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‘If Australia fails to listen to PNG, we won’t have a good outcome’

Do Australians want Papua New Guinea to fail? And why?


TUMBY BAY - We humans tend to form many of our opinions based on what we read, hear and watch in the media. Sometimes we even adopt what we believe directly from the media, whether knowingly or unknowingly.

Media owners and producers know this and tailor the information they disseminate accordingly.

And because the bottom line for most media outlets is the number of sales they make and the profit that generates, they tend to give us what we want.

Even non-profit outlets, including social media, tend to present material in line with what they think audiences want so they can maintain interest.

What this means is that most media, rather than being leaders in shaping ideas and opinion, are actually captives of their audience.

Conservative media caters for conservative consumers and progressive media caters for progressive consumers.

In between these extremes there are various views dependent upon what particular audiences think.

Media, in short, specialises in preaching to the converted.

Or, quite often, it tries to convert the audience on behalf of the special interests (like governments or advertisers) that provide it with influence or money.

This makes the problem of presenting a balanced and unbiased view particularly difficult. Even our public broadcasters struggle with this dilemma as they seek a middle road between many conflicting views and pressures.

So what exactly is it that the public craves in its media? The short answer is ‘a good story’. And very often ‘a good story’ for people is essentially negative.

JudgeConservatives feed on negative reports about progressives and progressives love negative reports about conservatives.

Supporters love good news about their side; opponents are joyful about bad news about the other side.

Why do you think our media are full of stories about crime, accidents, dreadful diseases, political scandals and such awfulness? Because that’s what very many people prefer to read.

Audiences tend to find tedious anything that falls outside such subjects. Perhaps because so many people’s lives are less than perfect; they find comfort in hearing about lives that are even worse than their own.

At the same time, people are particularly sceptical about anything given a positive bias (‘spin’). Except where their sporting team won or the government gave them a tax break or a wantok scored big in the lottery.

Of course, governments and businesses seek to ensure good news about themselves makes it into the media. Partly this is because they like reading good news about themselves but often it is to hide bad news or distract readers from it.

In Papua New Guinea, reporting by the two major national newspapers has adopted a formula where, because of various motives, they will mostly give the government and business a big chunk of positive spin.

But there’s a downside. For every positive story they publish about the current government, full of spin and not addressing the real issues, they lose credibility with many readers.

People don’t want to hear about how well the government is performing, they want to hear how it is really performing. And reality for most people is what they are experiencing in their lives. Try to tell a poor man that he lives in the best country in the world.

This phenomenon of ‘bad news is good news’ is reflected in the way the Australian media reports on Papua New Guinea.

Australian audiences not only expect that stories coming out of Papua New Guinea will be bad but almost require them to be so before they will take any notice.

Stories about the appalling corruption and mismanagement of the O’Neill government feeds directly into this need. From the Australian media’s point of view, the excesses and stuff ups of the O’Neill government provides excellent copy.

If Papua New Guinea ever has an honest and progressive prime minister you can bet his or her coverage in the Australian media will be minimal.

The same dynamic also applies to international audiences. That’s why stories about sorcery, cannibalism, tribal warfare and the dangers of Papua New Guinea do so well. The only exception is the occasional story about some bizarre exotica generally involving photographs of semi-naked men in bilas and bare breasted women.

Some Papua New Guineans think that many Australians actually want Papua New Guinea to fail as a nation.

A few commentators in Papua New Guinea have recently expressed this view, notably Governor Gary Juffa of Oro Province. Before him politicians like Iambakey Okuk and even Michael Somare made similar comments.

Sadly however, as expressed so many times on PNG Attitude, most Australians, including its politicians, don’t care whether Papua New Guinea succeeds or fails. Strangely, as a nation sitting on its doorstep which is more and more beguiled by China, it is entirely irrelevant to them.

Australian-619-386That’s Australia!

All this could make you very despondent, particularly if you live in Papua New Guinea, but don’t be. Negative media is also alive and well in Australia and around the world.

