The people who put food on PNG’s table
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Governor: Oz talks on Chinese fishery fail

Taboi Awi Yoto meets with AHC officials
Governor Taboi Awi Yoto meets in Daru with Australian High Commission officials. "Australians working behind my back," he says

| Governor, Western Province | Edited

DARU - As expected, lately there has been an increased Australian interest in Western Province after the signing of the memorandum of understanding for a Chinese-led fisheries park on Daru Island.

Last week a team of Australians [from the High Commission] came to Daru to meet with the provincial government to discuss the fisheries park.

I requested they meet with us in Daru so they could feel and appreciate the facts behind my government’s reasons why we have been knocking hard on their doors for assistance and why we have been advocating foreign direct investment into Western Province.

They did come to Daru for the planned meeting but as usual they came with no alternative plans to counter and deter any foreign direct investment especially to alleviate poverty and improve social services.

This is actually good for me so I can advance my plans to explore opportunities that are available.

It’s regrettable that all they want is for us to be subsistence farmers and fishermen and maintain our current status quo.

Those who were with me in that meeting can confirm that they lost the plot and minced their words.

Yet I am reliably informed that in Canberra it has been reported that we had fruitful meeting in Daru, when it wasn't.

I was not satisfied with their intentions for my people to remain the same when my people are demanding me for change. So we never reached any common ground.

I am aware that Australians are working behind my back to have my people not support any foreign direct investment.

Recently they have funded an awareness team to promote Australian interests against foreign investment along the coastline of South Fly including Daru.

I am also aware they sent ABC team to Daru to get feedback on the awareness they did against foreign direct investment.

The ABC reporter was on the flight with me from Daru to Port Moresby. She tried to interview me when I got off the plane.

When I refused to be interviewed, she said ‘your people do not support the fisheries park on the island, there’s some negative views. What would do you say?’

Well I have nothing to hide but I know what the Australian media are up to and what they are capable of doing. But a hint, they will use what I say to make my own people turn against me.

To give some comfort to my people, I know many of you will not trust me but when the details of the project are finally complete after all parties have been consulted, many of you will appreciate it.

We will involve all interested parties especially the resource owners for fair benefit sharing, environment protection and resource sustainability in any potential foreign direct Investment opportunities in Western Province including the Chinese-led Fisheries Park.

I will not let go of an opportunity to advance the aspirations of my people in my own land, in my own province and in my own a sovereign nation to explore the opportunity at hand to advance my people’s interest to have an improved standard of living.

We have an opportunity to carve out our own future.


ABC correspondent’s response to Governor Yoto

The ABC’s Papua New Guinea correspondent, Natalie Whiting, replied on Twitter to governor Yoto’s implication that the Australian government had sent the ABC to Daru.

“To be clear,” Whiting wrote, “the Aus Government has no influence over how or what I report. The ABC will continue to cover #PNG independently and fairly (which includes seeking interviews & offering right of reply).”


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Harry Topham

If the current fish stock in the marine area that is traditionally fished for food purposes is limited then is would transpire that if any large scale commercial fishing is commenced then the depletion of available fish stock would have a direct negative impact on those locals that depend upon same for survival.

I recall when at Kikori in the mid 1970’s having a conversation with one of the mission staff there who ran a commercial fishing operation for that mission.

He had spent some time in the Daru area prior to moving to Kikori.

When asked about the barramundi fishing stock in the western district eastern estuary area he commented that unfortunately the larger fish were not saleable due to the higher than accepted levels of mercury that they contained.

If this is the case then the long term economic viability of any fishing enterprises around the Fly River delta would not be viable.

Methinks that the proposed enterprise is just another of the Chinese government's long term ruses to stir up mischief.

Their current mischievous behaviour along the India/Tibet border would seem to bear this idea out.

Chips Mackellar

Of course the real question is what is the real purpose of the proposed fishing project for Daru?
I suggest it is not to catch fish.
This is because of the terms of the Torres Strait Treaty between Australia and PNG.
According to this treaty there are four boundaries across the Torres Strait. There is the Sea Boundary which runs more or less across the middle of the Strait from East to West. Then there is the land boundary which runs from the Australian mainland across the Strait to include all the Islands of the Strait as part of Australia, with the exception of Daru and Bristow. Then there is the fishery boundary which is co-terminus with the Seabed Boundary except for an enclave on the PNG side which includes the northern Australian islands. This leaves less than half the Strait for PNG to fish, except for the Protected Zone which straddles all the other boundaries with the purpose, according to the Treaty, to protect the traditional way of life including traditional fishing and movement for all the people of the Strait with traditional movement rights there. So this gives them free access to Australian waters and islands. But it does not give the Chinese free access, because they would of course have no traditional rights there. Another reason is that according to conventional wisdom fish stocks on the PNG side outside the Protected Zone are so limited as to be unable to sustain a commercial fishing enterprise there.
So the conspiracy theory is that the Chinese fishing project for Daru being so close to Australian territory is intended for a purpose other than fishing.
Any suggestions?

