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West Papua: living in constant fear

Namarong: Australia 'overreacting' to China

Martyn Namarong
Martyn Namorong - "Foreign governments should refrain from interfering in PNG’s democratic processes. We know some countries have a tendency to do that”

AARON SMITH
| The Guardian

CAIRNS - Australia has dramatically overreacted to speculative announcements of possible Chinese-funded development on the Papua New Guinea island of Daru, a former adviser to the PNG government has said.

“I think the Chinese just wanted to ruffle a few feathers on the Australian side,” Martyn Awayang Namorong said of the leaked letter describing plans to build a $39 billion city on Daru, and last November’s memorandum of understanding signing to establish a “comprehensive multifunctional fishery industrial park” on the island.

“It’s important to note that PNG is heading to an election next year so we have to ask ourselves are these announcements being made to influence voters?

“It might not be intended for Australia – and Beijing is just laughing at Australia overreacting.

“It might be only for the local audience … we have to ask these questions as well as the geopolitical questions.”

Namorong, from the South Fly region near Daru, is a former advisor to the current PNG government, and previously worked for the office of opposition leader Patrick Pruaitch.

China has signed a number of memoranda of understanding for ambitious projects in PNG as part of its One Belt, One Road economic and strategic agenda in Oceania.

Many, however, have failed to materialise, such as the 2016 US$5 billion agreement to build two industrial parks in West Sepik province.

Namorong said that Daru has multiple unresolved land title disputes that would need to be settled in court before any development on the island could start.

“There are six groups of people that have claims to the land on Daru, so that has to be resolved first, then you must get the consent of those landowners, so on the PNG side there is a long way to go with the development of both projects,” he said.

“In PNG that takes a very long time, it could take years.”

Namorong said the announcement of speculative developments on Daru will only heighten tensions in settling the land title issues and could even further delay proceedings.

“It will increase the problems,” he said, concerned it could result in intimidation and violence against landowners pressured to sign over land title rights.

Namorong argued that while PNG politicians were leveraging speculative memorandum of understanding to woo voters, China’s intentions in the region were serious and a fisheries facility on Daru would allow PNG to commercially fish the Torres Strait under the Torres Strait Treaty.

“I think the treaty captured the needs of PNG very well, such as access to commercial fishing on the Australian side.

“PNG has rights to that and the freedom of navigation within the Torres Strait,” he said.

In response to reports of Chinese-funded development on Daru, Australia’s foreign affairs minister Marise Payne told the Senate last December: “Commercial-scale fisheries would not be considered a traditional activity under the Torres Strait Treaty and would not be permitted.”

But maritime law expert, Australian National University professor of international law, Donald Rothwell, said Payne’s position was not correct and Chinese-funded PNG commercial fishing boats would be “most definitely” allowed to fish the treaty’s protected zone of the Torres Strait, extending right down to just a couple of kilometres north of Thursday Island.

“The Torres Strait Treaty actually doesn’t make provision for amendment,” Rothwell said, “so the options are rewriting the treaty, which I think is very unlikely and would open up a can of worms for Australia.”

The Torres Strait Island Regional Council mayor, Phillemon Mosby, whose council’s municipality covers the border with PNG, acknowledges that PNG has sovereign rights to Australian territory.

“There needs to be open and transparent dialogue around the investment process,” Mosby said.

“In the spirit of the treaty, we need to look at how these investments are going to impact on us as traditional inhabitants – socially, economically, politically, culturally, as well as the environmental impact.”

“We do not want viable economic investment at the risk of security of our islands, people and livelihood.”

Namorong said China investing in PNG was not new and Australia should not be surprised.

“History has shown us that when the west abandoned Papua New Guinea, the Chinese have stepped in,” he said.

“We’ve seen this happen before and we are not blind to the power play that has been happening in our country.”

He said foreign governments should refrain from interfering in PNG’s democratic processes.

“We know some countries have a tendency to do that,” he said.

“The west has not learned its lesson by taking a knee-jerk reaction, which is detrimental to the west’s interests, but not to PNG or to China.”

Comments

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Chips Mackellar

Further to my comment of 17 February 2021, I advise that the Minister replied and I quote "The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is designing a new Australia-PNG Economic Development Partnership which will focus on helping improve PNG rural jobs and incomes including strengthening local agriculture productivity and local supply chains." But in relation to the proposal to market taro the Minister stated "Importation of fresh taro from PNG is currently not permitted due to the presence of taro leaf blight in PNG. Currently only frozen taro is permitted from countries with this disease." Disappointing result, but understandable under the biosecurity circumstances, and I am grateful that the Minister did consider our proposal to market taro from Western Province.

AG Satori

Taro ice cream mas kamap. It is doable. We just need to put in the yard yarka from everyone, this side of the border and anyone that cares to listen.