If you read newspapers, listen to radio, watch television or devour the internet, you’ll see news, and even hope, of failure.

The average Australian expects that as a nation in whatever endeavour we undertake, except perhaps sport, we will fail.

Failure is, after all, a lot more interesting than success. This why we are so fascinated with Donald Trump. He’s a failure waiting to happen and we’re enthralled.

Do Australians want Papua New Guinea to fail? Yes!

Do Australians want Australia to fail? Of course!


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Vanessa Gordon

A part of me wants to believe that Australia wants the best for PNG.

I think the Australians that lived and worked in PNG 30-40 years ago are very different to the expatriates loving and working in PNG today.

The old timers wanted to be a part of something - contributing to the development of a young country. The new breed of expatriates are there for monetary gain.

Mathias Kin

Frankly I do not think any Aussie would want to see New Guinea fail. There are many reasons.

We are Australia's closest neighbour and, on a people to people basis, some very friendly ties exist; we're an important trading partner; the two countries were drawn closer together after the experiences of WW2.

And since then, PNG has been Australia's most important foreign policy issue due to the presence of Indonesia and more importantly I think is that PNG was the first and only colony of Australia.

Therefore I feel that despite all the rubbish going on in this country, Australians do have a soft spot for New Guinea.

Certainly my friends and I at Simbu Writers Association think of Australia as our most important and most friendly neighbour.

Also at the official level, the pull out in 1975 and early nurturing for future nationhood of PNG is something that Canberra should be weary of as its young leadership turns new pages.

Chris Overland

Tanya Zeriga Alone is attributing to the inhabitants of Canberra a great deal more capacity for Machiavellian thinking than has hitherto been demonstrated.

Linking the New Colombo Plan with the idea of creating a cadre of consultants (latter day kiaps?) to run PNG is stretching credulity to breaking point.

It implies a level of insight and forward planning within the Federal government in relation to PNG that experience to date suggests simply doesn't exist.

Also, Tanya is ignoring the horrendous transaction costs that always come with trying to resurrect a failed state. The Solomon Islands intervention is a great example of this problem. Better to keep PNG limping along than standing back and allowing it to collapse.

Similarly, business never likes civil disruption of the type that accompanies failed states. It likes stability and certainty, not anarchy, so is unlikely to be hoping that PNG tanks.

At worst, some in the business community may be hoping for a powerful, authoritarian regime to emerge such as that which Frank Bainimarama created in Fiji for a long period. I cannot see such a regime emerging in such a heterogeneous country.

As for the great Australian public, they are busy worrying about paying of the credit card or mortgage, so events in PNG remain a very faint blip on the radar for them.

I think that Tanya, when considering Australia's approach to PNG issues, should remember the old adage that you should never suspect a conspiracy when a stuff up is a perfectly adequate explanation.

Tanya Zeriga Alone

Of course Canberra wants PNG to fail. PNG is more useful to Canberra as a failed former colony than a big powerful brother to the Pacific. O'Neill is clearly playing Canberra by getting into bed with China.

Canberra was already planning for that day. You don't believe me - then explain the Colombo Plan. Is it not forward planning by Canberra to ensure consultants will be available to run PNG when it becomes a failed state.

Australians in general - it depends. Business people want PNG to fail so they can still have a big market for their products. The rest couldn't care less about kanaka problems.

Ross Wilkinson

Many of us ex-kiaps were the ones entrusted with the carriage of political education to the villagers whilst on patrol.

I've been reading some old patrol reports from the various Provinces and the comments are all similar as the reports pass the different levels of command.

The patrolling officer will state lack of comprehension in the village areas and more time is required. This will be generally supported by the Assistant District Commissioners as each report is passed up the line.

The District Commissioner will question the time spent in villages and the manner the message is imparted. The final response from the Department HQ in distant Port Moresby is that political education is an important and continuing task.

The rapid announcements of the road to Independence made many of us make the statement that the bulk of the people were not ready. So we were wary about the likely success of this march.

It's not that we want Papua New Guinea as an institution to fail because it means that we who were at the coal face have also failed.