Harry Topham

Before the good governor flies off on some self fulfilling tangent it would be refreshing to see what if any feasibility study has been conducted into this proposed maritime enterprise in particular the number of locals who might benefit through employment.

The track record of Chinese government sponsored projects completed to date indicates that first preference for employment seems to be in favour imported Chinese nationals.

Paul Oates

I often wonder if the PNG GG from Kabwum ever thought about the time, now 50 years ago, when this young bloke with nothing other than will power, pushed the road from his village of Derim to Yalumet in 1971?

Stephen Charteris

Hello Keith, one correction that might be worth making. In 2011 the total number of grade 12 graduates from WP secondary schools accepted into tertiary institutions for further training was less than the number of grade 12 graduates accepted that same year from Gordons secondary school. From memory 28 grade 12 school leavers from Gordons went onto tertiary training. The total number from WP was around 20. The comparison was specifically with Gordons.

This was a point of discussion I had with with the then Catholic education secretary at his office in Kiunga. At the time we were both trying to find ways to get more WP students accepted into nursing courses throughout PNG.

Paul Oates

Having been part of what has now turned out to be an extraordinary saga in the shared history of PNG and Australia, the real question that should be considered is: 'What makes things happen?'

PNG has cultures that go back thousands of years. The essence of a village council was to keep things the way they were. Malcontents were held in check by cultural methods and enforced unity of the tribe or clan. This culture is not one to generate dramatic new concepts or ideas unless something revolutionary appears on the scene.

Let's look at the Australian side of the border. The culture of the Australian Public Servant is pretty much the same. Sir Humphry Appleby summed it up in the classic TV series 'Yes Minister', as the four phases to ensure Foreign Affairs actually achieves very little except to keep Departmental careers stable.

Into that great sea of negativity came the lone Kiap and his small tribe of followers who actually started to initiate action and create development. The Kiap wasn't after self aggrandizement or monetary gain. At the end of the Kiap period between 1948 and 1975, Kiaps were just allowed to drift off home.

As Harry points out, development requires an initiator. The only one that seems to be available these days is wealth and human greed.

Isn't it about time that both the PNG government and the Australian government sit down and actually learn from our shared history? Or is that too hard to contemplate since no one appears to be a winner except the people of the Western District, as Stephen points out, that is the largest and potentially wealthy part of a depressed PNG.

All it takes is some will power, not won't power, and some genuine leaders and initiators.

Stephen Charteris

Metaphorically speaking this is another flare up in a chronic, complex and damaging sore that has long been festering away four kilometers from Australia’s northern border.

It will take cool heads with real vision and a genuine sense of shared purpose to tackle this.

Western Province, which at nearly 100,000 square kms is Papua New Guinea’s largest province by a considerable margin and is home to one of the world’s largest copper and gold resources.

But is also notable for its lack of basic services, infrastructure or opportunity for human capital development for the majority of its inhabitants.

This is a province which in 2004 supposedly inherited the benefits of a K4.9 billion sovereign wealth fund bequeathed by BHP Billiton for its part in the ecocide of the Fly River system.

This system is said to be the world’s seventh largest by volume. It discharges fresh water and mine pollution alike into the Gulf of Papua.

To date the fund remains locked up and fought over by politicians and their international enablers while the long-suffering people of the province, particularly the riverine communities along the Fly and its tributaries, wait for the promised benefits.

In 2011, fewer graduating Grade 12 students from Western Province schools won places in PNG tertiary institutions than any single cohort of Grade 12 students from one Port Moresby high school.

Health indicators – it is probably wise to not go there.

These types of development indicators, well known to planners in Waigani and Canberra, are now threatening to turn into something rather more unsavoury.

The lack of opportunity coupled with poor health and education outcomes has long been fertile ground for the type of brinkmanship now on display.

While PNG must look to itself for much of this, I also hold a wholly moribund and incompetent PNG desk in Canberra responsible for what is a disastrous failure of intelligence, foresight, vision and will.

As if Bougainville and Honiara were not warning enough.

It defies comprehension that Australia cannot foresee that this is not a nightmare waiting to happen.

A very fragile resource rich territory, characterised by an underserved and desperately poor people who share cultural and social ties with Australia’s northern most communities as close as four kilometers across an imaginary border.

There is absolutely none of the first world education with real time interactive communication or health services accorded to their contemporaries just a short distance away.

There are ways forward, but if the account given by the good humoured premier of Western Province - at least for now - is even halfway correct then I am flabbergasted by the cultural incompetence on display.

I am truly sorry but clearly the good representatives from Australia know very little about PNG and sadly rather much less about Western Province.

Harry Topham

I think that the good old governor sums up the whole issue succinctly when he said, “This is actually good for me so I can advance my plans to explore opportunities that are available”.

The questions then is 'opportunities for whom'.

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