Get it into the mindset of every one. There is quid pro quo for all in this matter of taros.
The plains and delta villager remains a villager but this time an income earning villager.

It is these lot that attention must be focused on. Most of the river people are a group of living poisoned people. Their lives must and ought to be bettered.

No taro industry - the push must be there for it to happen with marketing opportunities. It can happen. I repeat gardening is the forte of a villager. It is his survival skill but under utilised because there is currently no need for him to exert any more effort than is needed now. Give him the reason to grow more. He will transform those idle waste land in a twinkle of an eye.

No workers, on the gardening side, the delta and river people will raise their hand. Those in the logistics of it, there are more than ample able PNG unemployed persons who would not mind cavorting around in all manner of floating things around the delta.

Ice cream factory - that's a bummer. You wouldn't want poisoned water. Probably at Kerema from for black water ice cream.

Knowledge and skills set. Invest now in it. But as it stands save mahnmeri istap. Kain olsem Michel Dom na planti more are there.

Thinking outside the box. Start that schooling now.

Taro ice cream is doable.

Who does it? Australia or China. There is more to be gained by Australia as the boomerang in these scheme of things is bigger. There are second and third boomerangs to be had if the Aussies can just drop those fuzzy eyeglasses.

The Governor for Western should also take on these ideas. The industrial towns and fishing ports only benefits a small number of people including moneyed people and greasers. If he wants his villagers to reap the benefits of sharing borders with Australia and why not - Indonesia, he and Namarong too have to be thinking outsidr the box.

Mi driman na daunim spet nau long taro aiskrim oh.

Michael Dom

I often think things are simple right before I make a stupid blunder.

Taro ice cream stap.

Nogat invesmen, nogat wokmanmeri, nogat gutpela save, nogat tingting long traim niupela pasin. Nogat taro industry.

Tasol taro ice cream stap.

We're just not visualizing the taro ice cream.

All we see is taro corms, taro leaves, taro suckers, taro eaters.

Like someone said, "think outside the box".

Harry Topham

To the respondent of my mot. Sometimes to break down apathy, one needs to play the agent provocateur and thus stimulate healthy debate on issues that have plagued the Western Province for decades.

AG Satori

Lagipoiva Jackson, yu tok stret ya. Mi tok pinis, ol Aussie are wearing fuzzy glasses and insensitiveness are packaged in their psychic.

In this chain of commentaries you can read into Topham's sneer and sarcasm on poisoned water to Australia.

It's all talk on his part but the delta people live each day with its legacy. They are a living poisoned people. Their environment has to wear the brunt of decision made by some foreigner without a hoot to the tailing dam for reasons of expediency.

They should have piped the refuse straigth into the Torres Straits as nobody lives there except for fish. Because the Madang and Morobe tailings won't affect them its okay to remain mutt but get one from Ok Tedi in to the Straits and there will be less sneers but harking hallelujahs from all over Canberra.

On the other hand, there you go - China can come in to harvest and clean up all the poisoned fish and stocks in the Straits.

Piped poisoned water for the Aussies - good idea but that does not change the situation economically for the villager on in the plains and Delta's.

Each villager must be given an opportunity to improve his life without leaving the village. That should be the primary focus that all politicians and technocrats from both sides of the border should put their attention to. It may and will require an astute desire to think outside the box as this exercise in Western Province will amount to.

Mr Mackellar, wish you luck with your MP and Minister. Hope we can get some serious thinking into this hullababu.

Harry Topham

Wot, with fresh water being the new commodity that offers investors good financial returns, I wonder if the prospective investors are thinking of getting into the wara market.

As most would know plenty of water flows down the Fly with the product having added value of high levels of mineralisation included.

Although some wimpish critics might regard the 'product' as being somewhat toxic, it could not be worse that some of the wet varieties I have sampled over the years.

Michael Dom

The Chinese government wants to build an industrial centre in Daru.

They have the technology for underutilized starch crops like taro.

The Australian government funded research centers have decades of research focused on smallholder (or village level) production of root crops like taro.

Australia also has particular valuable knowledge of the challenges of supply chain development in PNG.

I say put them both together and get a win-win for everyone.

That is the objective, isn't it?

Philip Fitzpatrick

You can make icecream out of coconut milk too. Lot's of coconuts in the lower Fly River area.

Maybe the Chinese should forget about the fish and turn Daru into a giant icecream factory.

I'll buy some.

Chips Mackellar

I think AG Satori's idea to establish a taro export industry for Western Province to offset unpalatable Chinese influence there is a good idea, provided there is a market for taro in Australia.

I saw taro growing in Cairns some years ago when the sugar prices were low, and a farmer was growing taro as an alternate crop.

I asked him where he sold it, and he said to the Pacific Island and Asian communities in Sydney and Melbourne. How good the market for taro there is now I would not know.

