NOOSA – A prominent Catholic priest in Papua New Guinea says Australia, as the region’s richest and biggest nation, should “lead through kindness” in the south-west Pacific and show “solidarity and inclusiveness”.
Writing in the PNG Catholic Reporter, Fr Giorgio Licini said the PNG government and civil society also have a responsibility because of their “central position among the family of nations in the Pacific [to] raise their voice regarding the current most pressing issues”.
Fr Giorgio enumerated these as Australia’s attitudes to offshore detention, refusing to acknowledge the negative environmental impact of coal burning and making “access and work difficult for other members of the Pacific family”.
He also pointed to PNG’s position between Australia and Indonesia when it comes to the unrest and divisions in West Papua, with Jakarta’s approach being “rejected by many”.
He said that PNG is a developing country suffering budget problems and also bearing the brunt of these issues, especially that of people “seeking asylum and protection far from their place of birth [in the] trouble spots of the world.”
“Six years of Australian offshore processing centres in Manus and Nauru are leaving behind a legacy of mental health and bitterness among vulnerable people who need care and healing," Fr Giorgio said.
“The assault on natural resources also has PNG defending its portion of the last remaining rainforests on the planet and trying to resist the first ever experiments in the world of seabed mining off its coasts.”
He added that political ambition and corporate greed pose the greatest risks to social harmony in the Pacific.
Fr Giorgio wrote that it will take more than a military base on Manus to keep China at bay because it is “equipped with financial resources and skills, clearly showing industriousness and hunger for new geographical space and financial opportunities for an immensely bigger population.
“A costly naval facility will not win the hearts and minds of smaller Pacific nations, who may still surrender their natural resources to China in exchange for ordinary budget needs.
“It will rather further promote the idea of a new Western colonial attempt, which relies on estranged military strength rather than empowerment of local human resources and assets,” Fr Giorgio said.
He said countries like China are “not completely abstaining from corrupt and unconventional practices to get their way in business and profit.
“The people of the Pacific value cooperation, respect and harmonious relationships with fellow humans and the environment.
“If Australia wants to lead, it can only do so through compassion and kindness.
“The richest and biggest nation, Australia, should lead the region through solidarity and inclusiveness.
“Arrogance and a refusal to listen will isolate the big south island, leaving the smaller ones in the vast ocean with no choice but to turn to Asia.
“Nobody intends to infringe on the rights and borders of Australia; but [Australia’s] citizens will not be loved if their government keeps on picking on a few hundred refugees in offshore detention centres or if it refuses to acknowledge the negative impact of coal burning on the environment or make access and work in [Australia] difficult for other members of the Pacific family.
“A true leader supports and inspires, rather than lording it over and showing muscular strength,” Fr Giorgio wrote.