government.
I think Australia’s approach to Papua New Guinea is now more mercenary and is based on its own geo-political and economic interests more than anything else.
Anything Australia does in PNG nowadays seems to be solely based on its own best interests, not on the best interests of PNG and certainly not on the best interests of the Papua New Guinean people.
This is perhaps best illustrated by the way the Manus deal has been subverted from a short-term helping hand into a long-term, out-of-sight, out-of-mind disaster.
The driving force of the great colonial era was based on gaining trading and military advantage.
In the last few years Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea has regressed to that colonial mentality.
When I see the latest outrage committed by the government of Papua New Guinea I think of the impact on my friends.
Australia, on the other hand, thinks of the impact in a political and commercial sense. It works out whether it should ignore the outrage or say something appeasing that it hopes will pull the PNG government back into line with Australia’s own political priorities.
Papua New Guinea’s apparently blasé approach to China is one such example.
Australia, under the heavy influence of the USA, is wary of China. When PNG courts another outrageous tied loan with China, Australia gets worried - not for PNG but for its own political interests.
This shouldn’t be happening. We should not be regarding Papua New Guinea solely as a business partner or pawn in the greater Asia-Pacific superpower struggle.
Richard Moore has made a wholly sensible suggestion that Australia should divide its aid budget into two components: one to deal with geo-political and economic interests; the other to deal with humanitarian issues. In short, to sensibly separate friendship from business and political interests.
This won’t work under Australia’s current government because they don’t seem to be able to differentiate between friends and someone you manipulate for your own advantage.
Whether our alternative government is any different will be interesting to see.