However, my Federal Member of Parliament is the Hon David Littleproud MP who is the Federal Minister for Agriculture. I will put the idea to him and see where it eventuates.

I will point out to the Minister that the reason why the proposed Chinese investment at Daru is so attractive to the people there is because of the dearth of primary industry in that part of PNG.

I will suggest that taro could not only help foster commercial enterprise there but that it would offset the attraction for the kind of Chinese investment which could cause border problems for Australia..

AG Satori

The technicalities of growing taro and the use of taro is something that can be worked at.

What people in Western Province want is to get out of fire situation they are in. If the industrial city and fishing Park is going to get them out of it - fine. They should be given the latitude to try it.

Australia just cannot roll up in Daru and demand that they reconsider. They must provide an alternative and they haven't. I think the governor is showing them the middle finger.

These ideas may not work and may never happen given the history of such parks being mooted before in country.

But it will rear its head up again in the future.

To counter that and the taro trade might involve the whole of the plains and the delta areas and villagers.

The technicalities again are for technical people but growing taro is a village man's forte. He knows how best to grow. Give him a reason to grow more.

That is something the Aussies can offer and develop to counter their Sinophobia

And let me stress it is a hop away on Boigu island which is different to other parts of PNG who have their own logistical nightmares.

That is where the supply chain can set roots. Taro need not come to Port Moresby to go to Australia. It will already be in Australia on Boigu island.

Aussie technocrats always carry a boomerang with them. It is all the time present in their psychic and talks. PNG needs to encompass that and use it to their advantage.

In Daru they don't want China there, they have to offer us something so that we can say we don't need them. To go there and dictate that we don't need the Chinese this side of the turf - period. Maski ya, inap long longlong,

Taro ice cream - we?

Michael Dom

Taro production requires focused research on controlling pest and disease, up scaling post harvest and processing technologies and facilitating production units and organizing supply chain, storage and required quarantine processes for export.

Good work that would need a local agency to execute and maintain - jobs?

But first explore the market.

Taro can be marketed as a health food because of its complex carbohydrates.

Organic product status may also be possible but needs to be balanced with the need for some pesticides particularly against taro beetle. Organic pesticides or biological controls may be explored.

New Zealand has health issues with the Pacific population developing kidney problems from long term consumption of taro with high oxalate content or just too much taro.

There are taro varieties with low oxalate content, the natural chemical which causes irritation and potential kidney damage.

Also, some treatment and cooking methods, like roasting, effectively reduce oxalate a to negligible levels.

Taro chips and taro flour are good products with unexplored potential in cooking and product development.

Technically the starch profile is unique from other root crops, the structure crumbles more when cooked.

Taro ice cream is delicious. (The Chinese know how to make it).

East New Britain women's cooperative had trailed taro export to the Port Moresby market.

It was a popular product for a while at major retails.

But for some reason the shipments stopped. Why?

Find out about that for how to do something at Western Province.

Australia provides a larger immigrant and indigenous population who may also have cultural and taste preferences for taro.

So I'm still thinking about that delicious taro ice cream.

That's the winner.

AG Satori

Industrial parks and fishing industries will have only a limited number of PNG people involved. At the end of the day, you still will have more than a few villagers not happy with the industrial city and fishing.

There is one thing that does not take away a villager from his village. Tell him that there is money to be taken if they grow taro and plenty of it.

A taro industry would involve every villager from the border to Kerema town and up past Kiunga and the Kopi terminal.

Why don't the Aussie policy makers and politicians take their fuzzy glasses off and see this viable project.

They are currently importing frozen taro from Asia and Fiji when they can have fresh (by a day) taro, a hop away from Boigu island.

The villagers will grow taro if they know there is a market and there is one big one in Australia. The population diversity means alternate food to cereals and taro can easily fill that space.

You don't need a feasibility study for that.

The offshoot of having a supply run to and from Daru every day is that it may keep Chinese fishing vessels away as there will be intense shipping activity that will need Navy presence and beefed up Customs .

Logic - kamonai.

You get your security and we get happy villagers.

Throw in bananas. Surely Queensland is not producing the five million bananas eaten by Australians everyday.

Share the resources. Work out the logistics for getting PNG Mekeo bananas and even Mekeo buai to Australia.

I sometimes want to think, despite all their goodwill to PNG, Aussies comes across as being too greedy and too lazy to think outside the box.

All they want to see are boomerangs for goodness sake. Why don't they take spears with them. I know, the spears go only one way.

Australia can give something to the plains people in Western Province with a bustling taro trade. And how about dry coconuts for cooking.

The plains people can easily produce 20 pieces each day and if each person did that every second day, Aussies could have a million fresh taros every day without worrying about frozen ones.

Give these ideas a thought. The whole shenanigan exposed here will resurface in the future if taro farming is not taken on board.

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