However, I think the point being made is that there will be many who will say, "I told you so!"

Paul Oates

Currently visiting the UK and Ireland it is very obvious that the tensions and old alliances and histories are entirely tribal based. As a species we are inherently tribal based since that is what allowed us to develop, survive and multiply. The world Cup is a classic example of national tribalism that allows the media a constant 'beat ups' every news bulletin.

Those who denigrate PNG tribalism are way off line and only reflect their own lack of appreciation of us as a human species.

PNG has a lot going for it and we, lapun as we are, still remember how with ethical and interactive leadership found that the PNG people could achieve anything they set their mind to. That is the issue we as a fraternity find so hard to accept given the apparent lack of effective leadership that now seems to be the norm wherever you go,

Why this is so remains a mystery and only gives rise to the expectation that it takes an external threat to actually bring people together into a cohesive unit that goes on to achieve great things.

The sum of the total is therefore greater than the sum of the individual units. All that is required is motivation, inspiration and leadership.

Brexit is the theme of almost every news item over in Europe until the topic gets onto to football (soccer) and the World Cup in Russia. The EU and Britain are currently arguing about their relative positions and advantages and how to get the best deal while Russia (Putin) is in the background rubbing it's hands in glee. Meanwhile Trump is expected to come over and play golf!

The similarities of Europe in 1914 are so painfully evident at the moment. European nations are polarising with instability and the potential for war apparently being ignored in favour of World Cup fervor.

So much for learning from our past mistakes. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I don't think that informed Australians, especially those with some experience in the country, want PNG to fail Noel.

As Chris points out, the kiap fraternity especially don't want it to fail because of (a) their regard for the people and (b) it is ultimately a reflection of the work they did prior to independence.

Matt's observation that retired kiaps believe that nothing has gone right since 1975 is not a wish for failure but a frustration at the lack of what should have been great success.

I do think that the average Australian with no experience of the place (a) couldn't care less but (b) love a great failure.

We are very adept at cutting down tall poppies. For some reason we find success offensive, be it an individual, organisation or in this case, a nation.

Chris Overland

In relation to Matt Williams comment, most of us old retired kiaps want PNG to succeed, not fail.

We mostly have a great affection for the country and, even through a haze of nostalgia for "the good old days", fervently wish that Papua New Guineans will fulfill the true potential of their country.

PNG is already the most beautiful country in the world and its people are intelligent, capable and resilient. It could and should be the wealthiest country in the Pacific Oceania region.

That it is not is partly due to Australia's failure to prepare it adequately for independence and partly due to its own post independence failures.

It is frustrating for any ex-kiap, knowing the potential of the country and its peoples, to see it current state. It is a mistake to interpret expressions of that frustration as reflecting a desire that it become a failed state.

Noel Pascoe

I agree right down to the bottom of this story but disagree that “Australians want PNG to fail”.

They are generally accepting of all the negative or quaintly exotic news they read but I’ve found person to person that some of us have had great experiences in PNG and that Aussies we talk to are delighted to hear of our good experiences and want to know why the popular press in Australia aren’t reflecting that.

Primarily because there are relatively few Aussies staying for long periods in PNG and those who do are living behind barbed wire fences and security guards and aren’t living close to the good, normal citizens. It’s a “them and us” situation.

Lucy Palmer | Facebook

As a journalist in PNG for several years, it was depressing to see that interest in news was generally waning.

There were great quality outlets of course such as the broadsheets, the ABC and SBS, but the coverage in Australia often tended towards drama and crisis.

When I worked for the BBC World Service, however, their interest in PNG was much more wide ranging. They wanted not just to know about economic,social or environmental challenges, but about the full context of the story.

Charlie Lynn | Facebook

Great article - many former Kiaps and long-term expats agree that Australia sees its role as managing the latest crisis rather than investing in the human potential of PNG.

Matt Williams

Of course Australians want PNG to fail. Ask any retired old former kiap sitting somewhere in Queensland. Nothing has gone right since 1975!

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